Okay, I’m thinking this post may be even more disjointed than most of my posts. It is pretty disjointed in my head. But I read a story about open adoption (though not really similar) and I got a note from one of the people involved in our own open adoption; so thought I’d write about this topic.
I know it is controversial. In some states, OA is encouraged in certain situations. In my state, it is not ever encouraged. The state’s position is that the children were removed from their parents for a reason, they had opportunity to get them back (except in the most grievous of circumstances), and it is time for all parties to be able to move on after an emotional roller coaster of several months to several years. And what about extended family? They were given a chance to step forward; of course, the choice was to PARENT which isn’t always a possibility. What about those who couldn’t take the children on, but who would love to remain grandparents or other extended relatives? And then, as I learned in another case, the concern is that children could be bargained over, bribing one party for the interests of the other (whether it was best interest of the child or not).
Well, it has been in our hearts from before we even started fostering that openness could be beneficial. Obviously, how open and when may depend on the individuals involved; but my belief simply was that a child could not have too many people loving him.
I also believe that understanding the role of family, parents and extended, in fostering situations. So many times, it is easy for people to demonize those whose children have been taken by CPS. Now, of course, I completely understand this as in most cases, there was some sort of neglect or abuse involved. However, though that is the case, sometimes the situation was circumstantial. Sometimes the family didn’t know better. Sometimes they need a hand-up. Additionally, the extended family often were instrumental in aiding the children both in the birth home as well as getting them out of the birth home. They weren’t the ones to abuse or neglect the children. And the ideal situation for the child would be if someone in their family (parents would be the first ideal, then family) could be healthy enough to raise the children so they could be in their family of origin. Thankfully, the majority of cases do end up with children going back to parents or to a family member. Additionally, the majority of those placements work out long term.
But obviously, children sometimes need new families. In my children’s situation, the biological parents were incapable (some will say unwilling; but I honestly believe that they were incapable by the time everything went down, possibly due to poor choices like drinking)…they were incapable of doing what they needed in order to raise their children in a healthy manner. Additionally, the grandmother loved her grandchildren dearly; but she was unable to protect them from their biological parents. Sadly, soon after the TPR (termination of parental rights), grandmother’s health failed significantly and very quickly. The aunt could have won custody of the children had she fought for it. The reasons the state were giving for not giving her the kids were not strong enough. She was also more capable of protecting the children and would have done so. But their situation had changed from the prior case to this one. She gladly stepped out of the picture when she saw how well the children were thriving with us (she said that she barely recognized them, they looked so good. On the stand, she said that until she saw them after seven months in our care, she didn’t realize how bad the neglect truly had been), especially since we were clear we would maintain contact (this was not a bribe; I simply was open all along and was clear that wouldn’t change). The other grandmother was not suitable. No other family stepped forward before TPR and the state only allows certain kinds of family to step forward after TPR (and none of those were available, able, and suitable….nor did any try).
Anyway, after the October hearing, I reached out to family members (including parents who I had gotten to speak with after the Oct hearing concluded). I was brief and was going to let them lead the way. Simply, “it was nice meeting you” mostly. That opened the way to a few superficial emails. I kept it very superficial until after the adoption was finalized. Biodad did send a message when he heard about some troubles we were having that was delaying the adoption. He was glad that the judge took the reigns ordering a number of things, including an adoption finalization date (anyone who has adopted knows this is so not the way it happens).
Soon before finalization, I got each biological parent’s address (they had separated after TPR) so I could send an update letter and pictures. I told them I would set up a P.O. Box for them to send stuff (we later decided differently; but it hasn’t made a difference as they haven’t sent the kids letters, stories, pictures, gifts, etc even when asked specifically for some of those). Anyway, so I sent those. I also put a few pictures a few times, including more recently, on my FB page of the children.
I have to say that I have been surprised about a few things.
- First, biomom and boyfriend made statements about them loving the children so much, that the children are their world, that they *would* be a family again one day. That isn’t so surprising (though boyfriend has never even met the kids as far as I’m aware so ???). I was more surprised about how much this bothered ME. Of course, she loves our children! And though she didn’t behave as if they were her world (or else they wouldn’t have gone through what they did in her care, been in and out of the home and foster placements, etc), she believed she did what she could. And honestly, it is very likely that our children will make contact with her again one day. They *are* family. But for some reason, it bothered me. Now, it doesn’t bother me though it still bugs my hubby.
- They don’t take the pictures, sometimes not even acknowledging that I posted the pictures, wrote them, etc. I *am* surprised that they didn’t take the most recent pictures and “share” them. They had before so why not now? I even messaged them and let them know they were there to take. A few weeks later, I got a thank you note from one parent. I still haven’t heard from the other. And still, neither shared them.
- There has been no effort to give the children anything. I had asked for stories and pictures. I figured they’d try to send a card or gifts at some point.
- One parent wrote a really nice letter to the parents of my Sweet Little M’s biological parents. In it, he shared how he felt about us and us raising his children. It was heartfelt and extremely nice. He didn’t have to do it and I was so incredibly thankful for both the sentiment as well as the action. It is also something I can put with my children’s papers for them to see one day.
- One parent expressed interest in seeing the children.
- My daughter especially seems to understand (to a degree well past her age would suggest) wanting the best for her first parents (hoping they change their lives to be safe and healthy people) as well as that she can be the best she can be so she (and they) can be proud of her. She even more, seems to understand now, that she can enjoy the life she has now, living it to the full, not holding back because of the past. I don’t think I could have seen her getting here so soon.
Anyway, but that is the biological parents. BTW, my children call them their “first parents.” To me, this is more accurate than biological or “real.” We’ve had a few foster kids come in and say “real.” I ask them to pinch me. I holler “ow!” and say, “yep, I’m real! Did I feel real to you?” That usually elicits a smile.
Now, I wanted a more personal relationship with the Aunt and Grandmother. Unfortunately, what I *thought* that would look like and what it actually does is considerably different. Will it evolve? Maybe. We all express wanting the same thing, but we don’t seem to be able to make it so. What *I* wanted was for them to become extended family. I was thinking more like my mom and me rather than more like my hubby and his siblings. I was disappointed when they couldn’t come down soon after the adoption. We couldn’t get a family day celebration together that would work for them. Then they couldn’t do a get together in the fall either. I was frustrated. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to get together; we just couldn’t work it out. So January first, we went up to the Aunt’s house and Grandmother was there also. Aunt’s kids loved seeing our kids again. They hadn’t seen them in almost two years. Being older, they remembered them well and were overcome with emotion. Maybe sometime in the summer, the kids could come visit for a week or something.
I’m actually currently trying to get a get-together worked out. I’d love it to be all my hubby’s family also. We can grill out, play Guitar Hero, a few card games or whatever. Eat and let cousins play and the like. I figure it won’t be uncomfy long meshing the two families. I hope we can work it out this time.
Anyway, so having an open adoption hasn’t worked out quite the way I envisioned; but I think it is good. My children will have extended family still. And I have at least a little relationship to work with should they want to try to have a relationship with their first parents in the future.
Oh, I did want to address one last thing. Our degree of openness is based on what we believe best for our children. I can see visits for some kids and first parents. For our kids, we don’t believe that is best. We’re dealing with attachment disorders. There was some significant abuse, especially of the one child. The parents’ lives are messes (for the one, that is a major understatement). The one parent is completely incapable of being appropriate. The children didn’t even have visits when they were foster children this last time. I don’t know that all of the kids will wait til adulthood to have contact with their first family or to contact them; but I do know that, for my kids, this is not the time to open the adoption to that degree.
Okay, so….that is where we are with this open-ish adoption. I’m glad we’re doing it though sometimes it may be a little hard. I think it’ll benefit the kids along the way (for the relationship with cousins, aunt, grandmother) as well as “one day” if they choose to “search out” their first parents.
ETA: Okay, I still have one more thing. I have been asked why I give the biological parents anything. I could keep the door open with them, keep tabs on them to some degree, without giving THEM updates, pictures, etc. Fact is that those things are true. Seriously? I’m empathetic. I so cannot imagine losing my children. Yes, they behaved in the ways they did and didn’t take care of business despite years and multiple opportunities (8 cases over 5 years!). But they lost something so precious, my beautiful children. They lost every day with them. They lost them learning to read, ride bikes with no training wheels, swimming, their senses of humor, their wittiness, their brightness, their smiles. They lost so incredibly much, more than they really even understand at this point. They can’t ever get that back. But *I* can give them some peace of mind that their children are happy and healthy. Could I be ugly? Sure. Could I just not be anything towards them? Yes. But I *want* to be empathetic and kind. Maybe part of what I do is for me as well as for them.
Also, my kids are aware of the openness. It does trigger the oldest, but she appreciates the gesture to the degree she can understand it at this time. The middle one doesn’t think they deserve it; he’s still very angry. The youngest is clueless (he doesn’t consciously remember any home before ours, probably because with there being so many of them, he didn’t have enough to hang a memory upon).