Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children in Open Adoptions Are Not Confused by Contact with Biological Families

I was reading a list of Adoption Myths and Facts earlier today, and one myth in particular jumped out at me:

Having regular contact with the Natural family would be confusing and destructive to the adopted child and her family

Followed by the refuting statement:

Regular contact with the Natural family is less confusing than no contact and will reduce many of the pains and problems that face the adopted person as she lives her life

As someone who advocates open adoption, my views are obviously strongly in line with the second statement. The prevalence of the first belief is something that has long bothered me, especially when I encounter it among members of the psychiatric and therapeutic community. 

About a year and a half ago, I was sitting in the office of one such professional discussing my daughter Ashley, who was at that time still my foster child. I mentioned that she had twice yearly visits with her biological mother, adding that she did well with the visits and that I intended to continue them following adoption. A look of concern crossed his face. "I don't know," he said. "Don't you think that will just be confusing for her?"

This was a pivotal moment -- one that could have sent my adoption journey off on a very different track. The visitation agreement that Ashley's biological mother had signed with the state included a clause stating that the visits could be stopped if a therapist believed they were not in Ashley's best interest. If I was looking for an "out," here was one being handed to me on a silver platter.

Fortunately, I wasn't looking for an out. And I also knew that even though this man was in the position of an expert, sitting behind a big desk with degrees hanging on the wall behind him, his education likely included little or no training specific to adoption. I knew that as someone who was herself adopted and who had read countless books and articles on adoption, I was the one who was in fact the expert on this subject. I spent the next 15 minutes educating him on the importance and endurance of the biological bond. 

Can we really say that the second of these two statements is a "fact," or a proven scientific statement? No, probably not. But I can say with confidence that everything in my experience as an adopted person and in what I have seen so far as an adoptive mother in an open adoption supports the second statement. Ashley was very definitely "confused" (or more accurately, "traumatized") by her removal from her biological family, but my husband and I have not seen any evidence of confusion as we have continued (and, in fact, increased) her visitation with them. Nor have we seen any evidence that increased contact with the biological family is harmful to our adoptive one. To the contrary, we have seen Ashley's bond with us strengthen and we've noticed her seeming more relaxed and happy.

There are a lot of things about adoption that can be confusing to children. The separation from the biological family, and the various explanations that adults give for that separation, can be very confusing. But loving two families, and being loved by two families -- that's not confusing. It's actually pretty simple!


  1. Interesting post. In our Samoan culture, 'adoption' as the Western world defines it does not traditionally exist. Families are not nuclear, they are extended and so children 'belong' to everyone in a sense. It is frowned upon to give a child of the family to complete strangers. Rather what happens is, a child is 'adopted' by a sibling, an aunt, grandparents, a cousin etc. Often, if a couple has lots of children and one of the parents siblings has not been blessed with any children - then they will give one of their young ones to the childless sibling. It is not a secret or a big deal. Traditionally, all adoptions are open then.
    I agree that, it would not be confusing for a child to 'know' their biological family/parents. I believe that the more people that can love a child - the better.

  2. Thanks, Lani. The Samoan way makes a lot of sense. Things are shifting a bit towards that way of thinking in the West. At least in terms of older child adoptions via foster care, there is now a preference for kinship placements when possible.

  3. Hmm, I just mentioned this post in another comment to you, and now I see that you read it and commented already! Now, re-reading your comment here, I'm curious about your situation. Your other comment implies that your adoption is not open. Is it a non-traditional one, in the Samoan sense?