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!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Contact with Biofamily

Why do kids want contact with biofamily? 

There are lots of theories. I think this article and my response, Five Hard Truths About Adoption Adoptive Parents don't want to Hear - A Response, answer some of these.

1.  There is not one 'real' mother. 
I totally agree with this one. Both biomom and I are my children's "real parents." This generally isn't an issue in our house unless my child is mad at me, at which point I may hear, "You're not my Real mom." I try to take this in the spirit it was intended (a way to strike out because my child is feeling upset).
"You're not my real mom."
"That's funny, I feel real. Honey, do I look plastic to you? Believe me baby, this is not a Barbie body!" {This is probably not the best response, but in the heat of the moment, it's usually the nicest thing I can think of. Truthfully, it doesn't really matter what I say at times like this, because they are so dysregulated at this point that they are heading for, or are already in, fight/ flight/ freeze mode. Handling Dysregulation and Meltdowns
Do be aware that even though our heads understand this, it still hurts to hear it. As always, you need to do lots of Self-Care to fill up your drained emotional reserves.

2.  No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
I think EVERY child fantasizes about their origins. I remember imagining I was adopted or really an android or an alien... and wishing it were true!

This is a hard line to walk with my kids though. I firmly believe that it is vitally important not to hit my kids over the head with the realities (or suspected realities) of their family of origin or allow my kids to vilify them either (which Bear liked to do), but at the same time, we need to "keep it real" so that they don't focus all their energies on the dream and miss out on being a part of our family. This is especially hard with their black and white thinking.

NOTE: 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 possible some of their fantasies and/or disconnects from our family.

I believe that 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 they do anything wrong-  because it was everyone else's fault)...

I also know that deep down the thought terrifies them! Kitty especially - she fantasizes that her biofather (who doesn't even know she exists and we can't locate) in his shining armor will ride in on his white horse and carry her off to his castle and make her a princess. While at the same time, she's afraid that this stranger will come in and steal her from her family and the life she's finally allowed herself to trust enough to want.

4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn't needed.

I firmly believe that whenever possible kids should have a reunion with their birth family, but when they're adults --& and the chance to explore their origins and imagine what their life might have been like, when they are hopefully emotionally stable, and secure in the knowledge that they have a loving family which they are very much a part of and that any relationship with this other family is a "bonus."

Especially with social media, more and more kids are being reunited with birth families when they are not emotionally ready, often causing additional trauma.  The waters got "muddied" in our case, because the children had sisters that stayed behind with biomom when she put my two in foster care, and we wanted to keep that door open so they could maintain that relationship.

Because of their black and white thinking, my kids felt torn by massive loyalty issues -- that if they allowed themselves to be a part of our family then they were betraying their birth family.

Bear always had one foot out the door anyway, to avoid being abandoned again. It wasn't rational, but he felt that if we weren't forcing him to stay (which we would never do!), then we were kicking him out. He never allowed himself to come all the way in to try and see if he wanted to become part of our family because that other door (with the tempting fantasy that everything would be perfect if...) was always hanging just outside his reach.

I think that "escape hatch," especially during those volatile teen years, kept him feeling abandoned over and over again - constantly picking at a raw, open wound and preventing any healing.

Not Allow Contact?
I often wish that we'd done what a lot of my friends have done: Not allow the children to make contact with bioparents until they are 18. It sounds harsh, and I'm not saying we should deny the connection or feelings -- just stop the contact until the child is old enough to have established his her identity and place in the world.

Torn loyalties are hard enough for adults to handle.

We tried to prevent contact to some extent (we limited contact to biosiblings to only when they were visiting the children's bio grandmother). We made sure the children knew that the courts (not us!) were the ones that said that contact should not be made by either party until the child is 18.

Unfortunately, preventing contact is hard to do in today's world (phones, texts, IMs, social media...).

Fear and Trust
Bear's issues were more about "loyalty." In his black and white world, he felt that to attach to our family was betraying his biofamily. I think he also has a "sour grapes" philosophy - he's afraid that if he does trust us enough to get close - that we'll reject him (because we'll find out he's not perfect). So he uses his fantasy of biofamily as an excuse to not get close to us and therefore reject us before we can reject him.

{Bear reached out to his biofather repeatedly over the years. Each time, his biofather would indulge Bear for a while, then Bear would abuse this by calling and texting multiple times a day (often every 5 minutes if his biofather didn't pick up), causing issues at biofather's work. Until at last the biofather would just shut down all communication. Every time this happened, Bear felt abandoned all over again. We didn't know about all of this - all we saw was that every now and then, Bear would shut down and retreat into himself. He would also push us away even harder.

We also discovered that Bear had been in communication with biomom the whole time he lived with us. I don't know what he was telling her but he'd been telling us all along that he hated her and that he didn't want to speak to or see her when it was an option. 

The last time, Bear's biofather showed up (for the first time in years) was while Bear was in jail. Biofather apologized for not being there for Bear, promised Bear he was clean now and going to be a part of Bear's life, and then almost immediately, he stopped all contact - again. Bear never heard from him again.

Months later, Biofather and his mother were killed and Bear's half-sister was seriously injured in a car accident. All the papers only mentioned Bear's 2 half-siblings that were raised by his bio-father. He'd kept them and let Bear go into foster care and terminated his parental rights. Bear felt abandoned yet again.}


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. They may believe that contact with biofamily will "prove" that their family really loves and wants them.

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

3.  Black and white thinking.  People are either evil or on a pedestal.  Our 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.

Bear 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 can reject him) or alternatively, 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 after high school graduation, 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 a month, Bear 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 need 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/ can't believe us.

Obviously, these reasons are all linked to each other!

Our Story
When our kids came to us from foster care at ages 11 and 13, relationships with biofamily were "complicated." Bear was old enough to have phone numbers and contact info memorized, so we really had very little control over his contacts with biofamily. Although physically 11 years old, emotionally Kitty was only about 4 (on a good day), so she didn't understand why she needed a new family (Kitty's bio on the online adoption site where we found her specifically stated that Kitty didn't understand why she needed to be adopted).

I have been told by the kids' former therapist that Biomom was not allowed to see the children in foster care because she determinedly told them she blamed them for what happened. Both kids felt they were sent to foster care because they were "out of control." In therapy, we worked hard on helping Kitty understand that going into foster care was not her fault – mostly successfully but not completely.

I know better than to run down a birth parent in front of the kids (from my experience as a child of divorced parents) so I’ve always avoided making Biomom look bad to the kids, and even tried to help the kids understand why she may have done the things she did. This sometimes came back to bite me in the butt as Kitty has “forgotten” all the "bad stuff" and desperately wants to go “home.” Still, we have been dealing with this as it happens, and through EMDR and attachment therapy we’ve been trying to help her process her severe PTSD.

Contact with Biofamily/ Biosiblings Before 18
We've always allowed contact with biofamily, except for my children's birthmom. We especially wanted our children to have a relationship with their biosisters, even though the girls still lived with Biomom. We did set up some ground rules so everyone would feel safer.

We encouraged the kids to write letters and send birthday cards, but they didn't really like to write. We allowed phone calls but tried to have the kids only talk to their sisters when the girls were visiting Biograndma.

We had a big problem with Biograndma sharing a lot of information (usually negative) with Bear and Kitty. I had to specifically ask her to be careful about the information she shared with the kids, because it was extremely upsetting, especially for Kitty, to hear about Biomom's most recent abusive relationships, among other things. Sometimes Biograndma complied with my request, sometimes she didn't. I know she felt that Bear could handle it, so shared more with him - unfortunately, he tended to pass on the information to Kitty.

My Contact with Biomom
Bear had been emailing the half-sister of one of his biosisters. Although not related to Biomom, this older teen was living with Biomom as her "nanny." The girl had been communicating with Bear on MySpace before he lost his internet privileges, and he asked me to contact her. She seemed willing to answer some questions about the children's histories and gave me some insight into many of Bear's "stories" about his childhood.

Unfortunately, I decided to use e-mail to send the girl some current pictures of the kids - and that's where it got sticky. The girl gave my e-mail address to Biomom and included some of the questions I'd asked the girl (about Bear's alleged history with gangs and drugs, why they were both behind a year in school, whether or not Bear had been in psychiatric treatment facilities...).

The great part about it was biomom answered some of the questions and was willing to share baby pictures(!) and even some information about the biofathers. The last item was especially important for Kitty whose father left after only a few days relationship with biomom, I'm assuming because the carnival moved on - he never even knew she was pregnant. Kitty had no pictures or information about him. Biomom also told me more about things like who they were named after and how much Native American blood they had.

When Bear heard that biomom was pregnant again. I confirmed it with her and then presented the news to Kitty in attachment therapy (only because she was about to have a phone visit with her younger sisters and I didn't want her to find out from them).

In the beginning, I was talking to biomom every couple of weeks. Every year, I sent her a picture of Bear and Kitty at Christmas and on their birthdays. It made Bear crazy to know that I was communicating with Biomom and he asked me not to tell her anything about him. I respected his wishes. I also told her that the kids were unable to handle direct communication with her and asked that anytime their biosisters were visiting grandparents or someone else to please let us know so that Bear and Kitty could talk to them on the phone without having to be worried that Biomom was present.

Over the years, Biomom would send a message that she was planning on sending the kids a gift (birthday, Christmas) and maybe include something from their childhood (Bear's wrestling medals, a blanket that Kitty had loved...). We only ever received one package. The continuing disappointment was traumatic for the kids.

Biomom Visit
And then she requested a visit!

My first instinct is to say, "H*@#  NO! I did NOT sign up for this!" This was a closed adoption and we had been told by all involved that not having contact was definitely in the children's best interest.

After much deliberation, I decided to leave the visit up to Bear. After years of saying he hated her and didn't want any contact, Bear surprised me by agreeing to the meeting (I discovered later that he'd been in communication with her all along).

Kitty's therapist reaction
I talked to Kitty's attachment therapist and we went back and forth about whether or not to allow Kitty to see Biomom during the visit. Kitty had been having lots of issues and had recently been in a psych hospital. We had decided to pull Kitty out of private school (they couldn't accommodate her special education needs anymore and we couldn't afford it anymore). Biomom's visit was the day before the new semester starts, which is when Kitty would start public school for the first time in 1 1/2 years. Great timing, huh?!

We had a lot of reasons why Bear should get to see biomom and Kitty shouldn't. (He's older, he didn't just get out of a mental institution, his therapist agrees that he's at a stable point in his life and can handle it...). But I worried that it could seriously damage our relationship if I said no (especially if Bear got to do it and she didn't). It felt like a lose/lose situation.

Finally, I told Kitty in therapy that Biomom was coming and gave her a choice on whether or not to see her. Kitty chose, big shock, to get to see Biomom. We told Kitty that we had many concerns, and listed a few of our reasons this might not be a good idea. No effect, but at least we got them out there.
Kitty stated, "I know it's strange, but I still love her." We reassured Kitty that that is not strange at all!

We asked Kitty what would she like to get out of the visit. Kitty asked about Bear's rules and goals. I told her that Bear wanted to confront Biomom about putting him in foster care and ask questions about Biodad. Kitty didn't understand why Bear was angry at Biomom. When we asked Kitty what questions she had, she mentioned her biofather (although she had no ideas for specific questions) and at one point wanted to know if the Grandmother that she was named after (birth name) was dead (Bear had told her that she was). She had no intention of asking anything "controversial" or confrontational.

Ground Rules:
We informed Kitty that there were some things we wanted her to understand.
  1. This visit does not mean she is going to start seeing or talking to Biomom all the time - maybe not until she is 18.
  2. This meeting is for closure.
  3. We do not want to share a lot of personal information about our family (although biofamily sisters, grandmother, aunt, cousins - know almost everything and have most likely shared with biomom).
  4. If we feel that she is getting overwhelmed we will stop the meeting immediately or change the subject (we made that part of the ground rules).

Our ground rules for Biomom (most of these came from the therapist and I and/or Bear):

  1. No lies (Bear specifically wants the truth about TPR - Terminating Parental Rights).
  2. Biomom acts like the adult (no cussing, no yelling, no blaming)
  3. This visit does not mean ongoing contact.
  4. The therapist, Hubby, and I can change the subject or end the session at any time.
  5. Bear added: No hugging or touching, and,
  6. No talking about the future (he believes it is none of her business).

I think Kitty was more excited about the fact that she gets to eat out then the actual visit (the therapist thought it would be better for Kitty to have an activity rather than sitting in a room staring at each other. She was disappointed that their younger sisters will not be coming.

Letter to Biomom: 
Hi (Birthmom),

As two people who love (Kitty's birth name), I need to discuss something with you. I probably shouldn’t talk to you about this, but I’m not sure what else to do. I’ll be honest and tell you that I have almost canceled this visit several times, and I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing for (Kitty). I haven’t told (Kitty) about your visit yet for many reasons. One being that she is going through an extremely difficult time right now and we’re not totally sure why – it could be some recent med changes, it could be hormones, it could be the holidays, it could be a lot of things.

Over the last two years, she has made a lot of progress. She has slowly bonded to our family, and although she is still very hurt by all the abandonments (perceived and otherwise) that she’s had in her life, we’ve seen her slowly begin to trust us and believe that we love her and won’t send her away – even when she’s acting up.

I know you never intended to hurt her, and she loves you loyally. I have always tried to explain to the children that it must have been so hard for you dealing with their issues as well as your own troubles. I have always made it clear to the children that I fully expect them to always love you. You were their first mother. My problem is that (Kitty) has never really understood why she can’t just go “home.” She has unknowingly built a fantasy about her life before foster care and adoption. She only remembers the good things and denies any hurts or problems. Those concerns are of course still there, affecting her life and relationships. We work hard to get her to address them in therapy so that she can deal with them now instead of allowing them to fester and negatively affect her.

January 1st - 5th, (Kitty) went into an inpatient mental health facility. This is the first time this has happened since we’ve known her (about 2.5 years) - although I understand she has been hospitalized for similar issues a couple of times when she was younger. She is so emotionally fragile right now. I am VERY worried about her.

I plan to tell her about your visit at her next therapy session (Tuesday). I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place on this, and I am hoping you can help us. The way I see it I currently have 3 choices.

One, is to stick to the original plan, and let her know you are coming, but that her therapists and I feel she is not at a good place for meeting you. That Bear is older and more emotionally stable. I know she will not understand and will completely disagree (she usually ignores and denies her feelings). I feel that most likely this will damage my relationship with her, possibly permanently (I hope I don’t sound overly dramatic here, but I know you must remember being a teenager and fighting for your independence and identity with your parents? I know how rejected I felt by my parents who had a nasty divorce. My father tried to manipulate me and use me as a pawn to hurt my mother. I still have never really forgiven him). We had planned to have her write a list of questions and things she wants us to ask you about, but I doubt this will be sufficient to make up for not getting to see you.

Two, to allow her to see you and just deal with the inevitable fall-out. I’ll be honest, what terrifies me about this is that she will ask you to take her home or something similar. That you will (of course) tell her that you love her and that you never wanted to give her up, or worse, that it was her fault she was placed in foster care because she was out of control. She will blame my husband and me for keeping her from you (I know it’s not rational, but very likely), and the damage is still done to our relationship. Plus, she feels abandoned/ rejected by you when you have to leave her here.

So, as one mother to another, I’m begging for your help with this. Do you think that (with the assistance of her attachment therapist), you could help us give (Kitty) the closure she needs, and ask her to honor the bond that she has with us? I’m not asking you to tell her you don’t love her, just to encourage her to know it is OK with you for her to love my family too and be loved by us. That there is room in her heart for both of us, and that she belongs with my family now. I fully believe that if we work on this together that we will both benefit from the abundant love this child is capable of. I know that (Kitty)’s therapist (different from Bear’s) has offered to help us with this.

Please be honest with me. I feel that Kitty is in a very dangerous situation here and that we will need to walk a fine line to help her. If you do not feel that you can do this, then I will just stick to the original plan and hope that she doesn’t hate me too much. Can you tell her that you love her, but that she is where she needs to be?

Just to make things more difficult, Kitty starts public school on the 20th (the day after your visit). We’ve had her in a tiny private school for the last year and a half, but cannot afford it now because of the economy. She is excited about this, but it will still be VERY stressful for her.


Biomom Agrees to Ground Rules:
Biomom's Response

Planning the meetings:
Letter - Therapists' opinions
Kitty's EMDR therapist's concerns

The meetings:
Our meeting with Biomom and therapists (no kids)
Biomom - Kitty visit
Biomom - Bear visit
Biomom's letter after first visit.

Second Biomom visit - 3 years later with siblings
Second Visit - Biomom with siblings

Other Contact with Biomom
Letters with Biomom about reading my blog

Going Back to Birth Family (after age 18) 
Like many adoptive families with a closed adoption from foster care, we never intended our children to have contact with their birth parents until after age 18. We had been told by the kids' "Team" that this was definitely in the children's best interest. We always let the kids know that we understood that they still loved the bioparents (even the ones they'd never met). Of course they did! We encouraged them to talk about their feelings and let them know we accepted them. This post talks about why this is so important to our kids.

We made a lot of mistakes. We did a lot of things right. Every family's experience is going to be as unique as they are. I wish you much luck in whatever you decide.


marilynn said...

You tried to keep them sequestered of course they had to go. They just needed to be taken care of as kids they didn't need contact with their family heavily monitored and controlled to prevent forming memories and emotional connections prior to 18. All they needed was food shelter and love not a new name and not to call their family a bonus family.
Everyone on earth is the offspring of their own parents. Those are the family we all get by default then some people have additional people who play a parenal roll like step parents foster parents mother in law, god parents those are all the bonus extra parents in addition to our default parents. To make it seem lime adoptive is primary and family they are related to comes second is not very
Factual. Emotionally you may perceive it as that wag or this k it should be that way but you have parwn ts and no adoptive parents she has parents and adoptive parw ts. Your the bonus extra. The therapist turned you kind of cold

marythemom said...

We did the best we possibly could for our kids, and there is no way you could know what my kids need or didn't need.

They are unique individuals with a lot of things going on. They didn't need the repeated rejections and trauma caused by being emotionally yanked back and forth between 2 families. If their birth family was safe and capable of taking care of them then they wouldn't have ended up in foster care in the first place.

We didn't "sequester" them. They had as much contact with biofamily as they could handle (which wasn't much). It was a fine line we walked.

Having grown up in two homes with both bioparents and step parents, I know that forcing kids to believe that only the family related by blood is "primary," means they will feel they aren't loved as much as the "primary' family. I spent part of the year with one family and part of the year with the other. My stepmother had kids. It was made very clear that I was NOT allowed to be one of her children. That meant for part of the year I was "loved," but in a generic way.

My kids know that they are part of our family. Not just some kids who live here.

My daughter still needed a mommy. She was physically 11, but emotionally only 4. I'm supposed to tell this little girl that she can't think of me as her mommy, because there's another woman out there somewhere who is her real mommy? A woman who hurt her and dumped her in foster care? My daughter needed a mommy