Understanding the Symbol of Adoption and How You Can Keep The Triad Strong.
The concept of the “Adoption Triad” originated as a reference to the fact that in an adoption, three groups of people are directly affected: the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child. These three groups come together to form the Adoption Triad. So, it makes perfect sense that the official symbol of the Adoption Triad is a triangle 🔼. The adopted child is at the top of the triangle, the birth parents at one side of the triangle base, and the adoptive parents at the opposite base point. The placement illustrates how the birth parents and adoptive parents are interconnected and work together to support the child, the adoptee, who they all support and love. Here's a visual representation:
The Birth Parents
Birth parents give the child not only their DNA, but life itself. A birth mom makes the difficult choice to carry a child through nine months of pregnancy in anticipation of the heart-wrenching moment: the moment she’ll be expected to entrust her baby into the adoptive parents’ care. Adoption is sometimes viewed as a birth mother “giving her baby up for adoption”, as if it's a decision made lightly or out of selfishness, but that is rarely the case. In our more than two decades working in adoption, we've found that women who choose adoption for their children are exceptionally strong human beings who deeply love their children and truly want what is best for them.
In an open adoption, the birth parents remain an essential part of the child's life, while allowing the adoptive parents to fully assume the role of the child's parents. Open adoption allows the child to have a deep connection with their adoptive parents and their birth parents. It’s not co-parenting, but it allows the birth parent to continue to support their child by being known, present, and valued as the years go by.
The Adoptive Parents
Adoption transfers the legal rights and responsibilities toward the child from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. Along with those responsibilities, adoptive parents receive the honor and privilege of being the ones to meet the child’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs on a daily basis. Adoption requires adoptive parents to accept, with open arms, the incredible responsibility of raising and loving a child they did not create, in the same way as they would love their own biological child. This is both an enormous responsibility and an enormous privilege.
In an open adoption, the adoptive parents strive to honor their child's biological connection and relationship with the birth family by establishing an ongoing relationship with them. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because it requires the adoptive parents to set aside their own fears and insecurities about their place in their child’s life. Open adoption calls on the adoptive parents to honor those on the opposite side of the triad— their child's birth relatives— while still maintaining the boundaries necessary to keep their child healthy and thriving.
The Child ("Adoptee")
At the apex, the very top of the Adoption Triad is the child, also called the “Adoptee.” It’s important to acknowledge that the child's family identity goes beyond just the adoptive and birth parents. It includes the adoptee's entire birth family —grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and siblings (and future siblings). Adoption affects every single member of the biological family.
When the child's birth family is not honored by the adoptive parents, an adoptee may begin feeling somewhat disconnected from their adoptive family. The great news is that adoptive parents can make a huge difference for their child by encouraging their child’s natural curiosity about their birth family. Open adoption sends a powerful message to their child: “Even though you were adopted into this family, you are still connected to and loved by your birth family; and that connection is important to us.”
Threats to the Adoption Triad
Keeping the adoption triad strong isn’t always easy. Fears and insecurities can easily creep in and create tension in relationships. Left unaddressed, this tension threatens to turn a strong, upright adoption triangle into a misshapen, weakened structure. Another potential threat to a strong adoption triad is secrecy. If a child perceives that their adoption is rooted in secrecy, it can easily lead them to conclude that being adopted is something that should be kept under wraps— something to be ashamed of. Just like other relationships, honest communication is essential to keeping the adoption triad relationships strong.
Renaming the Adoption Triad: The “Adoption Concave Quadrilateral?!”
When we talk about the three groups of people in an adoption and how the Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents, and the Adoptee make up the Adoption Triad, we're leaving out a crucial fourth player: The Adoption Professionals (social worker, attorneys, facilitator, broker, consultant, etc.).
The adoption professionals are an essential entity in every single adoption. The way each carries out their role has a lifelong impact on many aspects of the placement. While adoption professionals are only involved in the adoption for a short time compared to everyone else, their involvement sets the stage and provides structure for an adoption - for better or worse.
If the adoption professional is experienced, ethical, and not motivated by profit, the adoptive parents and birth parent/s will likely receive sage counsel and expert advice. The adoption professionals will do their best to facilitate open, honest communication between the adoptive parents and birth parents, which in turn will help them build a strong foundation from which strong relationships can grow.
7 Tips on Keeping the Adoption Triad (or Quadrilateral) Strong
- For Adoptive Parents: If you’re an adoptive parent on the path to adoption, work with ethical, licensed, and experienced adoption professionals only. Never hire or work with unlicensed adoption facilitators, brokers, advertisers, marketers, consultants (or whatever new name may pop up next). (Read "What’s a Baby Broker? How to Protect Yourself and Your Baby” to learn more about why unlicensed adoption providers are dangerous and should be avoided).
- For Expectant Mothers: If you're pregnant and considering adoption, make sure the adoption professional you choose to help you with your adoption is licensed and ethical.
- Honor contact agreements - regardless of laws.
- Acknowledge the power imbalances between the adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees.
- Acknowledge that adoption begins with deep loss; commit to gaining a deeper understanding of those perspectives.
- Refuse to allow secrecy and shame to take hold. Don't be afraid to acknowledge the loss associated with adoption.
- Be Honest. Lead With Compassion. Keep Talking.