Over the coming months we will be talking with Lori Holden, an emerging expert on the topic of open adoption. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole will be published in the spring, and early reviews indicate it will become the latest go-to manual for parents navigating the journey to parent in open adoption.
Here is the first question we put to Lori, along with her answer.
What is the biggest concern adopting parents have about open adoption?
While researching and writing my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, I heard from people from all corners of adoption (adoptive parents, first parents, adult adoptees). The concern most often expressed by adopting parents is that they’ll never be considered the “real” parent. Sometimes that subconscious fear is so powerful and pervasive that it prompts adoptive parents to want to put as much distance as possible between their newly-formed family and the spare parent out there who is just waiting to swoop in and take over (the latter part is largely a myth, by the way). This fear is at the root of many of the dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors in adoption relationships. But though simple awareness of that fear, it can be examined and resolved in a mindful and functional way.
Parenting in Duality
Such fear can lead parents to resort to Either/Or thinking, It’s very dualistic, starkly black and white, pitting a winner against a loser. Either WE are the “real” parents or THEY are. Either WE can legitimately claim the child or THEY can. In the old days of closed adoption, the child could barely even wonder about her other parents without igniting feelings of betrayal in her own heart. Those feelings of torn loyalty can, figuratively, split the child in two.
Remember that Solomon tale? When two women came to his court claiming the same baby, the wise king knew how to tease out the “real” mother. His solution was to order a sword brought forth to split the baby in half, thereby guaranteeing that both claimants got her share. The “real” mother was the one to do whatever it took to keep the baby whole and well, even if it meant loss to her.
To help our children grow up whole, we must avoid splitting the baby with Either/Or thinking.
So what is the alternative? How do parents provide wholeness for the baby or child they adopted? How do they avoid splitting the baby?
It’s simple: switch to Both/And thinking.
Moving toward Unity
Adoption creates a split between a child’s biology and biography. Openness is an effective way to heal that split. That’s the premise of the book I’ve written with my daughter’s first mom. Your child’s biology comes from one set of parents and her biography gets written by another set. The contributions from both sets are vital to her. All of her parents make her the person she is and who she will be. Both sets of parents have a claim on that child, and the child should have permission to claim both. Otherwise she feels split.
We are already familiar with and adept at Both/And thinking. We know that parents are capable of loving multiple children — of course they are! Why not allow – encourage — children to do the same with multiple parents? Does loving my son, Reed, take away anything from my daughter, Tessa? Of course not; that would be ridiculous. Likewise, enabling my children to love me for my contribution and their birth moms for their contributions takes away nothing from me. It only adds to them — my children. Tessa and Reed get Both/And. And I’m not splitting my babies.
It’s helpful to bring into the open any concerns that can lurk beneath the surface in the minds of adoptive parents. Even deeper than the fear that birth parents will reclaim the child is the fear that the adopting parents will never themselves feel legitimate due to a competing claim on the child. That’s a fear that adopting parents can examine and resolve mindfully.
Lori Holden writes regularly at LavenderLuz.com about parenting and living mindfully. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available for pre-order on Amazon. She has written for Adoptive Families magazine, Parenting magazine and for BlogHer and MileHighMamas.com, a Denver Post site. On Twitter she’s @LavLuz and you can also find her on Facebook. She practices her Both/And technique with dark chocolate and red wine (though not at the same time).
Lori Lavender Luz
Author of the upcoming book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, coming in 2013.