From Nowhere To Nowhere

A woman writes that when she was 2 or 3 years old, another child about the same age simply appeared out of nowhere. The child was just there one day. When the older siblings came home from school and this woman and the new child were playing together in her room. She also mentions that her mother was an alcoholic and abusive in many ways.

The two girls were so close in age and so close in general people always asked if they were twins, and her mother decided at some point to tell people yes. So for most of this woman’s early life, she thought the other child was her twin sister. I know how this feels. My younger sister was born 13 months after I was and we went through that, even often dressed identically. However, my sister outgrew me and it pretty much stopped at that point. Throughout our childhood, we shared a room. My much younger sister always had a room of her own.

To add another layer of weirdness to it all, when she was 5, her mother actually did have twins, boy/girl. So it was always a funny thing that the family had two sets of twins. The original “one” and this woman shared a room her whole life. They were always in the same grade in school, and though this other one did have legal last name that was different from hers, back in the day schools allowed a “goes by” name, so her “twin” always used the same last name as this woman.

When she was around the age of 8, she realized her dad never picked her twin up for visits, when he came for her and her brother. Her mom simply told her that her “twin” a different dad but she did know that didn’t really make sense. Her older sisters never told her that this “twin” was adopted and neither did her mom. The next day her mom sat her down and told her that her “twin” was not her sister but actually her cousin. That her “twin” was her sister’s daughter and her sister decided she wanted her daughter back. Her mom said her “twin” was now living with her aunt in California but she had never met this aunt.

When she was 26, her mother died. Through Facebook her aunt contacted this woman. Her aunt had no idea about her “twin”. The aunt only has sons and they’re both quite a bit younger than this woman. The other aunts have been accounted for (and this woman did know those her whole life) but no idea about her “twin”. The aunt that contacted her had never lived in California and clueless couldn’t help uncover the mystery’s truth.

After her mother passed away, this woman went through every bit of paperwork her deceased mother had and never found anything about retaining guardianship of a child or relinquishing a child. She’s not certain how her mother pulled it all off. Where did her “twin” come from and where did she end up. How was her mother able to enroll this child in school or get her vaccinated, etc. It doesn’t seem possible. Yet, if she hadn’t lived it, she’d be skeptical of the whole story.

She would like to find her “twin” again and realizes that the girl’s memories of their childhood home and her mother are probably terrible. This woman can only imagine the trauma her “twin” endured. She has a good idea of her twin’s birthdate and what she knew the name to be then. She tried searching on Facebook for her “twin’s” name but it’s hopeless without at least a specific state to begin with. She knows her mom did have a social security card for her “twin” at some point because she remembers seeing it.

It all remains a monumental mystery for this woman. Twin stories fascinate me as a Gemini and as someone who experienced a sister close enough to seem like a twin. Just sharing an amazing story today without any real answers to the mystery itself.

Why Foster ? Not to Adopt.

Recently, a woman contacted me through private message on my Facebook page for this blog. She wanted to know what my group (which it actually isn’t) was about and I explained it to her, as I have often, both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption. The blog is about all things adoption but along the way, I also learned about foster care and I shared with her the book I read – Foster Girl by Georgette Todd. She is interested in becoming a foster parent and I suggested the Facebook group I belong to because there are a lot of former foster care youth and current foster parents there who can share with her the reality.

As luck would have it, I spotted this guest essay in Huffington Post and thought I would make this the basis of today’s blog. Here’s Why We Became Foster Parents, Even Though We Aren’t Looking To Adopt by Stephanie Kaloi. She adds “For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.” It is a reprint of the original written in just after Christmas in 2019.

Our journey toward becoming foster parents began about five years ago, when we realized two truths: Having a second biological child would be nearly impossible and was not necessary for our family’s happiness, and there was a way to experience parenting many children (and for our son to have many siblings) while also doing our part in our community.

Enter foster care.

So we did what every potential foster parent does first: searched “What is foster parenting really like???” online. Unhappy with the results, which were largely a grab bag of blog posts from people who foster to minister religion to unsuspecting children and their families and people who are hoping to adopt their foster children from Day 1 of placement, I started sending a flurry of texts to a friend who also happens to be a longtime foster parent.

Her advice essentially boiled down to three things: One, the relationship you have with the biological parent(s) of your foster children is sacred and should be nurtured as much as the relationship you have with the kids. Two, foster care is unpredictable and there’s no point making plans for how it will go. And three, if you really want to do it … stop taking up my time and sign up for a class already.

My husband and I signed up for around eight weeks of PATH classes, which are the classes that all foster parents take before becoming certified. It’s meant to be all-inclusive, but the reality is that you are in class for two to four hours each Saturday covering huge topics, like ethnic diversity and poverty and child abuse.

The path to becoming a foster parent seems bizarre in retrospect: You take the classes, complete the home study process and boom! You’re now qualified to raise someone else’s child in your home for an indeterminate amount of time.

Still, the training felt like one of the most intense, personal experiences we had shared together. We went into classes knowing we were hoping to foster children, but left classes knowing we wanted to foster children and foster their families — we wanted to support the birth parents of any children we might foster as much as we support their children.

We knew going into it that we could handle the babies and toddlers and school-aged kids of the world (we’ll get to teens … one day), but we left class feeling reasonably certain that we could extend ourselves and support their parents, too.

Approaching foster care as fostering the entire family was a turning point for both of us. The idea gave us a phrase we could use whenever someone asked what our plans were. While the Department of Child Services and PATH leaders constantly remind you that the first goal of foster care is reunification with a child’s family, just about everyone in our classes was transparent about their desire to build their family through adoption.

As someone who wrestled with not being able to conceive a second child the easy way for years, I understood … but as our classmates became more focused on their adoption goals and learning how to work the system in their favor, we became more focused on reunification goals, and learning how the system works against parents who lose custody of their children.

The more we learned, the more it became clear: Just as many in our society will call the cops the second there is even a hint of a perceived threat anywhere nearby, many in our society assume that having your children placed in state custody means you are a predator, a child abuser, an addict ― that are you the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low.

And to be fair, there are plenty of people who are one of those things (or all of those things), and sometimes children are better off with foster and adoptive families. But in our experience … there are just as many people who are simply poor, or uneducated, or who have no perceived alternatives to whatever struggle they are facing.

This is the idea that fed our goal to approach this experience as fostering families: If you don’t grow up with someone teaching you how to successfully pull off what many consider basic life feats, it can feel impossible to figure out how to get a job, pay rent, pay your bills, pay for childcare, provide food consistently, read to your children, play with your children, kick your addiction, etc. Without consistent, healthy support, just attempting to do so is often an insurmountable challenge.

If no one in your family has ever done those things, the odds are stacked against you. When you think about it, a lot of Americans are probably closer than they think to one mistake that could land their own children in DCS custody. (I know that when my sons were very young, I worried that our un-orthodox parenting choices such as unschooling our children or when they acted up in public and required some kind of immediate response from us, not later but in that very moment, we could lose our children due to the interference of do-good, well-meaning people.)

I am not saying that every parent who loses custody is an angel who just needs a leg up. I’m also not saying that every parent who adopts from foster care didn’t try to do exactly what we do. I think one truth all foster parents can agree on is that there is a lot of gray area in foster care.

We didn’t find out we were actually certified until we received a phone call asking if we would be willing to take a sibling set of two into our home. Let me tell you this straight out: I don’t know how anyone, especially first-time foster parents, says no to those calls. Our plan was to foster one child, up to age 8, and we ended up with two babies under 2 because I literally could not imagine saying no.

So what do we do, then, if we aren’t answering a higher religious calling to foster, we aren’t related to the children we foster, and we aren’t planning or secretly hoping to adopt any children? I mean, I suppose I am ministering, kind of: These kids have been introduced to a wide berth of music that we hold dear, and the youngest really enjoyed watching ”Homecoming” when it came out.

But to be real, we begin by nurturing their families, their parents, from Day 1. We offer phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook Messenger access. We start the conversation by telling them our names, describing what our home is like, asking what foods their children like to eat, and telling them we aren’t trying to adopt their babies. We tell them to message us anytime, and that if they don’t hear from us within five hours or so, to message again.

We ask when we can supervise visits, when we can meet up at playgrounds and parks, way before social workers are talking about us doing so. We talk about their goals, their plans, and what they need to get from where they are to reunification of their family.

The “TL; DR” version is this: We begin each placement by treating the parents like they are human beings, like they are people who we might want to know, instead of like they are a scary Other who is standing in our way. Sometimes it doesn’t work, we don’t form a relationship and things go sour. Other times, it works but requires ongoing attention and support, and that’s an exhausting thing to give someone you have met a handful of times.

None of this is easy, and it often feels like foster care is a second full-time job. We are perpetually exhausted by the sheer emotional weight of this journey that we entered into willfully, and that’s not even including the lived reality of nurturing additional children, of loving them, holding them, waking up in the middle of the night with them, feeding them, reading to them, guiding them. Teaching them all the things we taught our son: the ABCs and 123s, who Elmo is and why we love him, the names of The Beatles because it might come in handy someday, how to sit up and how to use a fork. You know, the parenting part of foster parenting.

We have been lucky so far: We have worked with excellent social workers who are very patient, helpful, and kind. The parents we have co-parented with have been easy to talk to, love their children a lot, and a lot of the time, they just need someone in their corner. And this need is the crux of why we are fostering children and their families: For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.

Sure, it’s a lot more involved than donating books or cleaning a classroom on a Saturday, but it’s something that makes sense for us right now, in this season of our lives. We won’t do it forever, but we are doing it right now. One of the most important ideas our family tries to follow is that while we may not be able to effect meaningful growth and change in areas of the world that are far away, we can do work in our own community that will help people we live and work with grow.

And that alone makes this entire wild ride worth it.

Disturbing

Isabella Kalua

What causes such a sweet face to create such a pained looking smile ? It is Isabella’s smile in the most recent pictures that disturbs me on some psychic level. The adoptive parents (Lehua or Isaac Kalua) are now strongly suspected of having murdered the 6 year old a full month before they reported her missing in Hawaii. They have now been arrested and are awaiting a hearing to provide them with legal counsel. There is an article about the current state of the case at this link from Maui.

I found a dissertation by Katherine E Sunder titled Mothers Who Kill Children They Have Adopted. Her dissertation topic is described this way – A mother killing her child is a disturbing and puzzling crime. A review of the cases in the United States from 1993 through 2013 that involved mothers who killed children they had adopted was conducted. The similarities and differences between mothers who kill their adopted children and mothers who kill their biological children are described. The common factors and general patterns that exist among these mothers are examined to propose a theory for why a mother decides to kill her adopted child.

While an average of four children die every day from child abuse and neglect in the United States, adoption is often put forth as a way to try and prevent such tragedies from occurring. Generally, parents who adopt domestically and also internationally are described as extremely devoted and committed to family. They are described as people who will literally “lay everything on the line” to parent a child. Considering the rigorous and demanding process these parents go through in order to adopt a child, it raises the question of why would a mother kill the child or children she adopted ?

However, the killing of a child is not an arbitrary or unpredictable crime. Instead, it can be viewed and experienced as imbedded in and a reflection of the societies in which it occurs. Abuse by adoptive parents is often mentioned by adoptees in privacy constrained groups. In an abuse-related killing of a child, the mother has intentionally committed a purposeful physical assault that unintentionally led to the child’s death. The purpose was not to kill the child but to provide harsh discipline. 80% of these cases involve the child welfare services in their background. Some cases involve the mother’s attempt to stop the child from crying. Some cases involve an abusive relationship with a violent male partner.

Isabella’s body has not yet been found and it is not known what may have caused her death. Homicide investigators say, “What was initially reported was that she had left her home in the middle of the night, and when they [her adoptive parents] woke up they didn’t see her.” Police say support from the city deputy prosecuting attorneys and individuals from the domestic violence division was critical getting police where they are today in their now eight-week investigation. Also the FBI is credited with offering evidentiary analysis that was extremely valuable including behavioral analysis unit into the mindset of the suspects in this case.

Mommie Dearest

Christina Crawford

Just the words, “Mommie Dearest” makes me want to cringe. I was aware that Crawford had adopted her children from Georgia Tann. Actually, I had come across the story of the younger siblings, twin girls, while doing my research about Georgia Tann. They have a more positive perception of Crawford. However, I know that one child may be a problem for the parents, while another child won’t be. There are defiant and compliant children and certainly, the complaint ones are easier to parent. Not that I am judging Christina as a problem child but it is clear that she had problems with her mother.

I don’t doubt that she suffered abuse. I’ve read the accounts of too many adoptees in my all things adoption group to doubt anyone’s claim. My first reminder of Christina’s memoir was an article in which the writer describes going to see the film version (about 40 years after its release) and it being found hilarious by many in the audience, that it had become a bit “camp”. Since I really didn’t know the definition, I googled it. Camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value. Somehow a movie about child abuse just doesn’t seem like the same kind of cult classic as The Rocky Horror Picture Show from my own perspective.

Christina was 80 years old last year. Her memoir came out in 1978 but she had written a musical based on it around the time of her latest birthday. It had a run at Birdland, the renowned New York jazz venue. She was happy about it. “It sold out, it was fabulous,” she says, looking glamorous and spry, before issuing what has become a standard warning: “The musical had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. I want to put that in big capital letters.”

The movie she is referring to (and the one I mentioned above) is the 1981 adaptation of Christina’s memoir that starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, Christina’s adoptive mother, whose abuses, soberly detailed in the book, were turned by the movie into high camp. As chronicled in Mommie Dearest, Crawford slapped, kicked, punched and tried to strangle her daughter, while subjecting her to a severe schedule of cleaning and other household chores, driven by the movie star’s alcoholism and who knows what else.

The publication of Mommie Dearest, perhaps the first memoir ever to document child abuse from the child’s point of view, changed the landscape of victim representation and was an early precursor to today’s more robust protection of victims’ rights. Generally speaking, we don’t recognize the long-term psychological damage that is inflicted on people who are abused, neglected and trafficked. It is hard for people to understand that what happened 20 years ago is creating behavior patterns today.

Being sent to boarding school at the age of 10 was a turning point for her. She understood that the rules she grew up under weren’t normal. She tried to build a degree of self-esteem after years of being told by her mother that she was useless. Education was the path forward for her.

“Fear is the water that abused children swim in,” Christina says. “Because you don’t know what’s going to happen and your life is so chaotic. But on the other side of the equation, it’s fear from people who are afraid to speak up. Fear that they’re going to lose their job or that people are going to say something bad about them. If you were to ask me about one thing that embraces all of us, it’s the constant fear.” The fear doesn’t go away when the abuser dies. Christina says, “Because it’s internal.”

After a period of estrangement in the latter years of her mother’s life, she attempted a reconciliation. It turned out not to have been possible. Christina says of Crawford that at that point in their lives, “She was an alcoholic. She was ill. She was drug-addicted. And I think she just wasn’t playing with a full deck. I completely lost context – not contact, but context with her, because I wasn’t physically present. Then she died.”

Christina and her younger brother Christopher were cut out of Crawford’s will, for what was cited as “reasons which are well known to them.” Christina was so furious she went straight to her desk and started writing down everything that had happened in her childhood. Her two younger siblings disputed the book.  Different people in the family experience the parenting situation in different ways. Because the parenting situation is different towards them, they may have trouble believing how awful it was for a sibling.

Credit for much of this blog goes to Emma Brockes for her June 25 2019 article about Christina in The Guardian. Though I hesitate to add this movie trailer, I will for full diligence to this blog.

A Belief That Enables

When you make a decision, you make that decision consciously for only 5% maximum, the rest of your decision (95%) is controlled by your subconscious mind. The decision to adopt a child is conscious but there are subconscious factors below that which are influencing or will influence your experience as an adoptive parent. Some couples adopt for the same reason some couples decide to have a biological child – in order to save a marriage by bonding it with a child. Of course, the couples who adopt generally have other factors – most especially an experience with infertility and failed attempts at using reproductive medical assistance to have a child biologically. In other words, many adoptions actually start out on shaky ground to begin with.

So today, I came across something else that is more than a little bit disturbing. I hasten to add a trigger warning at this point for anyone for whom child abuse discussions might be too emotionally upsetting to continue. Having done my due diligence in this regard – you can proceed reading or leave this blog warned and saved the painful recollections.

It is sometimes asked – Why did they adopt just to abuse them. There is an assumption that adoptive parents wouldn’t abuse their adopted children because they went to so much effort to adopt them. All parents are capable of some degree of abuse – even with a great deal of love and often from ignorance or poor examples growing up. Therefore, it is dangerous to put any adoptive parent on a pedestal because sometimes adoptees are abused. It is a sad fact – and sad anytime any child is severely abused by any adult person for that matter. When the abuse starts… the people around them often say: well, those kids are very troubled and acting out. The adoptive parents are doing the best they can. Who can really blame them for doing what they have to do in order to control that child ?

One reason that it doesn’t shock or confuse me that some adoptive parents might harm their adoptees is that I have become aware of how common a trait of narcissism is among adoptive parents. Wanting a child doesn’t mean you’re going to treat them well. Adoption is inherently a selfish act – regardless of what you believe is motivating you. An adoptive parent may expect their adopted child to be compliant with any of their expectations or demands. That parent may lash out at their adoptee when they don’t meet those. Adoptive parents are not exempt from having anger issues and abusive tendencies.

Sometimes this abuse doesn’t begin immediately but when that cute baby becomes a rebellious teen. One adoptee shared her example – my adoptive mother actually said to me when I was 7 yrs old – “We wanted a baby, and you’re not a baby anymore.” That is how she explained they were going to adopt a baby boy.

Abuse is about possession and control. And in a weird, twisted kind of logic many abusers don’t actually think are they abusive. An abusive narcissistic parent may think they are a really good one. Being abusive goes against the savior narrative that so many adoptive parents have accepted as their reason for adopting. Adoption seems to be a process that attracts people who need to feel good about themselves. And once they’ve completed the adoption, they feel effectively immune from criticism because, after all, it was such a “selfless” act to rescue a child in need.

People adopt simply because they want kids. However, they may not actually have any idea of how to raise those children, once they have achieved that primary goal. These kinds of adoptive parents may have difficulty accepting that the child they adopted is an individually separate person with ideas of their own, desires, wants, and needs that do not necessary mirror the adoptive parent. In fact, often don’t While nurturing plays a role in the kind of person we each become – adoptee reunions with their birth parents after they reach maturity often prove – there is more to the genetic influences than many in the adoption industry want society to believe.

Another example comes from an adoptee with an emotionally immature mother – “She wasn’t able to have children and I think she thought a child would fix her. I was adopted at birth. I believe she thought I’d be a mini version of her but when I had my own emotions and interests, she couldn’t handle it. In came the weird emotional games.” It is way too common for adoptive parents to adopt a baby as a way to fix their own issues. It never works that way.

The abuse somehow feeds into these adoptive parents’ need to feel like they are doing something good. They are a “strong” parent and showing these troubled kids “tough love.” And then, there’s always the go-to excuse so many adoptees have hard – They should be grateful. They could have it so much worse. Never say to an adoptee sharing their experience something like – Just because you were abused by your adoptive parents, that’s why you hate adoption. Or sorry you had a bad experience. An experience sounds like a short term event. Adoption is lifelong.

Dismissing any adoptees’ discontent and trauma is victim blaming, also called gaslighting. It is an attempt to control the adoptees’ story in order not to break their happy, little “adoption is rainbows and butterflies” illusion.

#whatabouts=derailment

In The Simpsons animated series, Helen Lovejoy often exclaims, “Ohhh, won’t somebody please think of the children!”

Something like this happens in broadly represented adoption groups (adoptees, original parents, adoptive parents and foster caregivers). “What about . . . ?” statements regarding kids being abused when issues of adoption and foster care are discussed, especially when the overall goal is to encourage family preservation only derail the effort to put forth viable solutions.

To assume any thoughtful, caring adult is seeking to justify kids being abused by impassioned support for the well-being of the whole biological family is abhorrent. I do not and never have advocated for allowing the abuse of children. What I seek to discuss through this blog in a variety of ways is how abuse and neglect stem from other factors in a person’s life. Being more pro-active on the side of helping families (and people in general) find the support they need can actually help stop abuse and neglect from ever occurring.

If you don’t believe that is possible, then maybe you are not doing enough in your own life to be part of the solution. Maybe you need to open your eyes to the simple truth of what is actually going on. You may need to stop sitting in your bubble of privileged judging of other people’s challenges.

I do believe that no one is born a terrible person. Life happens and sometimes it is a person’s path forward that results in inconvenient truths about the lack of support in our society for marginalized people. Not everyone is fortunate enough to always have goods choices that help them along on one of those better paths in life.

However, allowing people to have better choices CAN lead to a better life, a better person and a healthier, more stable family. This is not Utopian ideals. This is the honest truth derived from being open to learning about a diversity of challenges and experiences as well as the outcomes of those for many different people.

To that question, will there always be children that need someone else to care for them? Sadly Yes, of course there will.

Another question, is there an over-abundance of foster care necessitated by child removals and adoptions taking place in our country today? Maybe, maybe not. These are complex situations that deserve intelligent, nuanced thinking.

The goal of this blog is to help in educating people who may not have as broad of an access to all things adoption and foster care thinking, nor the attention that captures for me many of the stories I feel are worth sharing here.

Almost Never Acceptable

It’s very hard to understand why ANYONE would choose to take another mom’s (or dad’s) child either through adoption or by becoming a foster caregiver. The only acceptable path I see is true kinship, when their parents are dead, ie they are orphans (both of my parents were adoptees and I thought they were orphans when I was a child – I was totally ignorant that biological family existed and was living lives unknown to me). Other than that, no possible excuse.

So here are some questions for adoptive parents and foster caregivers to contemplate: How do you not see what an absolutely horrible thing this is to do? Have we as humans become so blind that we see taking another mother’s child as a good thing? Where is the accountability for adoptive parents and foster caregivers since they are contributors to this huge problem of family separation? Why are we constantly talking about the best interest of the child and not the best interest of the family? Do adults who lose their children not count as well?

A better choice is guardianship and not adoption – if there are children who have arrived in your home, who aren’t able to be with their first/birth family. Allowing them their identity and knowledge of their genetic family.

One should feel absolutely sick to their stomach, if they’ve built their own ‘motherhood’ on another woman’s brokenness and loss. How cruel and selfish, to be so focused on your infertility loss, that you failed to see the other humans in your family’s picture.

No one advocates kids being abused. 

Our society needs to be doing something before a crisis sets in. Maybe the parents need support and some intervention but this should occur WAY before it becomes necessary to remove children from their natural home. Maybe those parents didn’t have a good role model, to show them how to parent properly. Without a role model for how it is done, it can really be an impossible task. Maybe if, as a society, we didn’t leave so many parents unsupported, there would be no need for adoptive parents and foster caregivers.

I know that this sounds very utopian. The challenge is actually translating this into the real world solutions. So how would real world people make a difference for families where the children have been separated from their parents for apparently valid reasons involving the child’s welfare? Here are some ideas related to foster care . . .

The social end goal for that situation is reunification of the children with their parents. There are a lot of steps along the way. Weekly urine analysis requirements, parenting classes, drug counseling, therapy, visits/phone calls with kids, parents needing housing, a job, education, showing up to court.

As a foster parent your job should be to walk along side the parents as an additional support to them in their own efforts. You can’t make anyone do anything, but you can support them, encourage them and remind them of the ultimate goal. You can help pay for those weekly urine analysis requirements, if $10 a week is too much. You can help them get signed up for parenting classes, you can drive them to parenting classes. You can help them find a drug program and get started with therapist. You can provide transportation and support after those sessions. You can go to court and support them and advocate for them. You can help them get to visits, or call them instead of waiting for them to call. You can help by providing resources for housing/jobs. Transportation, if needed.

And then after you’ve helped, you’ve taught them a lot about where to access the resources they need. You’ve shown them what they can do for themselves. And now, they may have many of the skills they need to be successful. You’ve lead them to goal by supporting them and making them feel safe that you aren’t only there to take their children away. Now they can find their own way to parenting their children properly.

And the inconvenient truth is this – too many foster parents flat out refuse to spend any time with the children’s parents or even talk to them because they look down on them as inferior and damaged and not worthy of help. Yes, it is true that some children’s parents are not safe, but it is more true that most of these parents simply need some help to be safe.

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.

Healing Trauma

I’ve only just learned about this book and have not read it but didn’t want to wait for whenever, if ever, that might happen to pass it on to readers here.

Many adoptees and foster children have some degree of trauma. It is said that this is one of the best-known books about trauma, and in particular early life trauma (which especially applies to the topics I cover in this blog). 

It is not light weight reading, has almost 500 pages that includes a significant reference section. Someone who did read this (link at bottom of this essay) says – “It’s very in-depth, giving plenty of detail, but it’s not unnecessarily complicated. There’s some technical terminology used, particularly with respect to the functioning of the brain, but I thought this was explained well.”

Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who initially began working with trauma while treating war veterans. There was a lot that wasn’t known about trauma then. He’s been an active researcher throughout his career and often considered at the forefront of new trauma-related knowledge.

In this book, he repeatedly stresses the importance of recognizing the changes that occur in the brains and nervous systems of people who’ve been through trauma, and targeting treatment accordingly with the goal of getting back the functioning they have lost. He is quoted as saying, “Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Imaging studies have produced some new understandings about flashbacks. There’s activation of the right brain along with a drop in activity in the brain structure called the thalamus, which prevents the events from being remembered as a coherent narrative, as would be the case with other kinds of memories.

Brain scans have also shown an impaired self-awareness. Van der Kolk explains that this is why it’s important to work on breathing, mindfulness, and recognizing the link between physical sensations and emotions. He writes further: “The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.”

The book pays a lot of attention to early life trauma, including issues like attachment and attunement. The author explains that trauma increases the need for attachment, even when the only attachment figure available to the child is the abuser.

Van der Kolk championed adding complex PTSD as a separate diagnosis from PTSD. He was part of the working group that proposed C-PTSD for inclusion in the DSM-IV, and the group that proposed developmental trauma disorder for inclusion in the DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association did not approve any of these suggestions as new diagnoses.

I am indebted to Ashley of The Mental Health @ Home blog for her review which is the basis of my own blog today. You can read more about this book in her article.

Where is Kaya ?

Imagine.  This girl has been “missing” for at least 8 years.  If not for the behavior of her adoptive parents, Jose and Gina Centeno, her disappearance would still be under the radar.

An investigation was prompted after her adoptive parents were accused of harming her siblings, a 17-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy.  It was these children who made authorities aware that they last saw her when she was between 8 and 12 years old.  She was a student at John Reed Elementary School when she was removed in second grade, purportedly to be homeschooled.  As a parent who’s children have been educated at home, I always hate these sensational stories (and of course, grieve these things happen) because they cast a bad perspective on the practice of educating one’s own children.

In July, authorities in Mexico notified Sonoma County child protective services of allegations of abuse against the parents by the Centeno children after they were sent out of the country about 1.5 years ago to live with a family there. Neighbors of the family’s members alerted Mexican authorities about the alleged abuse.

The Centenos had adopted five children: three siblings and later on, twins. Gina and Jose separated and Gina has been raising the twins, according to police.  Prosecutors have charged the pair with felony kidnapping, alleging that they concealed the three older siblings to obtain adoption assistance funding, according to court records.

Jose and Gina Centeno gave Kaya’s younger sister and brother an explanation for why she disappeared, although that information has not been publicly revealed. Investigators did find evidence in the family’s home “to corroborate the victims’ statements about the abuse,“ police said.

Thankfully, the Centenos are being held in the Sonoma County Jail on $18 million bail and are expected to make another court appearance on Oct. 5. They each face life sentences, if convicted.

To report information about the case, call the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department at 707-584-2612.