Openness is a growing trend in foster care adoptions. It can be scary. A typical private adoption consists of a young mom realizing her own limitations and choosing another family to parent her child. This is agreed to be a selfless act of love. Openness sounds like a great idea in these fairy tale situations.
Events leading to a child being in foster care are dark and sorrowful – nothing like the turn of events described above. Parents rarely choose adoption for their children in foster care. Generally it’s something forced by the court when all efforts at reunification have been exhausted. Birth parents do have to sign legal documents, but it’s not really a voluntary surrendering of their child or children. These kids were forcibly taken – almost without fail for good reason.
Understandably adoptive parents would be leery of openness in these type of situations. However, it is a growing expectation in the case of foster care adoptions. Sometimes it’s not the birth parents but other members of the birth family you’re expected to keep in contact with.
My daughters’ story is somewhat unique. Their birth parents are mostly far away in the US. Since the girls came to me as foster children, I got to know their birth grandmother and her new husband. They live about 1hr away and would visit the kids when they were in foster care. After some supervision, the social worker decided the grandparents could take the children out in the community instead of always meeting at the Children’s Aid Office. That led to them picking the kids up from my home.
Their grandmother and step-grandfather are an amazing Christian couple. They were overjoyed when I adopted their granddaughters. The adoption came with the agreement that I would maintain contact with the grandparents as I saw fit. That meant anything from a yearly update and pictures mailed to the agency or their home to ongoing visits. There was not a regimented visit schedule put in place like when the girls were in foster care – though in some adoption cases there may be. Defining openness was left up to me.
It took awhile for Sloane* to come to terms with our new definition of family. For months she argued that my parents couldn’t be her grandparents because she already had grandparents and “kids only get one like only one mom and one dad – except for me I have two moms. The mom I grew in, and the mom who adopted me.” My explanation that most kids have two sets of grandparents didn’t convince Sloane. Finally I went with her logic, “Because you’re adopted and now have two moms, you also get two grandmas and two grandpas.” She agreed to that.
Adopting as a single person, I’m acutely aware of what my kids miss out on. Being unmarried, there are things I miss out on too. Having an open adoption has given my daughters two sets of grandparents instead of just one. It’s given me in-laws of sorts – in the best way. At our first meeting after the adoption took place, Sloane asked her grandmother to pour her some more juice. “We’ll have to ask your mom about that,” Sandra* answered. It was a small thing, but meant the world. She recognizes my position as the girls’ mother. This is not an easy transition considering she’s known them since birth as belonging to her own daughter.
We get together when we can – to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and just catch up. Sandra calls from time to time. Our relationship goes beyond the children. We’ve become a sort of family.
Usually when I mention this connection, people’s first question is, “Why didn’t the grandmother get custody?” Kinship care – where biological family or close friends/community members care for children instead of having them in foster care and/or adopted – is considered to be preferable. In this case, for reasons you needn’t know, the grandmother didn’t feel she could manage raising her granddaughters. We all rejoice that I get that privilege.