Choosing To Take That Risk

An adoptee offers a word of warning – to any hopeful adoptive parent who now wants to adopt, even though they already have biological kids:

Biological and adopted kids *should not be mixed*. Period.

Even if *you* believe you can treat your biological and adopted child equally (which is pretty fu****g rare), you cannot control how your biological child will treat their adopted sibling.

As somebody who has been treated absolutely *horrifically* by my adoptive mom’s biological kids, this has actually been the worst trauma of all, when it comes to my adoption.

And if you’re about to say “that isn’t always the case,” just stop for a second and consider these 2 things:

1. I don’t need to hear your “not all” bs, when I’m discussing the outright abuse I have experienced at the hands of my siblings, acquired by having been adopted.

2. If there is even a *miniscule* chance that your adopted child could experience what I have, and you wanna go through with it anyways, then you are selfish and careless. Imagine knowing that there is a possibility that your biological child may abuse or mistreat your adopted child, and you still chose to take that risk with a child’s life ?

And just today, I learned this statistic – even among biological siblings, sibling abuse is 5 times more common than spousal or parental abuse – it is actually the most common form of domestic abuse. And yet, adoptees also have an added layer of mental/emotional trauma due to having been relinquished by their original parents. The obvious difference between having been actually born to and having been brought into a family from different parents and circumstances is real and should not be dismissed.

One of those biological kids admits – Even though I love love love my adopted siblings and dote on them as much as possible, it does not erase the resentment. I resent them for “taking” my parents away and they resent us for being born to the family. They will NEVER know I resent them and even my parents don’t, but mixing adopted kids with biological kids is brutal on both sides. Then, goes on to give some additional context – 1) my siblings are far too young to have any idea & 2) I don’t feel upset that I’m not adopted. I do have a completely normal jealousy, at times, that they take attention away from me, since they’re the center of attention for the whole family. And I recognize that there will be obvious friction between me and the younger siblings, though it is not there at this present moment. In the future? Absolutely. And tries to clarify this – the resentment is towards my parents, the jealousy is towards my adopted siblings. Very different feelings. I never said the suffering on both sides was equal. Mine is typical sibling jealousy. My adopted siblings have a deep rooted trauma and a robbing of their history. I am working through it. I was already 19, when my younger adopted siblings moved in. My work is understanding that my parents don’t love/care about them more. They are simply young and traumatized. They require more care than I do. I am learning to understand the truth that I don’t need my parents as much as I often feel I do. I have an anxious attachment style with rejection sensitivity, a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life, so I am learning how that affects the way I feel about my parents.

So, the honest truth is – a HUGE percentage of adoptive parents WILL show favoritism towards their biological child, over their adopted child, whether they mean to or not. And the extended family treats them differently as well.

This, from experience – I would go as far to say, even if the adoptive parents have grown biological children. I freely tell people that I was adopted from foster care. I don’t normally share that when my adoptive parents died, their will left me in the custody of their eldest son and his family. Truth is, none of their three adult children ever agreed their parents should adopt me. When they died, I was kicked out of their son’s house and was told “nice to know you, you’re on your own now.” Adoption has so many layers that no one thinks about. And every time a hopeful adoptive parent or adoptee still in “the fog” (believing in the feel good narratives about adoption) counters a trauma or negative experience with their own beliefs, it not only insults and minimizes the pain they are responding to, but also minimizes the INFINITE number of situations they couldn’t possibly know about. Please stop pushing back against people with the lived experience who are trying to prevent even more trauma, by sharing your own limited experiences.

Reunion Questions

If at 17 years old, adopted from foster care with no contact with your birth mother your entire life but now with an opportunity to ask some questions . . .

What would you as this adoptee ask your birth parents ? If you have been through such a reunion, what were the questions that you thought, in hindsight, weren’t helpful to potentially building a relationship ?

Some responses –

Ask for the family medical history. This one is one of the more important ones. This is what drove my mom to try and find her original mother and/or obtain her adoption file.

Ask how many biological siblings you have. This one lets you know if you are the only child of your birth parents or did they go on to have other children, maybe through a remarriage to someone who was not your original father as well.

Ask for the reason they chose whatever decisions they had in their power to make that led to you ending up in foster care. This one could be a tricky one, it may lead to defensiveness or in the best possible situation, at least regret, and even better, ultimately to a radical change in lifestyle.

If they relinquished for adoption, did they decide to do that early on at the beginning of the pregnancy or at the last moment just before birth or just after ? In both of the cases of my adoptee parents relinquishments, it appears that their original mothers actually tried very hard to keep their first born child, and in the case of my mom, the only child born to her mother.

Ask who your biological father was. Does she know how to contact him ?

On a sweeter, more intimate note (I know this was the kind of information I yearned for related to my mom’s mother that finally at the end of most of my discovery journey, I finally received from my mom’s cousins, the daughter’s of her youngest uncle, who were about my age) – ask her what her favorite foods are, what is her favorite color. Ask about her childhood memories and ask her to tell you something about her extended family members.

One says – “I really wanted to look at my birthmother, hear her voice, and look at her handwriting. Basically I wanted to see if I could find that mirror of who I am.” This is the personal connection many adoptees crave. I do believe my mom yearned for these kinds of experiences. I now have the adoption file that was denied her and one of the treasures are two examples of her personal writing, a post card and a brief letter (though I also have her signature on the surrender papers).

Another interesting perspective that I saw even with my mom who wanted something, though my dad claimed not to want it at all – it is a strange juncture for any adoptee to arrive at, when been raised by people with whom the adoptee has not genetic or biological connection but who were the actual parents and sibling’s in the childhood family –

I told them that I was not ready for a full relationship with them. I wanted them to know I was alive and wanted them to know I had an amazing childhood. My mom told me that as a mother, she would want to know that everything turned out okay for her child. In one case, the biological father started calling the adoptee, “daughter.” He was buying her things and saying “I Love You.” This made her feel very uncomfortable and so, she asked that he not do those things anymore. For this adoptee, she was not his daughter. Happily, he accepted her boundaries. She shares the rest of the story going forward – they are now Facebook friends. Today he is a little more involved in my her daily life. We talk by phone from time to time. She admits that she still does not have the feelings towards him that a raised biological child would (though some of my friends do not have good relationships in adulthood with their genetic, biological family today).

And sadly, this is always a possibility – “I’ve reached out to my birth mom and have been shut out – no answers to my questions. No desire for a relationship.” Yet, there is something you can do in this situation to bring you closure and comfort. Write a letter. Tell her everything you want her to know about you, your childhood, who you are now as a person. In this way, you end feeling you said everything you needed to say.

Family Preservation

I am a huge fan of prioritizing family preservation. Today’s blog is courtesy of a comment by Ferera Swan along with the graphic image I share.

Sometimes there’s an assumption that advocating for family preservation means “forcing a mother to parent” when that’s not what it means at all. Family preservation means keeping a baby in their families of origin even when a mother is unable or unwilling to parent.

There is plenty of available research and shared lived experiences to support that permanently separating a baby from their mother causes lifelong trauma. Extending that separation to maternal and paternal family members compounds that trauma. Adoptees also often grow up without genetic mirroring and in racial/ethnic isolation, fundamental factors that contribute to mental/emotional health and development.

Biological relationships are the birthright of every human being and should be prioritized and preserved over the interests of others.

Mother/child separation, if necessary for whatever reason, should never be a permanent decision made for the child (unless made by the child) and reunification should always be the first priority.

In the event a mother does not wish to parent, all efforts to keep the child within their families of origin should be made.

Adoptees are at least 4x more likely to attempt suicide than those who remain with their biological families. Please listen.

#adopteevoices #adopteerights 

Guardianship is a Better Plan

In my all things adoption group which includes foster care issues, the preference is for guardianship rather than adoption to preserve the identity and original family details for the child involved. In some states, it is an uphill battle to have such a situation considered a permanent forever home because it is still a relatively new perspective for reforming adoption.

Today’s story –

In trying to explain to the post-Termination of Parental Rights child we are foster care givers for, that we want to give him the security of a “forever home” without the identity fracture that adoption can bring, we are failing. Though he is not at the age of consent, he is plenty old enough to have several friends who have been adopted as older children from foster care, and he really wants to be “adopted.” Having been through so many foster placements and told so many times that people “didn’t want to adopt him”, the fact that we do (or did until we discovered this better way) has been a big thing for him. We can’t seem to find a way to communicate that we want him to have everything he thinks adoption is, without changing his birth certificate, etc. He is protesting that we can adopt him but not change his name at all (which was always the plan – and, yes, that is true). I’m really stressed about doing this right, and honestly every therapist we have spoken to can’t seem to understand why adoption might not be best.

The Dept of Health and Human Services seems to be willing to work with us either way (adoption or legal guardianship) but the caseworker is also having a hard time understanding how this is better for him- and I worry she is thinking we are having second thoughts in terms of our commitment to him – which is NOT the case.

I admit, I’m scared of losing him back to the system, if we mess too much with the permanency agenda. He was in some truly horrible homes and my heart breaks thinking about him ever being vulnerable to that again. Extended family doesn’t want to get involved right, now though we are determined to keep the communication open, and want to go the legal guardianship route, in case they ever are ready to be more active.

How do we communicate all of this, in a way that doesn’t hurt, because so far it’s clear we are hurting him and he doesn’t understand because of my failure to communicate it! Another thing that is bothering him is that he considers our biological children to be his siblings and he wants them to be his “real siblings” , and he thinks we need to adopt him to make that real. He is so beautifully clear that we are NOT mom and dad – he has those already – but I think because our biological children are so much younger and he’s seen them from birth and onward, so that he really has a sense of being their big brother.

Some thoughts about this situation –

Everyone’s experience is different. My husband is a Former Foster Care Youth who aged out of the system. He always wanted to be adopted because that was his validation that he was *wanted*. The family he mainly grew up with finally adopted him at age 25 but he still keeps his original name. His birth certificate hasn’t changed. Maybe that can be an option? He is adopted but keeps his name and if his biological family comes forward, he can still have a relationship with them as well.

Also this – There’s nothing stopping you from letting him have a relationship even if he is “adopted”. You also need to explain to him what adoption means to you. Family is not a piece of paper, it is the people that take care of you, and his siblings are his siblings now. Maybe explain that he already is family and in your mind he is adopted ?

You can do other things to make him feel like he has a permanent placement with you, as you work through the pros and cons of the adoption conversation.

The child is in the 8-10 age range and so, these ideas were suggested –

1) have a sit down in which you express to him how much he means to you and how your meaning of family won’t be impacted by legality or adoption. A written letter or something to that extent would be nice, and having your biological children (if they feel similar to you, which I hope they do) also write letters to express to him that he’s their brother !

2) Give him a goal age for adoption, so like if he still wants to be adopted at age 16 or whatever feels right.

3) look up legal benefits to waiting to adopt (like for where I live, if you wait until after age 14 you get all sorts of government assistance with schooling etc, that you don’t get if you’re adopted before age 14, even if you’re in the system for years like I was) to let him know the pros and cons of that

4) do things that FEEL permanent for him (if you haven’t already). Let him paint his bedroom walls whatever color he wants. Pick out some furniture. Make things “his”. That will greatly help his sense of agency in this situation. Talk about the future a lot, in specific detail. This is what middle school you’ll go to. When you’re x age your bedtime goes to x time. Next summer we should do x activities. Etc. Just make him feel heard and like you’re not ignoring what he wants entirely, you’re just wanting to make sure it’s the best thing for HIM, since it’s such a permanent decision

From a Former Foster Care Youth – I was a teen in foster care and adoption never even occurred to me BUT I aged out and was all alone. It was really scary and I would have given anything to have had someone who was ‘mine’ to go back to when I needed it. Instead I got into a lot of unhealthy relationships looking for a parent figure. Please sit down and explain adoption to him. The permanency of it and that you will forever belong to him but it means that his past will be erased. And that the birth certificate will look as though he was born to you, even if not true. And that it will legally sever the relationship with his siblings and biological family. Then explain guardianship and the pros and cons of it. Please be candid and honest about all of it. Ask him what he wants. But honestly… only do this if you actually will be ‘his’… even when he goes through the toughest part of his teens and tries hard to push you away in any and all ways possible. Because he will. As a much older adult now, I’m glad that I still have some connections to my family. It’s complicated but… it’s mine.

Plus this sad story – I stopped wanting to be adopted at around 6ish. The thought of losing my “real’ family” was not an option for me, even that young. Even if I did not really know them. Instead I went thru 75 placements in 20 years. As a former foster care youth, I wish I had been more open to being adopted. I aged out and had to deal with the reality of life on my own. I wish I had someone to fall back on and made some really bad choices, including some that ultimately cost me several of my own children.

And here is a downside to guardianship – Your biological children are your next of kin, and with permanent guardianship he is not. They have automatic inheritance rights and he would not. If you and your husband die, your children will go to family or whomever you have dictated, but guardianship ends upon death, so he would go back into the same foster system he was in previously. Some of these issues can be addressed through estate planning but some can’t so long as he is a minor.

Regarding the above perspective – here’s experience

I am a former foster care youth (that was kinship adopted) and I am also an adoptive parent. I try to tread lightly, so my adoptive parent voice does not out run my former foster care youth experience. I was 9 years old when my grandparents became my sole caretaker and 10 before they got guardianship. They both battled health issues, and it became abundantly clear that there needed to be a “permanent legal bond” or things could go terribly wrong, which would put me back in foster care. I was legally adopted at age 11, after requesting it. I would have been devastated, if they refused. It would have been yet another rejection.

Is It OK ?

Is it appropriate ? I adopted my daughter thru foster care. I never met her mom or any of her family. I found them on social media and really want to reach out. Is that inappropriate? My circle is against it. They don’t understand the trauma associated with adoption. I know she has aunts and lots of cousins but I know almost nothing else. I won’t pretend they don’t exist. They are a part of her story and eventually my daughter will probably want to know about them.

About that circle of friends ? They don’t understand what and how it will effect your adopted daughter.

Additional information – this child is 2 years old. Some perspectives. If she’s very young, reach out to a few of the adults and go from there.

If she’s old enough to understand what’s happening, then she should be in charge of this decision. In that case, she may be ready right now, she may not be, or she may want to just look at their accounts for a while, before reaching out. Make certain, it’s her decision if she’s older.

This one could have been my adoptee dad’s perspective, if he had had the possibility – I found my birth parents through social media. I wish I hadn’t reached out but I did and the interaction was fine. Be careful, sometimes it’s better not knowing …

In response to that, someone else asks – do you think this adoptive parent can act as a buffer to mitigate any difficult feelings that may arise as a result of contacting the first family? I had a lot of hard feelings when I met my biological dad and his family, but not knowing was worse.

The response was – no, I don’t think even Jesus Christ himself could mitigate those feelings. I go back and forth about knowing and not knowing. Not knowing was hard, but knowing and having to face the reality of my genetics is harder. My first people are selfish and the reason I was relinquished was so they could party and have no responsibility. My male first person is wealthy, has always been and they had the means to care for me. They told me they just didn’t want to parent. Those feelings I hold towards them do not taint my thoughts on this particular question.

Adoptee Reunions do not always succeed in happy endings as this comment shares – sometimes I wish I would have just watched my birth parents and my birth siblings lives on social media from afar and never reached out. Our reunion eventually went south and it sucks. They made our reunion about them and refused to respect my trauma and my boundaries.

There was this emphatic response – Not inappropriate – please do! You can’t be sure how they’ll respond but at least trying is the best thing you can do for your adopted daughter

The Obstacles Are Daunting

I was reading through a story this morning. No idea of the reasons this young father is incarcerated but he seems to care about his child in foster care. I’ll do my best to sum up the situation and share someone else’s personal experience in a similar situation.

A baby girl was placed with a foster family. The father won’t be released for another 4 years. The mom has never shown up for court dates. The father was forced to since he is in the state’s control. The foster parents were petitioning the state for a ruling of abandonment on behalf of the little girl in their care. In court, this father said that he did want his daughter. He claims he has previously sent a list of family members who might be willing to care for her until he is released. The caseworker is now doing background checks on his family members to determine if any of these are suitable to care for his daughter until he is available. This foster parent is angry because this little girl has been with her since birth. So she claims that placing this little girl with anyone else will be traumatizing because her foster parents are the only parents she has ever known. She actually says, “I pray that none of his family are suitable.”

The response from experience – my dad was in jail when my mom lost her rights and the state REFUSED to keep me in foster care till he got out (less than a yr sentence). My dad was so mad about it he ended up flipping out in court and getting more time added onto his sentence because he threatened the lives of everyone in the court room once he learned they were forcing against his rights. My dad got remarried a few years after he got out and ended up having 6 more kids that he still has custody of. He and his new wife kept a portrait of me hanging in their bedroom my entire childhood but I never knew that because I had a closed adoption. My adoptive parents would speak badly about my dad for being in jail. They said he was violent, unhinged, etc etc. I definitely get some of my zest from him!! He was never the psychopath they made him out to be. Just a desperate young dad in a bad situation. He swears to this day that the state kidnapped his daughter. Fathers “rights” are hardly exist. The state could wait until this dad can get out of jail and acquire the stability to take care of his daughter. If there are other family members willing to help out, then great! The state should have been looking for them from the beginning!

If the state has someone in custody, they shouldn’t be hard to track down to discuss custody arrangements and extended family.

I Admit I Am Old School

This not the first time it has come up. I am doing my best to recognize changing norms and find a good level of acceptance within my self. For one thing, among those changing norms is a recognition of the trauma that every adoptee experiences. Another is same sex couples and the frequent desire of these couples to go beyond marriage to parenting. There I do struggle with having grown up with a certain kind of mindset that believes optimal for children growing up is having both a male and female role model. I am also realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. We have several single mothers in my mom’s group. Some chose to enter into pregnancy without a male partner and some became widows after their children were born. In both cases the children do seem to be thriving and I am a witness to that fact.

Today the question was asked in my all things adoption group – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption? I didn’t know about it until I saw that. So I went looking and see that this male same sex couple is at least enlightened enough to have been seeking “a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice”. Yet, we are talking about an infant it would appear. I once had a discussion with a friend who was good friends with a male same sex couple who was raising a little girl who they had via a surrogate. I expressed my reservations about that situation honestly. I have less concern about a female same sex couple where one contributes the egg and the other carries the pregnancy. There is still the issue of the child being donor conceived and how some sperm donors have fathered a multitude of genetically related children.

I am glad my boys have their father as a male role model. I am glad they have me as a female role model. There are a lot of gender issues in our modern society. There is toxic male culture but my boys are home schooled so they aren’t exposed to very much of that in their daily life. It’s enough that they have witnessed me have to push back on some of that at home. Thankfully, my husband is for the most part respectful, appreciative and considerate of me. With over 30 years of marriage completed, there are bound to be moments that aren’t sterling.

In these days of gender equality, marriage equality and equal employment opportunities, it might seem odd to even contemplate discussing the topic of a male parent versus a female parent. Undoubtedly many well-adjusted children are raised in single gender families making the equality of parenting question seem out-dated and narrow-minded. I do understand this.

However, there are a number of ‘experts’ who agree that the influence of both a female and a male are vital for proper child development. This diversity give the child a broader, richer experience of interactions. I found an article that shares the perspectives of Dr Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School who notes that females and males parent very differently.

If you are at all interested, you can read about his perspectives in this article – Do Children Need a Male and Female Parent? “Need” is probably too strong a concept given the realities. I would say in a perfect world . . . but this isn’t . . . is it ? So adoptions still continue to happen today. They probably always will but reforms in the practice are still possible and adoptees are leading the charge to make reforms possible – keeping genetic and identity information intact – even after an adoption.

Strong male/female influences can be created through other family members such as an aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother. In an imperfect world this is a reasonable alternative method of supplying male or female role models in single sex households.

Tricky Situations

I get it.  Sometimes family isn’t really safe.  What’s a foster parent to do, in order to keep lines of communication with original family open ?  And do it safely ?

First of all it may take time to build trust and allow the original family members an opportunity to get to know you as a real and caring human being.  When the original family can see clearly that you are caring for their children in a manner a loving parent would want their child cared for that can go a long way towards developing that trust.  It is about having rapport with one another in common cause.

As a foster parent you may have to put aside your thoughts of worry and/or fears.  Begin by just engaging with these kids’ parent(s) from a perspective of one human being to another human being.  In other words, common courtesy and good manners. Don’t bring up conditions like – “you need to be safe for contact to begin or continue.”  Wow, is that ever a sure way to get anyone’s heckles up. Of course, if something dangerous actually happens, then as the responsible party you will have to make the appropriate call, but don’t anticipate it.

No finger pointing, looking down your nose at the original parent or assuming the worst about them.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  Think about how hurt you’d feel if some stranger put conditions on seeing your baby.  If this parent does get violent, well of course, you are going have to end that visit.  Logic would dictate that you don’t need to tell a parent in this situation.  In child protective situations, they already know the issues.  As the foster parent that will just need to be the move you make IF the time comes.

Don’t  listen only to or form an opinion solely based on other people’s opinions.  Depend first on your own personal knowledge of the original parent(s).  Your direct experience.  Give this parent who has already suffered the worst possible loss a chance to redeem themselves.  People change.  People learn from mistakes.  It is terrible to be stuck into a permanent box over temporary behavior that was so very wrong – admittedly.  This is not to be in denial of danger or to reject out of hand what you’ve been told but balance that with what you experience for yourself.  Forewarned but NOT pre-judgmental.

Get away from the governmental system as much as possible.  Try navigating the first family relationships organically and as naturally as possible.  If possible, make contact with other extended first family members.  Extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents – can be absolute gold in a foster child’s life.

Realize that child protective services and social workers may not be motivated to assist you.  You may have to find the extended family yourself.  You can try searching on Facebook and reaching out to them privately and directly.  It would be a rare case that someone in the child’s genetic extended family didn’t want anything to do with these kids.  There would likely be someone who would love to be in their life and has been prevented with obstacles put in the way.

I want to be clear that I have never been a foster child or adopted, I have never been a foster parent or an adoptive parent and I have never been a biological/genetic parent who had my rights terminated.  I have been intensely educating my own self for 2-1/2 years (even since I began to learn the stories behind all of the adoptions in my own biological/genetic family).  I work very hard to gain an accurate understanding by considering and listening to ALL of the related voices and perspectives.  My desire is to be as balanced as possible, when I write blogs here.

Privacy Issues

The sad truth is sexual abuse is way too common in society and it has always been so.  That’s not to say we can’t all work to make things better and one of the ways we can make things better is to face the truth that it happens with an open heart and an understanding mind.

There are children removed from their natural parents when abuse is revealed.  Some of these children end up adopted.  Often if there are several siblings, they end up in a variety of homes.

Sometimes, enlightened adoptive parents become aware of how to reach these siblings who do not live in the home of the child they adopted.

A question sometimes arises, how to explain the cause of removal to the child they are parenting in an age-appropriate way.  A complicating factor could be the perspectives and desires of other adoptive or foster care or extended family (as in where the natural parents have divorced and remarried another person) when they do not want to reveal what any person deserves to know.

I wish adults never foisted their sexual impulses on children.  The reality is that it happens.  The question is how to reduce the incidence by the revelations of truth.  It may never be possible to end these horrendous acting outs on the part of some men but we can definitely make them less comfortable doing so.

A Sacred Duty

In discovering my original grandparents, I’ve learned to be a part of both the adoptive and original families.  This may be disconcerting to some of my adoptive family, aunts, an uncle and some cousins but I don’t love them less.  I recognize we share life experiences that I can never actually share with my original family relations no matter how much I learn about our history – and I have learned a lot.

Though I’m not an adoptee, I have experienced some degree of “reunion” and it has been much more than simply restoring a connection that was lost, it is about trying to become acquainted with “new” family members and nurturing relationships that will continue for me until the day I die.

There are reforms taking place within the practice of adoption today that haven’t stabilized but are allowing for more flexibility within the unique family system in which the adoptee is the center.  Whether they opt for an open adoption or not – every adoptive parent needs to be aware that the possibility an adoptee will seek reunion fundamentally exists.

Closed adoption enforces a rigid boundary upon adoptees by automatically excluding the original family from the adoptive family’s boundaries.  That was the case for my adoptee parents.  Thankfully, that has not been the case for my niece and nephew (both given up for adoption by my two sisters).  Not that theirs were open adoptions, they were not.

What changed is their adoptive parents accepted it as a sacred duty to assist these adopted children in discovering their original family members when they were ready to request that for themselves.  Thanking all that is good.