This guest post is by Marisa Howard-Karp, an adoptive parent.
Parenting children who had other parents was never part of my plan.
I went into our first home study feeling hesitant and scared about open adoption. But six years after entering our first open adoption, I am a wholehearted believer.
So when people try to tell me that openness confuses children or ask if my wife and I are afraid that our children’s first parents will want them back or declare emphatically that they could never share their children with someone else, I see it as my job to tell them why I love open adoption.
1. The scariest parts have been the most gratifying.
When we adopted our daughter through foster care, we had been in an open adoption with my son’s parents for four years.
Our son’s adoption was the result of a voluntary relinquishment. But our daughter’s situation was different. Suddenly, we had to learn how to build a relationship with a mother who had lost the right to parent.
We had no idea how to do it. But we wanted to do it for our daughter. We considered the safety issues carefully before we made any decision.
And then slowly, very slowly, we started to build a relationship with our daughter’s mom. Despite our fears, she didn’t hate or resent us. In fact, she embraced us. And we embraced her right back. We’re so glad we took that leap.
And the winner is…our daughter.
2. Open adoption has solved mysteries.
We have had a relationship with our son’s parents ever since a few weeks before his birth. And we have had medical records and some limited contact with our daughter’s family for the past year.
Even so, there have been many times when we’ve called their first parents to ask questions or gleaned information from an email they’ve sent to put the pieces together.
My son’s shellfish allergy and his habit of writing things backwards and upside down. My daughter’s refusal to wear her hearing aids. Each new bit of information results in a more complete picture of who my children are.
3. My children’s first parents are still–and always will be–their parents.
My son has his mother’s forehead. My daughter has her mother’s eyes. All of their first parents adore them. All of their first parents want everything good for them.
It’s hard to be jealous of your children’s first parents when they want exactly what you want for the people you love most on this planet.
4. My children’s first parents are among the people I love most.
This was true before I even met any of them, and more so since then. The first time I met my children’s first mothers, we held onto each other like we were drowning. These were among the best hugs I’ve ever gotten.
Although we don’t always have regular contact with them, I think of them ten times a day.
5. Relationships with my children’s first families are a little like relationships with my in-laws.
Positive or negative, uncomplicated or sticky as hell, we (and my children’s first parents) have hung in there, because they are the source of the people we love the most.
6. My child’s first parents are among a very small handful of people who never get sick of bragging about our children.
How many people want to hear “our son can do the crawl stroke! “ or “our daughter learned to ski!”?
Open adoption means more people to delight in our children’s every mundane yet marvelous accomplishment.
7. Openness helps kids make sense out of adoption.
I’ll never forget a friend–an adult adoptee who adored his adoptive parents–telling me how at every major life event he ached for the first parents he never met.
Our children deserve to know where they come from. The day one of my children asks, “Why didn’t they keep me?” I will say “Let’s call them so we can all talk about this together.”
8. Children are not confused by openness.
We are the only family they’ve known, and it makes perfect sense to them.
At a recent trip to the emergency room, our son announced to the nurse, “I have three moms and one dad. I live with two of my moms. The other one and my dad live far away. Oh! And we have a guinea pig named Elvis!”
When adults worry that openness will confuse children, it’s generally the adults who are confused. I think our kids are doing just fine.
Marisa Howard-Karp is an adoptive parent to two children. She can be found on Twitter and also from time to time at Support For Special Needs, where she writes about parenting two special-needs children.
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Photo credit: joniethegreat