Open Adoption: Does It Get Easier?

Since the movement toward open adoption in the 1980s and 1990s, many adoptive and birth families have attempted to figure out how to have contact — and maybe even relationships — with each other, bonded by their connections to the baby/child/teen/adult.

To do this well, parents must make a shift from the Either/Or mindset we had in the Closed Era to a Both/And perspective on the Open Adoption Era. That sounds easy enough, right?

How Hard Can It Be?

But because relationships are complex, especially emotionally charged ones, the going isn’t always smooth. When I present workshops at post-adoption support groups around the country, people often ask: Does open adoption get easier?

I give the answer in the form of another question: Does marriage get any easier?

Things change over time. Comparing something at the beginning of a journey to something later down the line is like comparing apples and oranges. How well can we compare a marriage in its second year with a marriage in its 22nd year?

And, as someone told me when my children were little and I was exhausted, wondering if parenting itself gets any easier, “little people little problems; big people big problems.”

I didn’t really get that notion back then. It had been years since I’d slept through the night. I was with the kids, not yet in school, all day. There was crying, frustration, and boredom (not to mention what the kids were experiencing). When my husband came home from work each evening I often felt like hiding in a closet for a while just to be alone and regain sanity. The problems from this era did not seem small. They seemed huge and unrelenting.

Sleeping Through the Night

The kids are now in high school, and I’m no longer awakened by night feedings and bad dreams. Still we have issues and angst. Bigger issues and bigger angst with higher stakes. We help the kids navigate school and friendships and relationships with teachers and coaches. We have health concerns, treatment plans with the orthodontist, disagreements about fashion and makeup and helmets and high fructose corn syrup, negotiations about shower time, screen time, bed time. We mediate between our kids and with neighbor kids. We teach, we model, we teach more and model more. Are we teaching and modeling all the right things? Will we have covered all the important lessons before they are ready to leave home? In less than half a decade?

I still don’t always sleep through the night. So I can’t say that parenting has gotten easier. I can say that it’s gotten different.

Maybe our open adoptions have gotten not easier but better. When we started we had just one first parent around — my daughter’s birth mom. Over the years we have also connected with her birth father. This summer our family will attend our son’s birth father’s wedding, and we have hopes in seeing our son’s first mom in the coming months.

The relationships with the people who created our children are gradually shifting from me as caretaker to Tessa and Reed as the owner-operators. So my role is also changing. Whereas my prime responsibility was at first to maintain a wide-open conduit between our family and our children’s birth parents and make sure there was no corrosion, I am now moving into more of a consultant role. As Tessa and Reed begin to helm their own relationships with their birth parents, I will be on hand to assist as requested, to comfort if needed, and to abide with them as they continue to process their adopted-ness.

Does open adoption get easier? Well, yes in the sense that perhaps marriage gets easier and parenting gets easier.

But as John F. Kennedy said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people”.


Lori Holden, mom to a teen daughter and a teen son, is an award-winning blogger who writes from Denver at Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is on suggested and required reading lists at adoption agencies around the country, and is available in paperback, hardcover, audio and e-book versions. It makes a thoughtful gift for the adoptive families in your life.