Successful adoptions focus on good parenting, not on past problems.
Adoption is not just damage control.
It is a unique opportunity to love as God wants us to love one another.
Adoption may address some big, adult problems, but after it is legally final, the primary
focus needs to shift from damage control to good parenting. And remember that parenting --- whether "normal" or adoptive
--- means helping children develop into fully autonomous people, not just clones of their parents. This is hard for all
Adoption Is "Different," But Every Child Is Different, Too
True, parenting an adopted child IS different, precisely because of the scars left by the issues that make adoption
necessary. But good adoptive parenting means helping children get past those issues, just as "normal" parenting means
helping children get past many other issues that arise as they grow up. Actually, adoptive families face a dilemma that is
common among families with "special" concerns: They are striving to be as "normal" as possible, but they must deal
with the issues that make them different. When you think about it, that's true for all of us. We must deal candidly
with our past in order to realize our present potential and our hopes for the future.
Respecting Others . . . and Their Limits
Every adoption is different, and each person in the triad has limitations. As the Open
Adoption section of our Finding a Match page notes, some people just
can't cope with open adoption at all, and forcing it on them can be unwise or even dangerous. But in general, every
child should learn and follow this rule of thumb:
"HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER" Exodus 20:12.
OK, but what does that mean for an adoptee?
Adoption Changes Parenthood, Not Biology
Adoption affects the hearts in at least two households. And while some want to believe otherwise, an adopted child has two
sets of parents: "Mom and Dad," and "Birth Mom and Birth Dad." (Of course, only half of this applies to step-adopted
children.) Ideally, an adopted child can honor both sets of parents. It's not always easy, but with open adoption,
it can happen.
Open adoption can be a win/win/win solution --- a redeeming victory for the child's best interests, not a
shameful "cover up" for adult failings. Birth parents can "adopt a family" to parent their children. Adoptive parents can
finally love a child of their own. Children can get the parenting they need. Parenting problems can be solved for two
families. Stepchildren or relatives can be shown full parental love and commitment.
Open Adoption Mimics Adoption Within the Family
If open adoption is a new concept for you --- if it sounds radical or dangerous or "kooky" --- back up for a moment and think
about the "first resort" when a child needs new parents: Staying within the family. When a child is adopted by grandparents
or an aunt and uncle, contact with the birth parents is normally kept as open as reasonably possible --- for the sake of the
child. In fact, the extended family parents the adopted child, not just the adoptive parents.
Keep the Focus on the Child
OK, now keep your focus on the child, where it belongs. If open adoption is better for the child who is adopted within the
family, why would it be different for the child who is adopted outside the blood family?
It's not. And open adoption can imitate the benefits of in-family adoption --- creating a new extended family --- for the
sake of the child. Again, every adoption is different from every other adoption, and the humans involved have their limitations.
But an extended family can usually offer a child more than a nuclear family by itself.
Open Adoption Benefits the Adults, Too
The anonymous, secrecy-shrouded adoption practices of the last century were understandable efforts to avoid the shame of
illegitimacy. (Many of today's open adoption advocates don't realize that adoption was not shrouded in secrecy by law
until the early 20th century, when birth mothers started demanding total anonymity when placing a child for adoption.
Of course, some will even blame that on society, or some sector of it, but that's a debate for another day.)
Whatever its seeming benefits, secrecy almost always hurts someone's feelings, and in adoption, it hinders expression and
processing of complex emotions. Today's more open adoption practices help everyone involved understand and express
their feelings about the arrangement.
Trust Is the Foundation of All Relationships
As with all human relationships, trust is essential. Some birth parents cannot earn the trust of their adoptive families,
whether because of safety, health, or other reasons. And some adoptive parents let down their children's birth parents (thereby
letting their own children down) by failing to honor the agreements they made with them. Some human limitations cannot be
conquered. But we must always try. And where it is possible, trust within the adoption triad allays fears and allows the
adoption to be more of a blessing to all involved.
The Fears Adoption Can Produce
While closed adoption may have helped avoid shame, it sometimes had unintended side-effects that could be worse: near-paranoid
fears for all members of the adoption triad. Adoptees, fearing they would never know their true genetic origins, sometimes
lashed out at the system --- or even at their adoptive parents --- for hiding their biological past from them. Many birth
parents only wanted to tell their birth children they loved them --- and to be reassured that their children were doing well,
but they feared rejection by the children and resentment by angry adoptive parents. And adoptive parents feared most of all:
What if the birth parents tried to interfere in their families, or even kidnap the kids? And what if their adopted children
"rejected" them and started searching for their "real" parents?
The Old Conceptions
If all of your ideas and experiences of adoption come from the days of closed adoption, open adoption may sound like a lot
of ridiculous Pollyanna optimism. You may think adoptees would be confused by having "too many" parents. You may think birth
parents need to put their pasts behind them. You may think adoptive parents need to be unchallenged as the "real" parents.
Facing the Issues
Open adoption doesn't pretend that these aren't valid concerns. Rather, it addresses them the way all problems must be addressed:
head on, with the affected parties working out solutions among themselves. It is closed adoption that hopes these issues
won't come up if the people involved are kept apart. But real lives and real emotions don't work that way. Covering up part
of one's past --- living a lie --- always makes things harder.
Curiosity Is Normal
Children who are old enough to understand where they came from, are old enough to understand that they came from different
birth parents. That truth cannot be hidden from most children who did come from other parents, and once they know
it, they will want to meet those parents. Adoptive parents who oppose this perfectly natural desire may bring on the
very rejection they fear by their adoptees. No matter how good a life adoptive parents provide, if their children feel they
are being kept in the dark, a huge rift can develop in the family. Adopted children should honor all of their parents
as much as reasonably possible. Open adoption allows that to happen.
Children Need Real Answers
Moreover, the usual closed adoption cover-up stories can cause significant unintended trouble. Adoptees will ask about
their birth parents, and they deserve true (age-appropriate) answers with details. Children hearing that their birth
parents are "best forgotten" will only become more curious. Children who are told without specifics that their birth parents
were deficient in some way --- or that adoption "rescued" them from their birth parents --- will get more curious too, but
they may also conclude that they inherited some genetic deficiency from those birth parents. (By the same token, adoptive
parents must resist the temptation to paint themselves as rescuing saints; perfection is a mirage no parent can live up to.)
On the other hand, dismissing adoptee questions with vague assurances about how generous their birth parents were will similarly
not end the matter --- it could easily make them wonder, "If my birth parents were so good, what's wrong with me that made
them place me for adoption?"
They Don't Stop Loving Their Biological Children
As for birth parents --- the people most often snubbed by closed adoption --- they may indeed have pasts they need to put
behind them, but they love their children all the same. And no matter what their past (or present) faults may be,
most of them want their children to know they love them, and they want to know that adoption has been good for their children
--- giving them a better life than they would have gotten without it. In placing a child for adoption, most birth parents
don't want to "give up" the child to new parents; they want to give new parents to the child. Now true, some birth
parents may at times be too dangerous or unreliable to play a role in their adopted children's lives. But whenever possible,
adopted children should have the chance to know that their birth parents loved them then, and still love them now.
Extended Birth Family Members Don't Stop Loving Them Either
In fact, even when birth parents are too dangerous or unreliable to play a role in their adopted children's lives,
those children can still benefit from knowing other members of their birth families. Birth grandparents, birth aunts
and uncles, and even birth siblings can have beneficial roles in the emotional lives of adopted children. In addition, these
people might have ongoing contact with the troublesome birth parents; they might be able to help persuade those birth parents
to "straighten up and fly right" by being more supportive of the adoptive families raising their children.
Adoptive ParentsAREthe "REAL" Parents
And adoptive parents? They ARE the "real" parents. If anyone asks an adoptive parent who the adoptee's "real" parents
are, the reply should be, "Don't I look 'real' to you?"
The Price Birth Family Members Have to Pay for Open Adoption
One commitment birth family members MUST honor if they are to have relationships with their birth children is affirming
the adoptive parents as THE parents. When birth parents support adoptive parents in this way, it is beneficial in
several ways. First, the adopted child is not confused about who has parental authority. That alone is supremely important,
but there are benefits for the adoptive parents as well: They will have less reason to fear interference (or even kidnaping)
by those birth parents. And they also will have less reason to fear rejection by their kids in favor of those birth parents.
Freed of these fears, adoptive parents will be more confident, and will unquestionably be the real parents. And finally,
by affirming the adoptive parents as THE parents, birth family members earn a continuing role in the child's life.
Emotions Are Always Complex
It's complex, alright. But if you think through the natural emotions involved, you discover that open adoption is the approach
that best faces reality and moves it in a positive direction. Hiding hard truths is harder than dealing with them openly,
and living a hard truth is better than living a comfortable lie.
The End of the Beginning
Like childbirth, adoption does take time. But parenting takes a lifetime. Childbirth and adoption are the first
steps; parenthood is the journey. The first steps are thrilling, but you want a happy ending, not just
a happy (re)beginning. Adoption is a complex, life-long journey. Placement of the child is only the beginning. Finalizing
the adoption in court is only the end of the beginning.
Parenting Is A Privilege and a Responsibility, Not a Right or Reward
Harking back to Dr. Pavao's quote above, we should remember
that parenting is a privilege and an ongoing responsibility, not a right or reward. Our office sometimes sees pre-adoptive
parents who think of adoption as an end in itself, not the beginning of parenthood. As noted on our Match
page, some pre-adoptive parents don't want any complications or difficulties in the adoptive process: The whole process
is a (potentially) disagreeable "job" they want to "outsource" to an agency or lawyer, or both. Others think their decision
to adopt IS heroic; but the adoptive process, rather than "rewarding" them, is one big obstruction --- a scam or "money
grab" that serves only to frustrate their heroism. The problem with both of these attitudes is that adoption is indeed
the start of parenthood, and parenthood IS complicated, difficult, messy, unglamorous, and rarely heroic in
any palpable way. Romanticized views of adoption as an end-in-itself should not be allowed to obscure the mundane,
daily burdens of parenthood that adoption will lead to. Otherwise, adoptive parents could find themselves dealing
with the "post-adoption blues," as reported in the May 22, 2008,
Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.
Transcending Pain Both families --- and eventually the child too --- can be hurt in their own ways by the problems that lead to an adoption
plan. The beauty of adoption is the hope that shared love can transcend pain. And yet, while adoption is "Plan B" for everybody
--- including the child, who can easily get lost in the shuffle --- a shared love of the adopted child can bring two families
together in surprising ways. In their shared love, they can respect and ease yesterday's pains. And the child can grow to
love both families in their proper, legal roles. It takes hard, honest work, but it will pay off richly if everyone stays
focused on parenting the child well. "Plan B" can still be a miraculous, joyous, and loving success!
Personal Commitment Is Key
It is popular to say that "Our children are our future." True, but we believe the more important message is this: Our parenting is the future of our children. This is why we PREFER
that our adoptive parents sign the Parenting Pledges set out below, and we ASK the birth parents
to sign it also. Instilling self-discipline in children starts with parents who model self-discipline for their children.
It is all the more critical for adoptive parents to model self-discipline consistently in dealing with their adopted children.
As a law office, we owe our best efforts --- and best advice --- not only to our clients, but to the children they will be
parenting. This is why we ask parents to make a solemn commitment to being good parents.
As a law office, we owe a fiduciary duty to our clients. Therefore, as to adoption in particular, we must
emphasize: Parenting is not just a privilege --- it is a responsibility. If our
professional services are going to be involved in creating new adoptive parents for a child, we want the adults involved to
make a commitment to good parenting. Therefore, we PREFER that our adoptive parent clients
sign our "Parenting Pledge for An Adoptive Triad," and we ASK the birth parents to sign the Pledge
as well. Asking parents to make these pledges for the benefit of the children is about the best we can do in advising
that those children get the best parenting possible.
The CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition developed most of the "Parents' Pledges" below to
help parents focus on specific behaviors they can model as part of teaching their children. [The Character
Counts! website has evolved quite a bit since then (even dropping "Coalition" from the name); but the pledges have been
adopted by several school systems around the world.]
For parents entering into an adoptive triad, we have added some pledges that address adoption. Our Parenting Pledge is intended
to inspire role modeling behaviors to bring out the best in adoptive parents, in birth parents, and in adopted children.
Of course no one is perfect, and starting over after falling short on one of these goals may be necessary. But doing so to
the best of one's ability will help strengthen commitment to the Pledge.
(The term "parent" below applies equally to adoptive and birth parents,
in either case, "children" refers to adopted children, and
"triad" refers to all parents and children in an adoption)
A Parent's Pledge: Trustworthiness
Blue --- Think "True Blue"
I will be as honest as I want my children to be.
I won't lie to my children or in front of them.
I will not treat honesty as a rule of convenience by excusing acts of dishonesty or deception as exceptions.
I will avoid hypocrisy like preaching against smoking, drinking or drugs while doing those activities.
I will demonstrate consistently the strength of my moral convictions by paying whatever price necessary to do what I think
is right, risking loss of money, approval and even employment.
I will treat my word as my bond in all cases.
I will avoid legalistic escape hatches in dealing with my children, honoring the spirit as well as the letter of my promises.
I will be honest with all members of our adoptive triad.
A Parent's Pledge: Respect
Gold --- Think "The Golden Rule"
I will listen with respect and treat my children's views seriously.
I will avoid selfish and petty behavior and power plays, especially where my children are concerned.
I will exercise self-restraint and maintain the kind of self-discipline I expect from my children with respect to violence,
yelling or other displays of temper.
I will use only the kind of language I want my children to use.
I will show appropriate respect for all members of our adoptive triad, and for their proper roles within the triad. (Recognizing
that children identify with their parents, I will show respect for the other parents in my adoptive triad because that will
show respect for the children as well.)
I will expect everyone in my adoptive triad to show similar respect for the other members of the triad.
A Parent's Pledge: Responsibility
Green --- Think of being responsible for a garden or finances
I will demonstrate a willingness to admit when I am wrong and to take my medicine, and expect the same from my children.
I will avoid shifting the blame and making excuses regarding my own shortcomings or mistakes, and expect the same from my
I will assign reasonable age-appropriate responsibilities to my children and see that there are meaningful consequences if
they fail to perform their duties.
I will insist that my children keep their commitments at home, at school and in extracurricular activities.
I will honor the commitments I have made to other members of the adoptive triad, especially regarding promised future contact.
A Parent's Pledge: Fairness
Orange --- Think of dividing an orange into equal sections
I will not resort to arbitrary power to get my way when I have taught that general rules of fairness are applicable.
I will treat all my children equally and fairly.
I will be open and reasonable to discussion and criticism.
I will be fair to the other members of my adoptive triad.
A Parent's Pledge: Caring
Red --- Think of a Heart
I will remember that my children are stakeholders in everything I do.
I will demonstrate compassion and respect for others, especially my children.
I will be visibly charitable and involve my children in choosing charities to support.
I will not discount, belittle or trivialize my children's feelings and fears.
I will care for the children in my adoptive triad by understanding that they naturally care for the other parents in our adoptive
A Parent's Pledge: Citizenship
Purple --- Think regal purple as representing the state
I will obey the law in all matters.
I will vote in all elections and perform other civic duties such as jury duty, testifying as a witness and reporting crimes
as the opportunities arise.
I will conserve energy and avoid littering or other forms of pollution.
I will defend the validity and virtues of adoption as a vital and positive part of society.
Other Relevant Parenting Links:
An abbreviated version of the Parenting Pledges on which ours are based appears at the Boy's
Town Parenting.org site.
And Parenting Resolutions (a lá New Year's resolutions) developed by Pediatrician Vincent Iannelli, M.D., are posted on the
"You have received a spirit of
adoption, through which ...
we are children of God."
This ceremony was developed as an additional free benefit to our clients,
and as a tribute to adoption itself. It is a separate, religious ceremony --- not a legal process or an alternative to a
legal process --- it does not have any legal effect by itself. Clients certainly need not use it, or even approve of it,
but its purpose is to promote support for triad members, and give due public recognition to the blessing of adoption.
Adoption has changed in recent years. If you're familiar with these changes, you may
know about "entrustment ceremonies," where the child's birth mother or birth parents ceremonially entrust the child to the
adoptive parents. A member of the clergy may preside, but entrustment ceremonies are usually private affairs, attended only
by those involved in the adoption.
The Living Trust Consecration
The Living Trust Consecration brings the whole people of God into the entrustment.
Jesus was presented at the Temple for consecration by His mother, Mary, and His adoptive father, Joseph. In the same
way, a child entrusted to adoptive parents should be consecrated and entrusted first to God and His church.
If the child's birth parents want to be present and participate, one or both can entrust the child to the presiding Clergy,
or to a church member, representing the whole people of God. (If the birth parents are absent or not comfortable participating,
a representative can entrust the child on their behalf.) God's church then entrusts the child to the adoptive parents. So
in this Consecration, the adoptive parents receive the trust --- not only of the child's birth parents --- but of all God's
The Living Trust
This is only proper: Through adoption into His Spirit, we are all children of God, and
thus members of the Living Trust of adoption. By adding our prayers and support to the adoption, we participate spiritually
in its sacred entrustment.
With scripture verses and prayers at each step for all involved, entrustment of the child proceeds from the birth parents
to God's people --- the church, and then to the adoptive parents.
The celebration concludes with prayer for all of us in the Living Trust. Everyone present participates in and supports the
adoptive entrustment, and we renew our trust in God and in each other --- the Living Trust.
Foundational Principles of The Living Trust
If children are a sacred trust from God, adoption must be no less sacred. Entrustment of a child to
adoptive parents is as sacred as a biological birth from God. All parents are Trustees of living assets: The Living
Trust: Foundation of the City of God
We need to rediscover trust. Trust is a foundation that needs rebuilding. But what is trust?
Trust is a bond between people who love something --- or someone --- together. (We all know people who love only
themselves. And sure enough: They only trust people who love them!)
But what happens when, together, we love God? Our trust grows into a faith that will take action. Our loyalty ---
both to God and to each other --- overpowers evil. Loving God together is the foundation of the City of God.
And loving God's gift of life together is the foundation of adoption.
Trust: Adoption's Foundation
We need to rediscover the sacred tradition of adoption too. Look what Trust can do when, together,
we love God's gift of life through adoption:
Moses' mother entrusted him for adoption by the daughter of the very Pharaoh plotting to kill him. And today, we have the
Joseph adopted his stepson, Jesus Christ, and parented Him as his own. And today, we have salvation.
This is Living Trust in action.
The Victorian era came to view adoption as a shameful cover-up for adult failings. Today, people are rediscovering
how adoption is a win/win/win, forward-looking, life-affirming solution that focuses on the child's best interests.
As such, adoption is not a gift OF the child, but a gift TO the child --- the gift of parenting.
And through prayer, we, the people of God, share in this sacred Living Trust of loving a child together --- supporting
the adoptive parents, and joining our trust with the birth parents in entrusting their child's parenting to the adoptive parents.