January 29th, 2013
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Categories: Ethics In Adoption

open adoptionI love sociology. That’s what I majored in when I was in college (although my career has nothing to do with sociology now).
There was a famous experiment by Milgram that just fascinated me. The volunteer sat in front of a switchboard and he was told to shock the other person every time a wrong answer was given. The person giving the answers to questions was out of sight—on the other side of a wall. After a while, the guy getting shocked started to complain about the pain, as if it was damaging his heart. Then when the volunteer looks to quit the experiment, some guy in a lab coat comes in and tells him he has to continue. So even though they’re not even sure if they’re going to really hurt the guy on the other side of the wall, they continue doing it anyway because they’re “supposed to.”

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One of the most interesting things about this experiment was that it was done again, only that when it was done a second time, the person getting shocked was face-to-face with the volunteer. So they had to look them in the eye when they were giving them a shock. It had a very different result. When they couldn’t see the person, they were very likely to continue shocking them. When they were face-to-face, hardly anybody would do it.
Fascinating.
I’ve thought of that experiment a lot of times when dealing with open adoptions—whether talking about my own (two of them) or someone else’s.
It’s always hard to see someone you love hurting. And as an adoptive parent, my wife and I love our children’s birth parents. There were a lot of times when I wish there was something we could do to take way their hurt, the hurt that came from the separation.
Perhaps the Milgram experiment isn’t the perfect example for open adoption, because even though we could see the birth parents hurting, we went through with the process anyway. But what I’m trying to say is that being in an intimate situation with someone, we empathize so differently with their pain than we would if they were “out of sight.” If there was a wall between our birth parents and us, I guess I could assume we would act differently. We’d be a little less in tune with their pain.
It’s just natural, as humans, to focus on our own pain. And when we focus on our own pain, it makes it hard to focus on the pain of others.
Both sides (adoptive and biological) go through tough times. Sometimes those tough times are at different times, sometimes simultaneously. Those tough times each side is going through, though, are different trials. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that someone else is hurting too, and not just focus on what’s going on in our own lives.
That’s the wonderful thing about open adoption. It keeps us real. It may be more of a trial to see someone face-to-face when they’re going through a painful experience and we’re the ones on the receiving end, but being in a situation so intimate keeps us all real. We do what we can to take the shock away. We love our children’s birth families so much.
Open adoption is not for everyone, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m so glad we have it in our lives. We’re better people because of it.

By Russell Elkins, author of the book Open Adoption, Open Heart: An Adoptive Father’s Inspiring Journey

3 Responses to “A Little Shock of Open Adoption”

  1. 1seekingjannah says:

    HI Russell
    I want to assure you, you are doing the right thing. When I see talk about adoption all too often they talk about the feelings of the parents and the parents rights. Because children are often small, parents do not feel that adoption is affecting the kids. As an Adult adoptee, I assure you I WISH TO GOD my parents had choosen open adoption. It may have been a little harder as a child, but as I entered my teens and hit the adoptee identity crisis I would have really benifited from an open adoption. The adoptee identity crisis is in fact the normal teen identity crisis amplified by 10-100 depending on how parents handled the adoption. My parents told me I was adopted early and then made it clear I was NEVER to talk about it. So as you can guess my identity crisis was amplified by 100 or more because I NEEDED to talk so badly it hurt. I know it is hard. But it is far better for kids to have a realistic view of their biological parents than to make up “dream parents”.

    In fact just being open to talking about the adoption and giving the kids the right to initiate contact is enough. It is something I never had and believe me without it there will always be nawing questions. Take a section to go over to the reunion site and see the millions of adoptees trying to make contact with their bological parents. Listen to them and take for a secound and think “will this be my child when they grow up” If you are a loving parent you will not want your child to go throught that pain. You and the biological parent are good and strong people to keep the adoption open, in time your child will appreciate it.

    Far too many adoptive parents shut out the voices of adoptees thinking they are only a few and my kids will not turn out like that. But the fact is they are wrong. The norm is that the vast majority of adoptees are profoundly scarred by the total separation from their biological family. A few secounds looking at the millions of search registryies and the millions of registries on each registry will tell you the truth.

    YOU ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING, be proud of yourself for putting your child first. And encourage others to do so.

  2. birthmom16 says:

    I found this webpage only a few days ago, and I love all of the blogs. Though I have never bloged before. I wish I had had the family that would have alowed me to do an open adoption. But, for many reasons, the most important one being the welfare of my child, I chose a closed adoption when I was only 16. And for the same reasons, I chose to not raise my later children in the same town I grew up. I don’t even live in the same state. I found out only a few days ago, that my first born started a search for me 8 years ago when he was 26. He in fact posted on this sight. Now I am left looking for him. lol. Any sugestions?

  3. I too was a Sociology double major in college alongside Business Administration. I clearly remember this experiment and how the operator experienced more concern and visual anxiety when viewing the person getting shocked and caused more hesitation and independent thought. I truly admire you for having two open adoptions. We have just begun our process and have been waiting 3 months and I wonder and hope that the birthparents that choose us will want an open adoption so that the child has interaction with his/her birthparents as well. How has this worked out for you with the birthparents involvement? I sometimes fear they may not want to or have the time to, but I do hope we get chosen by someone who does want to. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story and analogy.

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