This guest post is by Angela Krueger, an adoptive mother and parenting writer.
The process of becoming an adoptive parent taught me a lot about my personal strengths, weaknesses and how I relate to other people, and open adoption gave me even more opportunity for self-reflection.
With over a decades’ worth reading, discussing, researching and ultimately living open adoption, I keep seeing our family in the context of the bigger world, and what I can do to make the world a better place for my kids.
Here are five life lessons from open adoption that I think have greatly influenced my life.
When my husband and I were first asked about open adoption during our home study process, we had a lot of reluctance.
There were so many unknown variables that it was hard for us to say a full-hearted ‘yes’ to open adoption, so we always said we were open to open adoption, but it depended on the situation.
What surprised me was that with each possible opportunity, whether we were being presented or not, I began to feel for the birth family regardless of the circumstances.
I did not feel anger or judgment.
In fact I began to appreciate the fact that I can never know another person’s entire story.
Despite experiencing many ups and downs in the process to adopt our children, I felt a growing compassion for birth families and the circumstances that surrounded them.
This compassion expanded to people from all walks of life who needed to make tough decisions and faced adversity because of life circumstances.
Connect to Others
One of the key benefits of open adoption is that there is a connection between families for the sake of the child.
This supports the child’s sense of identity, but it also supports our family because we have a shared story.
This relationship ebbs and flows like every other one in my life, but it also helps me keep in perspective that connection, even if weak, is valuable.
In my non-adoption world, I see this is also true. I value the connections I have with friends and family, as well as neighbours, teachers, coaches, counsellors and medical professionals among others.
Regardless of the relationships being business-like, clinical, or casual, they support our family.
We need each other, perhaps not all the time and not always in-person, but our sense of well-being comes largely from feeling supported.
Advocate for Others
Open adoption is a hot button issue for families living in adoption, but even more so for people who have no experience with what it looks like.
Whether it is intentional or not, families embracing open adoption often become advocates for birth families to the outside world.
We make it our mission to correct what the media portrays of birth parents and highlight the value of an adoptee knowing his or her roots.
As a result I have learned how to speak out on behalf of others, especially people who I feel are being misunderstood.
This advocacy may be helping someone’s voice being heard at a meeting or writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper on a topic close to my heart.
I see these advocacy opportunities as a way of helping to change the world, one conversation at a time.
Let Go of Ownership
I don’t own my children – I have the privilege to parent them. If anything, I have learned through open adoption to see who belongs to my children.
Before they joined our family, they had people who cared for them, loved them and wanted to see them grow up, and these relationships are still important to my kids today.
I have been able to look at the world through this lens as well.
Whether it is my environmental philosophies or learning to let go of anxiety when I lose a special object, I am able to take a larger view that helps me keep perspective.
When I let go of ownership, there is less stress and more freedom for enjoyment.
Try the Hard Things
When we first started our adoption journey we planned to go to Russia so we could be as far away as possible from birthparents because we thought it would be easier for the child, but really it was us who were looking for what we thought to be an easier road.
I know that each adoption process has its challenges and each family needs to decide the route that fits for them.
In our case, the challenges of an adoption reversal and turning down referrals in domestic adoption made us stronger as a family, despite the number of tears shed during those times.
In my life today I’m not afraid to try something because I imagine it might be hard to do.
I pursue something because I want to, even if there are risks and the challenges seem insurmountable. If the end result is what I truly want, it is worth pursuing – not a bad lesson to be teaching our kids.
Open adoption has opened my world in so many ways. I have beautiful children in my life, positive connections with birth families and a broader sense of how I want to be in this world.
Even though it can sometimes be a tough road that requires compassion, support, advocacy and letting go, open adoption has changed my life and I am grateful for the lessons this bumpy but scenic journey has taught me.
Angela Krueger loves to talk adoption, with openness and transracial adoption being her favourite soapboxes. She is a PRIDE trainer in Ontario and writes about parenting issues.