Because they are considered rather controversial now, many people do not realize that open adoptions were actually very common in the United States prior to the late 19th century. Before a child was adopted, more often than not, the biological parents had some form of contact with the adoptive parents. It is true, however, that the arrangements were not exactly the same as open adoptions are today. In those days, adoption was seen as a social arrangement: the birth parents relinquished responsibility for a child they could not afford to care for, and the adoptive parents gained another set of hands or a new apprentice for the family business.
At the end of the 19th century, more conservative ideas about family life became widespread across the country. This created a new stigma around adoption. Suddenly it was important for adoptive families to maintain the fiction that the parents and children were biologically related. This encouraged parents to try to adopt children who resembled themselves as much as possible, a phenomenon that some researchers refer to as the creation of “as if” families.
This new mentality also had repercussions for women who placed children for adoption; they were often encouraged to pretend the birth had never happened, or that their child was dead. This was to discourage birth mothers from trying to find the child later on. Very often, the biological parents would not even know who, if anyone, had adopted their children. Adoptive and birth parents usually never met, nor even learned each other’s names. For years, this was considered the healthiest way to arrange an adoption. People felt it would be confusing and perhaps damaging to a child to have both biological and adoptive parents in his or her life.
Open adoptions have been gaining in popularity in the US since the 1980’s. Many are only semi-open, which means that adoptive and birth parents only have contact before and immediately after the birth of the child. Afterwards, the two families go their separate ways. The opportunity to meet and even chose adoptive parents gives biological parents peace of mind during a difficult time. It also allows adoptive parents to ask questions about the child’s family history, the mother’s behavior while pregnant and other important variables.
In a fully open adoption, the biological parents stay in touch with the adoptive parents and sometimes the child throughout the child’s life. This is usually an informal arrangement between the parents involved, but some families prefer to sign legal contracts guaranteeing each set of parents certain rights and obligations. Under this arrangement, the adoptive parents still retain full legal parental rights. The rights of the biological parents are just to visit with the child, or receive regular updates from the adoptive parents about the child’s life.
People choose open adoption because they feel it is the best arrangement for everyone involved. The biological parents are able to interact with their child, while the child will not have to spend time trying to learn about or track down his or her parents. Some people feel that this unconventional arrangement could be confusing or damaging to child, but there is no solid evidence to support this.
For more information about adoption laws, contact San Diego adoption attorneys Fischer and Van Thiel.