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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Open

When I was researching becoming a foster parent and then (years) later researching open adoption I came across all kinds of advice about contact with birth parents.  That's the beauty of the internet, right? You can put in search terms and get exactly what you are looking for. Like most things, I found a spectrum of advice:

  • Openness is bad, birth parents are dangerous and they will hurt your family. Change their names and social security numbers.
  • We do pictures and a private Facebook page.
  • Our kids' birth parents come over for holidays. Its good for the kids to see us together.

Here is the thing, no one has the answer for your family.  You have to figure that out.  The other information out there can be helpful but in the end you aren't going to find your answer through your internet search.

Today I realized just how far I had come in my understanding of what an open adoption and co-parenting foster parent relationship means, for us. It was right after I emailed a picture of the kids and us all dressed up for Easter and Simon and Sarah's bio dad texted me to thank me for sending.  It cost me nothing to send the picture, except for maybe 30 seconds of the day.  But he got to see his children smiling, happy, well cared for and that might have meant a great deal to him.  Especially since we never made any promises to him about what contact would be after the TPR trial.

We had promised Sheila pictures at least four times a year and maybe a call. We told her we would discuss in person visits when the adoption is finalized (depending on the kids).  So far we've sent pictures nearly monthly and had calls almost as frequently.  If I'm being honest, Solana has probably been the driving force of that since December for both Sheila and us.  But again, it cost us nothing to give her 20 minutes on a phone call and some pictures. In the end thought it may make all the difference in terms of permanency for Solana.  But also my kids gained something this month.  Sheila shared stories about them when they were little.  A precious tidbit that I now am able to repeat back to them. And while all the other frustrations and issues of being the foster parent to her daughter are there, she is at least making an effort to continue to give the kids support in their adoption. Using their new names and apologizing when she forgets. 

And then there is Solana's Dad, who makes an effort to email at least once or twice a week.  Asking how we are before he asks about Solana. He responds to pictures of her with cute sayings and also sends us messages thanking us for taking care of her so well.  I'm to the point where I can see us doing a visit with him soon. (Plus he sends the expensive diapers from time to time.)

Are the birth parents in our situation dangerous? Perhaps.  Both the birth fathers have been to jail for domestic violence. Am I scared of them? No. I haven't given them our address but its probably very easy to find it. But none of them are gang affiliated or have threatened me.  We haven't gotten a Facebook Page going but I wouldn't be opposed to it.  That would mean Sheila would need to unblock me.

At some point, I envision Solana's Dad and Sheila coming to a family event. We will be talking about a park visit with Solana's Dad in the next few months. There is a need to build a strong relationship with him so that we don't loose her in our lives if she returns home and also reassure him we can be the open holiday spending version of adoption if he decides that he wants her to be adopted. 

Even the contact with the birth parents for just our family, falls on a spectrum.  We do it for our kids and also because while these individuals couldn't be parents to their kids, they do love them and it costs us nothing to be kind. I remember a moment with Maria years ago where I made the decision to treat her how I wanted to be treated if our roles were reversed.  This is the same approach and its working very well for us.

So take from us what you can, if it fits your needs.  Or if you just want to believe its possible.  I remember giving examples of blogs I read to family members that it really could be done.

What ways do you have openness in your relationships through foster care and adoption? Leave a comment, share your knowledge!





2 comments:

  1. We are the same way - no set rules, just go by what is best for the kids. When we had our longest-term foster placement, we called their mom every single night toward the end to make reunification go more smoothly. Our current kinship placement does have a birth father who has gang involvement and a 3-page-long list of criminal convictions. He's still allowed to call our son, and we might meet him at the mall or a similar public place, but there is no way we'd have him over or even meet at a park (since gang members have taken to targeting each other's children lately, and our other child was shot in a drive-by, we're not taken any chances outdoors!). His birth mom is obviously related to us, though, and while she's not safe to ever have unsupervised visits, we talk regularly and meet up whenever she feels well, at places like the art museum or the zoo.

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  2. Similar to the story you shared, thinking of an open adoption in the realms of foster care was not an easy concept for me at first. I remember hearing about it during training and thinking it was odd, given that the children were removed for their own safety. But, again as you mentioned, I grew once I was in it. During my first few foster care placements I didn’t really have any interaction with the family of the children. It wasn’t until my fourth placement that I really interacted with the children’s mother and (since they had different fathers) one of their paternal grandmothers. It was not a pleasant experience and I tried to make the most of it, but failed. With my son, I’ve had a lot more interaction with his family. I’ve actually grown close to his aunt and uncle as well as his siblings. I have tried to be kind and engage his mother, but she sees me as aloof and has rebuffed my efforts to include her more in our lives. I’ve learned, from other family members, she doesn’t like when I am at the family gatherings for the holidays. I think it has to do with jealousy. She is invited to attend, but due to some life choices, she isn’t always able to be there. I have also had more successful interaction with the grandmother of the two little ones I have right now. When they were still having visits, I was the only foster parent really able to engage with their mother (it’s a really long story) and so she started respecting me because I showed her respect and tried to put myself in her shoes when she was demanding something or upset about something. I realized that I didn’t have to agree with her, but I could listen to her and that seemed to make all the difference. There were times she would stand and talk to me for an hour after the visit had ended, simply because I would politely listen to her. Since visits were cut off last June, we haven’t interacted (she skipped court in December) but I have maintained contact with her mother in hopes of keeping the younger two in contact with their older sister. Like any relationship, there are ups and downs but I keep trying for the sake of the kiddos!

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