Parentification

This was a new term for me and came out of one of the stories I read recently conveyed by a foster parent. Here’s the story –

I am currently fostering a 14 year old. They were removed because of trauma from a family member who is not their mom but who still lives with their mom. Mom refuses to ask this person to leave or to move into a different apartment, but is otherwise doing what is asked of her to work towards reunification. Today this kid told me they really want to be reunified, which makes perfect sense. I’m worried because this seems unlikely unless mom starts believing them and takes steps to cut their perpetrator out of her life. How do I support them? If you were in their shoes, what would you want from a foster caregiver? I’m also worried because many of the reasons this kid states for wanting to reunify are to care for their mom. It’s not my place to make the judgment calls, but it seems from the outside like a case of parentification. Add to this that I’ve heard this child talk about how much they wish they had been given the opportunity that their peers had to “just be a kid”.

So what is parentification ? Parentification is when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, a toxic family dynamic that is rarely talked about and is even accepted as the norm in some cultures. However, research has found that it can have far-reaching negative psychological impacts. It is a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.

One response was this from experience – my parents put me in foster care briefly when I was suicidal from the pressure of being a “good kid” and experiencing their abuse. I wanted to go back to them to protect my brother. I feel for the teen. I would have this child in therapy now to begin processing those emotions of responsibility. I’m 24 and still struggle with guilt that my brother may have suffered when I was gone or what would have happened if I’d stayed gone. My mom would’ve likely lost her mind. She did – when I went to college. My best advice is therapy for the child while in your care, and perhaps talk to a therapist about how you could best talk to their mom about her removing that person in the home. My mom chose my dad over me often, so I feel for the teen.

Another one shared – Unfortunately this might be something that never fully goes away. I was like this, the eldest child who took care of the family from a very young age and getting rid of that guilt and the “needing to take care of them feeling” has been very very resistant to therapy. I think the best you can do is just try to be empathetic, don’t make them feel like they’re acting too old or whatever (mine did that and it really fucked with my head) just be kind and remind them they can relax and do things for themselves, even if they don’t listen.

This one touched my heart, because I am the oldest as well. I was not in an awful situation but I have always felt a sense of responsibility for my two sisters. Our parents died only 4 months apart (high school sweethearts married for over 50 years). From the first day I returned to my family after my mom died first, I found myself having to take over financial responsibility for my sisters that my mom had been financially providing, making me in effect “the mom”. Then, after our dad died too, I had to ask the court to appoint someone to assist my youngest sister with her finances. She is likely a paranoid schizophrenic with very weird ideas about the way money functions. The court agreed to appoint a conservator. My sister and I have struggled. What had been a really good relationship before was destroyed when our mom died. Our mom had a poor relationship with my sister for over a decade and my sister’s feelings about that transferred to me when my mom died and I had to take over the family finances.

Also this interesting perspective – I cared for a teen relative of mine last year similar situation. As soon as she could legally, she returned to mom and the abuser to care for her siblings again and her mom. This is what she had been taught was the only way to get attention, love etc from mom. The best way we found to help her was to enroll her in a group for teens about healthy relationships at our local Domestic Violence shelter. She also did therapy with someone she selected and equine psychotherapy which helped her with attachment a lot. While she was here, we focused on just reminding her of our unconditional love and building trust in our relationship. Even though she went back, it didn’t take long for all of that to help her see how to set boundaries with mom, identify unsafe situations with abuser and start to come out of some of the fog. It’s still complicated but she isn’t engrained and I see her setting more healthy boundaries. We (and her dad) are still safe people she can come too and does. It took about 6 months of us just watching from a distance and being supportive regardless. In your situation, maybe focus on staying neutral and asking for a CASA or Guardian ad Litem to help with the other side of the coin. Having a mentor also really helped my relative. It was someone closer to her age that she could confide in and she is still actively talking to that person now. Maybe your foster youth could use a mentor because they aren’t a therapist but can be a sounding board. Also a lifeline if the youth returns and ‘adults’ get cut off from that person. (I say adults because the mentors we have had are usually 25 or younger and parents don’t see them like they do a 40 year old caseworker).

Sometimes It Works Beautifully

Today was Baby A’s birthday. After our celebration at home we picked up her mom in Branson and took her to dinner. We wanted her to be able to be with her beautiful daughter on her birthday. Baby A wasn’t the only one celebrating today. Her mom was celebrating 1 year of sobriety! (She gave permission to post this story so that she can inspire others that they too can overcome adversity.)

We were so honored that B invited us to her meeting to get her one year coin. We got to hear her tell the story of her journey, and I was so proud that she was able to hold Baby A while accepting her coin and announcing to those attending that Baby A would be moving home next Saturday.

Our girls enjoyed getting to know B, and I think there will definitely be a continued friendship between all of us. Through our foster care journey we have had parents look at us as the enemy instead of part of the team. Foster care shouldn’t have to be foster parents vs biological parents. We chose this path for the children to have a safe place to land until the parents are in a better place, or to offer a permanent home for those that need it. We want the parents to succeed. We want to be their support, to be there when they need us, and to celebrate their successes.

Fortunately B accepted us and realized that as much as we love Baby A, and as much as we will miss her, we are on B’s side. She is a wonderful mom, and it’s obvious that Baby A is her princess. I cried tears of joy and pride for B tonight. There will be plenty of tears shed in the future as we adjust to life with one less child in our home, but Baby A will be where she needs to be – with her mommy who loves her so much. We want to always be that support system for them, and hope to always have them in our lives. We love you, B, and will always be here for both of you.

Anxiety For The Unknown

Today’s topic is stepping into what’s next when aging out of foster care. I don’t know how that feels but I have stepped into the unknown myself, to leave a dangerous romantic relationship with only a suitcase and $500 and drop myself into the city of St Louis where I knew no one and had not job waiting for me. It is empowering to face such great challenges and survive through them, so I am certain this young woman will be fine. In fact, immediately, from my all things adoption and foster care came lots of offers of support.

Right away came some simple advice with which I agree 100% – Make plans but try to stay in the moment, worry comes from living in the future.

The young lady admits – Everything seems to be slowly working itself out. I do have a lot of anxiety about the unknown. Many of us do but somehow we manage to muddle through. And that is what I found as well. Things begin to fall into place as you take the next logical step forward.

Do you have monetary needs ? Two possibilities were mentioned – Dream Makers project and One Simple Wish (both are said to be on Instagram, I’m not, so you’ll have to look for those if you are and are in need).

You can make a great life for yourself. I’m rooting for you to find that out for yourself. If you are in the Bridges program, they will pay your rent and utilities until you’re 21.

I know that many states do have programs to assist young people aging out of foster care. Many help with finding an apartment and a job, other skills a young adult will need to survive. For many, I think simply the huge shift from no responsibility to a LOT of responsibilities for their own welfare, can be scary. In this young woman’s case it includes her young son. Adding a dependent, which I didn’t have, certainly makes the situation more difficult.

More good advice – start out with making do and then improve things a little at a time. Do all of the things that you can for free, while you can.

Bridging A Detour

Still raising awareness about Foster Care issues.

A request for guidance or advice – my wife and I have 4 foster kids. We get along great with the biological mom and they’re actually going to be reunified in the next month which is a huge win.

The biological mother has come to us and told us she is pregnant again, this time with twins who are due in December. At 25 years old, she is doubting he can handle 6 kids. She is asking us to adopt the twins.

We said “yes” of course but are wondering now what ?

Differences of opinion – focusing on the biological mother’s motivation to reunify with her children. Being pregnant with twins and faced with a total of 6 children, could feel overwhelming. This coming from an adoption reform and family preservation perspective.

This person wanted to know what the barriers were for this biological mother to keep and raise ALL of her children.

Yet, the group where this occurred, is made up of hopeful adoptive parents who offered the usual pro-adoption narrative line – “She is making a loving choice.” They were more focused on offering advice related to pursuing the adoption.

I really liked this response –

Of course, she is overwhelmed. I’ve been there. At 28 years old, I have 6 kids. Yes, it was hard but we’ve made it work.

Another person reflected on why this story is disappointing.

The foster parents have been doing everything correctly with the biological mother and have been supporting the reunification of the foster care children with their original family.

One can understand the foster care parents believing that this person they care about, needs their help – by adopting these twins she hasn’t met yet.

And I agree with the suggesting that this expectant mother needs counseling before she choses a permanent solution which in the moment is a temporary situation because change truly is constant.

And here’s the suggested response to be truly supportive of this young mother – “It’s going to be hard but you can do this. How about we help with babysitting, meals, grocery pick up, we can watch them overnight a couple times a week so you can sleep.”

Spiritual Godmothers

When I was a child, we had godmothers. It was actually a religious thing, associated with the infant baptisms that were part of being raised Episcopalian. I never really knew my godparents. I got a gift or two early in my life but when I was old enough to actually know I received it and from whom.

However, today being Mother’s Day, it occurred to me that adoptive mothers are like godmothers who are present all the time. One could also put step-mothers in that category if the were the “good” kind and not the evil kind. For some people, aunts or even mother-in-laws are like godmothers (mine certainly was and treated me like a daughter the many years, decades really, we were together).

While the wound that adoptees suffer in being separated from their gestational mother is serious and primal, and while much not appreciative nor grateful can be said about any woman who takes a child in that they did not give birth to, I think that on a day like today, when mothering in general is celebrated, it is fair to take a step back from reform interests, just for today to acknowledge “god” mothers. These are mothers sent to us by the spiritual heart of Life itself to assist us in one way or another. Foster mothers fit into this category as well.

The all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing Love that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its children to reach maturity. Some religions have made the effort to move away from concepts of a male god or they conceive a wholeness of the duality mother/father god. During my later adult years, for some extended period of time I entered into a practice called the Gaia Minute. In doing this practice, twice a day, I came to think of the Earth herself as my mother, the Sun as my father. Larger than the human entities that provided for us during our childhoods and for some time beyond that, indeed while we were made of these, this continues to be true throughout our human incarnation.

Sadly, some children lose their mother so early, they have no clear memories of her physically. That certainly happened to my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old. That certainly happens to adoptees who are given to adoptive parents within hours or days of birth.

The maternal nurturing energy of the feminine is not bound by birth, nor even by gender (my husband is surprisingly nurturing as a human being). Our spiritual godmothers, however we obtain them, whenever we obtain them, help birth our soul’s journey by their grace. They encouraged us when we were down, they were they for us when our heart and soul ached (my own human mother could sense me in distress when I was in a different room).

The Divine Feminine of mothering energy is there to remind us that we are never alone in this thing called Life. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every person who has ever fulfilled that calling to serve another human being with the energy of Love, compassion, nurturing, safety, provision and presence.

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

~ Tao Te Ching

Mentoring

Just today, learned about this organization. Many youth in foster care remain there if not adopted at a relatively young age until they “age out” as it is called. Are forced out on their own. I first discovered the Atlanta Angels whose Mission Statement reads – to walk alongside children, youth, and families in the foster care community by offering consistent support through intentional giving, relationship building, and mentorship.

They go on to define these 3 aspects – Intentional Giving is the giving of thoughtful and personal resources, gifts, and care packages that meet the real needs of the child and their entire family. Relationship Building is devoting time and energy to fostering healthy relationships that promote healing through connections and interpersonal bonding. And finally, Mentorship is equipping and empowering the youth in their program to be prepared for independent living and to reach their fullest potential.

The Atlanta Angels are a chapter of a national organization – the National Angels – which seems to have grown out of another more local organization – the Austin Angels. I’m glad to know there are other similar organizations across the United States. This program created the Dare to Dream (for youth ages 15-22) and Dare to Dream Jr (for youth ages 11-14) outreach efforts. These are intended to provide one-on-one mentorship to youth in foster care. Their mentors are advocates, guides, role models, valued friends, and available resources who guide youth that they may successfully accomplishment their developmental milestones.

Young people who have grown up within the foster care system have experienced instability in their lives and often disproportionately suffer with learning disabilities, limited life skills, health issues, and emotional and behavioral struggles that lead to negative developmental outcomes. Youth who age out of foster care without having been adopted or reunified with their families have less financial, emotional, and social support than their peers, yet they are often expected to be as self-sufficient as those who have familial support and guidance. This lack of assistance and resources combined with the various traumas these youth have experienced negatively affects their success and overall well being. As a result of having to overcome a childhood of abuse and neglect, removal from their parents, unstable living arrangements, multiple foster placements, and weak support systems, youth who age out of care enter young adulthood without a healthy foundation upon which they can build their futures and work to break the generational cycles that affect youth in care. 

Mentors provide the wisdom, advice, encouragement, and community that these youth need to thrive later on in life. A mentor involved in this program commits to meeting with the youth every other week to set goals and help them achieve their dreams. The organization hopes these relationships will last a lifetime, but the program only asks for a year’s commitment in some cases. Mentors matched with a high school student are strongly encouraged to stay with the youth until high school graduation. The simple act of a mentor telling their youth “I believe in you,” “You are special,” and “You are going to do great things” can change their path completely.

The Adoptee’s Hero’s Journey

I’ve been aware of Joseph Campbell’s concept known as The Hero’s Journey for a long time and have seen it referenced in a variety of situations. As I was reading yet another perspective on this, an insight came to me. An adoptee’s search for their original parents (and if successful, even a reunion) is actually a kind of Hero’s Journey. Duh.

The hero’s journey is one of separation, initiation and return. It is a healing descent into the underworld (the unknown outcome) to recover something missing or lost, to restore a vital balance.

Its theme is that when faced with a kind of death struggle against titanic supernatural forces, the self can be triumphant. The self is reborn into a higher level of consciousness, maintaining access to the lower lever when appropriate. Because this lower level is transcended, a more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below.

So from my perspective, the titanic supernatural forces are the standard adoption narrative. When one comes out of the adoption fog (a belief in the story that separating mothers from their babies is somehow better for the baby than allowing the mother to raise her own child, bonded to her in the womb and wanting only her love), the woke person somehow touched by adoption somewhere in their life (not necessarily an adoptee themselves, as in my case), finds it is no longer possible to go back to the old perspective. It is possible however to go back to or continue to have an appreciation of the family one acquired by adoption, even though it would be unrealistic to expect those person’s acquired as “relatives” due to adoption to understand the new, higher level of understanding one has gained during their own journey.

“A more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below,” or even to someone such as myself, who accomplished identifying my own 4 original grandparents in only one year’s time and making new family genetic connections to an aunt and some cousins. Sometimes, I can hardly believe I did this. My own parents lived almost 80 years without accomplishing that for themselves (though my mom gave it a good, hard try). My parents died clueless and knowing what I know now, more’s the pity that they were robbed of the knowledge. I can only hope there is an afterlife and that both of my parents have reunited with their own natural parents there.

For me, a little success and the encouragement to go further from family and friends certainly helped to motivate me to stay on a determined course that did succeed.

You can read more about The Hero’s (or Heroine’s) Journey in this link.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Not to mention the maternal mortality rate in the US. Why do I have to put my body and life at risk. And it’s ESPECIALLY high for women of color.

Forcing women to breed (this word is deliberate) is so disgusting!!! We are not livestock! What happens in any womb except your own should be of exactly zero concern to you!!!

A woman should be allowed to CHOOSE adoption — armed with all of the information she can possibly have at her disposal. She should be allowed to CHOOSE adoption with the support she needs to parent her baby.

It should never be coerced or forced. Adoption agencies have a stake in taking her baby for adoption because they receive money from the adoptive parents for her child. This leads to coercive tactics which entirely remove her choice in the matter.

Or what about a woman whose choice is raising a child in poverty and being told she’s a terrible mother and that the child’s better off with someone else? Not really much of a choice, is it?

So I believe in the CHOICE, but that in order to make any choice about this matter, we must be fully informed on what’s happening and given all options possible. Most women who surrender a child to adoption regret their decision, or wish they had been given the choice to parent.

The money adoptive parents spend to take a child from its natural mother could better be used to help support that mother in caring for her child. Then, the child’s identity doesn’t need to be altered in order to support the needs of the adoptive parents (because that doesn’t provide for the needs of the child or natural parents, only the adoptive parents).

Very few women giving their child up for adoption really have a choice. There is a TON of coercion in adoption, not to mention the mother child separation trauma an adoptee will have to deal with the rest of their lives.

Regarding abortion – a group of cells will not survive outside the human that is hosting them. There’s no killing of any healthy baby, ever, in most abortions. Every person who has a late term abortion (which is the only time it’s possible to kill an actual baby) has it done to protect their own life or save the baby from a horrendous existence. If the woman’s doctor must know the baby will not survive long and will not suffer while dying, or that doctor would not perform a late term abortion. It’s literally not possible to kill something that doesn’t exist.

Here’s one adoptee’s story – I’m not only an adoptee but a former foster youth. I was adopted when I was 3. All my life I’ve never felt a connection with my adoptive mother, like I see my friends have with their moms. When I was younger I think I did (but have no memories from childhood). As I got older, any connection I may have had has faded. Sometimes her presence makes me angry or even how she talks or does things. I feel bad that I feel this way. I do have love for her but I don’t know … I just don’t feel that connection that everyone else does with their mother.

Adoption is generally not a good solution for most of the people involved, even the adoptive parents suffer in many cases.

Hopes & Wishes

For some time now, I’ve been writing these adoption related blogs every day. I don’t think I have missed many, if I’ve even missed any. I often wonder what there is left to say . . . and then something arises and off my fingers go to type up a new one.

I know my perspectives have grown since I started writing these. A lot of credit for that goes to my all things adoption Facebook group – where I often find stories and perspectives to pass along here without revealing any sensitive or private details. I hope that by sharing these, my readers also find their perspectives broadening along the way.

When I first joined that group, it wasn’t long before one of the members called me out on my unicorns and rainbows happy perspectives on adoption. It hurt at the time but it was an important wake up call and I do believe I have emerged entirely from what is known as adoptionland fog.

Because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption, what is actually a VERY UN-NATURAL practice seemed entirely normal to me. Yet, now that I know who my grandparents are – I’ve added their birthdates to my annual birthday calendar – because I wasn’t able to acknowledge them in their lifetimes. It matters to me.

I now think of my adoptive grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins as placeholders for the real thing I lacked. This isn’t a judgement of them. They probably all viewed it as natural to our lives as I did but it really isn’t. I don’t even think of them as related to me anymore. But I do have a history with them and have felt their love and concern over the years, especially during my own childhood.

And adoptionland IS changing slowly but surely, one family at a time. In my all things adoption group, expectant mothers are often encouraged and even financially supported to the best of our ability (such as with Amazon gift registries) to keep their babies. It is more of a walk the walk than simply talk the talk group and I am proud of that.

Adoptees and former foster care youth are PRIVILEGED voices in that group, as they should be for they have the direct experience to open the minds and hearts of the public in general. Many people who have already adopted are learning to be more sensitive and to do the already reality situation better, including honesty, truthfulness and attempts to keep their adopted children connected to their biological/genetic families and at times, even culture (when that is different than the adoptive parents’ own culture).

My hope and certainly my wish is for our society to be more supportive of struggling families in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE and to see adoption no longer a choice that couples realizing infertility feel privileged to make – taking some other family’s baby to pretend that child was born to them.

A change it is a comin’ and I am grateful to be part of that. Happy New Year.

Maybe It IS Better Sometimes

Generally speaking, I am NOT in favor of adoption. I know too much about the trauma that most adoptees suffer, if only unconsciously because of rejection and abandonment issues, not to believe that family preservation, support, therapy and encouragement to remain together is best. A lot of children were adopted out from about 1930 through and into the 1970s (when the number of available infants linked to single, unwed mother diminished due to the availability of abortion).

Still, reading this story today, I understand why this adoptee feels blessed to have been adopted.

My biological parents were married to each other, but both were meth addicts. A maternal great aunt helped care for me and wanted to adopt me, but my parents took me to a private attorney and handed over a 13-month old me in exchange for $45,000 cash in 1978. Talk about unethical!

I met that great aunt again at age 21, and she was very happy to be reunited with me. She cried and apologized for not getting me herself – but she was very poor, living in a tiny rural town in the middle of nowhere, supported by her long-haul truck driver husband. They had a mobile home, and three of my younger siblings were in their care.

All 5 of them are chain smokers, even my siblings were in middle and high school age ranges! My brothers and sister shared a single room. It was shocking to me.

I’d grown up an only child of middle class adoptive parents, both of whom have advanced degrees. They aren’t perfect, but they gave me opportunities I never would have had, if I’d been kept with my great aunt.

Ideally, I wish my mother had been given support to get clean, to escape her abusive family and community. The multi-generational trauma ran deep in my maternal family. But finally, at the age of 43, I’m able to say that I got the very best deal of all of my siblings – including my two youngest half-brothers who were raised by their father’s parents, and my older sister, who was put up for adoption at birth.

I always wondered who I’d be, and what I’d be doing if I’d not been adopted, and I’m grateful for who I am, even though I know it came with intense trauma.

Though my mom yearned to know her original mother, she was able to say to me near the end of her life (knowing that her original mother had already died), that she was glad she had been adopted. She really couldn’t know what her life would have been like. Her mother lacked familial support and though married was estranged from my mom’s father, who didn’t answer a request from the juvenile court about his obligation to support my grandmother and mom.

When I met a cousin related to my original maternal grandfather, she said they were very poor. He was a widow struggling to support 4 other children. They were so poor her own mother often went to bed hungry, living in a shelter so minimal, the chickens roosting under the house could be seen through the floor boards.

My mom was raised in a financially secure family with a mother who had an advanced education and was highly accomplished in her own life’s expressions. Her adoptive father was a banker and got a lucky ground-floor break on a friend’s stock offering (which became Circle K Stores). There was wealth and I grew up seeing that. My dad’s adoptive parents were poor entrepreneurs with a home-based drapery business that my dad helped out in, even though he had full employment and a family of his own to raise.

Life is and sometimes circumstances aren’t so great. If one is lucky, they are able to be thankful for the circumstances they grew up within. Though my family was struggling middle class, we were loved and cared about. It was good enough.