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Journal Issue: Adoption Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1993

Perspectives on Open Adoption
Annette Baran Reuben Pannor

Lifelong Responsibilities of Birthparents, Adoptive Parents, and Adoptees

The Birthparents

Relinquishment should not end the role of a birthparent. Birthmothers are responsible not only for providing careful and continuous nurturing before birth, but also for supplying ongoing emotional support to the adoptee following relinquishment. We know, from years of experience in counseling and psychotherapy of adoptees, that feelings of initial rejection and abandonment may cause emotional and psychological problems. Being told by an adoptive parent that one was given up out of love may be a poor palliative for children who feel that anyone who loved them would not have deserted them. Birthparents have a responsibility to let the children they relinquished know that they continue to care about them and are concerned about their well-being.

Birthparents can show this support for a child in many ways. A card, gift, letter, telephone call, or photograph each year on the child's birthday can demonstrate that the child's special day is important to the birthparent. Remembrances of this kind indicate that the child is not ignored, forgotten, or unloved.

Birthparents may feel that continued contact with their child and the adoptive family is painful and brings back difficult memories; however, birthparents need to understand how important they are to the well-being of their child. Other responsibilities and obligations include providing ongoing medical and social information and being available to both child and adoptive parents as needed.

Adoptive Parents

Adoptive parents share in this obligation to help in the adjustment of the adoptee. Acknowledging that adoption is different from having a child born into the family is an important step toward being successful parents. Adoptive parents must accept the dual identity in their adopted child's life and recognize the continuing importance of the birthparents' contribution to their child's self-concept. Adoptive parents must realize that, no matter how compelling and understandable the facts surrounding the adoption are, the adoptive child may still feel rejected and unworthy. Adoptive parents must work in partnership with birthparents to provide the child with a healthy identity and self-image. To achieve this goal, the birthparents and adoptive parents must each respect the other's role in the child's life and feel comfortable with and trusting of one another. Prospective parents should not adopt unless they feel able to deal with all of the complexities inherent in this kind of parenting. Finally, adoptive parents have a continuing responsibility to share vital information about the child, such as descriptions of serious medical problems and news about a death in the family, with birthparents. Adoptive parents also should help maintain contact between the adopted child and siblings and other significant relatives.

Adoptees

In some ways, adoptees are the victims in the adoption triangle. Others made decisions for and about them. They had no role in being conceived, born, relinquished, and placed for adoption. However, as they move out of their childhood into maturity, they should assert certain rights and assume certain responsibilities. Adoptees who are growing up with knowledge of two sets of parents should be encouraged to gain knowledge about adoption and to explore ways of understanding their dual identity and its impact on them. Adoption is one aspect of their being which needs to be woven into the fabric of their lives.