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. 


  1. I agree with you!! I just wish the rest of society would view adoptive parents in a better light when our kids misbehave and act weird. I didn't neglect them or do drugs in-utero. I sought out every available service to help them adjust and thrive. I went into serious debt paying for tutors and therapists and every learning system out there to help them educationally. I lost the balance between self and family to my detriment (mainly my health). I took things too personally and found myself lacking in my ability to fix (or even sometimes help at all) their issues. At the end of the day, nobody talks to me anymore. My foster/adoptive friends were my only support and they too, have one, by one, moved on. Some moved far away to start over with kids who burned all their bridges in their former towns. Two died. A few became so fearful of people turning them in to cps every time they shared anything about their childs' troubling behavior that they became reclusive. Battle scars.

    I don't think things need to be secretive either, but all parties should be on the same page about extended contact after the adoption. No one should feel pressured into having contact that they are not personally comfortable with and if the agency doesn't like the decisions being made, they need to find parties that are all in agreement. I have seen way too many adoptive families who were treated like "that other" family and it's just not right.

    I love the term "in exile" as well. I usually just tell my kids that they were removed for reasons beyond our (and their) control, but they were valid reasons and safety reasons and sometimes people don't make kids their priority, even when they love them. I don't villify the bio families, so why should I be villified by everyone after the fact?

    I fight bitterness about how I've been treated and how I see others treated. I feel ashamed that I made choices that affected my entire family and every relationship I've ever had to "save" kids and give them a home, only to have it all turn out like this. I love all my kids very, very much - I just sometimes wonder why it all turned out like this. I know we need to keep doing good just because its the right thing to do and we're doing it for God, not ourselves, not to get praise, no matter the outcome. I don't need praise, but being treated like a human being with feelings might help out a little.

    1. apparently, we've all been exiled here together. Online allows us to hide and be reclusive, yet at the same time keep one another company! You seem quite wonderful and human to me. Your kids are all very lucky to have had you fighting for their benefit, even if they do not realize it.

  2. I wish your experience was unique but I think it's actually the norm. So many of us seem to end up fighting bitterness and feeling emotionally isolated because there are so few who understand how we can love our children while still acknowledging what this life has done to us.

  3. I'm reading through this blog backwards. I will re-read the posts in proper order in the next day or so. Brenda, your writing and communication style is first rate! I'm past the bitter/angry stage, now full on to raging cynic stage. :)