One Can Only Do So Much

A woman writes –

I have a teen in my care for whom reunification is not an option. One parent was not able to parent and has recently left the country. The other parent is an offender. No other bio family in this country. I am fictive kin, case plan is adoption. My foster son is 15 and has started to express feelings like this home is not his and never will be. He feels like an outsider, etc. Home is just myself and my two children, who are biological siblings. I have validated his feelings, reinforced that its OK to miss Mom and want Mom, acknowledged that this situation is not ideal, etc. There are plans to visit Mom abroad in the future. I expressed that its OK to feel this way, but that he is wanted, welcomed and loved in this home and that there will always be a place for him here.

Is there anything else I can be doing? I don’t want to minimize or ignore the fact that he wants to be with his mom and that this whole scenario isn’t what he wants, but I also don’t want him to never feel like he can settle in and get comfortable. This is his home, he’s been here for well over a year, how can I help him feel at home? I just finished re-doing his room and making it really nice and really reflective of him, but I think that just added to his feelings because having a really nice room is such a stark contrast to what his reality used to be. He’s in therapy, what else can I be doing?

Going to live with mom would not be in his best interest. He has mental health concerns as a result of the abuse and neglect that occurred with his mom due to issues out of her control. She is now being cared for by her family. In the country of origin, there would be issues of poverty, education and opportunity. He would not be able to get an education and would be put to work instead.

Some of the responses –

Maybe he is afraid of losing his connection to his mother if this begins to feel like “home”? I would reinforce his feeling of ambivalence as being normal in a very ambivalent situation.

Do you have a hallway where you hang family pictures? Hanging pictures of his mom might be good – and if you don’t have this sort of thing yet, you could have him help pick out photos, frames, a fresh wall color, or piece of furniture to put the frames on.

Adoptees will never feel like they are home. You can’t force or foster that feeling. Home is mom. And when mom won’t be home, there will never be home again. This is an entirely emotional thing he’s expressing. An emotional emptiness, a hole which cannot be filled. In my case, I now don’t really even feel home with my natural family. We lost too much time. Once the connection is severed, it’s severed. You can build a new bond, but you can never have back what you lost. What he does need is therapy with someone who is an adoptee. Anything else will not do.

The original woman admits – I struggle with wanting to “fix” everything – I know that I can’t. I want him to feel comfortable and at home but this is the ugly side of adoption and its possible he may never feel at home anywhere and will always be “homesick” no matter where he goes. Its heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing.

The previous woman added – As adoptees we struggle a LOT with what we should or shouldn’t feel. He “should” feel at home with someone who cares so much, but he doesn’t. He “shouldn’t” miss someone who abused and neglected him, but he does. All of this makes us feel even more wrong and broken. I can’t stress enough the importance of an adoptee therapist to help him work through the complexities of those feelings! It must be an adoptee, no one else can even begin to understand – and this is the very basis of what we need: someone to understand that we are suffering something so unnatural it literally doesn’t happen anywhere else in nature, and we’re expected just to acclimate. We need to talk about it, over and over and over, to someone who understands, so that someday it won’t hurt so much.

Another suggestions was to connect him with other people from his country. It won’t help the loss of mom but might help with feeling connected to his culture.

Finally these words of wisdom – You can’t fix him. This is a really an adoptive parent issue because it’s hard to parent a child when you can’t help them, fix what hurts them. Acknowledging this and knowing you are never going to be enough is key. You have done several things right seeing that he is able to verbalize to you how he feels about you and his mom. That’s a really positive thing for an adoptee to feel safe to do that.

It’s going to take time. He is grieving. He is confused. I am sure he feels conflicted and guilty. Let him connect with other kids and adults from his exact culture. That will help him feel a connection to mom and his extended family. Try to leave “but” out of the conversations. “It’s ok to miss mom but you’re welcome and loved” leave that out and just keep validating his feelings.

Ask if there is anything you can do different for him. Just let him continue to express his feelings, get him in therapy with a adoption competent therapist and just walk beside him no matter what he says or does. You’ve mentioned education and opportunity a few times. Please do not assume this is the better life for him due to his country of origin being poverty, lack of education and opportunity. Those things are things YOU think are important for someone, but he may not. Being taken from your culture, your family, it’s pretty hard to think you are getting a better life. Education and opportunity is what America pushes. To assume that makes someone happy and/or successful is inaccurate. Many people living different lives from us are happy and deem themselves successful. It is not for us to judge what’s better.

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.