The Pros and Cons of an Open Adoption

Father and daughter using cell phone on porch

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An open adoption is an adoptive family and birth family keeping in contact for the benefit of a child. Contact in an open adoption can mean different things to different families as contact can range from letters and emails to phone calls or regular visitation. It all rests on the adults to create a plan that fits everyone's needs and expectations.

An open adoption can be arranged in domestic adoptions including foster care adoption. Birth family contact can include birth parents, grandparents, and/or siblings. There have even been cases of open adoptions in international adoptions.

When an Open Adoption Is Not a Good Idea

There are times when an open adoption is not in the best interest of a child due to safety issues. This is often the case in foster care adoptions. If you are having a tough time making a decision on whether to choose an open adoption, consult a professional, such as a social worker or therapist who is familiar with your family.

Pros and Cons

As is the case with many decisions in life, there are pros and cons to choosing an open adoption.

  • Answers to adoptees' questions

  • Link to heritage and ancestry

  • Wider circle of family

  • Access to medical information

  • No need to search

  • Possible boundary issues

  • Possible unrealistic expectations

  • Challenging associations


Answers to the Big Questions

Since the adoptee will have some contact with birth family, he will not have the feeling of a "missing piece" in his life as some adoptees describe. He will also have the opportunity to ask the big question, "why was I placed for adoption?" The need to fantasize or romanticize birth family circumstances is then removed from the equation and the adopted child can grow up with the truth.

Link to Heritage and Ancestry

The adoptee within an open adoption will also have access to background on her heritage and ancestry. She will be able to claim that information as a piece of her identity.

Wider Circle of Family and Support

The adoptee within an open adoption may have more family to provide love and support. The adoptive family may also be grateful for the extra support provided by others that love their child.

Medical Information Readily Available

Many adoptees lack access to basic medical background information. This information can be vital to helping medical personnel make informed decisions on behalf of their patients. This invaluable information also pertains to mental and emotional health.

No Need to Search

Many adoptees do not know the details of their adoption story, the story of their beginning in life. An adoptee in an open adoption will have this information and will not have to suffer through an adoption search. Adoption searches can exhaust a person in many ways including emotionally and financially.


Possible Boundary Issues

Some birth families may struggle with knowing how they fit into the big picture. Adoptive families may struggle with knowing how to incorporate two sets of parents. While one set parents actively, the other set brought about life and brings a sense of stability and roots.

  • Communicate up front what the boundaries are in regards to visitation, phone calls, and birth parent input in the raising of the child.
  • Remember that everything can be renegotiated as time goes on.

Possible Unrealistic Expectations

Unmet expectations can be an issue on both sides of open adoption. A birth parent may expect perfection from an adoptive parent, while an adoptive parent may expect the birth parent to play a quieter role in their child's life.

  • This is why it's important to establish expectations at the very beginning of the relationship. This is for life. While roles and expectations may change, your child's need for all of you in his life will not.

Association With That One Would Normally Not Associate

It may sound ugly, but it is a factor. We all have our own morals and values, and not everyone agrees. Don't we choose our friends based on many different factors? What if birth parents and adoptive parents just don't mesh well?

  • Consider what is best for the child over your own needs first.
  • If it's a matter of safety, such as drug use, then limit contact to letters or emails, but explain that change to the other party and to the adoptee.

Consider This

Notice how the cons seem to be about the communication and social issues between adoptive and birth parents, while the pros are all a possible benefit to the adoptee and point to the overall best interest of the child. Isn't that what most of us are here for—to provide for a child? Please keep these things in mind when considering adoption.

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