It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.

Taking Off Rose Colored Glasses

Today’s story –

Four years ago, my husband and I became foster parents. Our first “placement” (geeeze I hate that term), turned into an adoption. Our son, now 4 1/2, will be meeting his biological mom for the first time in December when she is released from prison. We have constant contact with her via phone calls and emails, as well as visits with grandparents every few months. My question is, what can we be doing to make her transition home easier-for her, and for him? He calls her by name, and knows that she is his tummy momma who grew him and gave him life and love, but he really hasn’t asked many questions beyond that. I’d love to have some feedback, so we can do our very best to navigate this the best way possible. I am far from a perfect parent, but this is obviously something that I don’t want to mess up.

PS – until recently, I viewed foster care and adoption through rose colored glasses, but that is no longer the case. My eyes and my heart are now open to the hard parts of adoption. 

Immediately was this response – as a birth mom. Drop the tummy momma crap. We are humans, we weren’t incubators.

The woman understood immediately and said – Thank you all so much for your honesty. “Tummy mommy” will stop immediately. You’re so right, that’s an awful way to refer to her.   I am doing my best to dig deep, not for me, for them. I don’t want to mess this up with any of my own bullshit feelings. They’ve been through enough.

A compassionate response came next – Offer her acceptance for any and all emotions she may experience. Work your way from there. Allow him to be around her as much as she and him are comfortable. Encourage playtime/movie time whatever he likes. Be understanding above all else. These are extremely difficult emotions for his mom just as much for him so offer as much kindness as possible.   This is never easy and remember she is in pain and your son IS traumatized at some level because of losing her. That is a fact and you as an adoptive mother HAVE to make peace with it.

One suggested way to deal with this is – be mom (your 1st name) and mom (her 1st name).. that will better help him associate who she really is to him – his mom. He will know her, he will sense something familiar about her and she will feel like home to him because they already have that birth connection. She is his mother in a biological way that will never change. Kids aren’t as confused about the duality of multiple moms as we are as adults. You’re going to have to do a lot of hard uncomfortable (for you) things to actually support this relationship.  He’ll get to know her over time and much easier if there aren’t adult issues and expectations on it.

Finally, some important advice – You need to find a genuine love for her beyond her being the person that is the reason you have your child.  Just going through the motions you think you should in terms of open adoptions isn’t enough. It should not be what you think you should do. It should be naturally what you want to do. Coming out of prison is difficult. You are treated like a pariah. Getting a job with a record is hard, getting any help from anyone or any government funded programs is difficult to impossible. Some programs you cannot even apply for if you have a record. Welcome her. Make sure she knows she has an important place in his life. Do NOT talk about boundaries and make her time with your son a top priority.

What Is The Money For ?

It is the middle of May and May is Foster Care Awareness Month.  I am in the middle of reading one Foster Care girl’s experience and it isn’t pretty, though I’m certain just as individual’s vary greatly so do experiences in the system.

Did you know that Foster Parents receive a stipend ?  Imagine what that kind of money might do to keep a family intact.  Of course, that isn’t always the issue.  The girl in the book I am reading (I will review it here when I finish it) had no where else to go.  The family dynamics weren’t good.  The mother had died.  Both the natural father and the step-father were in prison.  The grandfather got trapped in a poor decision related to trying to fix an awkward drug related situation that made him inappropriate for the girls even though he was not charged with an actual crime.  The aunts and uncles did not step forward.

So an issue developed with these unfortunate girls that the Foster Mom (the Foster Dad had died while they lived there) was NOT spending the stipend on the girls and there were cultural issues in this home.  The girls were non-Spanish speaking whites.  The Foster Mom was Hispanic and one foster child in the home before these girls was also and then one that came subsequently.  They frequently spoke Spanish with one another leaving the two white girls feeling excluded.  But what really hurt was the generous spending on the Hispanic girls while little or nothing was spent on the white girls.

One foster parent handbook states that the money is intended to maintain the placement and cover the costs of having the child in the home, including the cost of food, clothing, school supplies, a child’s personal incidentals, liability insurance with respect to the child, and reasonable travel to the child’s home for visitation.

That money is not intended for household bills, or to buy a new car or a new house because you need the extra room.  Other possible appropriate uses for the stipend could be holidays, presents, spending money depending on the child’s age, or to put into a savings account for child.  A sad fact in the book I am reading is that these girls did not receive presents at Christmas.

Alone And Aging Out

I don’t often address issues related to foster care because I really don’t have any direct experience with that system – thankfully.

Even so, homelessness is an issue close to my heart since my own youngest sister was homeless for 4 years and somehow survived that and even managed to extricate herself from that about 10 years ago.  Her situation remains precarious and my heart hopes she doesn’t end up in those dire straits again but there is no certainty.

I have learned that when children in foster care reach a certain age, they are put out without much in the way of resources.  Some even run away from foster care before they reach that age.  These are children who lack any kind of supportive family to love and care for them.  Their parents may be in prison or addicted to drugs and self-absorbed.  Or their parents may have even died.

There is a non-profit known as Pivot in Oklahoma that is trying to do something substantial to help youth who would be homeless otherwise.  They are building a community of tiny homes to primarily serve the needs of 16 to 19 year old youth.  These are located right outside of the organization’s headquarter.  In addition to providing a bed, small kitchen and bathroom (a roof over their heads), the organization provides services.

They help the teen get a job. They teach them life skills. And they provide therapeutic attention to help these youth heal from a less visible internal hurt.  So regardless of the reason their parents are absent, a youth is understandably upset that the person who was supposed to take care of them, is not there for them.

All children still do love their parents at that level of attachment from birth. There is a grieving process that needs to be addressed – what should have been, could have been – wasn’t.  This healing is necessary if a person is truly to move forward with their lives in a productive manner.

Opioid Orphans

It is so sad that medications meant to relieve serious pain have become such a travesty that people who might benefit from them find it hard to receive a prescription.  I understand the complication.  I have been prescribed such medications and though I never became addicted, I could see the temptation and how the drug fixes itself upon the person.

I have experienced the awareness that my ex-husband overdosed and gratefully survived the experience.  When he came home he told me his friend dumped him out at the emergency room.  Not long after, that friend actually died of an overdose himself.  His family lived next door to my in-laws and they quite obviously, and reasonably, distanced themselves from my ex at the time – though he was not at all responsible for his friend’s death.  Parents have a hard time accepting such a hard truth at the time they lose their child.

Today, many grandparents will be forced to rescue their grandchildren after such an event.  Fortunately, the death I described above was a person without children.  Though perhaps a few years away from retirement, they find themselves full-time parents again.  This is the collateral damage caused by the opioid crisis.

As the opioid epidemic has spread across the country, through all age, gender, race and economic categories, the number of children who have lost their parents to drugs—either to death by overdose, to jail, prison, homelessness or disability—has skyrocketed. Those children wind up in one of two places: either with relatives, or in an already overburdened foster care system.  In 2015, the child welfare system saw a three-year national increase of more than 30,000 children entering foster care.  That number is likely much higher now as the nation finally begins to face the truth and pharmaceutical companies are being held to account.

In West Virginia, the hardest hit state in the opioid crisis, the number of foster care children grew 24 percent from 2012-2016.  The numbers escalate as the number of overdoses increase; they mirror the number of addicts in treatment programs, incarceration or living day-to-day on the streets. Babies are born addicted to opioids or other drugs.  More often than not, addict parents, living or deceased, have made little or no provisions for the ongoing care of their children.