The Pros and Cons of an Open Adoption

Father and daughter using cell phone on porch

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In an open adoption, the adoptive family and birth family stay in contact for the benefit of the child. Contact in an open adoption can mean different things to different families, 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 open adoptions in international cases.

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.

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

  • Conflicting values

Benefits of Open Adoption

Answers to the Big Questions

Because the adoptee will have some contact with their birth family, they will not have the feeling of a "missing piece" in their life that some adoptees describe. They 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 their heritage and ancestry. They will be able to claim that information as a piece of their 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 who love their child.

Medical Information Readily Available

Many adoptees lack access to basic medical background information regarding physical, mental, and emotional health issues in their biological family. This information can be vital to helping medical personnel make informed decisions on behalf of their patients.

No Need to Search

Many adoptees do not know the details of their adoption story, the the narrative of how their life began. 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, both emotionally and financially.

Drawbacks to Open Adoption

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.

The following guidelines can help both families navigate an open adoption and avoid misunderstandings:

  • 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.

It is important to establish expectations at the very beginning of the relationship, understanding that this is a lifelong relationship. While roles and expectations may change, your child's need for all of you in their life will not.

Conflicting Values

We all have our own morals and values, and not everyone sees things the same way or deals with similar issues in their life. What if birth parents and adoptive parents just don't mesh well?

Think about the following factors when dealing with personality or value differences between families:

  • Consider what is best for the child over your own needs and desires.
  • Recognize that a viewpoint, culture, or lifestyle different from your own may be an opportunity to learn something new, for you and your adopted child.
  • Determine if there is a safety issue such as drug use. In this case, you may need to limit contact to letters or emails, but explain that decision to the other party and to the adoptee as compassionately as possible.

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.

By Carrie Craft
Carrie Craft been an educator in the field of adoption and foster care since 1996. She has a wealth of relevant personal and professional experience.