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Preparing for an Open Adoption – An Adoptive Parents Guide

A mother laying on the ground reading a book to her young daughter.Today, there is less of a stigma around adoption than ever before. As a result, we’re seeing increases in all types of adoptions, including open adoption, transracial domestic adoption, adoption by LGBT couples, and single-parent adoptions, says Asher Fogle, Good Housekeeping. In this blog, we’re going to focus on Open Adoption, what they look like, and how to adoptive parents can prepare. 

What is an Open Adoption?

There are generally three types of adoption.

  • Open Adoption: Both parents and adoptive parents exchange identifying information about each other and have ongoing contact.
  • Semi-Open Adoption: Most or all communications between the adoptive parents and birth parents is facilitated by an adoption agency to preserve identifying information.
  • Closed Adoption: Birth parents and adoptive parents do not meet and do not share any identifying information.

According to Jennifer Fairfax LLC, 95 percent of adoptions today are either open or semi-open. Simply put, “the confidentiality that once defined adoption is no longer the norm,” says Eliza Newlin Carney, Adoptive Families.

An open adoption can be a truly wonderful experience for all involved, especially the child. However, this type of relationship also comes with several potential pitfalls.

Preparing for Open Adoption

When everything is going according to plan, an open adoption is mutually beneficial for all parties. In fact, research has shown that “openness appears to help kids understand adoption, relieve the fears of adoptive parents, and help birth mothers resolve their grief,” according to researchers Harold D. Grotevant and Ruth G. McRoy.

Still, there are a number of factors that can potentially disrupt this delicate balance. “Lack of support, a sudden change in the life of either the adoptive or biological family, logistical pressures — all can complicate matters,” says Newlin Carney. “Add to that the emotionally charged issues at stake – parenthood, power, identity – and open adoption can make for some combustible family dynamics.” So, it’s important for adoptive parents to be prepared.

“If you’re in touch with the birth parents, expect an evolving relationship,” says Gina Shaw, WebMD. “You may have established a plan in advance about how that relationship will work -how many letters, whether or not there will be phone calls or visits, and so on. But remember that it’s not set in stone.”

Here are some tips to help adoptive parents navigate this delicate relationship:

  • Child First: ALWAYS put the child’s best interests above all else.
  • Boundaries: Setting and maintaining boundaries is a critical component of any good relationship. Every good open adoption starts with a good plan. Work with your adoption counselor to outline a mutually-beneficial communication plan.
  • Stick to the Plan, but be Flexible: “Keep in mind, this relationship’s dynamics (as with any relationship) will evolve and change over time, but when each party maintains a high degree of humble vulnerability, the long-term health of your open adoption triad will be that much stronger for everyone involved, especially the child,” says Alan Atchison, When life changes do occur that will ultimately alter the course of your open adoption, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. It’s important for all parties to be upfront and truthful.
  • Be Compassionate: “Be sensitive about what the birth parent(s) may be going through,” says Shaw.
  • Positive Adoption Language: Positive Adoption Language, first created in 1979, is the preferred language used by Adoption Makes Family. Positive Adoption Language encourages respect for the emotions of all parties. For example, rather than referring to the biological mother as “first mother” or “natural mother,” we refer to the biological mother as the “birth mother.” This indicates the role of the birth mother as the individual who gave birth, which is an integral part of the adoption process. Terms like “first mother” and “natural mother” insinuated that the adoptive mother is “second” or “unnatural.”
  • Ask for Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Adoption counselors are trained to mediate tricky adoption situations.

Need to Talk?

Adoption Makes Family is here for you. We are a non-profit (501-C3) licensed adoption agency based in Maryland founded to meet the needs of birth parents and adoptive parents in a manner that is sensitive, compassionate, and personal. Our experienced professionals can help walk you through the adoption process and answer any questions you may have.

Call Us Now at (410) 683-2100

If you have any questions, you can contact us by phone at 410-683-2100, by e-mail at or use our online contact form.


  1. Atchison, Alan. “How to Prepare for a Successful Open Adoption.”,
  2. Shaw, Gina. “10 Tips For Adoptive Parents.” WebMD, WebMD, 21 Oct. 2011,
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