Does open adoption mean shared parenthood? No. Legally, there is only one formal set of parents—the adoptive parents—with the right to make decisions for their child. But the matter goes far beyond legalities.

If the birthparents wanted to be parents, they would have chosen to raise the child especially since adoption is so much more difficult than the other alternatives. The birthparents have chosen a particular couple precisely because they wanted this man and woman to be their child’s parents. They feel the connection to the child but as a loving relative, no longer as a parent. And they welcome this feeling with a combination of joy and relief.

Seeing her birth daughter that first time in our home was an important moment for Kathy [the birthmother], too. She talked later about how she still felt a strong kinship with Olivia. Yet seeing her in our house and seeing how much she had changed in the months since she had last seen her, confirmed for her that she was no longer the mother. The feeling was the same for Mark, the birth father.

Sandy visited a lot right at first but it was comfortable. We had only met her a month ahead of time but we love her, she had given us the greatest gift she ever could. She was clear how she felt about the adoption. She was adopted so she had that perspective. Her visits gradually got less and less. At first, when she came over, she would offer to feed him or change him. But soon, when he needed feeding and another diaper, she would say, “you do it.”

The first time I saw my birthson, Max, and I was not the mommy, it was really weird. But to be truthful, I was really glad I wasn’t the mommy. He was at that stage where he had just learned to walk and he was going everywhere. Martha [the adopting mother] is just such a good parent and I’m so grateful. I used to think when we were together—Martha and Ken [the adoptive father] and I—that it would be awkward. Would we all compete for Max’s attention? But that has never happened. I see how wonderful they are as parents and, in a way, I am learning parenting skills from them for whenever I am ready to be a parent myself.

The adoptive parents’ constant interaction with their child quickly drives away any fears that they might have about only sharing the parenting of their new baby.

I used to worry about the birthmother supplanting me as a parent, if she came over for visits. But only before I held Tim in my arms. Once I held him, I knew he was my baby and I felt like he knew I was his father. But more than that, I knew that even if his birthmother—whom I like a lot—came over every week or even every day for an hour, nothing could match my being with him all day long, every day, and much of every night as well.

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