This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why do adopted kids go back to birth families?

On a support board, a lot of us adoptive moms are dealing with newly adult children who are going back to biofamily... with some pretty severe consequences as the children discover that most of the reasons they ended up needing adoption in the first place.  One of the ladies asked WHY the kids go back to birth family.  My situation is a little different in that my children were not removed from the home for abuse and/or neglect, but were placed in foster care by biomom, for a lot of reasons I choose not to go into here.  The reality is though that my kids still FEEL the same way that kids who have been removed feel - abandoned, unwanted and unlovable.

Here's my response to: Why Do Adopted Kids Go Back to Birth Families?

1.  The biggest is that they want to negate the rejection/ abandonment.  They don't want to believe that the family didn't want them, because that means the child is unworthy and unlovable.  Going back "proves" that their family really loves them.

2.  Extreme denial.  My kids can dissociate from reality, and distort it to the extent that they rewrite history, and BELIEVE the new version.  They don't remember, or want to remember, the real past - good, bad and everything in between.

3.  My children have very black and white thinking.  People are either evil or on a pedestal.  The kids literally don't see the shades of grey that describes all humanity.  Most people are wonderful, caring, supportive, relationship possibilities (best friend, girlfriend, new mom..)... until Bear or Kitty flips a switch and ALL they can see is the person's flaws.  My son is especially bad about this.  He goes through girls like Kleenex, discarding them when they show the tiniest sign of imperfection (I believe my son thinks that love means they are instantly and totally devoted to him, anything less and he's afraid they will abandon him, so at the first sign of independence, he rejects them before they reject him) or they get too close (and he runs before they can see his flaws and reject him).

The kids have idealized many members of biofamily, and literally don't remember any of their flaws.  When Bear went to live with his bio Grandpa, real life quickly took over, BioGrandpa became human (worse, a human who had some authority over Bear), and Bear couldn't accept that.  In less than 6 weeks, he was ready to move on.

4.  Escape.   "My adoptive parents and everyone else are the reason things aren't going right.  If I can get away from them then my life will be perfect."  Hubby and I tell our kids that they have to work on their issues instead of running away from them, because the issues are inside of them, and will follow them everywhere.  They don't want to believe us.

Obviously these characteristics are all linked to each other.  

5.  One thing I firmly believe is one should never criticize bio family to the children, something I learned from my mother, who never criticized my father in front of me, despite a nasty divorce.  Knowing my children are idealizing their bio family doesn't change my belief, but it is a little frustrating to know that my lack of reality checks makes some of their fantasies possible.

I think they want to go back to biofamily to live the fairy tale/ fantasy they have used to escape over the years.  That little Orphan Annie reality ( that my "real family" is perfect, rich, will never make me do chores or be held accountable for anything I do (not that I'll do anything wrong, because it was everyone else's fault)...

We have to let them go.

It's hard, but I think we have to let our kids know that we understand this desire to reconnect with birthfamily, and let them go. I tried to make it very clear to my children that the door was always open... as long as they understood that the house rules haven't changed.

When the reality sinks in, a lot of these kids will come home.

Unfortunately they usually come home with the results of living this other life style:
pregnancy, drug addiction, off their meds, criminal records, health issues... feeling entitled to the freedoms they enjoyed (and suffered from).

For some children the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - no matter which side of the fence they are on. We ran in to this with Kitty. Her perception of reality means the instant she walked away her memory of the other place become black and white. She instantly forgot all the good stuff or bad stuff.

Your decision is whether or not to let your child come back home - knowing they will bring this new baggage and possibly see your home as a revolving door or a way station.

We let our children know that very little has changed. They are expected to come home to mostly the same structure as when they left. If they can't follow the rules, then they will not come home. For our son in prison, he will need to go to a halfway house and get stable on his meds before we would even consider allowing him to come home.

It's not easy watching our children self-destruct, but I have to hope that when they get older and their brain is fully developed (about 25 years old?), that they will be happy, functioning citizens capable of healthy relationships with as few permanent scars as possible.


Anonymous said...


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Jessi Lynn said...

Gosh Mary, I am dealing with this right now as well, but in a weird sort of way. A child I was a foster parent to has gone back to her birthmother and while I was not her eventual adoptive parent, I do love her and am very worried for her.

At the same time, my two adopted girls have started asking questions about their birth families, it is sad that I don't know more than I do. I wish I did. One has started saying she wants to go to her real mom every time she gets mad now, and to be honest it breaks my heart. I dunno.

marythemom said...

Hi Jessi Lynn!

"One has started saying she wants to go to her real mom every time she gets mad now, and to be honest it breaks my heart."

I honestly think that all kids find whatever of your buttons they can push! My adopted kids played this one a lot, especially when they were mad. Biokids said I wish I were in foster care! When that didn't work, the kids moved on to "I want to die!" or "I wish you were dead!" Adopted kids told me they wanted to kill me. *sigh* Hang in there, Sweetie! This too shall pass. Eventually.

Sending hugs and prayers!

Aiko Dumas said...

Thanks for sharing this post, Mary. It seems that you're a very understanding person. Anyway, in times like that—when your adopted kids tends to go back to his/her biological parents—just let them be. Let them know their roots, so that it would be easy for them to sort things out. Most of the adoptees lacked security, and finding their real parents is what they know that would complete them.

Aiko Dumas

1st said...

My 17 year old son has recently found his birth father and is now very involved with him and extended large family. He says he is happy and feels he fits in. I wonder how long it will last and also if he will steal from them and lie and show anger towards them as he has his adoptive family.

Anonymous said...

With us it is that our now teenage adoptive daughter, adopted 5 years ago, has managed to call the attention of the authorities because of her violent defiant behaviour (frequent police visits at our house either because the neighbors called them or we had to). We have no choice but to put her up in an institution or another family, because in the country where we live they will not have her acting out her anger with us thinking it is not safe.
We will now be left with a tremendous bill at the end of each month that puts the rest of our family to the official poverty line. I am sure we are not alone dealing with this. I just wonder how much help it is to her being removed to some other place where she still acts out in anger and hurt. And although she says things like "fortget it, you not even my real mother and I will not let you be", it is not that she wants to see her biomom.It feels much like what you said about the anger relief these childen feel when they say this or act like this. It is not so much, that we do not agree that safety comes first, but more that we do not get the chance to stick with her. It is just that the problem is now elsewhere.

Fiona said...

Similar perhaps to one of the above comments - my adopted son (now 18) found his birth father 6 months ago and is now living with him and large extended family. He kept in touch for 3 months although only when he asked for money. For the last 3 months he hasn't responded to any messages, not even over Christmas. Found out from his ex girlfriend that he now smokes drugs, has been arrested for fighting, has no regular job and has changed a lot. I am concerned for him and also very sad that he is no longer in our lives. It seems now that we battled throughout his childhood to help him do the 'right' thing as in get the best education, keep healthy, not steal and lie, and now perhaps he's found somewhere that will accept and understand him more. I wish we had been more prepared for this eventuality.

Anonymous said...

Similar perhaps to one of the above comments - my adopted son (now 18) found his birth father 6 months ago and is now living with him and large extended family. He kept in touch for 3 months although only when he asked for money. For the last 3 months he hasn't responded to any messages, not even over Christmas. Found out from his ex girlfriend that he now smokes drugs, has been arrested for fighting, has no regular job and has changed a lot. I am concerned for him and also very sad that he is no longer in our lives. It seems now that we battled throughout his childhood to help him do the 'right' thing as in get the best education, keep healthy, not steal and lie, and now perhaps he's found somewhere that will accept and understand him more. I wish we had been more prepared for this eventuality.

Anonymous said...

My 20-y-o adopted daughter just left today to journey 1000 miles across the country to visit the birth parents who VOLUNTARILY signed away their rights when she was only 4 years old. Unfortunately she may not be going to a worse situation since the access to services for adults with mental health needs is poor. My daughter has been physically violent to me since age 12 when she came to live with us; since she turned 18 no one can direct her in the safest direction. She moved out of an independent living facility to move in with a felon 12 years her senior, had one overdose, then today told me she was going to "visit" these people. My heart is broken in two directions - one that she left this home and the other that she is heading towards a different type of reality.

Anonymous said...

We adopted our son at birth. He is our only child and he was raised with love and two parents that adored him. At age 12 he changed from a happy child to a moody young man. It went downhill from there. We never spoke negatively about his birth parents. Our son became a liar and a thief staying in trouble. At age 15 he took a loaded gun to school. In college he smoked pot and drank, dropped out of college to join the military. At age 19 his birth family found him so the nightmare got worse. He spent 6 years in the Army, lives by his birth family now and has completely cut us out of his life. So now I am childless again. His birth family now has not only their children but now my only son. Adoption has not become a blessing for me but a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

i am so glad i found this. i sometimes feel like a failure. we adopted 4 siblings from foster care, three girls and a boy. the oldest was a fine student, ready to go to college but got pregnant by the stoner next door her senior year. i made the , unforgivable suggestion that she put the baby up for adoption, and bam, i am out of her life. second daughter left a month after turning 18, has had severe mental issues, and then the youngest daughter has followed suit. all have reconnected with mom, who still lives with the man who molested these girls. they all have RAD, i thought by adopting them we could give them a better life, but i guess only for a little while.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! We adopted an older child out of foster care who also had a huge amount of denial about her bio family. She created her "auto-biography", filled with so much obvious fiction, but to her it was reality. She moved in with her bio family five states away nearly a year ago. We have little contact and have sadly watched from afar as history seems to be repeating itself with lies, abuse, pregnancy, CPS involvement, etc. We provided her love, stability, a happy home, a welcoming and loving extended family, plus every opportunity for a stable and successful adult life. It is heartbreaking when you see it thrown away. Its been hard on our other children who feel rejected and wondered what they could have done differently. We are all learning to accept it, taking comfort in the fact that we did do our best. And we are blessed with friends and family who know how hard we tried and have been very supportive through all this.

Dave Roberts said...

Well our son who we adopted at 13 turned 18 and wanted to find his bio-mom. He was surrendered to CAS at 5 because his mom could not deal with a child who is Developmentally Delayed. He was in 3 different foster care homes for 8 years.

We did everything we could to raise him to be a competent person but at 18 that all changed. Within a week of contacting his bio-mom he moved in with her and severed all ties with us. He insisted on having his last name changed back to his original name. No one in his new home work as they are all on social assistance. They all receive a Government Pension because of their disabilities.

It’s too bad we have not heard from him since the week before Christmas. Now that he is an adult he is in full control of his situation and there is nothing we can do.

Oh we do hear from his bio-mom when he does not receive his $900 check from the Government . Sigh….

Anonymous said...

Wow,these posts really resonate regarding our son adopted at 12, turned 18, graduated high school with a diploma and has been traveling to and from biological family since graduating. He was arrested at 14 and put in juvenile hall, not once but twice. He had a wrap-around services life coach for 5 months, a stay in residential treatment after trying to commit suicide for the third time, 3 stays in a psychiatric facility and 14 suspensions from school. He lies, steals, manipulates, charms and uses everyone he comes into contact with. He struggles with peer relationships and is socially awkward. He goes on and off his medication, uses drugs, and only contacts us for money. Christmas without him today was both a relief and in some sick way, sad. He has vowed to change his adoptive surname and wants nothing to do with us despite 8 years of love, support, stability, consistency and opportunities. Much of his biological family lives on government assistance. We are a hard-working couple who is blessed to own our home, have a supportive extended family and travel the world. This lifestyle did not appeal to our son. We are thankful that we could give him 8 years of patience, support,love and devotion. Perhaps one day, he will appreciate this gift. If not, we have resolved to be at peace with his decision embrace those who abandoned him in search for answers.

marythemom said...

Anonymous, I don't know how long your son has been gone, but do not be surprised if he does not change his mind, probably a few times. Yes, your lifestyle may not be something that appeals to your son now, but I bet he still values it and part of him has set it as a standard. He may not feel he can handle it or deserve it, but he does still know it (and you) is there.

If you can, please try to think of this not as a rejection of you or your lifestyle, but as him trying to see if he feels better about himself somewhere else. It takes a long time for people to realize that they take their feeling of self-worth with them - it's not a feeling you get when you walk into a place or situation for the first time. We all want to feel we belong and fit in somewhere, that takes time. The media portrays it more like "love at first sight." Please take this as an opportunity for your family to rest and heal.

I wrote this post several years ago, but it amazes me how often it comes up. Bear moved out the day he graduated high school and went back to birth family. He burned through those relationships pretty quickly because he really is not capable of maintaining relationships.

Kitty moved in with biofamily immediately after graduation as well, then discovered that she just couldn't handle it, and came home. Now, almost 2 years later, we're going through the same thing again. Kitty is impulsively wanting to move back in with birth family. It is so hard watching them self-destruct and wondering where to draw the line. I know I should let Kitty go again, but I so don't want to be the one to pick up the (probably pregnant) pieces.

Wilbour said...

Well out of the blue, one year to be exact, our adopted son has said he wants to live with us again. Apparently he has made such a mess of a life with his bio-mom that she is going to send over an officer to pick him up and dump him at our house. This is the same mom who accused us of neglecting her son while he was in our care. I figure he has shown his true colors. Problem is the ladies here at this house are frightened by him. Oh did I mention how his bio-mom had to call me and tell me that he beat her and her daughter frequently?

Yah, I want this man living in my home. Yes he is an adult but is Developmentally Delayed. After all that he has put us through I am more than a little worried.

marythemom said...

I would not be willing to take him back. I would help him find a place to live, but not in my home.