Foster Care is Like Chemotherapy

Adoption

I recently met someone who works to help former prisoners re-integrate into society. I asked her what she would change to improve the system. In response, she talked about the need to provide basic things for young children, such as food, housing, and education. I’ve been interested in the importance of keeping young children with their families as often as possible, so I was excited to see how two different causes – recidivism and reducing foster care rates – could be similar. 

In July, Michigan Radio, an NPR station, ran a story about the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which has been operating in Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood for several years. Apparently, the neighborhood has an incredibly high rate of child removal. Although the focus is on Osborn, the Center also serves families throughout Wayne County. The Center provides free legal and social work help in order to keep kids out of foster care. It receives referrals from the Department of Human Services when a child is unsafe because of some unresolved legal issue.

Vivek Sankaran, the Center’s founder explained: “In all the cases we deal with, there’s no doubt that the parent loves for and is providing proper care for the child. But there is sort of a third party that may be interfering with the parents’ ability to provide care for that child.”

Since the Center opened in 2009, none of the children it served entered foster care. And of those already in foster care, 95 percent were adopted or reunified with a family member.

In an attempt to explain the reality of being in foster care, the article’s author wrote, “Sankaren compares foster care to chemotherapy. It’s there for very serious cases when you need it, but it has drastic side effects.”

I really like this comparison because it’s shocking enough to draw attention and succinct enough to be memorable. Plus, I think it’s accurate.

It would be great to see more programs like this, and apparently, other states are looking into it.

Validating Negativity

Adoption

Right now, BC is driving me crazy. His behavior and listening skills are lacking and he doesn’t seem to have much empathy. (Now that I think about it, BE had about zero empathy at his age too, but that’s certainly not the case anymore.)

I haven’t found a solution, and it’s particularly challenging because he’s not really old enough to express what he’s feeling.

A reader question in the monthly Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (BCLC) newsletter helped to give me some more insight. The situation wasn’t really the same, but Heather Forbes’ answer gave me a few ideas. Here’s the question:

My 8-year-old son ‘hates’ everything: the particular car driving down the street, the shirt I’m wearing, the kid next door, the color of the living room, the cashier at the grocery store, etc., etc. I am having trouble understanding this and how to deal with it. Any insights?”

Here are excerpts of Heather’s response:

“A child who ‘hates’ everything is a child in a perpetual state of fear and dysregulation. His neurophysiological system has been programmed to see the world as half empty instead of half full …

“Validate his negativity instead of trying to convince him of something more positive. ‘You really do hate this shirt. Wow. Help me understand how much you hate it. Tell me more.’ As he expresses himself, help him shift into the feelings behind these words. (It’s really not about the shirt.) ‘How does that make you feel? …’

“When you can help him to move into this core area within himself by listening, validating, maximizing, tolerating, accepting, and staying present with him, you’ll be there in relationship to guide him towards feeling safe and loved. Thus, you’ll be able to guide him to see that the world is good and hope does exist. It will take positive repetitious conditioning to do this for him.”

Ok, so BC doesn’t say he hates everything, but the advice about affirming his feelings and asking questions was very helpful. Because he’s only 5, I don’t think it will make a big difference right away, but I’m hoping it will set us on a good path for the future.

If you have any advice for me, please let me know!

Talking about Adoption with an 8-year-old

Adoption

When BE and I were at the market this summer, she asked me about something that might or might not have happened when she was a baby. I responded, “I don’t know, I guess we’d have to ask your first parents.”

This kind of comment in our family isn’t unusual. but that day, BE gave an unusual response. She said, “shh, don’t say that so loud, I don’t want anyone to hear.”

Up until now, my kids haven’t been shy or outspoken about their adoption; so far, it’s just been a normal fact of life. But, lately, BE seems to be more embarrassed by her adoption. I don’t know if it’s really embarrassment, or just a desire to fit in.

As my kids change (and their attitudes about adoption) change, I’ll be challenged to keep up. But, then again, not much stays the same, not even my own opinion about adoption. It’s likely my thoughts will continue to evolve right along with theirs.

Three Grandpas, Two Moms, Two Dads

Adoption

In Michigan, where I live, same sex marriage is illegal. Regardless of how you feel about same sex marriage, I believe our approach should be about what’s best for the children. In my opinion, children benefit from stability, but children adopted by a same sex couple are deprived of that stability. Therefore, for the sake of the children, same sex couples should be allowed to marry.

The NPR station, Michigan Radio, recently posted a story on the plight of an adopted boy named Lucas. Lucas has two dads, however since their marriage is not recognized in Michigan, only one of them is legally his father.

“Although there’s a lot of talk in Lansing about making kids safe and secure, when it comes to gay and lesbian couples, politics and attitudes about sexual orientation end that conversation,” the author wrote.

Of course, there are many more children like Lucas in Michigan and other states were same sex marriage is banned.  As I wrote in a post introducing a new series “The Future of Adoption,” I believe there are four issues that affect the current state of adoption. Number three was, “What if adoptive parents and their friends and family (and society as a whole) were not afraid of those who are different? (older children, children of other races, same-sex couples).”

Clearly, the real solution to this problem is to dispel fear of same sex couples. But, I don’t think that’s going to happen soon enough. In the meantime, let’s appeal to people’s concern for children.

My stepfather has expressed reserve at being called “grandpa” by my children. According to him, my kids already have two grandfathers, and don’t need a third. I’ve told him, and Grandma G, that there is no such thing as too many grandpas. I think my kids will only benefit from having many people who love them, even if it’s not “traditional.” I think that all kids can benefit from a large group of people who love them, even if that includes two moms or two dads.

Michigan’s same sex marriage ban is written into the state constitution, making it much harder to repeal. But another couple with adopted children is challenging the ban in court. Let’s hope this case results in a positive change.

A Story of Her Own

Adoption

BE is only peripherally aware of this blog. She knows the name of it, and she knows that I write about being an adoptive mother and about living in Detroit. At her request, I read her one of my recent posts. She wanted to know why I refer to her and BC by their initials. I tried to explain that being part of this family is her story too. That when she’s old enough, she can tell her story in her own way. And it will be her choice to attach her name to it.

A few days later, she showed me a piece of paper where she had written “her story.” It was just a few sentences long and she told me she wanted to “put it on the computer.” When I reminded her that my blog is available for anyone to read, she changed her mind. I assured her that I didn’t mind and that she could always share a story in the future if she wanted to.

I can see in other ways that she’s trying to make sense of her own story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the coming years.

My Two Doppelgangers

Adoption

I don’t really have two, or even one, doppelgängers, but over the last four years, people have been telling me and J how much our kids look like us. This includes people who know we adopted, and people who don’t. Strangers will tell me they can tell that BE and I are mother and daughter. Friends will tell us they’re surprised at how much we look alike. A friend, who has known my kids since the adoption, told me a few weeks ago that we’ve become more alike over the years. And it doesn’t seem to matter that both my kids have blond hair while J and have brown hair.

This made me wonder if there is any evidence that adoptive families really do begin to look alike over time. I couldn’t find any evidence to support it, but I did find some studies involving married couples. One study, described on physblog.com, explains that couples often do begin to look alike. The site shared four possible explanations, with one that was selected as the most probable. Here’s an excerpt:

“People grow to look similar because they are empathizing with each other and so copying each other’s facial expressions. Over time because of all the empathizing they are doing, their faces come to look more similar.”

I’d like to think that I’m empathizing with my kids, but of course I don’t really have any proof that this is the reason we’ve come to look alike, or even that we look alike at all. Another problem is that the study involved couples who have been married 25 years. We’ve only known our kids four years. Maybe we’ll have some proof that the study applies to us in about 21 years.

If you’re part of an adoptive family, do you look like your adoptive relatives? Tell us about it in the comments.

look_alike

I still don’t think we’d win.

The Forgotten Garden

Adoption

I read a lot of adoptee blogs, and one message I often encounter is that adoptees don’t always see adoption as entirely (or at all) positive. I recently read “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton, which did an excellent job of expressing this idea. Spoiler alert: if you plan to read this book, or haven’t finished it, you may want to stop reading this post now!

In the book, Nell discovers – at 21-years-old – that she was adopted. This news alters the path that her life takes and even changes her attitude toward herself and others. Although she loves her adoptive family, she spends the rest of her life looking for her first family and never again feels that she belongs anywhere.

In one of the early chapters, the narrator describes Nell’s reaction to the news:

“But Pa’s secret had changed everything. His words had tossed the book that was her life into the air and the pages had been blown into disarray , could never be put back together to tell the same story. She found she couldn’t look at her sisters with seeing her own foreignness …. Things had changed and she could no longer meet her father’s eye. It wasn’t that she loved him any less, only that the easiness had disappeared. The affection she had for him, invisible, unquestioned in the past, had gained a weight, a voice. It whispered when she looked at him, ‘you’re not really his.’ She couldn’t believe, no matter how vehemently he insisted, that he loved her as much as he loved her sisters …. She was a lie, had been living a lie, and she refused to do so any longer. ”

Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra, finds out about Nell’s adoption after her death. Cassandra has her own reaction to the news:

“It had come to her in a wave. The certainty of her grandmother’s loneliness …. She suddenly understood an aspect of Nell she’d known very well. Her isolation, her independence, her prickliness. ‘She must have felt so alone when she realized she wasn’t who she’d thought she was.'”

I’m not an adoptee, so I certainly can’t attest to the truth of these feelings. But, I do appreciate that this book presented a different side of adoption, that it explored the negative affects that adoption can have on both children and adults.

What’s Your Opinion on “Gotcha Day?”

Adoption

My nearly-tween daughter, BE, has long since given up cartoons for Disney Channel shows and movies such as “Hannah Montana” and “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.” Her latest obsession is “Jessie,” which is about a nanny taking care of three adopted children in New York city.

This family is very rich, and in one episode, celebrates elaborate “Gotcha Days” for each child. BE has watched this episode several times, I think because she relates to the adoption themes. We celebrate Adoption Day, but BE has asked me several times why we can’t call it “Gotcha Day.” I explained that I don’t like the term because it implies that I took her and BC. However, she’s become very set on “Gotcha Day,” and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the family on “Jessie” celebrates with gifts of live zebras, while we have to settle for cake.

I’m just as stubborn as BE, and I have no intention on switching to “Gotcha Day.” Do you use “Gotcha Day”? Why or why not?

The Two Words of the Soul

Adoption

J and I have really benefited from the Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control books by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post, and I’ve written a lot about how we’ve been using this approach. One of the key priniciples of Beyond Consequences is that there are only two true human emotions: love and fear. Other emotions such as anger, are merely a result of fear, they are secondary.

I recently came across a quote that I think sums up this idea perfectly. I wasn’t sure who said it, so I had to read some more about the author, Neale Walsch. Apparently he wrote a book called Conversations with God, which was very popular. I’ve never read the book, so I’m certainly not endorsing it with this post. But, I do feel that his quote is too good not share.

“All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by two emotions–fear or love. In truth there are only two emotions–only two words in the language of the soul…. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends.”

Have you read Conversations with God? What did you think?

Happy Adoption Day #3

Adoption

On June 25, 2010, we celebrated adoption day at the courthouse. The kids were just 5 and 2 when the adoption was finalized. Now, they’re 8 and 5 and about to be a 3rd grader and a kindergartener. BE remembers a little bit of that day, and in classic BE-style, the thing that she talks about most is that she ate two cookies. I know BC won’t remember it all, but thankfully we have photos.

We’ve been celebrating adoption day every year since with a family activity, and most importantly, cake! This year, we went to the water park, which is probably BE’s favorite place. She spent most of her time going down the water slide.

These past three years have been very challenging, but with every year, I have more hope for the future. Happy adoption day!

adoption day cake