5 Things You Can Learn from a Family with Open Adoption

Paula Weeks (Photo Credit:)

Paula Kanani Weeks is excited to expand her blogging world as a guest blogger.  As an open adoptive mother of two, she has 10 years of experience sharing her children with all seven families (bio and adoptive). Paula was a pediatric nurse, where she embraced her love of caring for children, while waiting for her own through the adoption journey with her very supportive husband. Aside from being a photographer, business owner and most importantly, a mother, she is excited to spread her arms wide open with the desire to help others love unconditionally where worlds colliding can create strong family bonds. Follow her journey on her blog and Instagram page: @paulakanani.

  1. Peace of Mind
    There are many couples who fear the idea of birth parents being involved with their children’s lives after placement. What they don’t understand is the blessing openness can be for both children and biological families. In the early stages of our adoption journey, I will admit that my husband and I felt it would be beneficial for our birth mothers to sever all ties to their children and be able to move on independently. However, this always felt unsettling to me. Our adoption agency provided courses and support groups. The idea of open adoption, in its infancy, was something to consider. If your children remember the day you told them they were adopted, you waited too long. I believed this to be a key factor in how we should raise our children. Time and time again, we discuss with their biological families how they feel more peace with the placement by being a constant part of their lives. Knowing their children on very intimate levels, knowing their hobbies and quirky personalities and unique talents, allows them to still be a part of their lives. I hope my children will continue to grow in confidence of who they are.
  2. Finding Self
    Children spend a lot of their adolescent and teenage years trying to find their place in the world: who they are, what’s their purpose, and what makes them. Story after story, I hear of how adoptees feel a sense of loss or emptiness when they are separated from their “first families,” Even my children who were adopted at birth, with me at the hospital by their side until placement, there is a very real separation from biological ties, that occurs. I have always been comforted by the understanding that my children were never alone in this process and had multiple families loving and doting on them from birth, through placement, and especially to present day. It has not been a question, yet, with my children of who they are and why they have certain qualities, thoughts or behaviors. They know who they are and where they came from aside from their nurtured knowledge of being children of God. In fact, my 10-year-old daughter has already been able to claim her place and feel a deep-rooted connection to her birth mother and family with their love of horses. My son’s laugh, that is prevalent in him, is his birth mother’s laugh. He laughs with purpose, representing that piece of them they share. They both share beautiful qualities with their birth fathers and even grandparents and aunts and uncles. But they appear to be confident in themselves, even as young children.

    Weeks Family in Hawaii (Photo Credit:)

  3. R.E.S.P.E.C.T
    Respect is a big deal in our home. It is something we are constantly trying to teach our children. Respect for their elders, for teachers, for parents, for community, buildings, earth and so forth. It really doesn’t take much to think of another before acting on your own desires. Early on, we knew openness was the only way to move forward in adoption. Our adoptions have been domestic and therefore it is easier to facilitate openness. But just because we are able to be open and be close, does not mean we need to throw our manners out the door. When our daughter was 4 days old, we were excited to visit and share her with her “first family.” She had a check-up with the doctor and since we were still in the state of her birth, we thought we would give her birth mother a call and request a visit. Even with our son’s birth, family was concerned with emotions running high and need for space, while everyone processed open adoption. What if they don’t keep their word and we never see this baby again? A real fear that kept hearts protected by a wall. Just as with any relationship, it takes trust and time to develop and to grow. Ultimately, respect comes when you put other’s needs first and consider their thoughts and emotions before our own actions.
  4. Family = Presence
    On our daughter’s third birthday, the same day of our son’s blessing, we were excited to share this day with many of our family. At least one person (although there were many) from all seven families attended the event. Both birth mothers and birth fathers were there with their significant others and children. This was seven years ago and the relationships in our families have only grown stronger and closer. I sat and held my 6-month-old baby boy, looked around the room, and realized how blessed my husband and I are to have so many people love our children. With open adoption, we are just adding to the already amazing family we have with all are our additional families. There is true power in the statement, “the more the merrier.”
  5. Power to Heal
    Adoption. The word alone can make some wince with fear, possibly having experienced it in some way or knowing someone that has experienced it. There have been many made-for-TV movies portraying adoption and not always in a positive light. From both biological families and adoptive families, there is a real loss experienced. The loss of fertility and the ability to procreate in a family unit and the loss of a child when placement is the answer. No matter how you look at it, there is heartbreak, loss and feelings of deep pain. Open adoption, whether from birth, or many years later when adoptees are able to find their biological families, you will find a beautiful healing process unfold. Those wounds may never disappear, with scars always reminding us. Those scars are just battle wounds. Real healing is when we accept those wounds and own them. Openness in adoption builds confidence and peace from our experiences and allows honest healing.

Meet the Hallman Family

Deb and Joe Hallman adopted Dylan and Jade at birth through Lutheran Social Services of Ilinois’ infant adoption program. Dylan is now 12 years old and Jade is 6. The Hallman family has recently relocated to Southwestern Wisconsin and is still within close proximity of their birth families. Joe currently works for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Deb is a stay-at-home mother. Both Dylan and Jade are homeschooled. Dylan is just finishing up 6th grade and Jade is in Kindergarten. 

You were very honest and open about your desire to have an open adoption. Why did you decide to share your experience?

We have had an amazing open adoption experience with the birth families of our two children. We felt that sharing our experience with other potential adoptive couples would help others realize that open adoption is a very viable option. Fear of the unknown is something that could potentially keep families from having an open adoption arrangement so we want to let couples in the beginning stages of the adoption process know that it is nothing to fear and can actually be a fantastic way to build a relationship with the birth families. As we were gathering information while we were going through the adoption process, we heard many adopted adult individuals speak out about being in a closed adoption arrangement. We learned from them that having a closed adoption was very difficult on them and we wanted our children to have the knowledge of their birth families available to them.

Is there anything you underestimated in building a relationship with the extended family of adoption?

We were pleasantly surprised that both of our children’s birth families wanted to keep in touch and have an open relationship. They both see the importance in keeping a connection for their children’s best interest.

And how has the relationship changed over time?

As time goes on, our contact with the birth families is less often. Initially, when the kids were infants/babies, we shared a lot of updates and photos. Their birth families were able to follow along with their milestones, and keep up to date as they progressed. Now that they are older and there aren’t as many milestones, we don’t have contact as often as we did in the beginning but the relationships have not changed. We still consider them a part of our extended family.

 

Top Three Reasons to Learn More about Openness in Adoption

Openness is a common aspect of the adoption experience today with research showing that over 95 percent of agencies offer some form of open adoption. In many ways, the relationships that are developed through open adoption are no different than other types of modern family arrangements today such as blended families, families headed by LGBTQ parents, step-parenting, and those that come together through assisted reproduction technologies such as donor origins. The new normal of today’s family brings with it the beauty of diversity while also presenting certain challenges as individuals navigate new relationships in their lives.

Openness in adoption provides many benefits that a secret and closed adoption system could not offer; it assists the entire family with identity development, it allows people to know the truth of their origins, and it creates a more authentic family dynamic. Moving beyond the antiquated notion of the “as if” family that ignored the presence of a birth family, today’s adoptions in many ways provide families with the freedom to embrace all the people that make them who they are as a family.

This doesn’t mean openness is always easy! In fact, just like in other types of families, it comes with challenges that can be difficult to navigate without the right supports and education. This is why The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) launched our online curriculum Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! The curriculum is rich with information that can help families with some of the common questions about openness, address concerns, and also provide tools to work through some of the challenges that may arise.

If you haven’t taken advantage of this resource yet, here are the top three reasons learning more about openness in adoption can benefit your family:

  1. Facts are Friends
    Often times, families are inundated with information from various media outlets that don’t paint an accurate picture of what this experience is really like. You may have seen this in the movie of the week or as a headline that dramatizes an adoption experience gone awry. Unfortunately, adoption is often depicted as an either/or experience… either very good OR very bad. The reality is that adoption is a layered experience with family dynamics that contain strengths and challenges (just like any other family on the block). Learning the facts about openness in adoption, including what the research says about the impact of openness, will ease any anxieties that naturally arise when information comes from questionable sources. DAI’s online curriculum provides an overview of the major research in this area in a way that is easy to understand and can build confidence as you make fact-based decisions about what’s right for your family.
  1. Communication is Critical
    In any relationship, difficulties and disagreements can arise. We all bring our unique personalities, histories, opinions, ideas, traumas and values when we build relationships with other people. Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships with individuals that come from very different backgrounds than what we are used to. In adoption, this may happen as this is an experience that frequently blends differences in areas such as race, religion, class and culture. This may lead to instances where the going can get a little tough. What you want to remember though is the relationship between birth and adoptive families is one that requires commitment because these are relationships that benefit the most important person in the family — the child. When the going gets tough, it’s important to tough it out and have the hard conversations that are needed to maintain this commitment. Remember, a child who is adopted has two families that will contribute to their identity development — a family of birth and a family of experience. When one of these families is cut off, that can make identity development all the more difficult for the adopted person. Learning the skills necessary to communicate — particularly in difficult times — is crucial in order to make decisions that are in a child’s best interest rather than those that solely serve the interests of adults. DAI’s curriculum provides examples of some challenges that may arise as well as practice opportunities to brainstorm solutions. Although every adoption experience will be nuanced, developing a toolkit can help a family feel prepared and self-assured in communicating concerns and creating solutions that serve the family and most especially the child.
  1. Real Relationships
    Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! is a curriculum that is designed to help emphasize that adoption is the blending of families. Adoption does not replace one family with another; rather it extends families in different ways. All family members are important and need to be acknowledged. In some situations, family members may prove more challenging than others. What’s key though is viewing these relationships as hardly different as other types of relationships we have in our lives and making decisions about the nature of the relationships in a way that serves a child. We always consider what is safe and appropriate for a child as the priority. As adults, we must challenge ourselves to make sure that those decisions are not based on adult needs and fears but rather what is truly in the best interest of the child. It is also important to remember that although some extended family members may not be appropriate for direct contact, there are almost always other families that are. This is the reality of developing authentic family relationships in any type of family. In adoption, when we work to maintain connections, we can best help a child fully integrate the unique experience of being born to one family and raised by another. All children deserve to be raised in a way that they can feel healthy about whatever their unique family situation is. As adults, we have a wonderful opportunity to work together in making sure the best interest of children is at the heart of any decision made in adoption.

Learn more about DAI’s Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! curriculum. Contact us for more information about additional resources for professionals who support families. Providing education and support to families in adoption is something all of us have to engage in. Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us.

Seeking a Spring/Summer 2017 Communications and Development Intern

Spring/Summer 2017 Communications and Development Intern

About The Donaldson Adoption Institute

Since 1996, The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) has been on a mission to improve the lives of children and families through research, education and advocacy. We investigate the issues of greatest concern to first/birth families, adoptive/foster families, adopted people, the people who love them and the professionals that serve them. We educate and train professionals, enlighten parents and engage members of the community to make a positive impact on laws, policies, practices and perceptions.

Internship Description

DAI is seeking a passionate Communications and Development Intern to cultivate its fundraising efforts through strategic communications around the Institute’s research projects. This position is an ideal opportunity for an undergraduate student who is genuinely interested in adoption and foster care reform and supporting strong families through nonprofit communications and fundraising efforts.

Responsibilities

  • Assist with drafting press releases and social media copy
  • Proofread blog posts, op-ed articles, website copy, email blasts and research reports
  • Assist with media inquiries and online research
  • Maintain press contact database
  • Conduct research on potential donors (High Net Worth Individuals, foundations and corporations) and connectors (individuals with access to influential HNIs, foundations and corporations)
  • Research and gather necessary materials for potential grant applications
  • Assist with mailings, filing and other administrative tasks

Qualifications

  • Current student at a college or university in the New York City area with a major in Communications/Marketing, Public Relations, Nonprofit Management or Public Affairs
  • Demonstrated passion towards DAI’s mission of building strong families and strong communities
  • Commit to working 12-15 hours per week
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Be self-motivated, detail-oriented, responsible, flexible, hard-working and ethical
  • Ability to work on multiple tasks in a timely manner
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn)

Application Instructions

To apply to this internship, please submit a cover letter, resume and one-page writing sample via email with “Spring/Summer 2017 Communications and Development Intern” in the subject line to Heather Schultz at hschultz@adoptioninstitute.org by Friday, April 21, 2017.

This is an unpaid position with a three-month commitment from May – July 2017. College credit may be available depending on the requirements of your college or university.

In the Arena: The Stops and Starts of an Adoptee

Tim Monti-Wohlpart (Photo Credit: Misa Martin)

Tim Monti-Wohlpart is the national Interim Legislative Chair and New York State Representative of the American Adoption Congress. He is a New York born adoptee in reunion since 1998. In 2002 and 2003, he served as Vice President and Legislative Liaison for New York Statewide Adoption Reform. At that time, he lobbied for unrestricted original birth certificate access for adult adoptees. In 2015, he began a grassroots effort to restore and advance legislation for unrestricted access after it was changed in June 2015. His public petition, supporting that ongoing effort, has been provided to key legislators and the Governor. He holds a B.S. in marketing with a minor in political science and a Master of Education. He lives in Brooklyn. 

Sign the adoption reform petition here.

In the autumn of 1971, I was adopted in New York at about six weeks old. In 1975, my Dad started taking me to Minnesota Vikings football games in Bloomington, Minnesota. Back then, Viking home games were played at an open-air venue about 80 miles north of where IBM had moved us from New York when I was three years old.

At one game, the temperature in Metropolitan Stadium was about the same as my age. The wind chill? Don’t even ask. Put it this way, it was bitter cold at what they called “The Ice Palace.” My Viking purple hat (I still have it) was pulled down tight over my ears as Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman drove down the field to score. But my “STOP” and “GO” mittens (long gone) were just not cutting it. I looked up at my Dad and I knew he was my Dad because I figured it was his job to fix the situation, and I said, “Dad, I can’t move my hands. They’re too cold.”

This is where everything went into slow motion, as if in an instant replay. I trust that my Dad looked down at me, and I say “trust” because I could not see his face. I don’t know where the cigar smoke ended and the breath vapor began. It was a wintry mix of the two. Oh, and snow.  I trust that he looked at me when I heard him say, “Timothy, there’s only one more quarter to go.”

Now, for all of you football fans out there, I think we can agree. A quarter of football may be a quarter-hour of action on the field but, with all of a game’s stops and starts, it is decidedly not 15 minutes of chronological time in the stands. And when the wind chill is, like, negative bazillion degrees, it can feel like a lifetime. So, at that point, I felt nervous. But I realized something. I had two choices. One: freeze and lose my fingers. Or two: start clapping for Fran Tarkenton, get the circulation going, “help” the Vikings win, and, if I was enough of a die-hard and perhaps a bit lucky, then maybe I could, as my Dad suggested, also save my digits. I like my fingers so I went with option number two. And to this day, I can report that I have two opposable thumbs. In short, I had a medical excuse to become a Minnesota Vikings fan. A good one.

Six-year-old Tim in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1977 (Photo courtesy of a family friend)

Why am I telling you this? It’s not because I need you to think I was a super tough tot. The truth is my older brother, who was also adopted and went to the next game, is much tougher than me. And no, it’s not because I want you to call child protective services to talk to my Dad. He’s deceased. It’s because at no time during this stressful event, and challenge, did I doubt who my Dad was. When it was cold, he was my Dad. When it was hot, he was my Dad. He’s gone now and he’s still my Dad.

And yet, as adoptees, sometimes we decide to search for our birth parents. Some people think it’s because we want to trade in our adoptive parents. You can’t do that. But just like you can’t trade in the parents who raised you, you cannot erase the history that made you. You can’t do that either.

The truth is my life as an adoptee helped me to gain perspective on why it could become important to search. As much as my Dad worked to raise me, he could not give me my medical history. He could not tell me about my ancestry. He could not take away the curiosity I never lost about where I came from.

Not long after I found my birth mother in 1998, I became upset with myself. I could not understand why, even though I was in a welcoming reunion, I was struggling to get along with my adoptive parents. Then it hit me. Just like it wasn’t about the quality of my relationship with my Mom and Dad that I searched for my birth parents, it wasn’t about my reunion that I was experiencing disharmony with my adoptive parents. Over time, I tried to talk with my adoptive parents about the differences between us. It was complicated, for sure, but the source of my struggle was unrelated to the reunion.

Two-year-old Tim and his adoptive father George in Briarcliff Manor, New York, in 1973 (Photo courtesy of the Wohlpart family)

Before my Dad died in 2011, there was a sense of peace. In our last conversation, I got to tell him that I had coached my own team, a cross country running team, to a New York City championship. We did it at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. It was relatively cold outside. Not “The Ice Palace” cold. But cold all the same. I think he was proud. My mom? She’s 80 now. And, in the blistering Las Vegas desert where she lives now, we’ve found a bit of our old friendship again. I’m very thankful.

My experience as a reunited adoptee helped me to gain perspective on why it’s important to have a good pair of mittens. Just kidding. On why, no matter what, the people who raise you, for better or worse—they’re your parents.

The truth is two people put me on this Earth. Two more kept me here. All four are very important to me in their own way. And I know that I and all adoptees deserve the human right to know where we came from just like everybody else who claps, and fights to survive and win in the arena. Go Vikings!

 

If you’re interested in contributing as a guest blogger for DAI, please email Heather Schultz (Communications and Development Manager) at hschultz@adoptioninstitute.org with one writing sample, resume/bio and 2-3 desired topics of interest. For more information on our guest blogging submission process, click here.