Let’s move away from outdated terms like open and closed adoption
Though it was never our position, ACI was created during a time when most established adoption service providers offered what was described as closed adoption.
In the era of closed adoption, birth parents’ wishes were frequently ignored and many felt aggrieved by the adoption process which led to feelings of shame, embarrassment and low self-esteem. Women and men who placed children for adoption were considered “losers” in the equation while adoptive parents got the “prize” and invariably were praised for providing stability and opportunities children might not otherwise have enjoyed.
During the closed adoption era, children who were adopted were either kept in the dark (frequently not told they were adopted) or told they were adopted and that their birth parents were inadequate and unable to care for them. As they matured, these young adoptees often felt torn – on one hand, curious about their background and genetic relatives and on the other hand, fearful about the possible repercussions of making contact with members of their family of origin. Additionally, adoptive parents often lived with the fear that someday, somehow, their child’s birth parents would interject themselves into their lives and create unwanted and unforeseen difficulties for their child, family and home.
Fast-forward 25 years to today. Many agencies promote what they describe as open adoption. The classic open adoption includes an exchange of identifying information between birth parents and adoptive parents. It also requires some amount of direct, face-to-face contact.
All too often, the term open adoption is used as a means of attracting expectant mothers, with little or no follow-through on the part of the agency to ensure that all parties understand the verbal agreements they have made.
It is not uncommon for an adoption service provider to stipulate who will meet whom, where meetings will take place, and how often visits will occur. Problems arise after an adoptive placement when, in hindsight, adoptive parents come to feel that they were pressured to agree to contact they didn’t really want. Conversely, birth parents feel aggrieved when they do not experience the kind of post-adoption communication they thought they had agreed to. They may even feel that they were purposely misled in order to get them to relinquish their child.
At ACI, our thinking about these matters has evolved over a 25-year history working with all members of the adoption triad. For us, open and closed are terms that no longer apply. Rather a new paradigm has emerged and it’s changing the discussion surrounding adoption and its meaning in people’s lives.
We now see the experience of adoption in the context of an extended family network. We believe that when a child is adopted, everyone who is related to that child becomes part of a larger extended family network – whether or not everyone in the network has contact with one another over time. This notion holds true in domestic and international adoptions.
A similar dynamic occurs in marriage. When two people enter into a legal arrangement that joins their lives, although they are not genetically related, their kinship networks expand to encompass both of their families. After the marriage, no one expects that everyone in the new extended family network will see each other all the time. Nor will all members of that network feel equally close to each other. However, through marriage, there is an unspoken understanding that, as members of the same newly expanded family, they share a common bond. As members of they same kinship network, they are important to one another.
We think that this shift in our understanding — this notion that everyone related to a child who is adopted becomes part of a larger extended family network — will, over time, permeate societal views of adoption. Like an idea whose time has come, this new paradigm will lead to a fundamental change in the understanding of adoption. As this notion takes hold, when an adoption takes place, instead of having winners and losers – all parents will more clearly see their role in the child’s life and feel that they acted responsibly and in their child’s best interest.