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.

Family Is Important

Whether genetically related or adoptive, family is important.  Both of my parents were adopted.  All of the “family” I knew growing up was not at all genetically related to me (beyond my mom and dad of course).  My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were actually not related to me.  I marvel at this now.

My adoptive grandparents were influential in my life.  No doubt about that.  My maternal grandmother lived in wealth and taught us good manners and what an abundant life might be like.  I remember fondly sleeping in my mom’s old canopy four-poster bed and coming to a breakfast table set impeccably.  My grandmother also made possible my only trip outside the United States beyond occasional forays into Juarez growing up on the Mexican border.  Thanks to her I had an experience of attending Clare College in Cambridge England.  She was metaphysical actually.  I learned that at some point and she expressed gratitude for her financial comforts by being generously charitable.

My paternal grandparents modeled hard work, entrepreneurial spirit and humble surroundings as well as country living as I was growing up in a dense suburban environment.  I remember going out into the cotton fields to pick boles and now know that my genetic maternal relatives (grandmother and grandfather lived such a life of necessity).  I remember harvesting food from their property – pecans, peaches and asparagus.  I remember the trains that traveled right across the street from their rural home.

I also believe I owe my granny (my dad’s adoptive mother) for preserving me in my parent’s loving care and not allowing my unwed high school mom to be sent off to have me and give me up for adoption.  Later on in life, my granny caused me to realize a romantic relationship I had been in for some years was not a healthy one and I left it.  Her questioning openned the way for me to meet and marry my husband and to have two wonderful sons with him.

Adoption – Open or Closed – What’s Best ?

Today, in modern adoption, there are more open adoptions than there were in the past.

In an open adoption, a young adoptee may grow up alongside the parents who conceived them and gave birth, though these parents are not part of the family household the adoptee grows up within. Even so, there is sharing time together, visiting and writing to one another.  In an open adoption, you see and get to know your original parents but you don’t have them as your parents.

Up until recently, most adoptions were closed and so, in order to know the people an adoptee was born to, they had to seek a reunion after they became an adult; or at the least, a much older child, as in a teenager.

If it were actually possible for any adoptee to  compare the outcomes they would have experienced with each method, what would they choose in full awareness ?  Would they want to know their original parents throughout their whole lives ?  Do they think that knowing them would make their lives better or worse ?

Of course, there is no such choice for adoptees.  Open adoption seeks to make the adoption experience better by taking away the secrecy and shame.

Are the issues the same for an adoptee whether it was an open or closed adoption ?  Or does an open adoption simply create a whole new set of issues that didn’t exist within
the close adoption system ?

In a good reunion process, the adoptee is able to explain to the original parent(s) – their feelings of hurt, abandonment and/or anger – which were all caused by the decision of their original parents to surrender their child for adoption.

Can any child go through something as traumatic as being given up and still process it all at the same time – are they able to talk to the original parent about the feelings common among all adoptees at the same time as they are being experienced ?  This is not an answerable question as the two kinds of adoption experience do not allow such comparisons.

It can be quite painful for an adoptee to hear about a birth mother who is satisfied with having relinquished her child for adoption.  Yet, many such mothers were absolutely convinced at the time they made that choice that they were doing the best thing for their child.

Years later, many birth mothers wish they had kept their child, and that is why there are groups of adoptees actively working to encourage young unwed or troubled expectant mothers to make an effort to parent first before making a decision to relinquish their child to adoption.

The fact is – adoption exists – and it will likely always exist because there is a need and/or desire for that in some circumstances.  The hard truth is that not all parents to be actually want to devote themselves to raising a child.

In seeking to reform the practice of adoption, the more we are able to ask piercing questions, explore with those involved the reason for their decisions and just plain understand at a very deep level all aspects of the experience, the better we will be able to shape the future of adoption into better outcomes for all concerned.