Even though open adoption is the norm when it comes to modern private domestic infant adoption, many adoptive parents have concerns about this kind of relationship. Will it confuse the adoptee? Will the birth parents co-parent with the adoptive parents? Will the birth parents be able to take their child back at any time?
Because of these concerns and more, too many adoptive parents enter into the adoption process seeking a closed adoption relationship. And they’re not the only ones — there are birth parents who choose a closed adoption path, too, despite the known disadvantages associated with it.
But, while closed adoption was an achievable norm for decades, the world has changed. Closed adoption is simply not as possible as it used to be. Kids are curious and inventive. When they have questions about their adoption, they will do everything they can to find the answers.
With the internet at their fingertips, it’s easier than ever.
Modern Teens’ Connection to the Internet
Today’s children are growing up in a world where the internet, social media and other digital activities are a constant part of their day. While we’re not here to debate the pros and cons of this lifestyle, we do want to evaluate how this has — and will continue to — change the open adoption landscape.
The Pew Research Center reports that 93 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 go online, and 73 percent of those teens use social networking websites. While social networks can help teens connect with their friends nearby and far away, it also opens up the opportunity for teenagers to be contacted by people they do not know. In fact, 16 percent of teens are “friends” with someone they have never met in person, and 32 percent of online teens have been contacted online by a complete stranger.
What does this mean? It means that teens are frequently contacting strangers on the internet — with a high likelihood that their parents are unaware of these friendships or connections. It’s a scary reality, and just another reason that parents should monitor their children’s online activities closely.
What Kids Being Online Means for Adoption Relationships
This research brings up an interesting aspect for those involved in closed adoption relationships. Based on these findings, it seems obvious that, if an adopted child is interested in finding their birth parents online, it won’t take them long to do so.
Social media has certainly made open adoption more complicated, especially when teenagers are involved. But, it’s an even more complicated situation when a closed adoption is in place. Even if an adopted child knows about their parents’ and birth parents’ desires to keep the relationship closed, their own curiosity often wins out. It’s not long until a birth parent potentially finds a friend request from the baby they once placed for adoption, opening up a complicated relationship before anyone is ready.
What we’re trying to say? Closed adoption in today’s world is never truly “closed.” There is no guarantee that contact will never be made between the members of the adoption triad; children use the internet in a native way that many parents cannot anticipate. Therefore, adoptive parents should always be wary of their children’s actions on the internet, especially if an adoptee starts expressing new interest in their birth family history.
Any birth parent or adoptive parent should remember that, with access to the internet, a modern adoptee has more agency in their adoption story than ever before.
How to Set Proper Boundaries in an Open Adoption Relationship
So, one thing is clear: Establishing a semi-open or open adoption relationship from the start can prevent all parties from unexpected communication down the line. By setting boundaries from a baby’s birth, an adoptee can receive the answers they need during their life while keeping their parents and birth parents comfortable with their existing relationships.
But, with all of the other emotional and practical complications of the adoption process, it can be difficult to know exactly what kind of relationship all parties want at the beginning. A newborn baby certainly can’t share their thoughts.
Rather than take the “easy way out” with no contact, consider these guidelines when establishing a future adoption relationship:
1. Let the Birth Parents Take the Lead.
If you are an adoptive parent, your future open adoption contact will likely be up to the prospective birth parents. (Don’t worry — your adoption professional will only connect you with prospective birth parents who share the same desires.) The intimate details of your open adoption relationship will be decided together after your match, but you should never try to force a prospective birth parent into a relationship option they are uncomfortable with. Remember — they are sacrificing a great deal in placing their child with your family, and they have the right to choose the post-placement relationship that works for them.
2. Don’t Limit Yourself Early On.
That said, remember that adoption is a lifelong journey — full of ups and downs and ebbs and flows in contact. It may be tempting to restrict your contact preferences early on, but this can cause serious problems as your child grows up and becomes more curious about their birth family and adoption story. Adoption professionals agree it’s much easier to pull back on contact later on than try to increase it, so give you and your child the option at the beginning, even if you end up changing your mind later.
3. Be Flexible and Open to Changes.
Like any relationship, open adoption is a constantly changing landscape. You and your child’s birth parents will naturally increase and decrease your contact over the years to come as you both deal with life changes, daily responsibilities and more. But, you must always keep your child’s interests at heart.
If your child starts to ask about their birth family history, don’t shrug it off with an “I’ll tell you later.” Sit down with them, tell them the truth, and offer to reach out to their birth parents on their behalf. Taking these steps makes it less likely that your child will reach out on their own via the internet, unknowingly endangering themselves and putting their birth parents in an uncomfortable spot.
As an adoptive parent, you have a responsibility to both of them; even if it’s hard, you must do what’s right for your child.
Want to learn more about how open adoption works in private domestic infant adoption? Contact an adoption professional for free today.