The Importance of Heritage to the Adopted Child

As it should be, the greatest benefactor of an open adoption is the child. In the past, a child's adoption was, at best, a source of confusion and doubt. At worst, it was a source of shame. With open adoption, the child knows all the details of their biological origins. Most important, they know that their adoption was a healthy, caring and loving process. The fact of their adoption is not kept secret, instead their adoption is openly discussed with pride and joy.

Through open adoption, the child has access to the same information about their origins that non-adopted children take for granted. They know the names of their biological parents, their nationality, their health history, and their hometowns. But they have more than just the cold facts. Children often respond better to stories and pictures than a straight-forward presentation of information. With open adoption, the adoptive parents can tell their child about their adoption as a special family story. They can talk about why and how they decided to become adopting parents, how they met their daughter's or son's birthparents, what happened in the months before the birth, and how all of them shared in the child's birth. Young children love to hear the same story repeated often, especially if they are included in the tale. In open adoption, just as in biological birth, the story of the child's arrival into the family becomes a part of the family folklore.

As part of this heritage, most adopting parents create an album of photographs and mementos of the adoption. They show this often to their child and to friends and relatives as well. There are usually numerous photos of the birthparents and of the first meetings and get-togethers of the adopting parents and birthparents. There are pictures of all of them during the birthmother's pregnancy, and at the hospital for the child's birth. The proud and frequent display of this album is an important assurance to their child of the positive nature of their adoption. Even before they are old enough to understand what adoption means technically, the children of open adoption associate adoption-related words and phrases with excitement, and joy.

An essential part of the adoption story is that the child's birthparents chose who would be his or her parents. If this choice had been made by a social worker, a lawyer, a counselor, or a doctor, that would carry little weight with most children. The status of these professions is of little importance to young people. What matters to them is that this momentous decision was made by the same people who brought them into the world.

The adopted parents' own positive feelings about their child's birthparents play an important role here. All adopting parents—whether the adoption was open or closed—are going to have the good sense to talk in approving terms about their child's birthparents. But talking favorably is not a matter of simply using the right words and phrases. Most children are sensitive, not just to the specific content of what their parents say to them, but to the nuances and tone behind the words. What is reassuring to an adopted child is sensing their parents genuine caring for their birthparents not just their spoken approval. In a closed adoption, this can be difficult. The adoptive parents know so little about the birthparents. Even in some open adoptions, when adequate counseling and support have not been available, this can be a problem. If the adoption process was filled with distrust, anger and misunderstanding, how effectively can the adoptive parents convey a good feeling about the adoption to their child? An open adoption accompanied by good counseling is a different story. Because they have had such a thoughtful, close relationship with the birthparents, the adoptive mother and father have an easy time talking about them with familiarity, fondness and respect.

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