Sunday, May 29, 2016

Secrets and lies...

Many years ago I was at the forefront of advocating for open adoption and even access. I believed then, and still do, that we can't simply erase the first years of our children's lives and pretend that the relationships (good or bad) with the genetic parents and extended family won't continue to pull at our child. 

Of course, that was back in the age of dinosaurs when the openness and access was done by letter or phone call, or maybe the occasional scheduled visit. It was also done with the adoptive parents' knowledge.

Well, among the New Realities of Adoption is that the communication that now occurs between the genetic family and Junior is likely to take place through social media, without our knowledge, without our permission, and without our monitoring. Junior may well be having daily chats with birth sibs, with birth parents, with aunts, uncles, friends of birth parents etc. and the adoptive parents know nothing at all about it. The only sign may be the increased acting out that results. 

If you think that this isn't happening with your child----- think again. All of our kids learn quickly how to set up hidden accounts that we can't find. And don't think that because your child came from a foreign country that the parents don't have access to computers. They do. It may not be the parents who communicate with Junior - often its a sibling who wasn't adopted or its the grandparents or birth mom's current boyfriend.

The problem, of course, is that if these people were emotionally healthy they would be initiating the contact via the adoptive parents - but they aren't. They may not be out to harm the family, but they sure don't help it as they fail to understand the emotional impact on Junior of their communications and how this can pull apart a fragile attachment and create confused loyalties. Very often the genetic parents lie about how Junior came to be adopted - they minimize their drug abuse or violence and blame the mean old social workers who never gave them a chance to clean up and keep Junior. I understand the guilt and remorse that underlies this, but I also understand the way this makes Junior feel kidnapped and emotionally disoriented. And, for children or youth who also have FASD, adhd, ODD, long term impact of neglect and abuse and all the rest - this added emotional complexity invariably fuels the chronic conflict that the family is already experiencing. 

Even when the genetic family means well, there is still going to be upheaval - any normal 15 year old has complaints about their parents - when you have a pre-teen or youth who also has the above mentioned behavioral issues and then they have free rein to complain to the genetic parents ("My parents don't understand me" "My parents are too strict" "My parents yell at me all the time" "My parents ground me for no reason" "My parents don't trust me") you can be sure the genetic parents are giving lots of sympathy and assuring Junior that they would be soooo much nicer. 

This is a very difficult reality because for the most part, the genetic parents have "issues" just like the children. They may have severe lifestyle challenges, addictions, fasd, and other concerns; or, they may have stabilized their lives.  However, you can bet they don't have boundaries nor do they have respect for the integrity of the adoptive family and most importantly, the capacity to prioritize the best interests of the child. 

Friends, this isn't going to end. This is a reality we have to live with. What I am advocating for here is that the adoption professionals start overtly addressing this and developing strategies to help adoptive parents manage this dynamic. I looked up a bunch of adoption conferences that are happening this year and the only ones I could find that even acknowledged genetic parents were the old fashioned things about how to have openness with a young birth mom who made an adoption plan at baby's birth. Well, that's not good enough.

We need to know how to recognize the signs that Junior may be in contact, and even seeing, genetic parents. We need to learn how to help Junior work through the conflicting messages from both sets of parents, we need to learn how to avoid a power struggle with the genetic family, we need to learn how to deal with our own feelings about this. Oh, so much to do on this topic. 

So, like everything else I write about, this is one more thing we need to be discussing openly and putting on our self-advocacy list. 

In the meantime - do some healthy breathing, hug someone who cares about you, and know that you are doing better than most with the challenges you face. 

You are entitled to a better day. Animated Blooming


  1. Wow. Just wow. Put the blame on the birth families much?

    Deny a kid old enough to contact their birth family the autonomy to do so?

    Make like it's a bad thing?

    Get over yourself.

    Perhaps your attitude is why all those kids you adopted are nightmares! Who make your life hell!

    I've 3 drug and alcohol-exposed in utero and then neglected for 6!(youngest) - 10 (oldest) years in foster care, who were adopted at 7, 10 and almost 17 years old.

    Guess what? All three are honor students, law abiding citizens and are now happily married with kids and indistinguishable from me (the very loved, very wanted daughter of biological parents with graduate degrees). My parents held all of us to the same standard!

    My sisters biological parents? I consider family, have known since age 4 (my eldest adopted sister has been my BFF since kindy) and have spent pretty much every holiday with my family for the last 17+ years, i.e. Since they got sober. They're lovely people who had a long history of drug/alcohol abuse.

  2. Augh.....Missy Manny....I wish ALL situations worked out like your families' - the truth is, yours is the exception, not the rule. I am so, so happy that your life and the lives of your sibs has been so wonderful - that's the way we all thought it was supposed to turn out for us too.

  3. The problem is getting experienced people to help us. So often it is young workers with no kids who, bless their hearts, mean well and have no idea of the day to day unhappiness. Kiddos I love who are convinced I am the one who made it impossible to return to their parents (though had been in numerous foster care placements for FOUR years till God tugged at my heart and I felt I needed to try to keep these 6 siblings together.). These kids are busting my furniture, walls, screaming and swearing at me, all to pay me back for wanting to give them love and security. Who can give me direction that can keep us from going over the cliff? I let them speak to their bio mom whenever they want. I can no longer tell if this has helped or made it worse.

  4. But what if they are not sober and functional? I just want these children I love to be happy, safe, and feel loved. Still they have cost me thousands of dollars of repairs on the house. Scream at me how they hate my f'n guts and worse. My 11 year old has burns from his buttocks down to his feet from hot oil �� How do you suggest I trust these people?!? Oh how I wish it was as easy as you are suggesting ��

  5. This post, as well as the initial comments, has been rolling around in my head for several days. Regarding open adoption issues, it was not something we dealt with because the presiding judge issued a no contact order. It seems to me that the first job for any parent is safety. It is a terrific hardship when our kids original parents are not safe people. However, we did not create those circumstances. This conversation will need to be ongoing with any child separated from their family of origin. There will never be a point to say - that's been discussed and the topic is closed. Direct contact and the details will be brought up by the child at some point, and must become part of the ongoing conversation.

    We created a life book, filled it with as much developmentally appropriate information as possible, including photos and such. A tweaked, more detailed version of what many social workers call a "social story."

    As far as internet time, it is more of an equivalent to dessert as far as I'm concerned. Used sparingly, and no one is entitled to it. The positive opportunities available with the internet are basically limitless and should not be overlooked by any means.

  6. In regards to training and classes - the preparation is completely off base. Parents expect to receive a happy, healthy, grateful little person. Oh they realize there will be an adjustment period, but no one breathes a word about the fact it is lifelong. Plus the happy, healthy etc part? ha! one word - Disney.

    Adoption preparation classes definitely need to reflect reality. Sadly, they are often simply designed to give minimal information while meeting minimal guidelines for reimbursement. At the time we were preparing, 1995 - 1996, international adoption required no prep class whatsoever. Only if you adopted from foster care were you required to take any type of training. One mantra given repeatedly was - We are looking for families for children, not children for families. Looking back, that statement alone speaks fairly loud as to intent. Governments seek to shift cost burdens. All governments. Private families beware.