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.
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  1. Yes! If only I knew this before...maybe I could have come to terms with it before it happened. I really think it's ridiculous that the bio family is contacting the kids thru social media. I guess it's understandable in one way since there is a history of poor choices to pre-empt this one (most often anyway), but geez, kids (who have been adopted/age out of foster care) in their teens and early twenties do not usually have the ability to deal with the emotions and chaos of normal life, let alone the pandoras box of surprises this will bring them. I consented to send pics to my two kids' bio grandmother 13 yrs ago when we adopted them. I am seeing what a big mistake that was. She has pressured me this entire time to have a formal visitation schedule with the kids. She sends them bday and Christmas cards (that I put away in a box for them) and sends them money (that I invest in savings bonds for them). I don't let them see the cards anymore because they would get angry and rip them up when they were young (4-7). They would be really torn between wanting to see her and really hating her. Grandma writes notes on the cards every time inviting them out to lunch or to come over to her house. The pressure has increased since bio-mom (Grandma's daughter) overdosed and passed away a year ago. Bio-aunt cornered me in a store one day and told me they expected the oldest of the two children to show up on their doorstep as soon as he turns 18 (which is in less than a year). Hmmm...he doesn't know where they live or their last names so I'm guessing they're actively persuing him online.

    A friend of mine told me that on her daughters 18th bday the bio dad showed up at her school and told her, "You're 18 today, you don't have to stay at their house anymore, you can come home with me right now". She heard from her daughter a week later. She ping-ponged back and forth for a few months and they have a very strained relationship because of this. The girl had bio dad telling her that the adoptive family wasn't letting her grow up because she didn't have her drivers license, a checking account or a cell phone. So, he got her all those things. Within 2 weeks of providing his daughter with all the "normal" teenage things, the cell phone was out of minutes, the checking account was overdrawn by hundreds of dollars and the license already had 5 pts on it for the accident she was in and the 2 speeding tickets she received. She messed up graduation (which was only 4 mos after her bday), relationships within the adoptive family and her bio brothers (that were adopted by another family) hate her for bringing dad into their lives. But bio-dad got his way so that's all that mattered. I am just so distressed seeing this happen over and over again in other families as well as my own. It's like all of our dreams were "only fantasy", the reality is much darker and heartbreaking.

  2. Lisa, I often wonder if the bio family just sees us as long term baby sitters? I dunno. I have a daughter just move back home after 2 years in the real world with the bios. She basically was homeless and in a shelter before she cried uncle and called home. The long term damage that I have to deal with is immeasurable.
    Makes me want to move to the middle of nowhere to protect them from the insanity of it all.

  3. Rain - you have no idea how much I've fantasized about moving far, far away. At first it didn't seem fair to the older bio kids, their lives we're here, our families were here. As the years have passed I wish I had done it anyway...I still want to. I don't see many adopted kids finding a true balance between the bio and adoptive families. My first sib group were tracked down by the bio family a few yrs ago and were told not to contact me ever again because they were back with "real family". I never bad mouthed the bio family but now I'm being called all sorts of names and treated like a long term babysitter (a poorly compensated one at that) - you're right about that.

  4. I think the weak point is primarily in the adoption preparation classes. Adoptive parents want a child that is theirs, most of them do anyhow. It really isn't possible for adoption to fulfill that want. Realistically, the children are genetically connected to the parents of origin and no amount of separation will unravel this fundamental truth. Social media is a game changer for sure tho as far as timing and access. Especially since it is the legal parents who are held responsible for things prior to age 18. We all must be true gluttons for punishment, because this is not going to be a popular or abbreviated conversation to have with the adoption industry.