However you brought your child into your family, you probably went through a lot to get them there. And, if you agreed to an open adoption relationship with your child’s birth parents, you understand the importance of that relationship now and in the years to come.
But, like with all relationships, sometimes open adoption relationships can get complicated. In this blog post, we’ll tackle a particularly challenging one: birth parents struggling with substance addiction.
Remember, if you ever need advice on your personal open adoption situation, you should reach out to the agency through which you adopted your child. They can provide the best information for your circumstances and guide you through the steps ahead.
In the meantime, we’ve offered some helpful information for you below.
Addiction Isn’t Just a Birth Parent Problem – It’s a Society Problem
Before we get any further, there’s one thing you need to know: Not all birth parents are in difficult situations in their lives, and not all birth parents are addicts. In fact, many people who place their children for adoption or fail to complete a reunification plan go on to improve their circumstances immensely and can have a positive open adoption relationship with their children.
However, the high percentage of addiction in the United States means that many adoptees’ birth parents are struggling with this disease. Whether it’s addiction to alcohol or drugs, these circumstances affect many birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees.
The opioid epidemic is a new source of concern for foster care professionals, who are seeing more and more children come into state custody after a parent’s overdose or substance abuse. In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioid was six times higher than in 1999. It’s estimated that 130 Americans die every day from opioid abuse.
It’s a serious issue — but how do you safely and appropriately address it within your open adoption relationship?
Talking to Your Child About their Birth Parent’s Addiction
It can be hard when a birth parent’s addiction starts to impact their relationship with their child. But, as the parent, you will be the one responsible for explaining this situation in a way that your child will understand.
Addiction can manifest itself in many ways. Even though you will take steps to protect your child from seeing the literal signs of addiction, they will likely know something is wrong when their birth parent starts missing visits or forgets to call them as scheduled. If you don’t take the time to explain addiction to them, your child may start seeing those missed visits and calls as a personal affront.
When talking to your child about their birth parent’s addiction, make sure to emphasize that addiction is a disease. Their birth parent needs help to get better, but sometimes a birth parent’s disease makes them do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. It’s not the child’s fault, and the birth parent’s actions are not a reflection on how much love they have for a child.
If you’re struggling with this subject, try reaching out to a local therapist or counselor for suggestions. You might also contact your adoption professional to see if they have any local trusted resources.
Should You Step in to Help?
As an adoptive parent, you have deep feelings of gratitude and love toward your child’s birth parents. So, when you see them hurting, it probably hurts you. You may wonder what you can do to help them out.
While your feelings are admirable, you have to remember that addiction is not an easily solved situation. There are a lot of factors that interact with each other, and it’s easy to overstep boundaries in the name of “helping” your child’s birth parents.
The best way to help someone dealing with addiction is to support your relationship with them, regardless of what they may be going through. Many birth parents want to get better, and they may even be taking steps to do so with rehab and other counseling. Rather than threaten to stop visits or calls with their child altogether until they are better, you should try to maintain the same open adoption contact as long as your child’s safety can be secured.
If your child’s safety cannot be secured, talk to the birth parent (or your adoption professional) to determine the best course of action moving forward. Maybe that involves cutting back on in-person visits to send photos and letters instead. It can be hard for a birth parent to hear, but your child’s safety should be your first concern.
Finally, as hard as it can be to stand by and watch, you are not responsible for a birth parent’s sobriety. Involving yourself in their personal matters can quickly damage your relationship, which you must try to keep intact for your child’s sake. If a birth parent reaches out to you for help, do what you are comfortable doing — but don’t feel like you have to personally help them get back on their feet. Instead, consider referring them to local resources that can help.
Again, if you ever have any concerns about your open adoption relationship, reach out to your adoption professional. They may be able to mediate this new phase in your open adoption and provide your child’s birth parent the help they need.