Most parents when they relinquish their child have very few ideas of how things should progress. They may have fantasies of things they imagine doing with their child and his or her parents. They may be so caught up in the grief and the rapid successions of events that come with birth and placement that they feel too overwhelmed to think about what their role might be now that they’re not that child’s sole caregiver anymore.
James Gritter in his book “Lifegivers: Framing theBirthparent Experience in Open Adoption,” states that parenting involves three parts. Those three parts are giving life, sustaining life, and affirming life. So how does this apply to adoption and what specifically does that mean?
When someone gets pregnant and is in a place to raise that child from birth to independence, the above-mentioned parts of parenting have no clear lines. Giving life, sustaining life, and affirming life are all the responsibility of that parent or those parents. If someone gets pregnant and decides to relinquish that child to an open adoption, those roles suddenly seem murkier. Giving life is clearly the role of the birth parent. Sustaining life becomes the responsibility of the adoptive parent. But what about the third part – the life affirmation?
That is the responsibility of both the birth parent and the adoptive parent. We know it’s easy to show we love them. Physical affection, gifts, and words are all fairly easy to express. But that’s not all that a birth parent needs to provide when it comes to affirmation. You may be wondering how it’s possible to provide more affirmation than just loving your child. While that’s important and necessary, James Gritter continues the thought by saying, “Some birthparents believe their job is done when they select effective adoptive parents and entrust them with the responsibilities of daily care, but an active lifegiver believes there is much more to be accomplished. An involved lifegiver carefully selects the most appropriate adoptive family and continues to endorse and support them as caregivers through the years. This support is, of course, appreciated by the adoptive parents, but even more importantly, it helps the child feel secure about the permanence of his adoption.(pg 158)"
We support our choice of adoptive parents for our child by making it clear to them and to our child that they are the parents. That not only increases their confidence as parents and in us as birth parents, but it increases our child’s confidence and self-esteem as well. That is more affirming to our child as a person than any gift we could give.
I actually wrote a post similar to this on my own blog as well, and had an adoptive mom comment that her child’s birth mom keeps making comments to her child about wishing he was living with her instead of his parents. While it’s okay to say we miss our child and wish that things could’ve been different to allow us to raise our kids, we need to add that we’re not in that situation and now they have three parents that love them instead of just one, or four instead of two if your child’s birth father is still involved. Validating that we do miss our kids is important. It can help them feel okay for missing us too. It’s also okay to express regret that things can’t be different. But if we don’t validate our child’s parents in the same discussion then we can add to our child’s confusion about who he or she is. It also doesn’t give our child permission to love his parents like all children should.
Life affirmation is not always an easy task and one that should be agreed upon by all parties involved. But it’s so important to your child. I realize that some of you don’t have open adoptions so this wouldn’t be applicable. But for those who do, I urge you to take a closer look at the affirmation role in parenting.