The joy and heartache of friendships. We love our friends and they can break our hearts – just being the messy, complicated and beautiful human beings we all are. That said, some lives are much more challenging than ours. And when our dear friend has such a life, out of love, we do our best with the reality. This is one such story.
I’ve adopted two little girls from a childhood friend. They are ages 5 and 3. The five year old, I brought home when she was born, her mom was very ill at that time. The 3 year old came to me through the foster care system, when she was 9 months old at her mom’s request. My friend had stage 4 cirrhosis during both of the pregnancies, as well as substance abuse and varying illnesses and had been homeless most of her life, was suicidal and with a history of violent behavior. She was in and out of jail. She passed unexpectedly in December two years ago.
I knew the girls had 3 older sisters who were adopted out by the state years ago. I had promised their mom I would look for them but today, they found me. They are 16, 18 and 19. They were looking for their mom. They asked me point blank if their mom was still alive. I answered that and a few questions. I did let them know that she loved them and missed them and thought of them every day and wondered how they were doing. She had hoped to connect with them again. I let them know they had little sisters We exchanged photos.
I just don’t know how to navigate this. I don’t want to give them a negative image of their mom. I’m thinking of just letting them know that she had had a lot of trauma that led to her addictions and illnesses, kind of a negative spiral she got caught up in but that she was a beautiful, amazing person with a big heart and a brilliant mind who was funny and creative and one of a kind….
Some responses to this sad story about life’s more difficult realities.
You tell those sisters that she was a human being that battled a war. With her self, her world, and still loved her children. Even while she fought. There’s something terribly strong and loving about that.
Let them know the truth as much as age appropriate for them to grasp. The real truth is people are messy & complicated & beautiful all at the same time, and that’s something they can grasp at any age, regardless of depth of details.
Please tell the older girls everything – the good, the bad, the ugly. They can handle it and it’ll be valuable information as they navigate their own trauma and mental health issues (and questions about their lives).
The woman replied – I’ve talked to two of the older girls and answered their questions. I sent them videos of their mom telling her life story, about her paintings and stuff.
I’ll admit that I’m not doing the Read God’s Word one (I’m just not conventionally religious) but otherwise nice advice. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’ve been ready with cards and candy for a few days now as my Tuesday will likely be complicated. I’m a loving person in general.
What is sad are the mothers and their children who have been torn apart for whatever reason and so can’t experience the joys I have almost every day (okay, there are days . . . but they are few).
Be grateful if you get to be with your children (and I’ve also been there – apart from my firstborn, my beautiful sunshine daughter – I was just too young and financially unstable to parent her – maybe that is why I feel a pang of compassion at this thought. Fortunately, we can still communicate in loving ways with one another. It is a blessing I’ll never feel I’ve earned but the love I have for her has always been and always will be).
So borrowing today’s blog title from Crosby Stills Nash and Young – love the one you’re with – and given the focus of this blog, you can read into that whatever you wish – just do it !!
An adoption community friend mentioned that this was a song that always made her cry. I had not heard it before. I’m pretty certain a song by REM was part of my wedding back in 1988 (not this song, of course). I suspect many of the people who read this blog do feel sad, cry, have deep soul hurt, at least sometimes. So I’m making this my Saturday morning blog, just because.
We just spent 3 days without full power (though we do have a gas powered generator, it is NOT enough to power our furnace – we used a space heater and sleeping bags at night). The noise and sustained cold (though the lowest household temperature was 63, the cold seeped into everything in the house) shattered my nerves and happily took 3 lbs off me due to shivering. There was a moment on Thursday when everything was just so wrong but I had to go on. I know we were fortunate to have that much normalcy, yet – it was anything but normal. Our power was restored at 11:35am on Friday. I have even more compassion and empathy for the people of Ukraine today who do not even have what we had and have terror piled on top of the suffering, never knowing when the next missile will strike where they are.
When your day is long And the night, the night is yours alone When you’re sure you’ve had enough Of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go ‘Cause everybody cries Everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on, hold on) If you feel like letting go (hold on) If you think you’ve had too much Of this life, well hang on
‘Cause everybody hurts Take comfort in your friends Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand, oh no Don’t throw your hand If you feel like you’re alone No, no, no, you are not alone
If you’re on your own in this life The days and nights are long When you think you’ve had too much Of this life to hang on
Well, everybody hurts sometimes Everybody cries Everybody hurts, sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes So hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on, hold on
Change may come slowly but it does come. In New Jersey there is now a Siblings Bill of Rights Act. This includes –
Have access to phone calls and virtual visits between face-to-face visits with their sibling;
Be placed in the closest proximity possible to other siblings who are not in out-of-home placement or if placement together is not possible, when it is in the best interests of the child;
Have the recommendations and wishes of the child and of each sibling who participates in the permanency planning decision documented in the DCF case record and provided to the court;
Know, or be made aware by DCF, of expectations for continued contact with the child’s siblings after an adoption or transfer of custody, subject to the approval of the adoptive parents or caregiver;
Be promptly informed about changes in sibling placements or permanency planning goals;
Be actively involved in the lives of the child’s siblings, e.g., birthdays, holidays, and other milestones;
Not be denied sibling visits as a result of behavioral consequences when residing in a resource family home or congregate care setting; and
Be provided updated contact information for all siblings at least annually, including a current telephone number, address, and email address, unless not in the best interests of one or more siblings.
Recently signed by Governor Phil Murphy, the law recognizes that children placed outside their home have several rights related to maintaining sibling relationships, including the right to remain actively involved in the lives of their siblings and to have their voice heard in the permanency planning process for their siblings. “In what could very well be the most difficult time of their young lives, it is our hope that this bill will allow siblings in the child welfare system to maintain some measure of stability and continuity,” Murphy said.
“One of this Administration’s goals has been to make sure the children and families in this state’s welfare systems are treated with compassion and empathy,” said Murphy. “I was deeply moved, as I’m sure my counterparts in the Legislature were, by the compelling recommendations of the Youth Council who shared their lived experiences of their time during the child welfare process.” The Council consisted of 24 members ages 14-23 who are or were previously involved with one of DCF’s programs such as Child Protection & Permanency or the Children’s System of Care. Youth Council members stressed that sibling relationships were crucial for maintaining stability and ensuring future success.
DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer said the new law “represents the power of shared leadership and the importance of having individuals with lived experiences in a meaningful role at the table.”
“Ensuring children can maintain relationships with their siblings, arguably the people who best understand what they are going through, we can provide them with more stability and the possibility of invaluable, life-long family connections.” Assemblywomen Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), and Lisa Swain (D-Begen) said in a joint statement.
“New Jersey has taken a stance on sibling rights — that they matter, they exist, and this is now the law,” Jack Auzinger, a member of the DCF Youth Council, said.
~ story courtesy of Steve Lenox of Tap Into Patterson News – LINK
He was in the foster care system from age 3-18, with a failed adoption from the ages of 4-8. This is how broken the foster care system is and how adoption is not always rainbows and butterflies. Excerpts from his story – For a portion of my life my identity was ripped from me, changed, and those who were looking for me could not find me. I was in plain sight living under a different name. After 20 years of silence, I am finally ready to tell my story.
Trigger Warning – What you’re about to read is graphic, disturbing and may be triggering.
I was adopted – Twice. In my personal opinion, I lived a better life with my second adoptive parents than I would have ever lived without them. Yes, I am thankful for the opportunities I do have because of my adoptive parents. Yes, I have chosen to see the good in my life and be grateful for everything I do have. But this is the mature, 27 year old man speaking, not the boy who endured so much trauma that causes the 27 year old man to still go to therapy on a weekly basis. Today, I am what most would consider a successful man.
I was adopted the first time at the age of 4 to what the world thought was a loving home. From the ages of 4-8, behind closed doors I was brutally beaten daily. Some nights I would be locked outside at night in the cold rainy Washington state weather nights in nothing except my underwear. I would be stabbed by forks at the dinner table to the point I was bleeding because I would gag on and throw up my food, then be forced to eat my throw up. I would be told to stick out my tongue, just for her fist to slam up under my jaw, forcing my teeth to slam together and viciously bite my tongue. I would be tucked in at night not with a warm hug or a loving kiss, but rather a hand over my face suffocating me until I stopped moving. Her eyes turned into a cold, chilling midnight black, and she would grit her teeth together and say “I will not stop until your body is done moving. Once you stop moving, I will stop.” I would be grabbed by my neck and choked and slammed to the wall with my feet dangling, my entire 30lb body off the ground and glued to the wall from my neck. She has this super strength, black eyes, and could hold me off the ground by my neck, not letting go until she was satisfied knowing she held the life of the little boy between her palms, against the wall.
I would cry when it was time to line up for the bus at the end of the day in kindergarten while all the other kids would be jumping with joy to be picked up by their parents. I would cry because of the home I knew I was going to. Kids would ask me why I was crying. It’s the end of school and I should be excited. But I wasn’t excited, I was jealous because I knew the first graders got to stay the whole day, but I only stayed half the day, and I was going back to a place worse than hell. I would be asked by not only teachers, but doctors as to why I had bruises all over my body, just to tell them they were from my siblings to avoid my abusive adopted mom from ever finding out I told anyone because I knew if I told anyone I would be brutally beaten. I can go on and on, but I’ll end it here for now because as I type this I am getting dizzy, sick and shaking.
I also had to hear the muffled cries of my brother as he would be choked, beaten and abused while fear and adrenaline would shoot through my veins as I listened to the muffled cries of my twin as I watched his body stop squirming, and almost peacefully slowly stop moving knowing I was next. I quickly learned that once the hand covered my mouth and nose, the quicker I would lay limp, the quicker she would be satisfied and leave the room. I would run away at the sound of punches, slaps, screams and terrifying, gasping cries of my sister knowing my 30lb self had no ability to protect her.
My biological mother gave me up to this family because she trusted them. At first she didn’t give me up. At the age of 3 we were taken from her because she was an alcoholic. We were placed in this home but still visited our mother often. My mother would end up signing away her rights so the family could adopt us. My mother died never knowing the truth about what she signed her rights away for and where she sent her three young children. My mother thought I was going to a home that could provide more love than she could, even though she was an Angel and nothing but comfort to me. I didn’t know what money was, nor did I care she didn’t have any. I didn’t know what drugs or alcohol was, nor did I care that she used/drank them. All I knew was what the warm motherly feeling of love, compassion and dedication was, and that is what I felt in my mothers arms, and only in my mothers arms.
I have struggled with abandonment issues and identity issues my entire life. As a young man I cheated on the mother of my daughter because if I got a glimpse of love or attention from a woman, I did not know how to turn it down. I yearned for love and affection. I dealt with losing my sister. No, she didn’t die, I was ripped away from her after the first adoption failed because the next home simply didn’t want 3 children. I would live in the same town as my sister, the only piece of my mother I had left, just to be denied the ability to see her for years at a time. I have matured immensely and have learned from my mistakes, but the trauma is still rooted deep within. I have used my childhood as motivation to stay strong and push foward to obtain a simple, successful, happy life. That’s all I’ve wanted and that’s all I work towards every day, and to make sure my children have the most loving, stable home I can possibly provide for them.
Even when the hardest part of my childhood was over and I was adopted for a second time, this time to the most amazing, most loving family I could dream of who did everything to love and protect me, I had identity issues. Not with sexual orientation, but with who I was genetically. Where I came from ancestrally. I knew nothing about ME but I lived inside me every day. I never understood why I wasn’t enough for my biological mother and father to change so they could take me back. Why was I never good enough? That’s what I asked myself every day. I asked myself this every time I was told to pack my bags and given a trash bag. I would be moving to yet another foster home. I was told I had no biological family, but I did. Dozens of biological family members existed in the very state and county I lived in, and they were looking for me. I love my second adoptive parents very much, and I am the man I am today because of them. My parents mean absolutely everything to me.
A song I associated myself with, and feel with every fiber in my body is “Concrete Angel” by Martina McBride. As a young boy, I would listen to it and it would resonate with me as if the song was specifically written about me, and just for me. There’s no reason why an 8 year old boy should hear that song and feel such a strong connection to it and understand it so perfectly, but I did. No one knew what was happening, and if I told people who knew the family, they wouldn’t believe me. Even one of my adoptive sisters who lived in the home during the abuse denies it and claims it never happened, despite it being my whole world every day living in abuse, because only my brother, sister and I were abused. But it was hidden so well, that some of my abuser’s own biological children weren’t aware – although I know one was, and unfortunately, she inherited the abuse after the adoption failed.
Unless someone is a foster parent who also has biological children of their own, they may not be familiar with this problem. Today’s issue – How do you handle the uneven balance of gifts? My fosters will actually end up with a ton of gifts as their biological family and the agency, even my own family and myself will all be buying for them. I was thinking I wouldn’t buy my fosters as many presents as my biological children because the agency will be filling their wish lists? But what if the agency doesn’t come through? Or what if my foster teens notice I only bought them say 2 presents, while my biologicals got 5? What has worked for your family? What has been your experiences?
One respondent suggested this – Let them have more – they already have less. I let them open agency gifts and such at the parent visitation (if applicable) or as they arrive with the worker. Then the gifts from me are opened at Xmas with all of us together that morning.
Someone else said – I understand her concern. Fostering impacts everyone in the family, especially the biological kids and uneven amounts of gifts could cause hurt feelings.
Another suggested – I’d guess it evens out with your biological children’s extended family vs foster children’s biological family ? As in, you get everyone equal presents for Christmas morning and the rest fills itself in ?
Maybe this explanation adds a bit more clarity – It is about understanding the reality of adoption and foster care. One thing that is reality is that biological children and foster care children are often treated differently, usually to the detriment of the children in foster care. This question assumes that a biological child is equal to a foster care child, therefore the number or type of gifts should be ‘equal’. There is no equality in foster care.
Another suggestion went like this – Let the agency know that you don’t need any presents from them because you’ll be doing your job fulfilling the wish lists for the children. Just to note – your biological kids haven’t experienced the trauma of being removed from their family and having to spend Christmas without them, so if we want to play tit for tat… you could always send your kids to another family to spend Christmas, so that they understand their situation better.
Also, just to note that yesterday I learned a new detail about my mom’s paternal family. His first wife died while pregnant at the beginning of a new year. The two girls (my mom’s older half-sisters) were put into foster care for a short time. I had not known that detail before but my heart aches, considering the trauma of having lost their mother, to then be separated from their father and older brothers. They were very poor and I can believe there was ample concern about his ability under those circumstances to care for young girls. Thankfully, he did find other ways to care for ALL of his children after their mother’s death by involving extended family.
This from experience – The kids in foster care in my home got more gifts than my biological son. The foster care kids didn’t get to be with their families for the holidays, a few extra gifts does not hold a candle to that loss. If it had come up with my biological son, it would have been an opportunity to talk about compassion and gratitude.
I really liked this answer from an adoptee – Everything is complicated when there are younger biological and foster care kids in the same house. Maybe try not putting so much importance on gifts and doing something together as people instead. I’d love to remember a happy Christmas seeing lights and drinking cocoa, instead of tenseness around a tree centered on who can get what.
A former foster care youth provided her direct experience – We would get a box of smellys (toiletries), a selection box of candy and some socks or something equally small in value. There is no need to be concerned about extravagant gifts from the state.
A former social worker, foster parent shared this – Communication is key. My social workers keep me posted about what has been donated, so I know what to buy or not to buy. You could ask that items not be wrapped, so you can see for yourself and make sure everyone feels equally excited and there’s no hurt feelings the day of. When the social workers ask for the wishlist, I’m also intentional about putting more affordable wishes on the list, while I purchase the “big” items or clothing that is specific to the foster child’s style in order to make sure they get things they really want. We were gifted some really amazing presents from a church for our foster son last year, so there’s the chance they could get doubles – if you don’t know what’s going to be donated until closer to Christmas day. The earlier you receive the donations the better you can plan accordingly to ensure that all foster children receive equal gifts along with your biological children. For example, children may receive different donations from the people that took on their wishlist that are more expensive than a child whose list was bought by a family with less resources. Our extended family is consistent at buying both our biological and foster children equal gifts but not all extended families do. I always give my relatives specific items that aren’t repeated on other wishlists, when they ask for what the kids would like.
It’s a problem I feel compassion for – from a woman who aged out of foster care . . .
I never was adopted. I almost was and then, my dad got custody. Then, I went back into foster care from the age of 13 until I turned 18. When you’re a teen in foster care, everyone knows no one wants you because you’re too old. It sucks. Like you’re just damaged goods.
Advice to hopeful adoptive parents – Maybe use your desire to reach out and get to know and/or adopt a teen.
I will say from personal experience, it’s not easy. Because for me – I was damaged goods. But I still deserved to know I had worth and was loved. Teenagers also can make choices regarding adoption and name change vs younger kids who can’t. So if you’re wanting to adopt to “be the change”, and not just because you want a baby to cuddle, then actually make real contribution to change. Help someone in foster care who is likely to turn 18 while still in the state’s care. When they look at their future, there seems to be no one there who cares.
I went looking for a topic for today’s blog and found this story by Stephanie Drenka. She writes that – “I was struck by the pervasiveness of adoptive parent-focused stories. Where were the adoptee perspectives ?” The photo is from when when she was reunited with her biological mother, two sisters, and a brother.
She notes that “abandonment issues do not end in adulthood. Though I haven’t experienced divorce, I can imagine it might be similar. If a woman’s husband leaves her, even after remarries the perfect guy, she may always deal with a persistent fear that he will leave her as well. Fear of abandonment is real, and has to be acknowledged in order to resolve it.”
I have personally witnessed this issue playing out in a loved one and it had not been resolved previously. It came out at a very inopportune time but never-the-less had to be dealt with in its extremity.
Stephanie notes – Even the most well-adapted adoptee still faces moments where the trauma resurfaces. For me, that meant small things like every time a doctor would ask me for my family medical history or now, post-reunification, not knowing when I will be able to meet my biological sister’s new baby boy. And adds – I won’t go into the trauma experienced by birth mothers and families, because that is not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, from my personal reunification experience, adoptees are not the only ones who struggle with the aftermath of adoption.
She says – I love my (adoptive) mom and dad to the moon and back. They are my role models, biggest supporters, and best friends. I feel blessed to have them in my life– but please don’t presume to tell me that I was “lucky” to be adopted. Like many adoptees, my parents told me that I was special. While meant with good intention, being chosen is a burden. It puts pressure on us to be perfect and grateful. It can be incredibly emotionally taxing and negatively effects your self esteem in the moments where you can’t live up to that perfect picture. These expectations can prolong mental illness without treatment, because it may seem like asking for help is being ungrateful.
Choosing to adopt is an expensive proposition and as Stephanie notes – one mostly related to white privilege. I agree with her stated perspective – Can you imagine if the money people spent on adoption services went instead to supporting single mothers or low-income parents? Or what if adoption profits were used to benefit adoptees themselves in the form of post-adoption services like counseling, genetic testing, mental health treatment, or birth family search costs?
She ends her own essay with this – The truth about adoption is that there is no Truth. Adoption is many different things for many different people. It is love, loss, grief, abuse, hope, despair. It can sometimes be celebrated, but should always be examined through a critical and compassionate lens.
An adoptee wrote – “I hate not belonging anywhere. I hate that I have multiple families, but also really zero. I hate needing to earn my place in people’s lives.” I could relate as I recently shared with my husband and he understood. We both come from small nuclear families and there is no extended family geographically close to us and honestly, few of those as well anywhere else.
Much of this feeling for me comes from the realization that those who were my extended family growing up aren’t really related to me. Those that are genetically biologically related to me don’t really know me, have no real history with me and though I am slowly without too much intrusion trying to build these new relationships . . . sigh. It isn’t easy.
My first family break-up was one I initiated. I divorced the man I had married just before I turned 18 and a month before I graduated from high school in April 1972. By November, more or less, I was pregnant with our first child. She remains the joy of my life and has gifted me with two grandchildren. However, finances separated me from my daughter when she was 3 years old and she was raised by her father and step-mother who gave her a yours-mine-and-ours family of siblings, sisters, just like I grew up with. It has left me with a weird sense of motherhood in regard to my daughter. One that I often struggle with but over the last decade or so, I have been able to bridge some of that gap- both with regard in my own sense of self-esteem and in a deepening relationship with my daughter, primarily since the passing of her step-mother (not that the woman was an impediment but understandably, my daughter’s heart remains seriously tied to that woman even today).
The trauma of mother/child separation lived by each of my adoptee parents (while skipping my relationship and my sisters’ relationship with our parents) passed over to my sisters and my own relationships with our biological genetic children. I seriously do believe it has proven to have been a factor. Both of my sisters gave up babies to adoptive parents and one lost her first born in court to his paternal grandparents. Sorrows all around but all us must go on the best we can.
Since learning the stories of my original grandparents, I have connected with several genetic relatives – cousins mostly and an aunt plus one who lives in Mexico with her daughter. Everyone is nice enough considering the absolutely un-natural situation our family histories have thrust us into. So really, now I find myself in this odd place of not really belonging to 4 discrete family lines (one set of grandparents were initially married and divorced after the surrender of their child to adoption and one set never married, in fact my paternal grandfather likely never knew he had a son). Happily, though a significant bit of geographical distance a factor foe me, my paternal grandfather was a Danish immigrant and I now have contact with one cousin in Denmark who has shared some information with me that I would not have but for him.
Regarding estrangement, I’ve had no direct contact with my youngest sister since 2016. In regard to looking out for her best interests, her own attorneys in the estate proceedings encouraged me to pursue a court appointed guardian/conservator for her – as both of our parents died 4 months apart and she was highly dependent upon them due to her mental illness of (likely) paranoid schizophrenia. The effects of that really destroyed my relationship with her (which had been close until our mother died and then, went seriously to hell, causing us to become estranged). I just learned the other day that the court has released her conservator. I guess she is on her own now. She survived 4 years of homelessness before reconciling uneasily with our parents. I guess the survivor in her will manage but she most likely also now believes the guardian/conservator proceedings were my own self being vindictive, for some unreasonable purpose. Sigh. I don’t miss contact with her – honestly – it was cruel and difficult being on the receiving end of her offensives after our mom died. I do wish her “well” in the sincerest meanings of that concept.
It could also be that without these great woundings I would be less vulnerable and available, less empathic and compassionate, with the people I encounter as I live my life each day. Maybe it is precisely my reaching out, in an effort to connect, that causes me to share my own personal circumstances. A sacrifice of the heart.
I’m a Christian foster carer though I am not actively fostering as I have a long term child and he is my priority. To me the call from God to Foster was nothing to do with an inability to have children (and I am NOT infertile) and I don’t think it was even a calling to be honest.
We are called to stand in the gap for these children. To be a safe and loving place where they can start to unpack their trauma with help from people like me who actively want to help. Not people that want to adopt these kids and pretend that they don’t have any issues.
The goal of foster care is to get the kids out of it and back home. Unfortunately there are a lot of foster carers who actively choose to ignore that. I would love to see my country move to a model where families are supported first and children are only removed due to the absolute worst case possible, end of the line option.
Unfortunately the system is completely broken and nobody in our government wants to fix it or knows how to. Which is why focusing on finding, training and keeping excellent foster carers is so important in the meantime. There should not just be a volunteering position that anyone can do. I am so sick of the advertisements on the radio and TV saying if you have a spare bed you could save a child’s life, when it is so much deeper than that.
These kids need more than just a bit of love and to be on their way. Unfortunately that seems to be what a lot of people think they need. Trauma is so complex and the whole idea of fostering at all, really should be taken so much more seriously.