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Should My Child Have Been Adopted?: Questions We Should Be Asking

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A couple weeks ago, the movie Instant Family was released on iTunes, and Darren and I watched it for the first time. The story is based on the experiences of the producer and his wife and other families who have instantly become parents to sibling groups through fostering to adopt. There is a point in the movie during which the character Ellie is watching her three foster children join their birth mom for a visit, and she tells her husband she feels like they’re breaking up a family. He responds that they did not remove the children from their birth mom and that they are not the ones to make the decision of whether or not her rights should be terminated. While this is correct, there are further questions we all have a responsibility to ask.

Many adoptive parents wonder, “Should my child have been adopted?” Often it is asked in the context of the parent feeling like they have failed or messed up and wondering if the child would be better off with their birth family or a different adoptive family. Ideally, this should be asked BEFORE a child is adopted, but adoptive parents often are not informed of real statistics, of real systemic issues, of corruption, and so on until they have been on the adoption journey for a while and begin to question whether their child should have ever been available for adoption in the first place. Outcomes are better for children if they can remain in their birth families. Ideally, no child should ever be adopted. We cannot go back and change whether a child was removed or whether they were placed for adoption or not, but we can and must take an honest look at systems in place for foster care and adoption and advocate for better for all children and families.

If a child is to be adopted through foster care, we should be asking:

  • Should the child have been removed in the first place? Were they removed because of cultural or economic differences?
  • Was everything possible done to preserve the birth family?
  • Was everything done to search for a relative or fictive kin caregiver for the child?

If a child is to be adopted domestically, we should be asking:

  • Were the birth parents coerced or forced into placing the child for adoption?
  • Did the birth parents lack necessary supports for parenting?
  • If necessary supports had been provided, could family members raise the child?

If a child is to be adopted internationally, we should be asking:

  • Is the child part of the 80% of children in international orphanages who are not truly orphans? Are there birth parents or family members who wanted to parent but could not due to poverty or due to the child having a health problem they could not pay for so they placed the child in the orphanage to save the child’s life? In the wake of natural disasters, or just simply living in impoverished conditions, parents and family members place their children in orphanages so they can be fed or provided with necessary healthcare. Organizations like Lumos and Love Without Boundaries have programs that are working to ensure children can stay with their families instead of being pulled from loving families and their cultures and everything and everyone they know because of poverty, disaster, or health problems.
  • Were the birth parents lied to and led to believe that they were merely sending their child to an orphanage or another country for educational purposes and that the child would be returned to them?
  • Was the child trafficked?
  • Was the child adopted from a Hague Convention Country? The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) is an intercountry agreement that “aims to prevent the abduction, sale of, or trafficking in children, and it works to ensure that intercountry adoptions are in the best interests of children.” It helps to ensure that a suitable family was searched for in the child’s country of origin first. While the Hague Convention seeks to ensure the child’s best interest, it does not mean that more could not be done.

 

Once during a training, I recall a trainer stating that parents have a constitutional right to raise their children. This right should only be taken away under dire circumstances, and it should not be removed simply because others think they could do a better job with the child or give them more opportunity. The ability to receive a better education, take part in activities, or receive superior nutrition does not undo the trauma that removing a child from their birth family causes. Science is proving this over and over the more neuropsychology and other fields are revealing about the consequences to children, even those removed at birth.

Often adult adoptees and former foster youth question where we stand on issues as the co-founders of Transfiguring adoption, an organization that seeks to help foster and adoptive parents. Just because we seek to improve adoptive situations, it does not mean that we believe adoption is the best option. In many cases, it is not! Kids do better in their birth families. Adoption is not sunshine and rainbows. It always begins with trauma. More resources should be diverted to preserving families and preventing removal, and adoption should be a last resort.


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Chapter 12 – The Mirror of Erised – Parents’ Discussion

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This chapter is entitled The Mirror of Erised, a mirror which Harry encounters while wandering the castle when he was supposed to have been in bed. He looks into the mirror and sees his parents in the reflection. He is captivated and brings his friend Ron back the next night to see the mirror but is perplexed when Ron sees not Harry’s parents, but instead sees himself as Head Boy and Quidditch captain, much coveted positions in the school, holding the House Cup AND Quidditch Cup. He returns a third night and this time is confronted by Dumbledore who clears up the confusion by telling Harry:

  It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them.

This chapter also takes place during the Christmas holidays. The school is mostly empty as most of the students have gone to spend the break with their families. The holidays are a time when desires and longings, along with expectations (whether good or bad), are often at the forefront of our minds. The kids’ discussion for this chapter focused on missing biological families. These kiddos are trying to figure out how to enjoy the place where they are and not betray the people they love and long for.

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I miss my dad on holidays, and as my husband and kids never met him, I feel alone in this unless my mom or brother are around. Even then, we spend most of our time in the present, enjoying who we do have, but I know my kiddos feel similar about missing their biological families. Holidays and big days are a big balancing act in our home. We try to make sure we get to see or talk to our own extended families, who are spread around several states at this time, and also that the kids at least get to talk to their moms. We try to do things like sending pictures and such also to other members of their biological families (like grandmas on Mother’s Day), talk occasionally to past foster parents, etc. Then there is trying to stay connected with the kids other siblings, two of whom are adopted into a family in another state with their own relatives and friends.

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Along with balancing all of our complicated relationships, big days tend to come with expectations. In chapter 12, we see kids having expectations for how holidays should be. Draco teases Harry for not having a proper family to go home to. As an adoptive family, this is one area that has been taken care of, but I remember well the holidays while the kids were in foster care. Kids in institutions and foster care don’t know where their holidays will be spent in the years to come and face loneliness and uncertainty. Jasmine especially was always asking questions about the birthdays and holidays to come. I highly recommend you read this blog by another adoptive mom, Jen Hatmaker, in which she explains very well how kiddos from hard places tend to have expectations for big days and then sabotage them. She then discusses ideas for dealing with it: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2014/12/15/parenting-kiddos-who-sabotage-big-days.

I, too, tend to always have expectations for how a holiday, vacation, or big day should be. I picture it in my head, and when it inevitably gets sabotaged by a behavior, I find myself struggling. A true perfectionist, I often find myself stuck, staring at the Mirror of Erised which exists in my head and focusing on what I long for life to look like. J.K. Rowling very eloquently addressed this issue in Dumbledore’s words to Harry regarding the mirror:

…this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible. …It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.

Discussion Questions:

1) What do you think you’d see if you looked in the Mirror of Erised?

2) Do you find yourself having expectations for the holidays or special events, only to suffer disappointment when they don’t come to pass? What can you do to ensure you have realistic expectations?

3) What contact, if any, do you have with your children’s biological family on big days? How do you balance biological and adoptive family needs, or is it even possible? How can you utilize technology to help?

4) Do you ever find yourself dwelling on dreams and forgetting to live? What do you find helps you to come back to the present?

5) Does anyone in your house sabotage holidays or special events?

Help Others:

Leave your thoughts and advice in the comments section. Your thoughts and questions will undoubtedly help other parents and families.

 

Parents’ Discussions:

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17

Kids’ Discussions:
Ch. 01
| Ch. 02Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17

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Chapter 10 – Kid Discussion – Blending an adoptive family

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“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Ron and Harry just were not getting along with Hermione until they all had to confront the mountain troll together and then face the angry teachers. A birth family naturally has experiences that bond them together. When a baby is born, it is scared and helpless to be out in the open. In the ideal situation the biological mom and dad are there to comfort the baby and care for its needs. When a baby is learning to walk, mom and dad are there to comfort them when they fall down. When a child is sick, the biological parents check on the kiddo and make sure that they are nursed back to health. There are so many other natural events where a family (in an ideal situation) has a chance to help each other and take care of each other. This earns a deep amount of trust.

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If you’re in an adoptive and/or foster family, you possibly didn’t have these experiences with your family. You have to work at finding the trust. I asked my kids about this situation. I wanted to find out what events made them want to treat each other like brother and sister since they are not all biological siblings. They all looked at me with odd and surprised faces.

“We’ve always gotten along,” replied one child.

My wife and I chuckled and gently reminded the kids that two of them were in counseling with one another for a time because they disliked each other very much. There was actually probably a time when we weren’t sure if all the adoptions could happen if the two didn’t learn how to live with each other.

“There was actually probably a time when we weren’t sure if all the adoptions could happen if the two didn’t learn how to live with each other.”

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As we discussed things with each other more, I don’t think we could find one event that helped our family but lots of small events that added up to helping. These events were mostly in times of great trouble or when we were outside of our normal routine. For example:

  • We took a vacation for one week where all four kids were together for the first time. During the trip they had fun together, had to make sure that each other stayed together and safe inside the theme park we were at and they got into trouble together. This whole trip gave them stories together that they could talk about later. “Remember when we tried to get so-and-so on the roller coaster but he was too short.” “Remember the large hill we had to walk up in the middle of the park and we thought our legs would fall off.”
  • When stormy weather approached and a tornado warning was in effect, our family banded together while taking shelter. We waited the storm out for almost 30 minutes and within that time kids helped each other and comforted each other. Experiences and stories were created in that time. “Remember when we all squeezed inside so-and-so’s closet.” “Remember how scared so-and-so was and I held onto them.” “It’s funny to think that grandma had to get in there with us.” “Remember that so-and-so was so scared they farted.”
  • Every Friday our family stops everything they are doing and has a family movie night. This might be an old favorite like one of the Harry Potter movies or Wreck-It Ralph. We most often like to watch something new. The simple act of watching a movie together creates experiences and memories too. We actually are closer together as a family because of it. Recently we actually watched the movie Blended. It’s about a single dad and a single mom whose lives accidentally come together on a vacation. The parents and their kids do activities together at the resort. The experience our family brought away from this movie was a funny song sung by the master of ceremonies through the movie. Whenever he caught people bonding, he would sing, “They are bonding … they are blending.” Yes. Our kids sing that song anytime they see anyone in our family caring for each other now.

Now it’s Your Turn:

  1. Why was Hermione always so frustrated with Harry and Ron?
  2. Do you think Harry and Ron would have befriended Hermione if they hadn’t fought the troll?
  3. Why did fighting the troll make all three of them friends?
  4. What is an adventure or trip you have done with your foster/adoptive family?
  5. What are 3 things about the trip you can say, “Remember when…” about?
  6. What is the next adventure you would like to do? Movie night? A trip?

Help Others:

What do you think about this chapter? Your thoughts or questions will help someone else. Please put them in the comments section below.

Kids’ Discussions:
Ch. 01
| Ch. 02Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17

Parents’ Discussions:

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17