How To Answer What’s It Like

Though my mom talked to me about her being adopted, my dad never did. I didn’t have enough background foundation to ask more direct questions of my parents and since they are both deceased, that opportunity has been lost to me. Therefore, I am always interested in adoptee’s who share how it feels to have been adopted.

Some stories for a Sunday morning –

As an adoptee, I get a lot of questions about my experience and feelings toward my adoption. I have found great value in trying to understand and explain those experiences. Recently I was asked by a friend, “What is it like for you to be an adoptee during childhood ? What about as an adult, is it the same or is the experience different ?”

I have so many mixed feelings about it confusion, pain, anger, and loneliness are the primary feelings I have about it, especially when I was younger. I didn’t understand why I was so different from my family and from others. It was always a hot button for someone being a jerk to press – being unloved by my birth mother or disposable by her. I mean, the family I grew up in ? We don’t look alike, act alike or even communicate in the same ways. I was sent away during a four year period of my childhood to boarding schools and wilderness programs because they said I was “out of control.”

I just had so much anger when I was younger but now I truly believe that my adoptive parents had no idea how to handle me. I didn’t get to say things like “it’s because of my heritage,” or “it’s the Irish in me” because I really didn’t know my history. Those feeling are subsiding with age and time and my search for who I am increases yearly. I want to share those genetic connections that others share and see my quirks in another person, without seeming like I am ungrateful.

My adoptive parents are very supportive of this search but I know that it does hurt them. As a father myself, I am finally experiencing some of those things and kinds of similarities I always wanted, and it is a beautiful feeling. The feeling now is more longing, hope, and feeling lucky to be alive (I know this is not a popular thought with all adoptees but it’s how I feel), and an acceptance of my own reality as I create for my own self my life going forward. It still hurts, a lot. And it fills me with the constant fear regarding my other relationships that I might again experience being abandoned.

Blogger’s note – my father never did get that son he wanted. My parents had three daughters and so, maybe that is why my mom was more forthcoming with me, than my dad was.

Another one – I was fostered from birth and forced to become an adoptee at the age of 10 (it was a closed adoption during the Baby Scoop Era, a period in history starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, my mother was coerced to relinquish her rights just before I turned 8 years old).

I still hold a deeply felt anger for the lies I was told and also the physical and mental abuse at the hands of the woman who was allowed to adopt me. I miss my natural mother daily – always have and always will. What I have found empowering as an adult adoptee (yes, it is part of who I am & always will be — I am an adoptee) is speaking out for others, advocating for current foster and adopted youth, so that there’s the opportunity for them to have a better childhood than the one I experienced.

I never would have thought so but doing the DNA tests and discovering living blood relatives (aside from my daughter and her family — who are descendants – and my estranged mother — I never knew of anyone) has been healing. Additionally, I’ve become very involved in building out both sides of my ancestral/heritage family tree. It has been an education in many ways, and although there is a bittersweet sadness to so much, there is also an identification of where I actually do belong within the life/death continuum and that has been an emotionally uplifting experience that has caught me off guard but in a mostly positive way. I am honoring their ancestral (genetic/genealogical) legacy, at the same time I am acknowledging my own place, while learning many things that even my mother (who hid my existence) never knew.

Blogger’s note – for my own self as well. Doing the DNA tests at Ancestry and 23 and Me have filled in the gaps that parents died never knowing. I still need to complete the “new” family trees I started for each of them with their birth identities and genetic relations at Ancestry. It just feels like the right thing to do for each of them. I now have family history. When one has grown up without that, it is difficult to describe how amazing that actually feels.

The next story – I was in the fog until I was about 20. I always knew I was adopted. And my adoptive parents did so much better than most. I always felt like the rug would be pulled out from under me. Always waiting for some big bad disaster. Always distrusting and always feeling like I was somehow “wrong.” As an adult, I have worked really hard to break the cycle of harm. But I still always feel like I have to prove something or I am not valid. And I don’t think I will ever feel like I fit in anywhere.

One last story – as a child I was very curious about my heritage, I always wondered if I had siblings. My adoptive parents gave me a good childhood, we did a lot of things and they were very loving. As I got older, I was also “out of control” and my parents didn’t know what to do. I ended up, moving out at 17 years old.

I had been living in the fog, up until last year. Now, as an adult, it’s like a rollercoaster. An unexplainable ride of emotions from good to bad and everything in between. I’ve been through my reunion. I have 4 half brothers, who I love dearly. I have no relationship with either biological parent. No romantic relationship in my life BUT it’s nice to know that I’ve consistently sabotaged most of them, due to my fear of abandonment (now I understand why). I’ve spent the last year or so really healing from my adoption trauma and it’s felt really good. I still have pain that will never go away. I struggle mostly with the desire to love my biological mother as I “should” and resenting her terribly for abandoning me (twice). She wants no relationship with me and I’m ok with that, it just makes me sad.

Ray Liotta and Adoption

I don’t remember him actually making any kind of strong impression on me but I did see the movie “GoodFellas” back in 2020 (thanks to Netflix keeping track of these things for me).

It is interesting how ideas for this blog come to me. This one was from a short acknowledgement in Time magazine about the man’s recent passing. Something about his adoptive mother dying during the filming.

I thought, so another adoption story. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in our society are somehow touched by adoption more broadly (meaning not necessarily adopted themselves but in their extended family). I went looking to learn more about this aspect of the man’s life.

The story I read was about how he found peace with his adoption. He said, “At first, I didn’t understand how a parent could give up a child. So, I had that kind of energy of just being like, that’s just f***** up.” His perspective changed after the birth of his own daughter in 1998, at which point he felt he had to trace and locate his birth mother.

Ray was born in 1954, the same year I was, in Newark New Jersey. He was adopted at the age of six months. He was in an orphanage at the time. His adoptive parents were Alfred and Mary. Liotta knew he wasn’t his adoptive parents biological child growing up. He also had an adopted sister, Linda.

His drama teacher in high school asked him if he wanted to appear in a play during his senior year. Liotta didn’t take it seriously at the time (he was into sports) but it led to him eventually studying acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.

In his 40s, he hired a private detective to locate his birth mother and younger siblings. He subsequently learned from her that he is mostly of Scottish descent (like I learned regarding my maternal grandmother’s family). He then met his birth mother and siblings – a half brother, five half sisters and a full sister. She explained to him that she had given him up for adoption because she was too young and couldn’t contend with the responsibility.

He said that then, “I realized that she did it for very valid reasons from her perspective and for 99% of the kids put up for adoption, the birth parent believes that it’s for the betterment of the kid… Often, the household, the situation, the age just dictate that’s the best thing to do for the child.” After the meeting her, Liotta honestly said that he was “disappointed” by his mother’s story. He reminds me of my own mom in saying that he was “really grateful that [he] was adopted.” When Larry King mentions there is a book for adoptees called “You Were Chosen,” Liotta admits that his was “I was given up.” Most adoptees hate the “chosen” narrative.

Liotta died in his sleep while filming Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic. Foul play is not suspected in his death. At the time of his death, he was engaged to fiancée, Jacy Nittolo. That had made him a happy man. He wrote, “Christmas wishes do come true. I asked the love of my life to marry me, and thank God she said yes!!!” Liotta is also survived by his 23-year-old daughter, Karsen, who he shares with ex-wife Michelle Grace.

Maternal Abandonment

I haven’t read the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but now I want to. A movie based on the book is coming to theaters this summer. In looking into the book, I find that the mother abandoned her children. In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed “Kya”) watches her mother abandon her and her family. While Kya waits in vain for her mother’s return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and eventually Jodie, all leave as well, due to their father’s drinking and physical abuse.

The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952 to 1969. The second timeline follows an investigation into the apparent murder of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina. Stories of children raising themselves with wildlife for companions have always fascinated me.

This story touches a sensitive place in me. While it was never my intention to abandon my daughter, could it be perceived that way ? Could she have experienced my “disappearance” as abandonment ? She was only 3 years old at the time and the realities were not something I could easily explain to her. Her dad and I had divorced. He had informed me that he would never pay child support because I would just party with the money (as though child care and pediatrician bills and all the normal daily expenses didn’t add up, leaving nothing leftover to even think of doing something like that). Therefore, I didn’t ask the court for any child support during the divorce hearing (which my husband did not attend) but the judge awarded me $25 in case I wanted to come back and ask for more. I never did but I did look for “better” (ie male dominated) employment that would pay enough to support the two of us.

It was always my intention to come back for my daughter with a bit of money saved, earned from driving an 18-wheel truck with my romantic partner of that time. A financial foundation for our mutual support. I left her with my former mother-in-law, who eventually gave her back to her dad. He remarried a woman with a child and eventually they had a child together. Since I could not give her a stable family life as a single impoverished woman, I let it be. I stayed in contact with my daughter and had short visits with her during her summers out of school. Still, it has always troubled me . . .

I feel fortunate that she doesn’t hate me for it and that we do have a good relationship as mature women raising children (she gave me a grandson, then I had a son, then she gave me a granddaughter, and then I had another son). I’ll never fully get over my own shame at not having done “better” by her.

Shock And Confusion

Ashley John-Baptiste

I was drawn to this man’s story in The Guardian because such unexpected events are happening more often these days thanks to social media and inexpensive DNA testing.

He had entered foster care while only still a toddler. He had been in four foster homes and a residential care home, all across south-east London, by the time he aged out at 18. He had always believed he was an only child. In his mid-20s, he received a message on social media from a stranger, about 10 years older than him, who claimed to be his brother. Turned out he was a half-brother, they shared the same father. This older man had been one of his baby-sitters when he was very young. And he knew this man had at least three other siblings.

After aging out, he was rebuilding his life. He had gotten a degree and was employed as a BBC journalist. This unexpected note from a stranger on Facebook had collided with his already fractured identity, raising a wave of questions about who he was and where he came from.

At the time, the two never went on to meet in person. They messaged each other a bit for a few weeks and of course, he scoured the man’s Facebook profile, but they didn’t pursue a more intimate relationship. Years passed without any contact – until the first COVID lockdown.

His partner had given birth to his first child and they were at a hospital for a routine well-baby check. He spotted a man outside the building. They locked eyes. Weirdly, perhaps, he recognized the man instantly. He was the half-brother who had got in touch with him all those years ago. He looked exactly the same in person as he did in his profile picture.

So, he called out the man’s name and, to his relief, the man also recognized him. They stood there, outside the hospital, chatting. Time stood still. In that moment, it felt as if they had known each other their whole lives. There was a deep knowing. Nothing was awkward about it. If anything, it felt too normal.

He said at the hospital visiting his sick mother. He introduced the man to his baby. They took a photo together and even made plans to catch up properly in the near future but since that chance encounter, they haven’t met again.

For ages after that meeting, he was consumed with questions about his past. Why did social workers and foster carers tell him he was an only child? How could no one in authority not know about his siblings? Do children’s services even care about, or prioritize learning about, the family histories of looked-after children?

Sadly, he still has not had any contact with his other siblings. At this point, all he has is that photo of his half-brother who is his baby daughter’s uncle. Even so, he says this – “Although I don’t know, and may never know, these siblings on a personal level, they serve as a touch point to understanding my past and my sense of identity. Knowing they exist reassures me that I am a part of something bigger than myself. . . . knowing they are alive and well is more than enough for me.”

Adoption IS Trauma

Today’s adoptee story –

Through writing this story, I became *very* angry with my biological mother for the first time since I met her almost ten years ago now.

I’ve always known I was adopted (at birth, through Catholic Charities, not “private” adoption but also not a foster care adoption.). I had great adoptive parents, who I know loved me (but didn’t always). There were no biological children in the family. My sister was adopted at four years old (when I was six) from foster care.

Blogger’s note – adoptive parents often adopt another child to be a sibling to the first one they adopted. This was true for my mom – the Jill for the Jack they already had – as her adoptive mother actually wrote in a letter to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. This was true for my dad – who’s adoptive mother went back to The Salvation Army home for unwed mothers in El Paso TX to get a brother for him.

I always, always, always felt alone. I’d cry, when I was very young, and curl up on the couch and sob “I want to go home, why can’t you just let me go home.” I’d never known another home, but that was what I always wanted when I was very small, was to “go home.”

I always believed I was something different than my peers. I found it hard to make friends. I had no sense of my own identity. I spent my entire childhood longing for my blood kin. When I grew up and finally found them, only my mother and her younger son (who wants nothing to do with me) were alive. My older sister, my father, my older brother, all gone.

Blogger’s note – it is interesting that as a child I never connected the dots that my parents being adoptees made me “different”. I never thought about the fact that my parents were “different” from the parents of my school peers, that their parents were not also adopted, though subconsciously I knew this because I could not say to anyone what my cultural identity was (Danish, Scottish are what I have learned, along with Irish and English).

Even now, in my early forties, a part of me feels like there’s something about me not worthy of being wanted by them, not worthy of knowing them (the biological, genetic family).

I’d have rather been aborted.

Blogger’s note -This is true for many, not all adoptees, but in my all things adoption group, I’ve seen this written many times.

Great adoptive family or not, this life is not what I deserved. My biological mother doesn’t regret her choice. And part of me hates her for that, now that I’ve had some time to really process everything that’s happened since we met.

This is not a life I would wish on any person.

Adoption IS trauma.

What Biology Prefers

In my all things adoption group – the post acknowledges what I also believe is a fact –

Biology programs us to prefer the children we gave birth to. You can try to be “fair” but I firmly believe biology and the subconscious takes over. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s natural instincts. What does it say about biological connection when one says they love a stranger’s natural child the same or just as much? How do biological children in the home feel about this? Is it really possible? What are your thoughts?

I remember reading once that children often physically resemble their fathers so that the man will accept responsibility and care for the family. Of course, it doesn’t universally turn out that way. Yesterday, I was looking at an old picture of my husband’s father’s parents and marveled at how much he looked like both of them in a photo nearby. My sons each have some resemblance and some of the best qualities of their father. I carried my sons during pregnancy and nursed them at my breast for over a year. While they know the truth of their egg donor conceptions, which we have never hidden from them and even facilitated their ability to contact this woman by connecting them to the donor on 23 and Me, they would seem, to my own heart, to be as bonded to me as they ever could be. I am “Mom” to them and no one could be more their mom. I may not have been able to pass my genes on to them (though my grown daughter and grandchildren do that for me) but I am their mother biologically and I do believe that makes a difference. Honesty helps as well.

One commenter posted an article at science.org titled “Do parents favor their biological children over their adopted ones?” subtitled – Study tests the “wicked stepmother” hypothesis. My daughter remains quite fond of her deceased step-mother and yet, I also know that my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old, did suffer an absolutely wicked stepmother. The article notes that “Wicked stepmothers would seem to be favored by evolutionary theory. The best way to ensure the propagation of our own genes, after all, is to take care of children who are genetically related to us—not those born to other parents.”

Even so their study found that parents did not favor a biological child over an adopted one in all instances. Researchers compared data on 135 pairs of “virtual twins”—siblings about the same age consisting of either one adopted child and one biological child or two adopted children.

What does support adoptees who feel their adoptive parents did not treat them well is this detail – adoptive parents did rate their adoptive children higher in negative traits and behaviors like arrogance and stealing. Yet, it is interesting that when it came to positive traits like conscientiousness and persistence,  they scored both adopted and biological children similarly. 

This study came to the conclusion that the strong desire to be a parent—no matter the source of a child’s genes—can override evolved, kin selection behaviors that might otherwise lead parents to invest more time and resources in their own offspring.

Identity – Before and After

Today’s blog assist comes from this man – Travis Bradburn

What makes you… you? Those people with a DNA surprise have a “before” and “after” marking the day their identity was upended. Family secrets tear at the fabric of who a person is. Tell the truth and practice forgiveness.

In 2018, at the age of 45, Travis Bradburn’s identity was upended. In an instant, his life now had a before and an after. He saw – “Predicted relationship – half brother.” Those were the words he saw when he opened up his 23 and Me app.

He writes – In very real ways, I always had a feeling of being ‘out of place’ and like I didn’t quite belong somehow. Those words…”predicted relationship – half brother” meant that I was 45 years old, and did not know who my father was. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, who alone, along with our church family, raised us to be strong, independent, educated, hard-working, faith-filled people. She struggled to provide, but she did it. 

He continues telling his story – I’m a happily married man with a wife who has been very supportive through this entire process. And I have 4 beautiful children I love more than life. In spite of all of this, in making this discovery, I became unmoored. I did not know who I was; who made me. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t fully recognize myself. The most basic parts of my life story were no longer true.

As I was told my father’s name, I learned he was alive; a little about who he was; and that he had 3 children. I had more brothers and a sister. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about people online when you really want to know.

I never had a father in my life, and now as I learned this truth, I was intent on making sure that as little time as possible passed before we met. And so 17 days after my discovery, I sat down at a restaurant table with my father. It was a surreal 2 hours that included some laughter, tears, awkwardness, questions and good conversation. Those moments are forever etched in my mind. During our visit, that feeling of ‘other-ness’…like I didn’t quite belong in some way…disappeared. Many of the feelings of not knowing why I was a certain way…felt answered.

We continued to meet together for dinners over the next several months. They are cherished memories I will always have, of just getting to know each other, and I hope those can continue for some time. Eventually, he agreed to share this news with his other two living children…my sister and my brother.

About 13 months after my discovery, I sat in my father’s home and met my family I didn’t know existed for the first 45 years of my life. We talked, laughed and shed a few tears for several hours that day. We shared photographs and stories. Words can’t describe how happy and grateful I was to see the burden of this secret lifted off my father’s shoulders. It was palpable and something I will never forget.

Genetic connection and identity are inseparable. Please read that sentence again. I believe this to be an irrefutable truth that has profound implications. Those who have not experienced this could never fully comprehend it. I feel like I could have been a human experiment in the debate of nature versus nurture. Think about your mannerisms, appearance, your laugh, manner of speaking, aspects of personality, the way you walk, things you like and dislike…to name just a few…all more highly connected to genetics than I think people realize. Not seeing that genetic connection in your life has implications.

Learning you are a 45-year secret is hard. Learning you are no longer a secret was healing beyond belief. Maybe that’s part of why sharing my story matters to me.

Adoption Is Hard

As a society, we fail single mothers and we fail struggling families. We don’t provide the resources that would prevent the surrender of a child to adoption that we could. It’s amazing that it is next to impossible to google any articles on this issue. Most are advising hopeful adoptive families how not to experience a disrupted adoption experience. Almost everywhere I looked, the articles were pro-adoption.

The closest I found to a genuine admission “adoption is hard” was in this article that is not from an entirely un-biased entity (Catholic Charities) but it does describe accurately some of the obstacles adoptees encounter in trying to uncover their original identities.

My adoptive parents were “forward thinking” for their time and always told me that I was adopted. There was no surprise there. I was not the kid that asked a lot of questions and was content in what I knew – my birth mother was 16 and my birth father was a little older. In graduate school I decided it might be interesting to search for my birth family so I made some initial inquiries and found out in Pennsylvania it was not an easy process, for my type of adoption, to initiate a search – ADOPTION IS HARD. I let it go at the time and moved on. 

In 2016, I really wanted to know where I came from. Where did I get my green eyes, my nose, what was my ethnic heritage, did I have any similar traits to my birth mother ? So I began with the attorney who facilitated my adoption. He claimed to have no recollection of the adoption – ADOPTION IS HARD. Next I went to the courts (still called orphan court in Pennsylvania) and was told they had no records based on the little information I had – ADOPTION IS HARD. 

Like my own adoptee mother, this woman decided to try Ancestry DNA – and besides now knowing my ethnic heritage – struck out again – ADOPTION IS HARD. Pretty much matches my own mother’s experience there (though I have made much more progress since my mother’s death using Ancestry).

Yet, something a bit magical did happen for this woman. One night a Facebook message popped up on her phone. The moment she read that a woman had an Ancestry DNA match that listed me as a “close relative.” She had been searching for her sister who had been adopted for years. Turns out that this time the answer was a YES. She was that sister.

Then she began talking with her sister, her birth mother, two other sisters, and a brother (yes there are 4 siblings). Life got real. ADOPTION GOT HARD. You learn things that are HARD. You learn that your birth father wanted you to be aborted. You learn that your birth mother stood up to her own family in order to carry you to term. You learn that your birth mother, on the day you turned 18, contacted the same attorney you had, to leave her information with him “in case” she ever contacted him (yeah, clearly he lied to her in 2016). You learn once again that ADOPTION IS HARD.

She goes on to say – as she was writing, 4 months had passed since the day her world changed. “I can say that it has mostly been for the better. But it has not come without it’s hardships. My body is manifesting externally what I am processing internally in physical ways which has sent me on many trips to the doctors and multiple tests. On the flip side it is good, I am slowly getting to know the family that shares my blood. I love seeing what we have in common while also learning about our uniqueness.”

I write this blog to share the stories I encounter and continue to try to put into perspective my own parents’ adoptions. I have a desire to educate others affected by adoption about the realities. Whether these are adoptive families, people who have friends or family who have been adopted, or other adoptees, my message is ADOPTION IS HARD. It comes with trauma. Adoption comes with loss. Adoptees are the one group of the triad who have no say about adoption, the decision is made for them. Birth parents and adoptive parents alike need to respect that and understand that. This is about their lives, and their stories. 

I know it isn’t possible for me to speak for every adoptee out there. Each has their own unique story and journey. No one should ever forget that each adoptee’s story began with loss and eventually that loss is going to emerge. I know it did for my mom because she shared this with me as my also adopted dad wasn’t supportive of her efforts.

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.

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).