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Choosing to increase contact with birth family

Mudlark April 23, 2019 12:46
Dear All, Lapwing and Peewit now age 10 and almost 9 have been with us for 6 years. We have had consistent yearly letterbox contact with birth Mum and Dad plus maternal grandmother. As the children get older they have become more interested in the letters we receive and enjoy (?) me reading the letters to them. I think they will almost certainly want to meet up with both birth parents in their teens, which is fine by me as long as its properly supervised etc. I have read research that suggest the more open an adoption is, the more contact with birth parents, the happier and less likely the adoptees are to have mental health issues later on, clearly this all depends on the level of threat posed by the birth family. In our case the birth parents were very young at the time and since then both have tried to get their lives back on track, with some success for both of them, having looked at what they are up to on facebook , I can hazard a reasonably informed opinion that they do not pose a threat. My aim is for the children to be comfortable with their life story, to feel they can integrate, birth family and our family so that they don't feel the need to go behind our backs. The children agree with me and would like increased letterbox contact at the moment. I am interested in others experience of deciding to increase contact with birth family, or indeed those that have an opposing view and why? Last year I included photos of the children and asked for photos of birth family, which was appreciated by everyone concerned. I am also thinking of requesting two letters a year instead of one, allowing birthday cards but no presents, and also later on when the children are 11 and 12 using Skype or other medium, to allow face time. It is of course rather a Pandora's box and once opened can not be closed, so treading carefully before going ahead!
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bluelizard April 23, 2019 16:57
I think you are right to be cautious with this. The way your children feel right now, might not be the opinions they have in the future. I’d also be cautious about the research you have read about how open an adoption is, the happier it is. It very much depends on the adoptions concerned. Was it American research where open adoptions are common, or UK adoptions? Did the research look at modern adoptions where the children were removed as a consequence of poor parenting / abuse / neglect? I thought I’d give a little summary of the type of contact my AS has with his birth family as, in some ways, it is more than most adoptive families have with the birth family. My AS has a half-sibling who lives with his parental grandparents (The two siblings share birth mother). We meet up with the half-sibling on a regular basis face-to-face and the contact is good and welcomed by all. AS has met his BM a few times since being adopted too. This wasn’t something that he particularly wanted to do, however, AS desperately wanted to meet up with his siblings who live with BM and this was the only way this contact could be arranged. I would be wary when you mention that birth parents have “got their lives back on track”. Certainly, AS’s BM has this appearance – she works, drives, has children in her care, but I could see the vulnerabilities she had and how the stability of her life was still quite fragile. Thinking about the meeting it was definitely useful for my OH and I – we were able give a face and personality to BM, but for AS it was just upsetting. Being older than when he had last seen her, he was able to understand from this meeting and the way BM presented herself why he was placed in foster care. AS could see how self-centred his BM was, how she put her own needs first and that really hadn’t changed. Actually, that sounds like the meeting was useful for him, perhaps it will be in the longer term, but he was so upset by the encounter it took him months to feel secure again. How old were your children when they were adopted? Do they still have memories of foster care? Living with birth parents? My son was old enough to remember living with BM and meeting her again reawakened the trauma. I think your idea of increased letterbox is a good one, if that's what your children want. We do accept birthday cards too. Go cautious on the rest – children come into care for good reasons. Even if the birth parents are not a threat and certainly my AS’s BM is not, they may still detriment the wellbeing of your children.
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Bop April 23, 2019 18:20
Be careful...they are not far off their teen years and anything which allows them to make contact with their birth family via social media increases the risk of unsupervised contact - photos, names etc At around 13/14 curiosity peaks and with social media and a few facts it is easy for adoptees and birth families to track each other down - often with challenging consequences.... Either party may not be ready for the contact and there can be substantial pressure on all fronts.... I would get in touch with your post adoption team and talk it through fully, Saying that we do have an open adoption and whilst we've had some horrendous teenage years, things are more stable now and we and the birth Mum work together to support the children (birth dad is a totally different and dangerous character). DS is even going to stay with her next week and we will take him down.
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Serrakunda April 23, 2019 18:47
mudlark you may remember that Simba has/had contact with birth dad? I think its fair to say that I'm not against contact in principle. However, I would be extremely cautious. Simba came to me at nearly 8 so he had a good idea of his story. However for me the key point of life story work is Why? and I think that is often overlooked. So when are children are very young we might say to them that mummy and daddy couldn't look after you so you needed a new family, that would progress to mum and dad couldnt look after you because they were silly/made poor choices, leading on to they made poor choices because they drank too much, took drugs, or had mental health problems or whatever. Then its why did they drink/do drugs/have mental health issues. Then the big question is why didnt they stop,get themselves better - didnt they love me enough, then you get into the area of self esteem. We had theraputic life story work when Simba was 11-13, it was very traumatic and painful to go through, but as he went through all those stages, he started to emerge as a very mature and thoughtful young man. As with Bluelizards son, he could see that nothing had really changed with dad, he has turned his life around, several times, but always slips back to the old behaviours, using drink and drugs to self medicate for his mental health issues. Mum is a different matter, not seen her since he was 4. After life story work Simba made a very clear and in my view well articulated request to see her. SW declined to help facilitate this on the grounds that we are stable and he isnt at risk of running away to find her. I'm not prepared to do this without SW help. Its not that she is a threat, but I think the other side of the coin here is managing birth parents expectations. I'm fairly certain that Simba doesnt want much more than to satisfy his curiosity about her and tell her how well he is doing. He's given no indication that he wants something ongoing. But what about her - will she be satisfied with a meeting, the occasional phone call, lunch once a year. She has turned her life around to some degree, she has a partner, a new baby. She is still however, very bound up in a benefits culture, petty crime, drinking, worklessness, a lifestyle very different to what Simba is growing up in. I think to be honest he would run a mile. I agree with Bluelizard about what FB appears to be saying about their lives. It could all be surface stuff. Can they sustsain it? As I said, Simba's dad has turned his life around a number of times, but he just can't sustain it. Personally I wouldn't initiate facetime type contact at the point you are suggesting. They are only a year or so off 11/12 - its not that long. I would look at theraputic life story work first and then see where you are. They may also end up having different views and one of them having contact and the other not will be difficult to manage. I would wait until they are a bit older and have a more mature understanding of their story
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safia April 23, 2019 19:27
Are they asking for this themselves? Facebook - for everyone - gives a very unrealistic picture of a person’s life - it’s always focussed on the positive and ignores the negative. I second the idea of doing life story work which we are only just doing now (AD is 23 but has learning difficulties) I thought she knew all the facts but having them presented in a rather stark way - eg BM said she did X and a court found her guilty - is very different from a Mum (yourself) putting a difficult fact in as gentle a way as possible. We are only part way through but it is difficult. I think that’s the avenue to go down first myself - but then I don’t know the facts of your children’s lives - so I think it’s best to talk it through with a PASW and to do it with their support too - as Serrakunda says it’s opening a can of worms as it’s bringing in a completely different set of expectations and understanding into the mix - from the birth family
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Milly April 23, 2019 20:28
I agree that you need to be very cautious. As children you have the control, but as teens you inevitably lose some. What they choose to do then might be very different from what you would like them to do, and birth family might facilitate this behind your back. Only one of mine has any contact at all (children unrelated). Oldest had life story work as a mid teen but didn't really engage with it - she doesn't like to dwell on negatives. Getting letters from bm as a teen, although alarming for us as bm had not sent anything prior to this, was positive as she needed to know bm cared about her and luckily meant she was content to wait until she was 18 to pursue things further. But the outcome could have been very different which is why we sought help even in showing the letter to her - that ended up being two years after we received it. Prior to therapy dd was very unstable. On several occasions she refused to come home from school and once or twice ran from the house. She didn't necessarily answer her phone for hours. She had no good friends so we had no clue where she was until she did contact us. If she had known where bf were, I don't doubt she would have headed their way (they live locally) with tales about us. When very stressed she would feel we didn't love her or would be angry with her for some reason, due to her own low self esteem, so claimed to fear to come home. She's always been easily influenced by whoever she is currently with, so can veer wildly between who she sees as on her side. For the record she now has contact and sees bf regularly. It's uncomfortable for us but we have seen no sign that they could be damaging to her - quite the reverse. Bm is quite protective and always ensures she gets home here safely. But she wasn't in the place she is now when dd was 9 or 10 so we have no idea how earlier contact might have turned out. Also dd herself is more mature and has a good sense of our value in her life.
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Mudlark April 23, 2019 23:31
To answer a couple of questions, they were 4 and 3 on arrival with us and Lapwing in particular had strong emotional tie to birth Mum, which she has never lost. She has good/strong attachment to me but has sentimental and romantic desire for birth mum, often writes little notes and cards which she would like me to post with letterbox. ( needless to say I have not included them) I have a gut instinct that she will try and contact birth Mum who does not drink or take drugs and is not longer with birth dad who did. I suppose I am just trying to plan ahead and find a way for her Lapwing to satisfy her need/ want/ urge for contact with birth mum. We have done Life story work with a therapist but not sure she understands or accepts that birth mum did much wrong. Knowing BM had two children before being 19 with a violent man who took heroin hasn't her helped to accept that BM made wrong choices, being kind hearted she feels sorry for BM getting into that situation... I tend to agree with her! So the inevitable trawl through social media will reveal her BM to have a life which is all trips to Disney land, cute selfies and holidays in the sun. I don't want Lapwing dazzled when she stumbles across it , I want to help her understand that how ever glossy it all looks there are, as someone said, reasons that this woman had her children removed, but I also want to help Lapwing feel 'satisfied' if that's the right word that she can 'get to know' her birth family, but safely. I suppose we cam never know if it would have been better or worse had we done something differently with our contact arrangements only go with what we think is bets for the child. The research I read was American, but also head an article on Radio 4 about a British adopter who had decided to follow more open contact and I think the phrase she used was ' to embrace the birth family as part of her own extended family' - it seems idealistic, maybe naïve, but she believed it to have had positive outcomes for all.
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Haven April 23, 2019 23:52
Reading your post and the various replies, I just wanted to add that it is probably impossible to predict how things will turn out. Have you spoken to PAS about this yet? - whatever happens, I certainly think you will need both an advocate and someone to take the 'blame' for removing her from her BM, just in case your AD's response is to over-romaticise her BM and blame you for her not staying with birth family. I think what you are considering is wonderful, but it needs tiny, baby steps with some support and mediation, that can be backed out of if things don't go right. Best of luck x
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safia April 24, 2019 00:16
Just to add - when my AD was younger she would have wanted to meet her BM and even to look after her when she grew up much as your daughter does - and I felt much as you do - great sympathy for her. However more recently as I can see the danger of my AD being sexually exploited and potentially a victim of domestic violence herself I’m very keen that she understands that although we can feel sympathy for BM she has some responsibility for what happened - she had choices and could have done more to protect AD - so hence the life story work (which she is also keen to do herself) - if she wasn’t protected when she was young I want to do what I can to protect her now. My AD’s BM is dead unfortunately so it is all theoretical - she cannot meet her and when she died I felt very sad that I hadn’t looked into this when she wanted to and it was still possible. However - because of what happened to her more recently and her clear vulnerabilities I now feel really strongly that she needs to understand BMs part in what happened in order to be able to better protect herself.
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Serrakunda April 24, 2019 00:18
how old was she when she had the life story work ? I feel lifestory needs to be an ongoing thing, revisted as the child matures, not a one off. Simba had ealier work done with him but there was no way he would have come out with the understanding that he did if we hadnt done the work at 11/12/13. He still has a very strong attachment to dad and a very romantic view of the very brief time they spent together as a family. However, he is now able to see that he can love dad because he is dad, but recognise that dad has done some pretty bad stuff for which they have all paid the price. I also don't think he was ready to hear it until then. I completely understand what you ate trying to do, its what I've aimed for myself, but I really would wait a bit longer and maybe revisit the life story work. It might be worth finding out from PAS what they would support. It may be that if Lapwing is a flight risk ( no pun intended!) they might support contact. I think Simba feels quite conflicted about contact. He wants to see dad but I feel he never really gets what he wants from it. I strongly suspect that dad is undiagnosed autistic, and he just can't give Simba what he needs, even just for a few hours. We saw him at February half term after a gap of a few years. I have to say it was a bizarre experience. To anyone looking on we must have seemed like a lovely happy family, wheras the reality is this man has one child adopted, one is residential care and another he is not allowed to see. Which leads me to another point. I found the whole day incredibly stressful, and have always done so. I did it for Simba, but it takes a huge amount out of me, the build up, the 'event' the emotional fall out afterwards. Managing expectations is huge part of this, yours, theirs, the birth family and needs to be fsctored in
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Heavensent April 24, 2019 16:23
Have you read Bubblewrapped Children? There is a section in there about brain development and puberty - the brain becomes plastic again during teenage years which makes children much more vulnerable. Sadly, BM has not responded to postboxes for many years in our case, and does not appear to have a Facebook profile any more, so it's not much of an issue for us. However, reading that book did make me think that I would not want to be encouraging further contact during the early teenage years as kids are dealing with enough as it is!
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Donatella April 24, 2019 18:15
I would be extremely hesitant and I say this as mother to three teenagers. The teenage years are fraught for all sorts of reasons - they have a knack of playing one parent off against the other and if you add in what appears to be a rather attractive birth mother proposition as well (as you say nice holidays etc) then that will add another complication. What if you have a row - which you undoubtedly will? Will lapwing choose to go running off to bm? Will she contact her and make accusations about you? It does happen. My 13 year old had lifestory work recently as she was curious but also muddled about the realities. It helped remove the rose tinteds. Your children were removed for good reason and even if bm has made huge strides it doesn’t change the fact that she didn’t get it right for your children when she needed to. It can and does work for some but I’m not convinced that doing it now whilst puberty, hormones and the teenage years loom.
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