Benefits of Open Adoption
by Kathleen Silber, MSW, ACSW
Birthparents in open adoptions typically demonstrate positive self-esteem related to responsible decision making and feeling in control of their life -- making a plan for the baby, instead of abandoning him/her. Birthparents with open adoptions work through the normal feelings of grief much more quickly and easily. As a result, they exhibit better mental health than those with closed adoptions.
Contact with birthparents provides adoptive parents with a real image of the birthparents. Trust and understanding of one another is allowed to develop. Fear and insecurity (typical for adoptive parents in closed adoption) dissolve as birthparents consistently confirm that the adoptive parents are the parents of the child.
Having been selected by the birthparents, the adoptive parents feel entitled to parent, which is an essential ingredient in all adoptions. Adoptive parents also have access to ongoing information, such as medical information, which will aid them in parenting their child.
Open adoption provides immediate answers to the adoptee's questions, as well as accurate information -- answers to basic questions that all adoptees wonder about, such as "who do I look like?" and "why was I given up?" The adoptive parents can communicate facts, instead of half-truths or unknowns. There is also an opportunity for ongoing access to information. For example, when the child asks a question that his/her parents cannot answer, they can turn to the birthparents for the answers.
In closed adoption, the adoptee has no access to his/her genetic and medical history. This is a major frustration to adoptees and also presents serious medical implications because of this lack of information. In open adoption the adoptee's history, as well as access to family medical information, is available to her/him even as it is updated over time.
Through open adoption, the adoptee knows he/she was placed for adoption out of love. He/she is aware, on an ongoing basis, of his/her birthparents' love. As a result, the adoptee is able to feel good not only about where he/she is, but also where he/she came from. He/she is freed from the frustrations of the unknowns and feelings of rejection that are inherent in closed adoption.
Young children have difficulty understanding abstract concepts. In closed adoption, the words "birthmother" and "adoption" are difficult for children to understand because there is nothing concrete to attach to these words. In open adoption, the child has concrete information, and the birthmother is a concrete reality in his life. Therefore, it is much easier for children of open adoption to understand their adoption.
Extended Family Model
Open adoption recognizes the birthfamily as extended family members because they are related to the child. If adoptive parents can accept the birthparents into their life as relatives, they can accept and feel comfortable with open adoption. Just as individuals gain new extended family members through marriage, they also gain new family members through adoption.
All families face issues and complexities. However, in our experience, the problems in open adoptions are no different than those in other families. Sometimes there are relationship issues, as there are in all families, and the individuals work them out. Further, agency counselors can be accessed to mediate these relationships, if necessary.
Kathleen Silber, MSW, ACSW, was the Independent Adoption Center's Clinical & Associate Executive Director for over 20 years. She is a nationally regarded expert, has written numerous groundbreaking books including Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption, and has advocated extensively for open adoption.