Thursday, March 12, 2015

Research: Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the amount of contact

       The article I read today is another one about teenagers. I know that it may seem odd that I am reading so many things about adolescents rather than younger children, since we will be adopting a newborn, but I think that there are a few reasons that I have been drawn to these articles. First, teenagers are able to better articulate complex feelings than children. Second, knowing whether there is happiness, contentment, and satisfaction with the relationship over a decade down the road can be a great motivation to work through some of the challenges and discomforts that may arise during the first few years of the open adoption when we are still working on forming a functional relationship with the bio family. Finally, my area of focus/specialty academically and professionally is adolescent development. I am interested in and drawn to this research-- it's just what makes me tick. So, without further rambling, this morning's article was taken from a 2006 edition of Child Welfare and titled "Adolescents' feelings about openness in adoption: Implications for adoption agencies."

          For this article, 152 adolescents who had an open adoption situation were interviewed. They were adopted as infants (the adoption was finalized before the first birthday) by a married couple, and were not in a transracial, international, or special needs adoption situation.
        The format of the study was to look at 2 groups, each broken down into 2 subgroups. Group 1 was those who had contact. They were then divided into those who were satisfied with that contact and those who were not. Group 2 was those who had no contact. Just like with group 1, they were then separated into those who were satisfied without having contact and those who were not.
Happy with contact  

     Of the 152 teens interviewed, 56 were satisfied with the amount of contact they had with their biomom (this article used the term "birthmother," so I will be using that from here for this article summary, even though that isn't the term that we personally tend to use).  The first set of findings dealt with patterns seen in these 56 adolescents.
  1. Those who were satisfied had positive feelings towards their birthmothers
  2. They tended to use language that indicated that they had a real relationship with their birthmothers, such as "I like our relationship," and labeling her as a "friend"
    • This didn't mean that they saw her as a second parent. One male said: [she is] "Mainly a friend, I guess. I mean she doesn't have like a parental role, because I already have that. She's mainly just another person who loves me." 
  3. The idea of her being a person who offered support was a common theme
    • "The support that comes from having another strong relationship in my life is irreplaceable."
    • "It's nice to have another person looking out for you and caring about what happens to you." 
    • "it's like having another close older role model... no matter what happens in my life, I'll know I have a lot of support" 
  4. Many talked about how the contact was a good thing because it helped them form their identity. 
    • Variations of "I know why I look the way I do" and mentioning similar personality traits were common. 
    • "It's discovering why I am the way that I am." 
  5. Having a relationship with the birthmother helped these teens feel like they "know the whole story" and allowed them to be better able to answer questions (and rude comments) from others.
    • One story told was this: "Yeah, I remember in, like fifth grade, this one girl was like, 'I feel so sorry for you because your parents, like, gave you up,' and I'm just like, 'you know it's not like that. I've met my birthmother and know the whole story, and she loves me and still does and did me a favor letting me be raised, you know, in a better situation.' If I hadn't met Karen I wouldn't have been able to answer that question and it would have probably screwed me up and made me feel less of a person or something"
  6. It was common for adolescents who felt like they had a good relationship with their birthmother to want to meet other "birthfamily" members 
    • Wanting to meet bio-siblings was especially common

Not happy with contact
    The next set of findings focused on those who were not satisfied with the amount or type of contact they had with their birthmothers. There were 20 adolescents who fell in this category.

  1. A common reason for being dissatisfied was that they wanted more contact or a different type of contact (such as if they only exchanged letters by mail but wanted to have a chance to meet in person)
  2. Some who were dissatisfied with the type of contact pointed out that there is a difference between being able to share feelings and experiences rather than just learning basic information about their lives. There was the idea of wanting "deep conversations."
  3. An interesting finding was that among those who were not satisfied with the relationship with their birthmother, a common theme they mentioned was being "thankful" or "appreciative" of her decision to place them for adoption. 
    • This could have been linked to dissatisfaction because they felt like they hadn't had the chance to properly thank her or show that they were doing okay. One said "I want to thank her for loving me so much that she gave me up." Another mentioned "I hold no resentment towards her, I thank her... I feel like she thought I could have a better life." 

Happy not having contact
  The third category reported was not having contact but being satisfied with the arrangement. There were 21 teens in this category.

  1. A common theme in this group was that they didn't think being adopted had a big impact on who they were. Variations of the idea "it doesn't bother me that I'm adopted" or "I just don't think about it" or "It doesn't affect my life." were common.
    • One pointed out that she doesn't tell her friends that she was adopted, while another discussed it in terms of "big picture" ideas of the future: "It won't affect my career choice, my friends, you know, my future family, or anything in my life like that." 
    • I think this is an interesting contrast, because many of those who enjoy having contact (or want contact) mentioned that it helps them formulate their identity. This group was saying that they didn't want contact because they didn't want the adoption to be a huge part of their identity. This just hammers in the point that every child will view their adoption differently. 
  2. Another common idea in this group was feeling "blessed," "fortunate," "lucky," or that they "have a better life." 
  3. Those who were satisfied not having contact either simply had no desire for it, or felt like it would be uncomfortable. Some variation of the idea that contact is "not necessary" was common.
  4. Some took the idea a step further and didn't just believe that it would be uncomfortable, but actually thought that it may be a negative experience. Ideas along this line of thought were "the child is better off not knowing her" and "It could mess up my life." Others felt like it could be damaging or hurtful to their adoptive family. 
Unhappy about not having contact
  The final group were those who didn't have contact and were not happy about it. There were 26 in this group.
  1. It was common for this group to have negative feelings (anger, sadness, hurt, disappointment) towards their birthmothers due to a perception (the study was not clear if this was the reality or not) that she had no desire to contact them. 
    • "It kind of hurts me and I hope, you know, that my birthmother will search for me someday.""
    • "Even just like, holidays or something... it's kinda disappointing."   
  2. Just like the earlier group who said that contact was helpful in forming their identity, this group was upset about not having contact because they felt like it hindered their identity formation
    • "I want to know if I am anything like her"
  3. Some wanted contact so that they could ask questions 
  4. Some had dissatisfaction because they had tried to contact her (or thought about it) and hadn't gotten anywhere, such as sending letters that were never answered or writing letters that they never sent due to insecurity or sounding "dumb." 
  5. The majority of teens in this group expressed uncertainty (often with negative expectations) about how either the birthmother or adoptive parents would feel about contact. They gave some variation of the idea that they weren't sure if their birthmother even wanted to meet them, or that expressing a desire to meet the birthmother might hurt the adoptive parents' feelings. 
    It seems like the take-away message here is very similar to that of yesterday's article: "Contact is an individual choice and should not be dictated by adoption professionals or family members without consideration of the desires of the adopted child or adolescent... acknowledge that adoption plays a role in individual lives without assuming that all paths will look the same." There isn't one method that works best for every adoption situation. Sometimes contact works out well, sometimes contact is lacking and the child wishes it was there, and sometimes there is no contact but the child is happy with that arrangement. The important thing would be to allow the child to honestly express how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with the openness of the adoption, and how any dissatisfaction might be fixed. Also, it appears that many children worry that requesting more contact would be hurtful to the adoptive parents, so reassuring them that they can honestly discuss their feelings and talk about how they might want things to be different would be important, as well.
  Do you have a suggestion for something you would like to see research on? Leave a comment and I will do my best to see if I can find any articles on that topic!

Berge, J.M., Mendenhall, T.J., Wrobel, G.M., Grotevant, H.D., McRoy, R.G. (2006). Adolescents' feelings about openness in adoption: Implications for adoption agencies. Child Welfare, 85, 1011-1039.

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