Is It OK ?

Is it appropriate ? I adopted my daughter thru foster care. I never met her mom or any of her family. I found them on social media and really want to reach out. Is that inappropriate? My circle is against it. They don’t understand the trauma associated with adoption. I know she has aunts and lots of cousins but I know almost nothing else. I won’t pretend they don’t exist. They are a part of her story and eventually my daughter will probably want to know about them.

About that circle of friends ? They don’t understand what and how it will effect your adopted daughter.

Additional information – this child is 2 years old. Some perspectives. If she’s very young, reach out to a few of the adults and go from there.

If she’s old enough to understand what’s happening, then she should be in charge of this decision. In that case, she may be ready right now, she may not be, or she may want to just look at their accounts for a while, before reaching out. Make certain, it’s her decision if she’s older.

This one could have been my adoptee dad’s perspective, if he had had the possibility – I found my birth parents through social media. I wish I hadn’t reached out but I did and the interaction was fine. Be careful, sometimes it’s better not knowing …

In response to that, someone else asks – do you think this adoptive parent can act as a buffer to mitigate any difficult feelings that may arise as a result of contacting the first family? I had a lot of hard feelings when I met my biological dad and his family, but not knowing was worse.

The response was – no, I don’t think even Jesus Christ himself could mitigate those feelings. I go back and forth about knowing and not knowing. Not knowing was hard, but knowing and having to face the reality of my genetics is harder. My first people are selfish and the reason I was relinquished was so they could party and have no responsibility. My male first person is wealthy, has always been and they had the means to care for me. They told me they just didn’t want to parent. Those feelings I hold towards them do not taint my thoughts on this particular question.

Adoptee Reunions do not always succeed in happy endings as this comment shares – sometimes I wish I would have just watched my birth parents and my birth siblings lives on social media from afar and never reached out. Our reunion eventually went south and it sucks. They made our reunion about them and refused to respect my trauma and my boundaries.

There was this emphatic response – Not inappropriate – please do! You can’t be sure how they’ll respond but at least trying is the best thing you can do for your adopted daughter

Don’t Say It’s Medicine

One of life’s more difficult circumstances – addiction – often causes a parent to lose custody of their child. A foster mother who is going to adopt such a child because there are no family options, still believes in reunification. She maintains a good relationship with the child’s mom and plans to continue to include her in here child’s life as much as is possible.

The question is how to explain to a very young child about the legal system and addiction, while respecting the mother’s right to tell her own story. However, seeing a need to also provide this 2 yr old child with the information she deserves. This foster mother is struggling with how to tell this child about addiction ?

So, she was reality checking her rehearsed explanation and good thing she was – here is what she was thinking of saying. “The judge decided you have to live with us because your mom was having a hard time when you came to live with us. Your mom was having a hard time not taking medicine that made her feel less pain, but that she wasn’t allowed to use while she was being a mommy. That medicine can make people feel sleepy and confused and forgetful. Sometimes people aren’t allowed to live with their kids when they start taking that medicine. Those mommies still love their babies more than anything in the world.”

It was very quickly pointed out to her how damaging it would be to call addictive street drugs (or even misused pharmaceutical drugs) “medicine.”

Do not call drugs – medicine. Have open conversations, age appropriate, with the child regarding the addiction, which is a kind of disease. Unless it is literally a misused Rx, do not call it “medicine.” And if that is the case, you can only really discuss such nuanced distinctions when she is old enough to ask about it and able to understand – heroin vs methadone vs fentanyl vs oxycontin. That probably would not be possible until her later teenage years.

Here’s one reason why – suppose you have an aunt who has cancer, and the chemo she had to take made her lose her hair permanently and even worse, she has an ostomy bag. People telling you, she got very sick and the medicine she took made those things happen to her, will leave a child terrified of getting sick and having to take medicine. The language used needs to be MUCH more specific. Don’t talk down to kids. Always go as specific, whenever possible, as you are able to.

Another example of why you have to be careful about switching words to describe something. While you may feel like it softens the blow to use the word medicine instead of drugs, consider when the child is four and the doctor prescribes medicine for an ear ache. Say someone dear is diagnosed with breast cancer, the child should not be told it is a boo boo. That is a terrible idea. So, explain that her mother takes drugs. Of course, the child will ask harder questions as she gets older, but it will also be easier to explain the situation more specifically then, however it has become by then.

Another possibility is to take that original explanation, leave the word medicine out of it and stay with the mom is going through a hard time. And call the issue what it is directly – drugs, plain and simple. Explain what drugs are and how they can affect someone. Drugs are not something you should ever shield any child from.

If Others Are Uncomfortable

It seems to depend upon what your life experience has given your perspective. An adoptive parent writes – My 6 year old’s story is a rough one for both she and her mommy. We have shared her story with her with the help of a therapist because we want her to feel empowered and never feel like she has to hold any kind of shame. As she is getting older, she has begun to just kind of drop her story to friends of hers and their parents and I can often tell that people are caught off guard and at times seem uncomfortable. Is it better for us to let her share as she feels comfortable or, should we teach her to guard her truth?

From adoptees come these responses –

Never make her guard her truth, always let her define her story.

and

I kind of don’t care if others are uncomfortable. That’s their problem. Feeling like we have to hide to make others comfortable creates shame in my opinion.

Then, from a professional –

I  work in the field of mental health/sex offenders/criminal justice/substance abuse. I think an age appropriate discussion about disclosing appropriately, and over sharing to people she doesn’t really know, is definitely warranted. While it’s her story, her ideas of boundaries are just being formed at 6, and people who endure trauma can often overshare as a coping mechanism, something that she may battle throughout the rest of her life. She should start practicing healthy boundaries now. I personally struggle with this, and often have to remind myself that every conversation I have with others isn’t a therapy session. I’d definitely bring this up with her therapist to help her work on boundaries; if she doesn’t have one, you might consider getting one to help her navigate her past trauma in healthy ways.

In response, another woman asks – what consequences are you worried about as she shares her story as she feels comfortable ? I’m asking about consequences to her, not related to people around her being uncomfortable.

To which the professional responds – what someone wants to share at 6, isn’t necessarily what someone wants to share at 16, or 36, etc. I’m not saying that because it’s shameful, because it’s not, but it can be harder to gauge at that age who is safe to disclose private information to.

I work with sex offenders, so I’m paranoid. Let’s say the child mentions to an adult in their life (who happens to be an undiscovered sexual predator) that they’ve previously been victimized, sexually. Sex Offenders are opportunistic, and may see the child as a viable option for future abuse. This isn’t something that’s rare. Survivors are often revictimized. The original comment didn’t say this was the specific scenario, I’m just pointing out why it may be a concern.

Another woman affirms this perspective by sharing – My therapist told me about over sharing my child abuse and my past domestic violent relationship and how it can definitely make you a target for people that look for vulnerable people. They’ll take your trauma and use it against you when the time is right. My Domestic Violence Survivors class also told me this. I was over sharing at 21 as a way to cope, to see if people were like me or had sympathy.

And yet another – Yeah as a survivor of serious childhood abuse and former over sharer, learning that I could choose what to share and who with was a big piece of recovery. And some people can have some really fucked up and dehumanizing reactions to hearing someone else’s pain, reactions I wouldn’t wish on a little kid. They sucked enough as an adolescent and young adult.

These situations are not rare, here’s another – Oversharing can go from awkward at best to seriously dangerous really fast and in ways that can’t be taken back. Oversharing has showed up in my life as a fawning trauma response. I didn’t learn how to think critically about what kinds of things I was actually disclosing to people until I was in my 20s and I feel like thinking about it in age appropriate ways at age 6 could have been a huge advantage in life.

And one more example –  A young woman I know really well shared her abuse story with potential boyfriends because it was important for her to be accepted and she attracted some pretty yucky pedophiles who got off on just hearing her story.

And to balance things out, here is another adoptive parent’s perspective –

Our daughter likes to share her story on her terms as she chooses. Sometimes she shares a lot, sometimes only pieces (like “I have two moms and two dads” and nothing else). I always tell her it’s her story, and she can share what she chooses. If people don’t understand and ask questions, she can answer or say “I don’t care to share that part.”

None of us owe other people parts of ourselves. We gift to others the chance to know parts of us, and those gifts, depending on how they are received, may or may not lead to more sharing. Our daughter is carrying a heavy load and will have to navigate a challenging life as a result of her adoption. I decided (based on hearing so much from adoptees) to learn how to make her feel empowered by owning her story since so much has been taken from her. This sharing can at least belong to her and be on her terms.

PS. If she shares in a school environment, like an “About Me” project, I inform the teacher ahead of time that I will be attending class to help support her if there are difficult questions. Nothing has ever come up, but our daughter has appreciated me having her back.

Offensive Descriptions

The surrender of baby Moses

It’s a story as old as mankind but in these modern times, many of the common phrases of yesteryear are being relinquished.  Some descriptions of a mother who surrenders her baby are now acknowledged as offensive.

I would have said Birth Mother before I became better educated by people even closer to the truths of adoption than I am.  Now I will most often say Original Mother or Natural Mother.

Some have described their adopted children’s mother as the Belly Mommy.  This could be equated to making the mother of those children nothing more than an incubator.  People are often confused if you say other mom or first mom.

Of course, what an adoptee chooses to use to describe their biological parents should be entirely their choice.  Adopted children should always be told that they were and allowed to ask questions about their biological roots.

The most important thing is to be transparent with your children about their unique circumstances and normalize those children regardless of how they originated.  It is perfectly appropriate for your adopted child to know they grew in another woman’s body.  Age appropriate language can be hard to define but naming that other woman as the child gets older is a responsible way to approach the situation.

The truth is –  a mother’s role does not end at the birth of their baby, even if that baby is surrendered to adoption.  It is a lifelong genetic/biological connection as the prevalence of adoptee reunions would indicate.

Telling The Story

If at any age your child asks you about their adoption and they want to know why –
they deserve the absolute truth. It should be age appropriate.

At a very young age, “Mommy couldn’t take care of you.”, may be enough.

Kids know when their parents don’t want them. They don’t need to be told; they’ve felt it from the beginning. Babies can feel rejection in the womb and it affects their attachments.

The majority of adoptees feel unwanted – whether it is a one time thing, or episodic, or lifelong – the question is how accurate is that perception ?

A parent should not evade an adoptee’s question but they should be sensitive and gentle in their response.

Not answering with the real reason when they ask, can lead them to feel like they aren’t good enough to be told the truth. Or that what they want doesn’t matter. Or that they aren’t smart enough to understand it. Or that they ought to just be happy with whatever answer they are given. And that they should stop bringing it up because the parent doesn’t want to talk about it.

A competent, caring, informed Adoptive Parent can manage to put the child’s feelings first and provide an answer that meets that child where they are developmentally, emotionally and intellectually.

But never lie. There are many subliminal messages that get sent to adoptees.  Children often see themselves as the problem. The Adoptive Parent may not really know the whole truth. It may be very complex.

My dad’s original mother had a love affair with a married man. My dad was with his mother for some months after birth. Even so, she may have come to feel that adoption was her only solution to what may have been primarily a financial problem in the 1930s.

My mom’s story was complex. Her mother didn’t intend to lose her. She was exploited by a woman who was stealing and selling babies. My grandparents were married when my mom was conceived. It is not possible to know the whole story now about why they were separated. They are both dead and the descendants don’t seem to know the details accurately enough to convey them.

Parents should know that their children are incredibly resilient. Whatever the adoptees story is, they deserve to have their history told to them honestly.