Monday, July 28, 2008

Reunion. My Thoughts. Part One

I have been trying for a week to formulate an entry that separates what I think we did right in this journey, and what I think I would change if we were to go through it again. My mistakes and blunders as compared to what I feel I did accomplish.

Its just not coming.

So instead, I am going to take a few days to ramble about my feelings, my experiences and how those feelings and experiences affected both my son and myself.

My feelings and personal insights aren't meant to offend, or to dictate how someone else should or would feel in a similar circumstance. But based on the emails I am getting, I do believe that an honest assessment of this process, from an adoptive parent perspective, is needed. If it helps one other family, one other child, one other parent then its worth it.

1. Trip Preparation: Pride and Regret
I feel proud because as much as I could, I helped to prepare Greg for the trip. We talked about feelings, boundaries, possibilities, eventualities and possible difficulties endlessly. We talked with the help of a counsellor, and we talked on our own. We forced him to think about the trip when he would have rather just taken it on a wing and a prayer.

I honestly believe that my preparation with Greg was the key to him not being completely overwhelmed by the experience and by his willingness to share with me what he was thinking and feeling DURING the trip. No topic, no feeling, no discussion was off limits between us. Because of our communication I was able to know exactly where he was at, and help him get what HE wanted out of the experience.


With L, however, I completely failed in my preparation of her and her family for THEIR reunion experience with Greg. Yes, I know that they are adults and should take responsibility for their own relationship but the reality of foster care adoption is that I am their only source of information on Greg. I am ALSO their only source of information on adoption and what that means to both the child, adoptive family and sadly, inevitably to the birth/first family as well.

When L's rights were terminated, she wasn't counselled on what that would mean long term in regards to the kids. The focus was on HER behavior, her parenting and the consequences to HER. When it was determined that she would not or could not be a safe parent to the two boys, her involvement in their care and future ended from the point of view of the state. Her behavior chose adoption for her children but it was not her own seemingly educated or conscious choice. And so today, she deals with the consequences of her actions without any foundation of knowledge or understanding.

I did try. But I tried to be gentle. Soft. Blunt the edges of the kids' truth a bit. I wanted her to like me. I didn't want to be the one to hurt them. Instead, I left that to the reality of a 13 year old very much different than the baby they remembered, or the son they wanted back, do it for me. Greg's outward emotional indifference to them and fear of them spoke louder than any words I could have shared but if I had been honest before hand, it might have been less of a shock and made the experience easier on them. They might have been more prepared.

I wish I would have said, "Greg will not call you mom, aunt or grandma on this trip. There is no chance he will because he has told me emphatically he will not. Respecting that will make things easier on him."

Instead I said "I don't know what Greg will call you. We have told him he could call you anything he wants so the option is up to him."

I wish I would have said, "Greg has asked that I stay with him for the entire trip. Unless his comfort level significantly changes while we are down there, he does not want to be left alone at anytime. I will always be available and accessible to him to help him through the visit."

Instead I said, "I am sure we will have lots of fun together. Maybe Greg would like to do that with you, but I am not sure. We will have to wait and see."

I don't know what they expected I just know the reality of Greg was not it. Greg HAS a family. Greg HAS a life. And even harder for them, Greg HAS a mom he is close to. I do not know if L and her family have the capacity to understand his truth due to a variety of issues, but in my attempts to be "liked" by them and not be seen as the possessive adoptive mother I didn't do a good enough job of stating that before we arrived. And they didn't try to understand that while we were there.

I am proud that my experience with Sr. was completely different. Sr. has written us hundreds of letters over the years. Those letters, and our replies, took the time and effort for him to get to know who we are as a family, and how his sons fit into that picture. He has read any and all adoption books we have sent him. He took the time to learn about what GREG might be feeling going through this, and his entire focus was on GREG. It makes our relationship with him so much easier. It makes GREG'S relationship with him so much more comfortable.

Nothing about our interactions with Sr. made Greg feel like it was an "either / or" proposition. Sr's role was in addition to Greg's place in our family. A positive, loving addition. Nothing is taken away by his place in our family, nothing is taken away by his place in Sr.'s family. We can come together to surround who counts the most in this, Greg and Eric. I am proud of that.

I wish L could have understood that by holding on to what she dreamed about with Greg, she lost what was possible with Greg. Because she so wanted one type of relationship with him that he wasn't willing to have at this time, she lost out on what could have been. Maybe forever.


Anonymous said...

I was going to save my reply for our msn convo, but decided to post it here instead...

Jen, what you have helped G and will eventually help E through (although, he's luckier, he'll get to do it the "righter" way, since you've learned what to/not to do)
was totally selfless of you and empowering to G and we should all be so blessed to have the... ahem, 'balls' that you so obviously have! LOL!

I must admit, I am feeling rather envious of your ability to turn off your feelings of anger and defense toward L and G sr. (although he makes it easier, since he's so pro your family) and the rest of the bio family involved who have contributed to G's discomfort now.

When it comes time for my kids to search out their mom, will I have what it takes to support them without judgement on their biomom, knowing all the pain she's caused them? I suppose, like you, I will have to cowboy up and make the kids' decisions to meet/contact their bm be the best they can be. Knowing now, how better to do that, thanks to you sharing your story of shoulda, coulda, woulda's will certainly make it easier.

Thanks Jen, for sharing this and for ALL the support you give my family (ME) every single day, from the morning coffee's going over daily difficulties again and again, to the advice, books, blogs, links, recommendations and free babysitting (sanity breaks) you continue to come up with, even among your daily difficulties, small victories and busy-ness! You truly ROCK, as the kids would say and I love you!

Tudu said...

I know exactly what you are saying about being liked. I said the same things to my DH this weekend before we headed to see the kids' family. I feel like it is my responsibility to educate them, make things go smoothly, make the relationship, and set the boundaries. It is ALL up to me and I want to be liked. They are the ones that lost the kids and I gained so much. I am very good at setting the boundaries and being blunt about things but it has taken years to learn to walk that fine line. I wish their family would learn about adoption issues but they are not interested and most do not read.

I think you did a great job. It couldn't have been perfect no matter what you did. This whole adoptive/birth family relationship thing is difficult. I agree with looking back to see what you can do differently b/c we should learn from everything we do but don't beat yourself up. You can't control their reactions.

Anonymous said...

I think your introspection is valuable to both yourself and to the community at large. You've made some good points here.

It's also important, though, to examine the differences between how the families here coped with the removal of their children and understand that while your words *may* have made a difference, they in all likilhood may not have. Sometimes when one lives in a fantasy world they won't leave no matter what you do.

Sr. and his family took one path - I want to learn everything I can, deal with this unplanned but very real reality, and be a part of it. L and her family took another - I won't deal with reality, instead I will imagine that my sons are pining away for their 'real' mom and will desperately want to come back to me and tell that 'fake' family to take a hike.

When one's living in their own reality, being confronted with someone else's can be shocking and painful. Sometimes that leads to growth. Sadly, many times it does not, especially when other's reality is so discordant. Instead of accepting, they push back harder, there may even be accusations of 'brainwashing' and denials of any responsibility in being where they are.

They may lose G in the backwash, in the hubris of denial as it were. That sucks and it doesn't, because either way G comes out with an understanding of himself that he would not have had he not made this journey.

There are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason. Even the bad things.

Now just watch to make sure Greg doesn't internalize or take too much responsibility for things not going harmoniously. He has the right to his feelings and he has the right to demand safety and security in his life. They are not victims. He is, was, the only true innocent. It's not his fault if they live in la-la land. Heck, their living in la-la land is probably a significant reason why he and his brother were removed in the first place.

Rambling. Thanks for putting this out there. Hang in. Regina

Unknown said...

Thanks Regina. Its so hard and I dont know what to do, but I do know my kids and if they keep this up ( they are going to lose any chance of relationship with the boys. I have tried gentle, I have tried direct, I have tried and tried.

They just dont want to see it. And seeing it in the form of Greg made them sad. But also MAD at Greg. So strange. I just dont get that mindset.

Anonymous said...

I think we all see what we want to see at times - I look in the mirror and I swear I don't see those wrinkles at the corners of my eyes that the camera keeps putting on in pictures. It's that delusion taken to the Nth degree, and it's likely enmeshed in the value system and/or beliefs within their life.

Being confronted so directly with an alternate truth creates a sense of huge loss, of questioning. Anger is a secondary emotion, stemming always from loss. L lost the reality of having a son pining away for her, helpless as she was when he was (no doubt) completely unjustly and unfairly taken from her by those who had it 'in for her' (a guess).

Right now, there's nothing to be done for her. She has to decide what she'll do with that alternate reality. For Greg, you can be what you've been for so long already - a sounding board, a well of support, an anchor as he confronts the truth of his family of origin and absorbs what meaning about himself he takes from that.

How will he negotiate relationships with siblings who come from different worlds? How will he find and forge a common ground with those whom he shares blood with? Can he? He desperately wants to, and I expect they do too. Those are the relationships I think that count most, because they are among the innocents here. How will he reconcile or arrange relationships with them but not in the same way with their mother? It's tough stuff, but in the end I suspect like fired forged metal, he'll come out stronger.

Just remember, it will be all OK in the end. If it's not OK, it's just not the end. My father always said you have 13 years to raise a child - 6 to build their world and 6 to show them how to live in that world. After that you can create no more, only hope that the values and beliefs you've instilled in those 13 years stick, your role morphing from guiding to influencing to coaching.

Hang in.


Unknown said...

It is certainly so interesting to watch it happen. There WAS a vast difference between our experiences with the two sides of the family. I dont know if it has to do with the differences between mothers and fathers and their attachment to their kids?

The differences in Sr's sense of responsibility for what happened and his willingness to face that? Lisa's complete lack of recall of that time and her part in it? Her own attachment issues based on her childhood?

But you are right. All I can do is try to help them but ultimately they are NOT my responsibility. They can either choose to learn for the sake of a relationship with the kids, or they can choose to not learn and sacrifice that.

I am so glad that Eric knew it wasnt the right time for him.

Anonymous said...

"The differences in Sr's sense of responsibility for what happened and his willingness to face that? Lisa's complete lack of recall of that time and her part in it? Her own attachment issues based on her childhood?"

I think that's it in a nutshell.

More on the attachment issues later, but if there's RAD present, that changes things quite a bit too. If that's the case, Greg needs to understand the emotional state, and how to manage relationships within that state.

Best, hang in.


Anonymous said...

"Adoptees in their youth find it difficult to grieve their losses, although they are in many instances aware of them, even as young children. Youngsters removed from abusive homes are expected to feel only relief and gratitude, not loss and grief. Adults block children's expressions of pain or attempt to divert them. In addition, due to developmental unfolding of cognitive processes, adoptees do not fully appreciate the total impact of their losses into their adolescence or, for many, into adulthood. This delayed grief may lead to depression or acting out through substance abuse or aggressive behaviors."

From Lifelong Issues in Adoption Silverstain and Kaplan

Unknown said...

Never, ever have I expected my sons to be grateful they were abused, neglected and as such lost their family, sat in foster care for 3 years and then were adopted to a different country and family.

We have spent years processing their grief, finding counsellors who knew what they were talking about, being resources and sounding boards for our kids.

But that also doesn't mean they dont have the right to be happy in their new family. To attach. To bond. To be grateful that they have opportunities to heal, to break the cycle of addiction, abuse, poverty, lack of education and crime that surrounds their first family.

I dont expect my sons to fully understand what they LOST by being adopted anymore than I expect them to understand what they GAINED by being removed from their first family until they are well into adulthood, and parents themselves. Its not a black and white scenario. Its simply not.

But we never deny them their truth. Life is a series of gains and losses. Bumps, curves and turns. It is not their fault they were in foster care. It is not my fault they were adopted. Its just our job to make the best of what would be considered a pretty crappy start in life.