When we were waiting to adopt our first child ten years ago, we swiftly checked the “semi open” adoption box. We figured this was a safe and easy option, a compromise between closed and open. However, the day we went to court to gain custody of our first child, the cracked door swung open: We came face-to-face with our child’s biological mother in the waiting room of the court house.
Suddenly there was a face to a name, feelings to a stack of paperwork. Immediately there was an undeniable connection, a bond that would last a lifetime.
Open adoption is not easy. In fact, it can be downright complicated, bittersweet, and emotional. Throw the holiday season into the mix, and well, things can become even more complex. However, there are some ways to ease the stress of open adoption visits during the holidays:
Choose Plans Based On What Is Best For The Child
The number one goal of any open adoption, including a visit, is to do what’s best for the child. This includes who attends the visit, where the visit is held, the length of the visit, etc. Young children need naps and snacks to stay happy. They also need activity, if they are mobile, so sitting in a restaurant for two hours isn’t the best plan. If the child is old enough, you might ask how he or she feels about visits and if he or she wants one. For younger children, you can often read their feelings and behaviors during and after a previous visit and make adjustments to future visits.
Have Clear Expectations
Before we have a visit, we always decide where and when we will meet, the approximate length of the visit, and what we will be doing. Visits can be uncomfortable at times, so having a few things “in stone” brings us all comfort and some certainty. We can also come with a plan as far as our children’s nap and meal schedules. We also have clear expectations to avoid hurt feelings. If there is a plan in place, we do our best to have the visit happen according to plan.
Choose To Have A Great Time
We all know openness can be challenging at times, but often what happens at a visit is a choice. Choose to have a good attitude. Choose not to have lofty expectations, meaning, go into the visit cheerful and hopeful. Be thankful for the time you have together. The birth family may choose to navigate the visit differently than you anticipated. For example, perhaps they don’t bring your child a Christmas gift despite Christmas being three weeks away. This could be for any number of reasons. And perhaps you are a gift-giver and that’s not a tradition in their family. Whatever the reason, choose to smile and enjoy the time you have together.
Go Prepared And Be Flexible
Visits can be uncomfortable for the child, perhaps because of the unique dynamic of a birth and adoptive family coming together, perhaps because you had to travel, perhaps because your child is in a particular development or emotional stage, or the visit is held at an unfamiliar place. Whatever it may be, go prepared. Take your child’s favorite toy, take a snack, etc. Familiar objects can help make the child more comfortable. Once you are at the visit, be flexible. Adapt to your child’s needs while encouraging him or her to interact with his or her birth family. But don’t force your child, either. Remember, the visit is about the child.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
At the end of a visit, there might be a discussion of a future visit. Err on the side of caution. Don’t make promises you cannot keep (because you feel guilty, obligated, etc.). As children get older, visits may change based on the needs and desires of the child. Openness is a spectrum, and both the birth and adoptive family need to embrace the spectrum for the sake of the child. However, you should reassure the family that you will be in touch, a promise you can always keep!
The holidays are typically a busy and stressful time for many, so by planning and going into birth family visits with the right attitude, you are setting the visit up to be a successful, merry occasion.