Who Is Open Adoption For?

We’ve had some exciting developments in our family lately. After many years of no contact with any of Journey’s birth family, we are now talking to Journey’s biological aunt. This first contact may lead to other contacts. We don’t know yet. And we are prepared to take it slow.

Journey is very happy about the contact. She will finally be able to see someone who looks like her. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that we have plans to visit this new relative in December as well.

Open adoption – as it was taught to me – is about giving your child a sense of history and identity. It’s supposed to answer questions like: Who do I look like? Why was I given away? What is my medical history? What is my ethnicity and race? What sorts of talents and abilities do people who share my gene pool have? Where did I get my temperament?

But in my experience, open adoption is about so much more. It’s about reminding me of my role. I am the nurturer and provider. I am the daily presence. But I am not the source of everything parental. Birth parents provide other essential pieces of the parental puzzle.

What wasn’t explained to me in those early adoption workshops was that open adoption would provide me with a whole new set of people to love and cherish. My kids’ bio-relatives feel like my kin too. They are my forever friends. We are bonded through the children we share, but we also have our own relationships based on shared experiences and mutual respect.

Journey’s new contact with a birth family member has had an effect on Becton. As you might imagine, it has reminded him that his is a closed adoption. Becton said, “I am the only one left” who doesn’t have contact with birth family. Months ago, we found Becton’s birth mother on Facebook. He and I looked at her together and saw her resemblance to him. I messaged her, but she did not respond. We discovered an address for her. But when I suggested – in Journey’s presence – that we “ride by” the address, Journey quickly shook her head and said, “You can’t stalk her, Mom.” She is right, of course. Becton knows that we have to wait for her to be ready to contact us.

But what if Becton’s first mother isn’t ready before he is grown? I thought about this today and suddenly felt panicked. “If Becton is an adult and finds her, she will be Becton’s family and not mine.” That sounds so selfish. But, I admit, I have grown very fond of having these connections to birth family and knowing I have a role to play…

Many of us have recently survived another Thanksgiving with our extended families. For some of us, these gatherings are a blessing, while, for others, family get-togethers are more stressful. I put myself in the “blessing camp.” However, this year, I was aware, once again, that my parents, siblings, and their biological children all possess a certain set of qualities that run in my family. We are a serious, intelligent, contemplative, and rather tame crowd.

My older two children fit into the Patton clan with a fair amount of ease. They are polite and conversational when spoken to. Emily is socially mature for her age.

K.J.’s aptitude for following the rules and playing congenially with his cousins is much admired.

However, my younger children are wired a different way. Skye was not with us this year, but Journey and Becton displayed their propensities for being emotional and loud.

They make certain members of my family of origin uncomfortable at times. As much as I try not to be defensive — it bugs me. I love my family, but I sometimes want to scream: “Loosen up! Let them be who they are -– DIFFERENT than Pattons. Appreciate their uniqueness. Admire their spirit…”

This brings me back to the question: Who is open adoption for? It is for all of us. It is for my children, but it is also for John and me, our children’s birth relatives, AND for our extended families. At its best, it can open us all up to see the beauty of diversity in human beings. It can make us all more accepting and loving. And, God knows, we all need more of that.

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