Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Limitations of Open Adoption

I have said it over and over from my first book (The Dark Side of Adoption) in 1988 and again in The Stork Market (2007): "open adoption" is a step in the right direction and alleviates SOME of the issues associated with adoption loss and separation, but it is not a panacea and remains painful in different ways for both the child and original family members. Like all of adoption, it's merely a trade off...something different, not necessarily better and certainly comes with no guarantees.

For the child, if it is truly open and visitation is ongoing, she gets to see who she looks like.  For the mothers, she is relieved of worrying if her child is alive and cared for.

Yet both get to see and have to deal with realities that those who grew up or dealt with closed adoptions did not. Mother have to hear their child calling someone else Mommy and bear witness to parenting styles that may make them bristle or worse.

Children have to deal with the question of "why couldn't you keep me" in new, deeper and more painful at far younger ages, as they see their mothers' choice to complete her education or watch her marry and or have other children.

On a website about the destruction of lives by cocaine, Aullie asks:  
Wһаt аrе tһе effects οf adoption on a child? Knowledgeable people, һеlр!?
Wһаt аrе tһе psychological consequences οf a kid, wһο wаѕ ѕау, adopted аt 8 аn һаԁ an alcoholic, previously heroin addicted birth mother, and never knew tһеіr father? Anyone experienced in psychology οr social work οr something сould help. Wаѕ anyone adopted wһеח tһеу wеrе a kid, wһаt һаѕ уουr life bееח lіkе аftеr tһаt?

I replied: 
First of all if these children were born with fetal alcohol syndrome, or were abused emotionally or physically, adoption will not change, erase, or “heal” the traumas they have been through and may add new and different ones.

My 30 plus years researching issues related to adoption, leads to the clear position that being raised by grandparents or any extended family is far superior to being adopted by unrelated strangers. If that is totally impossible, the child should remain with people who look as much like him as possible – people of the same race who sill be able to understand the unique challenges faced by those of that ethnicity (for example.

It is also essential to allow children who remember their parents to have the ability for ongoing visitation, with supervision if that is necessary, but a sudden cutoff causes far more pain and feelings of rejection for a child who believes it is something he or she did that caused the problem.

Anyone who adopts an older child needs to be prepared for acting out, anger, and disciplinary problems and needs to not expect the child to be able to form bonds easily or even at all.

Anyone who adopts a child of any age needs to be able to allow them to grieve their losses. Even if they have elevated their living conditions and gained some material “advantages” by being adopted, and left behind nothing but squalor and maltreatment, it is a tremendous loss to a child to lose his home and family. Treat him as if his family has died and recognize his grief and sadness, while allowing visits, photos etc that keep them alive for him. Help him understand it was not his fault and that his parents love him but they are ill or have problems. Allowed to visit and know them, he will see this for himself.

I hope you all will share your replies as well here.

And then, the very next day I came across a very poignant, articulate and painful illustration of exactly what i was trying to explain. Here it was described in detail as felt by the child herself. I hope you will all read, bookmark and share this link. Share it with mothers considering open adoption so they can see the pain they and their child will still have to deal with.

Adoption does not cure the loss that begins it. It does not magically replace one mother with another anymore than it cures infertility or replaces the child a woman may have conceived and birthed. It is an artificial replacement and it as such is imperfect.

Life is painful or as the Buddhists say, life is suffering. A child with an absent father mourns his loss no matter who steps in to fill that role he or she will always wonder why their first parent left them and what is wrong with them.

Wise parents, like Christine and J are there to allow the grieving to be expressed and VALIDATED and that's all we can do once a loss has occurred.  Far to few have this ability. Most see what they want to see - that the child APPEARS to get past it and they admire the child's strength and coping abilities. We read all the time of children taken on airplanes and into a foreign land with people speaking a whole new language and their new parents simply doting over how well they "adjusted" to it all because to recognize the grief and mourning is to accept some culpability for it.

Because we know there are questions that have no "right" answer that will take away the hurt of these severed children. And every adoptive mother knows the bottom-line question the child really wants to ask is: "Why didn't you help my Mommy keep me?" And that's the questions she cannot answer.

As a society we need to try to our very best ability to avoid as many losses and separations as we can. To not PROMOTE or ENCOURAGE adoption as an easy or acceptable or even "loving", "brave", or "noble" act on the part of either the natural or adoptive families.  It is NOT!

We do not promote or encourage fathers to abandon their families. We track them down and require at least financial accountability.

Marriage and child support laws were created to protect children financially and remove that burden form the state. But kids needs far more than financial support or the material advantages adoption provides to grow into productive adults.

They need to feel wanted and not by just anyone but by those who brought them into the world. Once that connection is shattered, there will always be a hole. Some learn to cope with it and some never do. But no matter how well the hole is covered and coped with, it is still always there, just as the loss for the mother is as well...

Open adoption? Just one more social experiment with no consistent long-term history on results and a new sales pitch here in the US...


Von said...

Absolutely agree, it doesn't take away the losses of adoption just makes some of them more pronounced.

Anonymous said...

Do you see any adoption agencies that follow a strong open adoption model? Or, are they all bad? I'd be curious to understand what agencies might at least be heading in the right direction according to your standards, if any.

Mirah Riben said...

Unfortunately, I do not know.

You could goggle Brenda Romanchick or write to her via InsightAdoption.org and ask her.

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