Sunday, February 21, 2016

Done with silence...

Much of the truth and the challenges of adoptive family life are denied by professionals which leaves you, the adoptive parents without the resources to help you figure out how to live with a child who daily uses both words and behaviors to tell you that they are not good enough. 

Image result for free clip art unhappy familyShe does this by rejecting your affection; by attacking you verbally and sometimes even physically; by swearing at you; by lying about you to others; by refusing to engage in the basics of family life (such as eating Christmas dinner with the family without disruption); by getting kicked out of, or quitting, every extra-curricular activity in which she asks you to enroll her; by chronic lying and stealing; by the discord created by secret contact with birth family. 

And in the process, you lose something of yourself. And you begin to believe that he is right, you are not good enough. And so you withdraw from friends who don't understand (which is likely all of them). You stop responding and you start over-reacting. You develop a sense of high and anxiety alert just like your child's. You begin to doubt your own reality amidst the lies. Yet, you still love your kid with all of your heart and instead of rejecting him in return, you endure and you keep trying and your heart aches so badly you think it will crack and you feel like your home is the saddest place in the world. 

And that, my friends, is where I think the skills development needs to take place. It is in learning how to live with a child who doesn't, and may never, care about you. It's in learning how to live a parallel fate so that while you are offering your child the opportunity to learn that life can have meaning and that relationships can be safe ---- you still have the capacity to enjoy a life of quality and meaning. You need the skills to love your child without surrendering your joy and your own emotional health. 

So now you want to know how to do that, eh? Well, I'm working on that. However, to me, the first step in this process is to start talking about it out loud. To start telling others publicly about what our lives are like. We need to make the adoption industry catch up with today's adoption realities. I have feared doing this because I don't want my children to read this or hear me speak at workshops and then think this means that I don't love them or that they are, or were, too much trouble. I have been held back because I know that my children, and yours, aren't responsible for the problems they present and so I don't want them to feel blamed or hopeless. That has kept me silent, and it has kept me from doing anything to change how things are. Well, being silent to protect my kids might have worked for some of them, but it sure didn't work a couple of them, so I'm done with that. I think it's time to shake things up. How about you?

Hey friends, you are entitled to a better day.Glittery Pink Roses Animation

Monday, February 15, 2016

Further explaining myself...

This blog is really a thinking work in progress because its where I'm working out my thoughts and opinions on what I think needs to be talked about in the adoption industry. So, if you find I'm not very clear, well, I expect to be more so as my thoughts develop.

What do I mean about *Parallel Fates*? Well, David Kirk believed that we had to acknowledge the differences that adoption brings to a family. That meant that even though our beginnings were separate, our fates could be shared. Nowadays, the children are most often adopted after they have been pre-parented by birth parents, and at least one set or more of foster parents. They have already shared their lives, and the first steps of their fate, with many people. 

So, on to how this relates to Parallel Fates -  As you know, between the ages of about 2 and 4, children may be playing in arm's reach of each other, but they are each in their absorbed in their own little play world. They don't share, they don't interact (other than to occasionally try to take the other's toy), they don't have the same rules, or the same expectations, they have limited communication with each other, and they aren't playing the same thing. They didn't intend to be together, they were placed in the situation by well meaning parents who believe the children need the social time with peers or because the toddlers attend the same daycare. 

I think that adoptive families are often doing the same parallel type of thing because even though the parents and children live together, they share little in the way of healthy and positive communication; they don't have the same goals; they don't share the same language of feelings; they don't agree on the tasks to be done or the relationships to be formed; their values differ and clash; and, they are unsupported or even sabotaged by those who don't understand or validate this version of family. 

Furthermore, the children and the parents don't really choose to be together because their family is constructed by social workers and policies and tragedy and loss. While the parents are outwardly focused on creating their vision of a loving family, the children are inwardly focused on coping with brain differences caused by pre-natal exposure to toxins combined with the long term brain impact of early neglect & abuse. The child with substantial brain differences is expected to conform to the expectations and values and goals of neurotypical parents and neurotypical teachers and maybe some neurotypical siblings. Its a round hole and square peg kind of thing and as a result, their lives are less about sharing their fates and more about surviving their fates

This leaves the members of the adoptive family living very parallel lives - in the parent line# most will do their best to provide Junior with everything possible to make this a functional, loving family and to help Junior reach their version of success. However, in the child/youth line, Junior's understanding of family and personal success is a result of what he experienced before this family was constructed and he will continue to react to that version for most of his growing up years. 

As always, I want to state that I strongly believe that adoption is the best alternative for children who can't be raised by their genetic parents. I also want you to know that I truly love my children. But, as I watch the changing challenges in adoptive family life, I believe we need to be having some very different conversations about what adoption means to all members of the family. The adoption industry needs to be seeking the opinions and input of those now grown adoptees who were placed after infancy. It needs to be acknowledging the challenges that current adoptive parents face in dealing with birth family and with brain differences. We can't keep pushing a perception of adoptive family life that might have been true 10 or 20 years ago, we have to deal with what we have now. 

Well, that's today's rant. 

Hey, you are entitled to a better day.Flower by TheGraphicGirl

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Birth parents' influence...

One of the least managed and least acknowledged issues in adoption today (in my opinion) is the impact of birth parents on the adoptive family. Most prospective or even current adoptive parents that I work with still seem to be under the impression that whatever is in the adoption order regarding contact or access will be upheld by all parties. And, many people turn to international adoption because they believe that will reduce the likelihood that they will ever have to deal with birth parents. 

Well, that might have been true years ago, but not anymore. Today, you can bet your bottom dollar that if your child is on social media, or has access to anyone else's accounts, that there will be contact with genetic family. To complicate the issue, many youths get their Facebook accounts just as they are entering their teens, possibly the worst time of all for them to have to deal with the complexity of family of origin. And, for the adoptive parents who are likely dealing with some degree of acting out, the challenge of dealing with negative birth family influences is one straw too many. It might also be a straw that you don't even know about.

And, just because you adopt a child from another country, even a 3rd world country - well, they have computers there, too, so don't expect distance or language to be any protection from unwanted or un-monitored contact. 

I've had many parents tell me that they would know if their child was having contact with bfamily because they monitor their child's Facebook or facetime, or Skype, or snapchat or instagram or kik or whatever, but hey friends, do you really think your youth is showing you all his accounts? Not likely. 

Even healthy, planned contact can create problems. When genetic grandma drags out the family album with lots of pics of mommy or daddy looking great and pics of mommy or daddy playing or holding Junior (prior to removal and adoption), this can create emotional havoc. Whether the genetic grandparent or aunt or older brother means to cause problems, well who knows, but for Junior its a clear message that she belongs elsewhere and it creates a wall of secrets as Junior attempts to hide the amount of contact or the impact it's having on how she views her adoptive parents. 

The birth parents or other genetic family members who engage in social media contact without the involvement or consent of the adoptive parents probably aren't able to consider the best interests of the child anymore now than they were when the child protection authorities removed Junior from their care. They may engage in this contact out of love and grief for the child, or it may be an issue of power and control. Who knows and who cares, because their reason doesn't change the result - which is that Junior will emotionally disengage from the adoptive family and will not perceive the adoptive parents as his primary source of guidance, emotional support, and parenting. 

We can't stop or control this contact so there is simply no point in living in denial about its impact. What we have to do with this is understand that it is yet another way in which we live parallel family lives instead of a shared family life. We have to go into adoptive family life knowing that Junior is going to be *parented* by birth family regardless of the adoption order and that this is going to create emotional walls, increase conflict, and reduce adoptive parent influence, and sabotage  adoptive family relationships.

It also results in there being a plan for Junior to return to the birth family as soon as he can. Yes, that has always been an issue, but it didn't used to be planned and encouraged by the birth parents and it didn't used to happen when Junior was still in her early teens.  

So, let's get honest with this. Let's advocate for adoption trainers to be talking about this and teaching prospective adoptive parents that ongoing and un-monitored contact between Junior and birth family will be their reality. Let's ask adoption professionals to talk about how this changes adoptive family relationships and how it changes what adoptive parents can expect from their adoption experience. 

Okay, enough for today. Please remember, you are entitled to a better day.
Free Purple Flower Clip Art 1

Friday, February 5, 2016

Parallel fates...

Shared Fate: A Theory of Adoption and Mental Health, 1964 was a ground breaking book. David Kirk helped society to shift away from viewing adoption as a secretive and slightly shameful way of growing a family into seeing it as a social construct created out of a shared need for family. Kirk acknowledged that adoptive families had differences from genetic families and that it was to everyone's benefit to acknowledge and embrace the differences.  And, that book has pretty much been how adoption has been presented ever since. 

Well, times....and adoption..have marched on and now, the adoptive parents and the adoptees have more of a parallel fate than a shared fate. Today, most children are adopted at a much older age, and might well have lived with their genetic parents for years, or at least long enough to have substantial memories - both good and fearsome. They may have had access visits with the genetic parents up to the adoption placement or long after through Facebook or more formal arrangements. They may have had many moms and dads while they lived with one set of foster parents after another....with some of whom they established bonds and others whose names they never even knew. They may have ongoing contact with genetic family members who continuously remind them who the *real* parents are and basically teach the children to believe they are living in exile ( I got that magnificent phrase from an adoption expert in Toronto).

Yet, somehow, there remains an expectation that the adoptive parents will step in and (as long as they take the right attachment training) will be fully accepted as the forever parents. 

Not quite that easy, eh. 

True enough, most adoptive parents do love their children as fully and completely as if they were born to them. Humans have DNA programming to protect and care for the young (well, most of us do) so it's not that difficult for us to see ourselves as the parents of a child who was born to another. However, that doesn't always work the same way for the children, and it has nothing to do with attachment or bonding. It has to do with a complex combination of factors including brain differences from early neglect and abuse, from fasd, from too many caregivers, and from many conditions that don't get diagnosed before adulthood, as well as from ongoing or intervening contact with genetic family. 

Before you get too mad at me, I want to be clear that I'm not suggesting we go back to secrecy in adoption, even if that was possible. I'm not evaluating the rightness or wrongness of how things are, I'm only trying to bring them up for discussion and validation of the current adoptive family reality. 

I also want to be clear that I love my 14 children. Currently, I have good, or at least reasonably positive, relationships with 12 of them. It's a bit dicey with 1, and 1 hates me. I'm not going to talk about my family more than that because I need to respect their privacy as most are now adults, but I felt I needed to be transparent. I am not writing this blog out of bitterness or regret in my own life - I am writing it because I am both a parent and an adoption professional and I know its long past time for the adoption industry to undergo change. I'm also writing it because I know how hurt so many adoptive parents have been because we aren't talking truth about our lives - so, here is your place to do so. You may not agree with me - that's fine - just be polite and say the things you need to have witnessed. 

Yes indeed, you are entitled to a better day. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The changing adoption...

Adoption isn't what it used to be! There have been substantial societal changes that have permanently altered adoptive family relationships and adoptive family boundaries.What am I talking about? Well, for example, consider how any of the following currently impact adoptive family life in a way that is different from just five or ten years ago:

- the impact of trying to keep families together longer resulting  in the child experiencing increased numbers of caregivers and longer exposure to violence, abuse and neglect
- the impact of more and harsher drugs on fetal brain development resulting in severe and permanent brain differences
- the ability of birth family to secretly contact and influence the children through social media
- the decreasing supports for parents

These are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure you can name a hundred more.

I'm not spending any time thinking about or writing about whether these changes are negative or positive. They are what they are and life never goes back to how it was. Adoptive families have always been great at adapting and that's what we have to do now - we have to adapt to what we live with now. 

What I am going to spend time thinking and writing about is how to get the adoption industry to catch up with modern adoptive family life. I want to talk about major change in pre-adoption training so that prospective adoptive parents understand the ways in which in their lives will change not just from having a new child in their family, but from all the changes I've listed above. I want to help parents and professionals understand the adoptive family life cannot be the same as other types of family life - yes, the parents will love the child as their own and will do all it takes to provide what is needed - but they will be hampered in this if the adoption professionals aren't honest about the high level of ongoing needs that the children will present and if everyone pretends that the birth family won't have continued contact with the child, whether its formal or done in secret on facebook or snapchat.

I would like this blog to be a place of discussion for parents and professionals who want to honest dialogue about the new realities of adoptive family life and how we can best support the families in ways that work now, not in ways that worked ten years ago. 

So, here we go... I hope you'll join me. 

Hey, remember, you are entitled to a better day!