Helping Your Extended Family Understand Open Adoption

Adopting parents frequently tell us that their extended family members are negative or anxious about the idea of an open adoption. How do you help them get on board?

It’s important to remember that your parents are from a different generation where closed adoption and secrecy were the norm. In the past birthmothers were typically viewed negatively for being pregnant out of wedlock and for “giving away” or “abandoning” their children.

Your parents may also view the birthmother as a threat—someone who could change her mind and take away your baby, leaving you in pain. So some of their worries stem from their desire to protect you.

In reality a birthmother is much less likely to change her mind and reclaim a child if she has the peace of mind that is inherent in open adoption. In open adoption, birthparents select the adoptive parents and have an ongoing relationship with them. Birthparents know first hand that their child will have a good life.

To move past their stereotypes and fears, your parents will have to learn more about open adoption. It’s an evolutionary journey—for adoptive parents and their families. Think about what convinced you that open adoption was right for you. Was there a particular book that helped dispel any myths you had? If so, lend it to your families. Share photographs, letters and information so the birthmother becomes a real person to them. Even better would be for family members to meet her in person.

As family members learn more about open adoption, they will realize that the birthmother is not a threat. Fears and stereotypes are replaced by a loving reality.

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  • Marge Brown

    Our son and his wife have just heard the devastating news that the birthmother has decided to keep her baby. I can't tell you how heartbreaking this is for the extended family. We are all shocked and dismayed that she changed her mind on the second day, even though my son and wife were allowed to bond with the baby – feeding him, changing diapers, etc. They were so happy and joyous, as were we all. Now, we are all in the pits, because this baby was not only theirs, but ours. This is a real tradegy, and has convinced us that open adoption is not the way to go, even though ous son and his wife chose this way.

  • Ksilber

    To Marge Brown,

    I am so sorry about your family's disappointment. I'm sure this is devastating to all of you.

    This is a risk in all adoptions–that the birthparents might change their minds before they sign the legal relinquishment documents (and they have the right to do so). In fact, this change of mind is more likely to happen in closed adoption, where the adopting parents are unknown to the birthmother.

    Changes of mind are rare in open adoption. In open adoption the birthparents have a peace of mind because they have selected the adopting parents and because they know they will have access to ongoing contact and/or information over the years. Even so, placing a baby for adoption is a very difficult decision one that involves a lot of pain and grief. It's important for the birthmother to receive professional counseling (while she is pregnant and afterward) to help prepare her for these emotions–and so she will be able to handle the normal feelings of grief in the hospital and after discharge.

    I hope your son and daughter in law will be able to move forward and try again–with the assistance of an adoption agency or professional. Open adoption DOES work.

    Best regards,
    Kathleen Silber

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