Please Be Mindful

Please be mindful of what you say about an adoptee’s birth parents and extended birth family – regardless the circumstances or how you personally feel. Remember that this person shares genes and inheritable aspects with that family of origin.

From an adoptee – As a child I internalized the messages about how I was so much better off adopted, that I was convinced my mother must have been a very evil person. I thought perhaps a witch or a prostitute and would tell everyone this. I was secretly petrified I would be just like her. (Note: she’s not, she was a vulnerable woman who was not supported to keep me.)

Of course, it is known that children have no filters or sense of decorum and will often repeat the perspectives of adults around them – thus comes this sad recollection. One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5 years old and a classmate told me I was adopted because my biological mom didn’t love me. It was so hurtful and it took me a long time to get past it.

The same advice applies to one parent or family bashing the other parent or family. Regardless of whether these are biological, foster families, adoptive family. All of these are part of a child’s history and life experience and when you do this, you are saying in effect that a part of the child is equally bad.

One Reason Why . . .

Today’s story from adoptionland –

Tonight our 9 year old daughter (we adopted her this year from foster care, has been in foster care since she was 4) was preoccupied and withdrawn at bedtime and I asked her if she wanted to talk. She said that she was just so confused and trying to understand why her birth mom “didn’t care about her enough to keep her and why she didn’t want her or love her”…and by the end of that sentence she was sobbing.

I just held her, rubbed her back, and held space for her. I’m just asking for…idk…input about how to best help her process her feelings? I did assure her that her birth mom DID and DOES absolutely love her, want her, and care about her, but at the time she was struggling so much with drug use (she had already been told all about the drug use in previous foster homes and we don’t know if she’s currently using or not) that she wasn’t able to take care of her and her brother.

After four years the mother consented to our daughter and her biological brother being adopted (before they came to us) but her rights were going to be terminated by Department of Child Services, if she didn’t consent regardless. We have open communication and contact with biological grandparents but not with the birth mom at this point (per her own request and the recommendation of the grandparents) but my hope and prayer is that some day we are able to establish a relationship with her and facilitate communication between her and the kids.

She has been in therapy for years (albeit a new therapist with every new foster care placement/move) and has been seeing a great one for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for the past year. We see therapy as a healthy part of life and don’t really see an end date so to speak.

How do I help our daughter process the feelings of being unwanted, unloved, and abandoned by her birth mom?

One woman who responded wrote this sad perspective honestly – it never really helped me to hear that my birthmom loved me. I don’t think she knows how to love me as an adult and as a child it confused me more until I realized “oh yes, when people love you, they abandon you. That’s love”.

Another answered this with –  I have zero adoption experiences to relate to, but when I left my very abusive ex-husband I remember the moment I realized he loved me as much as he could, and it just was not enough for me anymore because it hurt and it was unhealthy. I don’t know how that could be discussed with a child about a parent, but I just wanted to say I relate to what you are saying about having confusing feelings about loving someone who hurts you.

One insightful commenter wrote – If she isn’t with a adoption specialized therapist, now is the time to find one. It is good she feels safe to communicate with you.

I have also used this Nuggets video with my kids. At the end I will ask them- do you think the bird could focus on her baby chicks in her nest? What was she able to focus on? Do you think she wanted to stop feeling bad? Do you think she would have wished she could do it over again and make different choices?

That’s sometimes how people who have addictions feel. They can’t focus/take care of/on us because they are trying not to feel so rotten. But they often wish they could do it over again, and love on their chicks and tell them that. Drugs cloud your world. It is hard though to not feel angry or sad or jealous that mommy couldn’t see you. That is about her, how she feels about herself because of the drugs. Maybe we can write mommy a letter and tell her how you feel. Or here is a picture of mommy, I can leave you alone and you can talk to her and tell her how upset you are. And then I will be right here for you when you are done. Because this is hard.

I also have scheduled to do something fun the next day to ensure they had some sort of time of short mental relief. Even if it was to go to the playground. Get that out.

Then, there was this sad personal story – I was adopted at 3 but my mom is very much still a drug user. And I’m dealing with the same issue with my husband’s niece even though she was adopted within her family. She’s 14 today and because I’m adopted also she comes to me and asks me why her mom doesn’t want her but has other kids. My mom had 4 total and all 4 of us were taken away. My 3 brothers were able to stay together with their dad whom tried to adopt me but due to my health from her drug usage, I needed more attention than he could give me (being the oldest) and having 3 younger boys to care for. My adoptive parents had the funds and support to care for me.

Yet another suggested this perspective – trying to make sense that the bad parts are bad. And sometimes there are bits of good. And those moments are the parent too. However brief.

And I do agree that honesty is always best as this adoptive mother shared – It is really important to REALLY hold space, and NOT give in to the urge to try to make her feel better. In reality you don’t know if her mom loves and cares for her – you are not in contact, and the mother has never told you this. We WISH it is so, we hope, we assume… But it is not truthful to pose it as a factual reality. Also, as another response said, if someone “loves her and cares for her” then love and care means abandonment and no contact. Not a great association. I wish you all the best. Sitting and grieving with another’s pain is so hard. Try not to turn away, or deflect with untruths to try to make her feel better. It hurts, that sucks – and nothing you say can make it better. But she needs to feel it, and grieve it and process it.

And another adoptive mother shares this as well – My kids were older adoptees and for good or bad have many answers others do not. I refuse to fabricate and project to “fill in gaps” and “make them feel better.” Saying the “right” thing often comes off as bullshit. My best answers are “I don’t know.” “How can I help?” And sometimes, “Let’s punch something!” Negative feelings are valid and don’t need amelioration; they need to be expressed. It’s our natural impulse to want to make people feel better, but sometimes, it’s only through feeling bad, that we can begin to work through and heal. This is their journey; I’m on the sidelines supporting not dictating plays.

Evolving Approaches

There may come a day when adoption is a rare occurrence but that day isn’t here yet.  What is happening is that adoption is experiencing a more honest, truthful and open approach to the reality where adoption has already occurred.  And there is at least one group (I know because I belong to it) where the members seek to convince mothers-to-be who may be considering a surrender of their baby for adoption to at least try parenting first.  That is one of the ways that adoption may become rare someday.

One question may be – how young is too young to tell a child they are adopted ?  Some advice is – not to ever wait.  Putting off talking with your adopted child about how they came to live with you often becomes a never good time to tell.  I know of one case where that situation has become very very complicated and the truth is still not shared with young adult adoptees.  It has become difficult in an unusual way, so understanding this, I am not judging it, but it is an example of what can happen when telling is put off until the child is “older”.

One adoptee shares – I had an adoption story that was bare bones to start with, as I got older, more information and whys were added, discussions evolved from that retelling. So, create a short TRUE story of how you came to adopt your child – 4 or 5 sentences long at a very young age. Practice telling the story to a friend, in the mirror so YOU are comfortable telling it. Then ask your child if they want to hear about when you adopted them….and tell your child that story.

Waiting until the child is older means they’ve lived that many years without you being truthful with them about who the child is. Just don’t wait.  You want your child to trust you and they will if you are always telling them the truth. Set a date on the calendar to do it soon, a very short story of how you came to adopt them…

Another issue that often comes up with transracial adoptions is about teaching these children about their culture of origin.  It’s never too early to start introducing things from the child’s heritage. 

For example, a Puerto Rican child adopted by a white family. Some suggestions – Introduce Spanish as a normal part of your household, even if that means everyone learning it. Watch as much cultural content about Puerto Rico and its history as possible, and try to find opportunities to connect the child with their culture. Connect with the child’s biological family’s religious traditions – if that is a possibility – so it isn’t foreign to them. Always speak positively about their family, heritage, and culture. Plan a family trip to Puerto Rico when the child is of elementary school age, and then return as frequently as your finances allow. Bonus – learn about your child’s roots and connect to them in tangible ways. Try making some local friends who are Puerto Rican and see them regularly. If this all feels like too much, just recognize that your child is currently surrounded by American culture 24/7.

It goes without saying that this advice applies to all other ethnic groups and countries from which Americans adopted children on an international scale.

Even in those situations where the biological parents are addicted and may even be violent, or maybe the mother never wanted to keep her child, leaving the hospital as soon as she gave birth . . .

There is likely to be some extended family somewhere who would be open to some form of contact. Every child should have those biological ties as much as it is safe and of course, desired by the child themselves.  And don’t forget – people DO often change over time.  How they were at one point in their lives evolves and they become more conventional in their lifestyle and behavior.

Finally, it’s okay if a young child doesn’t understand what being adopted actually means.  An adoptive parent should openly talk about it anyway.  The child will always remember being told their story, about their birth or whatever is known and can be shared in a positive manner.  Adopted children will talk about being adopted, if they have always heard that, even before the child fully understands what it means. Truly, it IS simply a part of who the child is.

Foster Girl

Foster care is a cause that affects you whether you realize it or not. Your tax dollars fund the care of these throwaway children in your community, and you pay for their outcomes as adults who experience homelessness, incarceration and another generational cycle of welfare.  The majority of outcomes are tragic for kinless, abused, or neglected teens that age out of the system and transition into the real world inadequately prepared.

Georgette Todd has written a book that chronicles her difficult childhood that included sexual abuse and drug use.  It could not have been easy to dig deep into all of her experiences.  Due to her effort to educate herself and make it into college, she has learned to write well.  After earning BA and MA degrees, she worked at an adoption agency.  She eventually ended up providing the youth perspective for the Alameda County Child Welfare Dept in a program called the Youth Advocacy Program. She was in charge of presenting the emancipated foster youth perspective and recommendations about department policies and practices.

Todd outlines the basic premises of the foster care system approach.  The US foster care system is far from perfect. There needs to be a systematic way to save children from abusive and neglectful homes.  The purpose of the system is to place an abused or neglected child with a safe, loving relative that lives in the child’s original community.  If proximity is not available, then the foster child will live wherever the biological relative resides. Until then, children are placed into receiving homes, emergency foster homes, or whatever facility is available.  If the social worker cannot find a biological relative to care for the child, then efforts to secure a more permanent placement take priority. Permanence can mean adoption or long-term foster care in a group home or house setting.

These are the key goals of foster care but these plans don’t always pan out. Bureaucracies don’t always work.  Unfortunately, many foster children end up in understaffed group homes and inadequate facilities. They also go into crowded juvenile halls or wind up going out on the street hustling for survival.

I selected Todd’s book because I belong to a private Facebook group called Adoption: Facing Realities.  The members are adoptees, former foster youth, expectant mothers, original parents who permanently lost custody of their child and adoptive (including those who hope to) parents.  Some find the perspectives in this group difficult.  The mission of this group is to help expectant mothers believe in their ability to raise their own children, and not to chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Though adoption figures prominently in my reason for joining this Facebook group, I’ve become more aware of foster care because of this group.  And I realized I really had no real life background experience with which to understand foster care.  Though Georgette Todd’s book is only one experience among thousands, I did gain the perspective on the system by reading her full childhood experience of it that I was seeking.  The book may not be a good choice for victims of sexual abuse and former foster youth may not need to read it for the reasons I have.  If a former foster youth wishes to compare experiences, then that may be a reason.

Some related links –

Georgette has a website – www.georgettetodd.com.  She was a participant in a 30 minute documentary about the foster care experience which you can watch on youtube here – https://youtu.be/hS5JVSTf4LA.

I am not inclined to do Facebook birthday fundraisers but for this year only, I am doing one to support the work of Connect Our Kids, which I learned about at the end of Georgette Todd’s book.  They are applying technology to help social workers located extended family for displaced children that may be able to care for them.  Kinship is often, but not always, a better option for many children.  Modern families are far flung and often lose track of one another.  I set a modest fundraising goal of $200 and donated the first $25 myself.  Here’s the link, if you would like to help the cause – https://www.facebook.com/donate/310497696609444/

 

Clueless Questions

Quite a long time ago, I learned not to ask potentially embarrassing questions.  In fact, I rarely ask what could be defined as a “personal” question.  If someone wants to tell me about whatever, it is their prerogative not my right.

So I was reading about some of the clueless questions adoptees sometimes receive –

Where are your real parents ?

Couldn’t your parents have their own kids ?

Are your adoptive parents angry you reunited ?

“Was your birth mother on drugs ?”

In the book The Declassified Adoptee, she gives those who just have to know better ways of asking these kinds of questions.  She suggests that “Good questions are strengths first, person first.  They consider the feelings of the person answering a question first, above the necessity for information.”

She adds “It is ALWAYS important to validate an adoptee’s membership within ALL of the families that she identifies with.”

As the child of two adoptees, who after 6 decades of life, has only recently discovered my biological, genetic relations (mostly cousins and one aunt), I get it.  I love the adoptive families I grew up with and have shared life experiences with.  I love that I now know people who share my DNA.  I love them all, differently, for different reasons but love is love.