Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Open Adoption: Slicing Through the Concept of Family

I have been thinking about open adoption and what it is at its most basic element. It has been suggested that open adoption is about sharing of information at its core. I tend to agree that sharing of information is a significant part of open adoption. For instance, I love calling Maya’s mother (biological /first) and sharing information: telling her about all of the new events in Maya’s life -- that her teacher is crazy impressed with her ability to speak in front of the class and that the music teacher is floored with her singing abilities. I love sharing these events with Nikki because I know that she is as proud of her Maya as I am. I also love when Nikki’s grandmother shares with me the names of the Native Americans in the family going back many generations. I have gathered much ancestral information on Nikki and Maya’s genealogical tree from the information I have received. I don’t want Maya to lose that part of her history as a result of being adopted. I want her to be a proud Native, Japanese, Cuban, African, German American raised by her Catholic Italian mother and her Mayflower descended/Swiss Mennonite father. I know how crucial my ethnic and religious upbringing has been towards the making of my identity. I want Maya to have an understanding of her ethnic and racial background in order to develop a fully formed view of who she is.

Still, information sharing is, for me, not the most essential aspect of our open relationship. It’s nice to have access to all of Maya’s medical information and familial history. And to share her accomplishments. But more importantly, our open relationship has thrived as a result of us all – my family and Maya’s first family – opening our hearts to each other. We have used this wonderful tool of adoption to expand our family and to bring more people into our family that we might not previously have had. We have used the tool of open adoption so that Maya can have more people in her life that love her to the bone. Our belief has been that having more people love a child cannot possibly be bad. So, we open our hearts and homes to one another. My heart and home is open to Nikki and her family. They have opened their heart and homes to us.

It takes a certain capacity to love new family members unconditionally, merely because the circumstances dictate that such unconditional love is best for all. But, somehow, so far, we have managed this. If Nikki’s family wanted to look closely and find something we have done with Maya that they disapprove of, it wouldn’t be hard. Surely our methods of raising a child are different from their methods. Nikki’s family has not done this. They have been nothing but supportive of the way in which Maya is being raised. Likewise, when we go visit there, we are confronted with ways of handling children that we might consider less than ideal. Still, we respect the rights of Maya’s family to interact with her as they interact with others in their extended family.

Maybe that’s what is at the core of open adoption. It is not merely sharing information. It is not merely opening your heart and home. Open adoption requires people to open their minds and expand their understanding of what constitutes a family. It requires being open to a new kind of family and being open to seeing that family as valid as the traditional family. Open adoption requires people to slice open the entire concept of family, redefining it to include both a child’s birth family and a child’s adoptive family. Blasting open the concept of family mandates that people involved in open adoptions remain open to experiencing the uncharted adventures that lie ahead of them. Indeed, families in open adoptions need not only remain open to the adventures, they need to embrace them. And they need to shine their lights outward so as to open the minds of others who are not so lucky.

For other views on open adoption, see

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