Post-Placement Workbook: Expectations of the Adoptive Family

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You’ve made a decision that will impact you forever, and with that you may have several expectations. These may include:

1.) Expectations of the adoptive family.

2.) Expectations of your friends and family.

3.) Expectations of yourself.

It is often reported that many birthparents in open adoptions have a sense of disappointment at some stage in the relationship. In these cases, many aren't able to pinpoint where the disappointment originates.Knowing what expectations you have will help you navigate through the reality of post-relinquishment relationships.

Part Two: Section A - The Adoptive Family

We’ll start with expectations for the adoptive family. Start by making a list of your expectations. Be honest about them, regardless of how unattainable you believe they may be. Remember, no one else is going to see them but you.

My expectations of the adoptive family are...

One of the most difficult realities about having expectations is that very often they go unmet. As individuals, we operate based on our own need in situations, what we see is best, and ultimately how we can benefit from the situation. This is true in open adoption relationships as the adoptive family seeks to meet their needs as a family and the needs of their child. It is also true for you, the birthparent, as you seek to meet your needs as a birthparent and your need to feel peace about your decision. In this next stage, you’re going to evaluate your expectations, how to make them known to those upon whom you’ve placed them, and how to deal with those expectations possibly not being met in the ways you believe you need.

My expectations for the Adoptive Family

Again, look carefully at what expectations you’ve listed. Here, you will write one word for every expectation you had. For instance, if you wrote something similar to:
"I expect them to be honest with me at all times," you would write here, "honesty."

Write one word for every expectation you have ...

Carefully evaluate the expectations you’ve listed. Again, let’s use honesty as an example. If you expect honesty from the adoptive parents, are you prepared for what that honesty may be? What if, in their honesty, they explain to you that they feel that one visit each year is better for your child and for them than the arranged three visits per year? What if, in their honesty, they explain that their families are having a difficult time accepting the openness between all of you and that it would be better for the time being that you not be involved in family events? Are you prepared for the full scope of getting this expectation met? That’s what this workbook is for.

Now, let’s take one of those one-word expectations and look at it carefully. This time, what you’ll do is write down, next to the word, how you would feel if that expectation was 1.) unmet or 2.) met, but notthe wayyou expected.

If this is unmet I will feel ...

If this is met, but not how I expect I will feel ...

Now that you know what you expect from the adoptive parents, let’s focus on how to ensure that you have communicated this expectation in the best way possible. After all, you can’t expect them to meet an expectation withouttheir understanding of what it is you are asking. In open adoptions, miscommunication is the number one reason for discord. You can prevent that!

Fill in the following:

Of the adoptive parents, one thing I expect is ...

I have/have not made them aware of this in a way that is fully understood.

If you have made them aware, write down how you did this ...

If you have not made them aware, write down how you plan to do so ...

Now, you have discovered what expectations you currently have. You have even written down how to express those expectations. Now, let’s work on what tools you should develop in order to handle times when those expectations may not be met as you’d like.

Using one of your expectations, write down a possible scenario.

*Example: you expected to receive pictures and a letter every three months but are only receiving them every six months. Or, your visits with them are not what you thought they would be and you're having difficulty with them.

Write the expectation and possible scenario of it not being met here ...

What would be your first reaction to disappointment?

  • Anger
  • Feeling hurt
  • Feeling rejected
  • Confusion
  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Anxiety

At the first sign of disappointment it is very important to know exactly how it has made you feel and why. This will be your first tool. Knowing your feelings and emotions is important.

Fill this in: If my expectations were not met and I reacted by feeling , I would ...

*Example: If my expectations were not met and I reacted by feeling angry, I would probably vent to my friends, and maybe call the caseworker and tell her about it.

When our expectations are not met it is a very normal response to become angry, feel disappointed, and react emotionally to the situation. It is also very easy and quite normal to create possible assumptions to justify what has happened.

*Example: The adoptive parents have cancelled a visit, telling you that something else came up. You are very upset, as you’ve been looking forward to this visit for over two months. You begin to think they just don’t want to see you, maybe you even feel like they’re shutting you out. You become defensive. You feel rejected. You believe it must be how they feel about you instead of the possibility that they really did have something else important come up. By the time you talk to them again, you’re furious. The next visit is strained and you begin to have doubts about your decision.

Disappointment can cause emotional damage, put strain on a relationship, and cause dissension. How do you prevent this from happening?

  1. Know your expectations and understand and accept that they may not be met as you see fit.
  2. Begin to examine how to fairly communicate your expectations.
  3. Prepare yourself to deal with disappointment.
  4. Never take unmet expectations personally. Do not allow your disappointment to turn you against yourself, or the adoptive parents.

How to deal with unmet expectations and disappointment in your open adoption relationship:

  1. Admit your feelings, knowing that the adoptive parents may or may not be able to change the situation to make you feel better.
  2. If the situation cannot be remedied as you see fit, seek other ways in which to get your needs met.
  3. At all times be aware of your feelings and emotions and prepare to work on your issues.

*Example: Donna expected three visits a year. What she got was one visit a year. After talking to the adoptive parents about this and being told that this was just something they weren’t going to budge on, Donna chose to meet those expectations in other avenues. She communicated to the adoptive parents that she would respect their decision to have only one visit per year, but in return for this change she would expect a letter and pictures every three months, whereas before she was expected to get them every six months.

Understanding your expectations and working towards dealing with disappointment is never-ending. Your goal is not to have a perfect adoption relationship, but instead to have a working, positive relationship.

Biggest No-No when expectations are dashed: Taking it personally

If you take it personally you’ll find that you’re over-wrought with agony. You’ll tell yourself things like, "But I worked so hard," or, "What did I do wrong?" or, "How could they do this to me," or, "How can they not like me anymore?" The list goes on and on. Taking a disappointment personally will devastate you. You will begin to operate in anger, hurt, and resentment. Nothing can be solved or worked through when you’re blinded by these emotions.

Here is another exercise:

Think about the last time you were disappointed and write it down here:

What expectation did you have that was unmet in the above situation?

Was the other party fully aware of your expectation, and how?

How did you react to the disappointment?

Did your reaction result in a positive solution?

In what ways do you think you could have handled it better?

Your goal in this section is to understand exactly what expectations you have of the adoptive family, how to express those expectations, and how to deal with disappointment. Thebestlesson you can learn from this that you will be able to handle whatever disappointments happen; to not take them personally, and to be able to work through them. When you have the ability to compromise without emotional trauma, you will have conquered this section.

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