Today I had a fantastic conversation with an adoption worker. She’s been in the field for many years. I told her that I was working on an e-book called “Working with Birth Families”. She was delighted at the idea and asked why I thought more foster and adoptive parents have such a difficult time working with biological families. I believe all stem from fear. Fear of grief and loss. Obviously every situation is different but we came up with some fears that we have seen many adoptive parents face and I thought I would write them down to share with others.
Fear the child will want to move away to live with biological family when they are older.
Statistics show this doesn’t usually happen but the fear still exists. This fear is the strangest one to me. At some point all children move away! At some point all children should move away and begin their own life as an adult. I’m really unsure as to why any parent would think otherwise. I know a lot of women (and it’s usually the women!) who grieve so hard when their child “leaves the nest”. I must be different but I rejoice. I am so happy that my children are able to “fly from the nest”. I take pride in the fact that I have equipped them well and know they will succeed on their own. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? Adopted, biological or foster I want each of my kids to succeed and be capable of living on their own if possible. When my daughter went on a two week trip to China I was so excited for her to have such an amazing experience. When she wanted to go to a different province for university I was thrilled for her but everyone kept saying, “Oh, you must be so sad.” Yes, I missed her when she was gone but the children we raise don’t stop being our children when they leave. We need to stop believing that they are ours to keep. Children are fully dependent on us as infants, less so as children and even less so as teenagers as they try to find their own way in the world. It is a natural progression. Even at 39, I still call my Mom when I need something; advice, support, love, encouragement, prayers, etc. I did not stop loving my parents when I moved out, most of us don’t, yet we still worry it may happen to us. Silly fear. We need to throw that away so we can help our children be excited for independence instead of fear it. If we fear it, they may start to fear it as well. If we did our job well, they will not only survive on their own but will thrive.
Fear that once a child meets biological family they will no longer love their adoptive family.
Well that one is just crazy. We don’t fear our children meeting their adoptive grandparents, why do we fear meeting biological grandparents? We don’t fear a child having too many aunts and uncles to love them so why wouldn’t we want a few more? Children have never ending capacity to love. There need not be fear in allowing others to love your child. Our adopted daughter turned 18 this year and we are excited for her plans for the future which involve moving into residence next year. We have been open with her about her biological family and she has had some Facebook contact with them over the years (meeting in person never worked on their part). Do I fear she will stop loving us when she moves out? Of course not! Sounds ridiculous now but it was a bit of a fear when we first adopted her. Do we fear her creating new relationships with any of her birth family? That’s a bit more of a loaded answer. We do fear that some of her family members are not healthy for her to be around and we hope that she doesn’t get into an unhealthy relationship with any of them. Others are good people and would do her no harm. We would be happy if she can make good relationships of any kind related by blood ties or not. Even if she makes connections with 100 new friends, blood relatives, and community members, we do not loose our love for her and she will not stop loving us. We remain her Mom and Dad and nothing can change that. When our son chose a partner, she came with her own parents. We too became her parents. When our daughters get married, they will adopt a new set of parents as well. We do not fear them, we welcome them as another set of people to love on our child. When we change our mindset to thinking of biological family as just that – another set of people to love on them- we change their world. We allow love to grow and knock down walls and barriers. Can you see how this is good for our little people? Having more love for them is amazing in this world where so many people feel lonely. We want our kids to feel as loved as possible by as many people as possible.
Fear of loss of control.
The sooner we realize we cannot control anyone else, the better off everyone is. Many adoptive parents fear that by giving some decision making ability to the birth family means loss of control for themselves. This is just the opposite. When we take the time to ask questions and opinions of the biological family, and try to listen to their input we show respect which in turn we are respected for. We are respected by many birth families, workers and our own adopted children because we have worked hard to consider the birth family. As a foster mom, I try to give as much control to the birth family as possible. They have lost all control over their child so when I put some control in their hands they are usually very appreciative. I ask if they want their child’s hair cut. I ask if they have any traditions they want me to continue. I ask what kinds of clothing they want the child to wear. Small acts of respect go a long way when building a relationship with people. Birth families are no different. If you are controlling and judgemental, the relationship will be strained and uncomfortable. This is not the kind of relationship that we want with our child’s biological family. We don’t want to feel the need to hide if we see them in the mall. We want to make it as positive an experience as possible especially if the child is there to witness your actions.
Fear the birth family will contact them on social media.
This is a real fear for many. We have found that worry isn’t helpful for anyone. What we must do is come to grips with the fact that we live in a social media world and birth families WILL eventually find them (another reason why I never close the door myself to biological families). One of our adopted daughters was 11 the first time her biological mother contacted her online. We knew it was inevitable. Thankfully we discussed with her prior to the message. To this day her mother continues to send her messages by setting up new accounts and our daughter has chosen to block her from each one as the messages are not usually helpful. Why did we let her go on social media in the first place? Well, she saw all her friends doing so and I wasn’t going to tell her she couldn’t because we feared what her biological family may say. We let her know she can tell us anything and she continues to share the messages with us. In that, something amazing happened…..she loves us more! We didn’t have to explain to her that her mother has challenges. She was able to realize very quickly who her mother is and why she was adopted by us. We can’t change her mother. We can’t protect her from the truth. She is so thankful to be part of our family even more so with each interaction with her biological mother. Trying to protect our adoptive child from social media isn’t going to stop the truth. It will, however, stop them from wondering who they came from. It does dissolve fantasies that adoptive children often create about their biological family if they haven’t met them. The grass is always greener on the other side but when you get to see the other side reality sets in pretty quickly. All kids want to know who their blood ties are and who they look like and why they love fish so much. Helping them find these answers instead of hiding the answers from them is beneficial for everyone.
Fear of bad influence.
Some, not all, biological families have had a rough life. They act out in ways that are awful for our kids to see and we fear that if our child sees that they may follow the same path. Adopted children have often grown in a womb that was not ideal. Possibly domestic violence, stress, drugs, alcohol, and more impacted their tiny brains. This is difficult for any adoptive parent to cope with because they feel that the biological mother hurt their child. The anger can sometimes be intense when you find out just what kinds of trauma have been done to their newly adopted child. Learning to see past a persons past mistakes and sometimes current ones such as drug use, jail terms, multiple partners, etc. is important. We all make mistakes. Imagine or even ask them about their childhood. When you hear their stories of abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. you can begin to see the vulnerable, hurting person behind the mask. You can begin to find compassion which is necessary for loving your child. Wait what? Yes, if you don’t learn to love the biological people who created the human life you are raising, your child will begin to sense that something is inherently wrong with him. He will make the assessment that if his biological mother is bad then so is he. He will derive that if his biological father is a horrible person and he has the same genes then that makes him a horrible person too. Hard to accept yes. Important to try and forgive and see their birth family as hurting humans who also need love.
One last thing I want to say is that fear usually keeps us in bondage, stuck, anxious. Seek help to let go of the fear. All children no matter how they came to be part of your family are not ours to keep forever. They are not property that we own. They are humans who need as many love connections as possible. Biological families are usually just hurting people who want to know that the child they created is okay. Openness looks different for every situation, and often it cannot happen but don’t be the one who keeps the lock on the door forever out of fear. Your child will not love you for that but will begin to resent you as a gatekeeper of information they want access to. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand that everyone wants to know who their blood ties are. That’s why ancestry.com is sooooo popular. I hope I have given you something to think about. Definitely do not throw caution to the wind but think of ways that you can open some doors if not a window to your child’s history. Your future teenage/adult adopted child will thank you!