Yesterday I read a blog from yet another adoptive parent who’s adopted son is reconnecting with his birth parents. (Befuddled mum) It’s a scenario I have witnessed many times in the last eight years; watching hundreds of adoptive families grieve as their teenage rejected them and returned emotionally and/or physically to their birth family. Sometimes they stayed connected to their adoptive parents, sometimes they didn’t.
Some adopters feel they have lost their child forever. Uncontactable. Lost but not dead. They grieve, but with a tiny glimmer of hope still flickering. Maybe this year a birthday or mothers card? Adopters unable to digest the loss of their “forever family”.
For the teens who reconnected, generally their hopes have been dashed on the rocks of credibility, reliability, bitter experience and broken promises. Often overwhelmed by confusing emotions, their young lives are irreversibly impacted by this derailment. (Exams missed or failed, college places lost, self harming, dropping out of university, mental health deterioration, arrests and convictions).
Few birth families provided the answers, intimacy or security the teens craved. Many birth parents are still entwined in the same problems which originally caused their children to be removed. Drugs, alcohol, criminality, transient and hedonistic life styles still evidenced. The dark parts of ‘Benefit Street’ and Trainspotting. Worst of all, the continued denial of any wrong doing and failing to take responsibility for any harm suffered by the infant. Unable to comprehend that “I always loved you” is, and never was, a substitute for consistent nurturing parenting.
SOLUTION – “LIFE CHRONICLE”
We must share a child’s history with them. 100% truth telling in a sensitive, age appropriate way. This needs to be a “Chronicle” (a factual, written chronological account of important events) not a “Story” (an account of events or people told for entertainment).
We must evidence their history with accurate information; a coherent narrative. Court reports which show all perspectives. Photographs of the squalor they lived in, not just smiling birthday snaps. Medical reports documenting bruising, malnourishment and health concerns in black and white. Police videos. We must stop the saccharin half truths frequently shared with adopted and foster kids in “life story books”.
Obviously kids will need help processing this information. They need creative, therapeutic methods to make sense of their childhood experiences, not just words. It is the meaning the child makes of their experiences which will either enhance, or damage, his self concept. Was it really Tim’s fault (as he believes) that as a two year old his mummy beat him? It’s what she screamed at the time (I hit you because your crying made me angry). Reworked in drama therapy eight year old Tim can see it wasn’t his fault and reframe that event into: “sometimes mummy got angry and lost control; that was wrong, she could not look after any child”.
We must provide adopters (and foster carers) with ongoing support which:
- honours the permanent parents role in the child’s healing
- gives the child an age appropriate full and balanced picture of their birth family (she prioritised finding drugs above caring for you … and was really good at PE and science in school … and left you with strangers for 5 days … and has a good sense of humour … and … and … and). Every dimension: the good, bad, ugly and beautiful.
- allows safe contact between child and birth family wherever possible so curiosity is sated, gaps are filled, fantasises punctured. This benefits every corner of the adoption triangle.
In 2012 I wrote Bubble Wrapped Children: How Social Networking is transforming the face of 21st century adoption, because of my own and other peoples experience of contact via Facebook. Since then, many vintage adopters saw their children reconnect to birth family via Facebook. This exacerbated the existing problems and challenging behaviour of these teens. Sadly some of these families cracked or disintegrated. Some adoptees, racked with pervasive shame have disconnected from both their birth and adoptive family, cast adrift with no family support.
Put simply; we must preframe the issues throughout childhood, rather than repair during adolescence.
So, if you are an adopter, foster carer, social worker of therapist; how do you prevent contact via Facebook becoming a massive emotional crisis for a child?
Answer: you drip feed material. You share information throughout childhood. If its safe, establish some level of contact while you can control it. You can manage a 6/9/12 year old relatively easily. By 15 its a thousand times harder; they vote with their feet.
We must recognise and accept that an adopted child has two families and needs to know the ongoing truth about both of them throughout childhood; not the historical “wait till your 18”. Facebook destroyed that option. We must honour the inner turmoil of an adoptee who is pulled in two, often contradictory, directions and strengthen them from the inside.
Yes, this may mean complex contact arrangements with birth family, which may impact daily life in the adoptive home. Think of it like a pressure cooker. Without the slow exhalation from the pressure release valve, a massive explosion will inevitably occur.
Todays adoptive families know about the Facebook threat. Are they prepared? Are you taking avoiding action now? Are things so tough you can’t even contemplate this?
Future proofing = Hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Are you just hoping?