Being a parent in an open adoption is tough, I have no doubt. There are always questions, technicalities, communications and those darned updates, all on top of just being a parent. There are marraiges to maintain amongst the child(ren) and sanity to find. I understand that whole heartedly. I just wanted to write a post about what not to do to your child(ren)'s birth familiy(s).
Preface: I awoke this morning to a simple communication on FB from T. It was nothing Earth shattering, except for the fact that it existed. There were only two characters, ':)'. This sent me into a tailspin. Instead of allowing myself to be angry or upset by it, it caused me to think. Does she know what that did to me? How hard it is for me to translate just a smily face, after months of radio silence, into something I can reply to? Maybe not. I have a friend who will possibly write a companion peace to this, 'How to be welcoming to your child's birthfamily', so I will leave the happies to her. Me, I want to tell you what not to do.
First off, do not sign up for more than you can handle. It is always easier (on both sides, I think) to go from less communication to more. It is harder, and seemingly more damaging, to go from more communication to less. This doesn't mean agree to nothing and then expect something. Agree to the least amount you are comfortable with and have no expectations. I know of no one who has felt exactly how they expected to once an adoption was underway. It might be harder for a birthfamily to have contact or it may be easier. Understand that. Please.
Do not use communication as a reward. Just calling or sending us a letter because we graduated or got a new job or something else is hard. We already are striving (usually) for your acceptance and approval. Communication as a reward may make us push ourselves harder, but it also makes any mistakes or failures even more scarry. What if you don't want to talk because we got a 'C' in a class, because we broke up with a spouse, because we lost our job? That's just not fair.
Most of us, while pregnant, felt huge pressure to place (especially if we met the family we were placing with before birth). We built a trust and respect with the prospecitve adoptive family. Do not abandon us after this child is born. We spent time falling in love with you, convincing ourselves and the world that this child would be better off in your family than in ours. We are not simply vessels. Do not, for the love of anything good, treat us as if we are. Yes, sometimes we do distance ourselves for a while after the baby is born. Sometimes it is as much for your good as ours. We need to 'detatch' from our babies and are giving you time to attach. I know that I felt empty and hollow after my son was born, alone in a house that could have housed him and I. The most meaningful thing that happened after his birth was Monkey's family stopping by, after passing me on the road, just to say hi. It meant a lot that they cared. I was not capable, at that point, of speaking out and saying what I needed. I treasured it, though, that they knew I loved him and that I was a person, not just a uterus.
It is normal in life for a relationship to change intensity. It is not normal for it to happen every few weeks or months. This is a relationship that does take work, as most do. There are no real guides for doing this. Make a committment to your child's birth family and then keep it. Do not yo-yo us. A 'I never want to see you again' should not be followed, a week later, with 'How are you? I miss you so much'. We are real people with real emotions. Treat us as such. Do not expect any more forgiveness from us than you would any close friend.It is ok to say 'I am very busy this week, can I call you next week.' It is not ok to ignore phone calls for weeks on end, then want to talk every day.
Updates. There are so many update rules in my head. Don't just update at holidays. They are hard enough. Updates are a bittersweet time for most of us. If we are updated on a schedule, every 2 months or whatever, most people get anxious around that time. Do not add anxiety to the holidays by just updating for Easter, Christmas and 4th of July. It is hard for me to learn of something new my son is doing that I am not there to see/experience/help teach him. Couple that with the pain of not being with him for the holidays? Unfair. Certainly.
When we do get an update/communication, make it something sensible. I am outraged and confused at what I got this morning. A ':)' says 'I was thinking of you' or 'I am happy without you' or just 'someone hacked my FB and posted a :) on your profile'. Now I am second guessing everything I have said to T all over again. That's just not fair.
For Pete's sake, tell us of significant events in the child's life before they go on Facebook. Send us the picture of him/her getting on the school bus before you post it for the neighbor's ex's baby mama to see. We care. We want to remain special in your life. If you are suddenly pregnant/adopting/divorcing/moving/whatever let us know. Please. I cannot tell you how badly it hurt to get the call telling me that my son's parents were divorcing, but it hurt even more seeing it on Facebook first. That's my son's wellbeing. I deserve to know and be talked to about it before the whole known world.
Don't feel like you have to be perfect. None of us expect that. Families are complicated, strange and drama filled. We don't expect pictures of perfectly cleaned houses or kids that never skin their knees. I would rather a room full of toys, my child smiling, a little dust around the edges, than a manacured house with no fun. I expect that maybe a phone call is forgotten or a letter is late. It makes you human, real, reachable.
The last two are most important, at least in my eyes. Do not lie. If we know we can trust you, we will (continue) to trust you to make the best decisions for our child. We will trust that your communication is not going to disappear in a flash. If you lie, even once, that is broken.
Whomever your child's birthfamily is, they may have wishes that are odd to you. As long as they are not dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise harmful, respect them. I know one birthmom who does not want to be acknowledged on Mother's Day. She was more hurt that her child's adoptive family SENT her something than some of us were to be 'forgotten'. Each of us is different. Each of us will have our own wants. I understand that adoptive families also have their own wishes, maybe that they not be called during nap time or that the birthfamily creates a memory book about themselves for the child to have in the future. It is just as important that we, as birthfamilies, follow these wishes.
I just wish more adoptive families would realize that they have the control, all of it, in these situations. Adoptive families have the prize. In most adoptions, it is the birthparents who are scared of being lost. I know of several situations, however, where the adoptive families mourn the loss of the birthparents. This is a hard road we all walk. Let's do our parts to walk it together, hand in hand, bravely. Just don't do stupid stuff.
With Love Always