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.

“She Said – She Said” Stress

An adoptee reunion is tough enough without family making things harder. Today’s story –

My daughter will be 18 on March 11th. My aunt adopted her. She had the money and a judge sided with her for custody.

My aunt told her bad things about me. That I was a drug addict for 10 years (became sober in 2014).

The aunt has not allowed me any space in my daughter’s life. But at age 18, she is mature enough to make her own decision about contact with me.

I know my daughter has had some mental health issues. I don’t want to make things worse for her but I do want to reconnect now that I can.

How do I do this well ?

So, there comes this advice from a woman who just finished a clinical rotation at a women’s recovery center and worked on this topic a lot! It was recommended to many of them to have these types of conversations with a family therapist as a 3rd party if possible, or have the child/adolescent have at least a session or so with one following the information. This can help alleviate some of that “she said – she said” type of stress from the conversation. A professional has the empathetic perspective to guide regarding the right things to say.

I understand having a professional can be financially difficult and complicated by COVID. Many therapists are doing TeleHealth appointments now. Please know that there are a lot more affordable options than there previously have been!

If that’s not something that’s possible – just remember that this is confusing for her, and to be gentle with the approach. She will likely be able to tell if anything doesn’t feel genuine because she’ll likely be on high alert in her nervous system expecting a difficult conversation. Be careful not just drag your emotional feelings about your aunt’s behavior into your conversations (I know that will be difficult but it is important). Come from a place of love, positivity, and most importantly, showing her respect will go a long way.

Congratulations on your sobriety, that’s a HUGE accomplishment and I truly hope you’re proud of yourself. Best of luck! Your daughter is lucky to have you!

Someone else had similar advice – I suggest you find a therapist with experience working with adopted teens. Your story has many layers and you may find working with a therapist will help guide you through the coming years. It’s hard to walk the path of reunion alone or alongside others who are struggling. A therapist is trained to guide your journey.

From another adoptee’s own experience – I was back in contact at 17 (almost 18) with my mama. Very much like it has been for your daughter, I was told horrible things about her growing up, some were true, some were not. She was a drug addict as well. When we first met, she wanted to clear her name. She really laid it on thick – how this and that wasn’t true, and this excuse and that excuse. The entire time, this made me very uncomfortable and nervous. I remember just feeling like she was talking to me – not with me. What I wanted was for her apologize, to tell me she loved me, to ask about me, to show interest in me… the main thing I wanted was just to be near her, and feel important to her. My advice, from my adoptee point of view is – just apologize, go by her lead, answer questions honestly but don’t put too much on her at one time. Don’t play the victim card (even if you truly are). Everything doesn’t have to happen in one day. It takes time for separated person to regain trust in one another and build a new relationship. Go slow. Adoptees want the truth but it is also true that we cannot always handle all the weight of the truth at one time… Good luck Mama, you already are taking a great first step in reaching out for guidance, before going forward.

Another woman amplified this message – your actions will show who you are over time to her as she grows a relationship with you. Give her baby steps and gentle love – without a ton of defending yourself, or defaming auntie. You can only prove yourself with time and character!! Invest in her and listen to her. You got this, momma.

Judgment of Solomon

It’s a story as old as the bible.  Two women fighting for the love of one child.  It is the child who actually suffers.  Often the original mother will surrender for the good of the child.  It happens when one woman was the first mother and then another woman steps in and the first mother becomes marginalized.  Whether by adoption or divorce, it is hard to live that reality.  I know, I have.

I was reading the sad story of a woman who was adopted at the age of 4.  Got along well with the adoptive father, not so much with the adoptive mother.  The couple divorced and for whatever reason the girl went with the mom.  This adoptive mother spent years breaking down this poor woman’s confidence by telling her she was going to end up like her birth mother among countless other verbal and emotional jabs at her.

Time passed, she grew up.  In a sense the predictions came true.  She had a son who she breast fed and took care of everyday for 20 months.  Then she had to ask for help.  Her son already knew her as mom.  Now she has a power struggle with her adoptive mom about who actually is the mother of her son.  That is because she went through a rough part of her life and had to ask her adoptive mom to keep her son while she figured things out.

The adoptive mother agreed. Then, less than 3 weeks later, she called the woman and asked if she can give her a certain amount of money per month in return for adopting this woman’s son. She declined.  As an adoptee herself, she said she wasn’t giving him up and that with another 2 weeks, she could be ready for him to come back to living with her.

Only a week later, the adoptive mother called again and said according to her lawyer the woman will be charged with neglect if she doesn’t sign over the rights to her son. Oh, this does remind me of what happened to my maternal grandmother !!

Anyway, fearing she might never see her son again, she consulted with a lawyer at a women’s shelter where she was living and had to face the reality that this was going to happen and it did.  The adoptive mother changed the woman’s son’s name, just like happens so often in adoptions.  While the original mother still has some access to her son, I know, just as the reader probably knows by now – this will not turn out well and the child will be the one who suffers.