You’ve heard the quote, “It takes a village to raise a child”. I know there are some who argue and say no it just takes good parents. While that is definitely true, it does take more than just parents to raise a child well.
The parents do need to be the foundation. Study after study show that children look first to parents for how to behave, what relationships look like, what’s important in life, and how to react to others.
The village analogy is true whether you think so or not. There are many other people who will influence your children. Our kids don’t have a village; they have a city!
Our immediate family is large so there are many other children in the home who influence and love each other. Our oldest child made many unwise choices in his young teen years which impacted our other kids. They watched him self destruct and learned what they didn’t want to do with their life! Our next older teens made good choices which influence our younger kids in good ways. Our younger kids are hoping to go to the same university, get a drivers license, work, etc. All kinds of good things our older kids do inspire the younger ones who are always watching them.
Our extended family are there loving and supporting us the whole way. They are there during the really tough times and the fun celebrations. Our kids watch them too and learn what they do and do not want for their life. They watch their activities and it can inspire them in their life choices. My uncles were in the Army and my younger brother was watching, learning and influenced by their excitement and he joined when he turned 18. There are also extended family members who we do not communicate with as we don’t want them to influence our kids in negative ways. By ending relationships that are unhealthy we teach our kids too.
We attend church weekly so right from a young age our kids are cared for by friends, nursery workers, and many other kids. Being cared for also means they are being influenced. Our church family pray for our kids when it’s needed. They support us with meals and help when it’s needed in times of struggle or when we have a new baby or death in the family. We want them to be influenced by good people. We want them to know that the church is a place to learn and discover people who love God and want to behave like Jesus.
Once they hit four, they go to school and are hugely influenced, cared for and taught by their teachers and support staff. They are impacted by large numbers of children good and bad. We try to filter the good kids and have our children build deeper friendships with them through play dates outside school hours. Some of our kids have been homeschooled but the influences, support and inspiration within the homeschool community are great. So many homeschooled kids that we have met were way too smart for typical school and they were studying things like physics and calculus at young ages. Meeting other kids with high goals was great for our kids.
Sports. We’ve met so many people over the years as our kids participate in many sports. When you spend 6 hours a week at a gym or on a field with other kids they definitely start to feel more like family. We build good relationships with the parents who stay and watch too. We end up ride sharing, taking care of each others kids while one parent runs to do other errands, and even having play dates and sleepovers off the ice, field or mat. All these parents and kids influence our kids. Our kids learn good sportsmanship or bad by what they are seeing on the field as well as on the sidelines.
Neighbours are an obvious part of our village but so many people don’t even make an attempt to know who is living beside them! We live in the country so it’s a bit harder to meet our neighbours but we have over the years met the whole road. We can call on them if we need something or have an emergency. We are all looking out for each other’s houses and pets. Our kids spend time at their houses a lot as the proximity makes it easy. So knowing they are good people is important.
Fostering has brought us a whole new group of amazing friends who are so great for our family. They get it. Their kids get our kids. It’s amazing to get together with a few other foster families and the foster kids meet other foster kids and seeing them realize they are not the only ones in foster care is eye opening for them and helps them feel not so alone.
Adoption has brought us other supports and for our kids who were adopted they love talking about it with other kids their own age and sharing experiences. Our kids talk openly about adoption with everyone but other kids who are adopted seem to love talking to our girls about it.
Here’s where some adoptive parents falter….openness.
Many adoptive families feel that openness is difficult, awkward, annoying and time consuming. They decide a child doesn’t need their village anymore and try to shrink it and control it often under the guise of safety. They fear biological family. They want to punish them for any negative impact the biological parents may have had on the child. So many reasons adoptive parents don’t do well at openness.
Now don’t go crazy there are definitely circumstances where it is absolutely necessary to protect the child 100% from a birth family member for many reasons especially where there are safety concerns. International adoption is also an exception that often makes it impossible to know anything about a child’s birth family. In most circumstances, it is not because it’s in the best interest of the child to have NO knowledge or contact with their birth family but I would venture it is much more comfortable and convenient for the adoptive family.
It has always been our philosophy that the more people who can love on a child the better. So with that philosophy in mind we do our best to allow biological ties to continue to have contact in a variety of ways and different ways for each person and each child.
Most adoption agencies now preach openness (in every area of adoption) as we now know it creates a healthier child to remove the secrets. Still, many adoptive families get really nervous about the thought of birth families. They want to cut all ties. We have a few people, one being an extremely unsafe birth father, whom we have had no contact with and have avoided at all cost in order to protect one of our children. We have others who have limited contact through pictures and updates. We have others who we see four times per year. We have others who are much more involved in some of our kids lives as they are safe people who just want to love on their family member. Every situation is different, I get that, but for many years adoptive children have spoken up about how badly they wanted to know about their birth family. Adult adoptees finding a birth cousin is celebrated.
We know that cutting ties is not usually in the best interest of the child. So why do we continue this practice in adoption? Our adopted kids have had some contact with their birth parents and it has not always been great. But even in those times, our kids have learned why they were in care in the first place. The secrets are gone. Our kids don’t walk around the city looking for people who look like them and could be their birth parent. They have photos and have had some contact so they don’t have these questions pressing on their minds. They don’t wonder if their parent is the Prime Minister who secretly placed them for adoption and will come get them when they are less busy. They don’t have unrealistic fantasies about their birth family. They know the truth and sometimes the truth is painful but it’s their life and their DNA. Adoptive children deserve to know as much as possible about their history, heritage and family members. Studies show this, adopted adults say this yet agencies often still black out all the information. Secrets. Secrets are usually bad. Yet adoption is full of them.
I am so thankful that we foster. I am thankful we get to know the birth families before we adopt so that we have all the information. Adoptive parents are often not given very much about birth families if they adopt through Children’s Aid. Files are redacted before handed to adoptive parents. Photos are removed from lifebooks if they have a picture of a birth family member in it. I heard recently from an adult adoptee that all she knew was that her biological dad loved horses so she always made a point of loving horses too and she felt as though that tied her to her birth father. I know of another who knew her birth mother had dark hair so as soon as she was old enough started dying her hair dark. Sad. It also speaks to how important information is to an adopted child. Secrets only make a child more curious about what is hidden.
I have seen many adoptive parents deal well with birth families. I have seen beautiful relationships between adoptive parents and birth parents for the sake of the child. I know of a few who have wonderful gathering a few times a year to celebrate the child they all love. It’s so amazing to see the kids being loved by their whole village and not wondering or worrying at all about their original family and where they could be.
How is it that we welcome a complete stranger (say a parent on a child’s sports team that you have just met) to have more relationship with your child than that child’s biological grandparent? What is so threatening about birth family to some adoptive parents? If you are an adopted parent or prospective one, I would love to hear your thoughts and why you will or will not have openness with your child’s birth family. SDG