How do you handle a birth parent showing up to a meeting with the child stoned or drunk? What do you do when a birth parent often breaks promises to the child? Join us to talk about nine sticky situations that adoptive parents often find themselves in. Our guest is Lori Holden, the author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.
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Welcome everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I am Dawn Davenport. I am both the host of this show as well as the director of the nonprofit creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about navigating sticky birth parents situations. We'll be talking with Lori Holden, she is the author of the open hearted way to open adoption, helping your child grow, uphold, and she is the host of the podcast adoption, the long view, Lori has keynoted and presented at adoption conferences around the US. And her work has appeared in magazines such as parenting and adoptive families. Welcome Lori to creating a family.
Thanks so much, Dawn, it's wonderful to have the chance to talk with you.
Before we jump in and talk about difficult or sticky birth parents situations, I want to begin by talking about openness and the importance of openness or some form of relationship. And why it is considered best that we try to have a relationship of some sort. However, it is defined with birth parents,
I'm so glad that you're focusing in on this because I think this is one of the ways we've gone wrong. In defining and creating and living open adoption. We have historically used contact as the measure for whether or not we can have an open adoption. And that is problematic for a couple of reasons. One, it is imprecise. We don't really know when somebody says they have an open adoption, that could mean 1000 10,000 different things. Because we don't know if we're measuring the amount of contact, the frequency of contact, the type of contact, the quality of contact. So it's very imprecise. I mean, you could call somebody who texts once a year in the same camp as somebody who takes vacations together with their child, child's birth family, and that that kind of shows the imprecise pneus of it. The second problem that I see with using contact as a matter of an open adoption is that it's very exclusive. It makes a lot of families think that they can't have an open adoption when they may want it. But whether even they don't want, it might be an excuse to not have an open adoption. If your child's birth parents are unknown, on another continent, incarcerated unsafe for contact, deceased, or opting out, there's so many reasons why contact may not be available to us. So I think contact is the measure of an open adoption is mistakenly, it's a mistake, and we need to come up with something better. And you just said it, Dawn, its openness. And you're right about the relationship part as well. This is more about relationships. I mistakenly thought at the beginning of my journey, when my children were hypothetical to me that an open adoption meant in a relationship with my child's birth parents, what I have come to mean, in the intervening years, and my my children, and now both young adults, what I found is that openness in adoption really is about the relationship I have between my children and me. That's where openness really comes in is that open channel, where I feel as safe as possible, as approachable as possible to talk about all issues, but especially adoption issues to my children, when they come up along their developmental path.
Okay, so now we are talking though, when people are having a relationship of sorts, however, that might be with their child's birth parent. And that can present a number of different difficult are sticky situations that that come up. And so I want to start with the for the number one sticky situation that we hear about in the relationships that we might have be having with our child's birth parents and our child will be having with their birth parent is if the birth parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol or is struggling with substance abuse disorder in some way. Do you also see that as a one of the top difficult, how do we navigate those relationship type questions that you get as well?
Yeah, those are those are probably at the top of the stickiness list is when there's unsettling unsafe, especially including addiction, because that makes everything less predictable. And it makes it harder for us to get a bead on on safety when that happens. So what I plan to share today is really less about what people do and say like there's no recipe card for this. If If This Then That. It's less about what you do or say than it is about where you orient within yourself. And all of this is predicated on your boundaries and how are you set how are you discerning what your boundary is where is the line between what is okay with you and what isn't okay with you? And so looking into that is, is super important as a first step, because everything else, relationship flows from that decision, not only the relationship with your child's birth parents, but also the relationship with your child. And in these sticky situations, especially like the first one we're talking about, like to call a gentleman named Brad review, I've been listening to his podcasts lately. He's Dr. Brad Reedy. He runs the VOC therapy programs. And he, he says, with these sticky situations, especially you, you can't win. But you can choose how to lose. And I feel like that really is what we're doing with our boundaries in dealing with addictions, because a win would be that they just stopped being addicted, whoever we're talking about. And we don't have control over that. All we have control over is how we respond. And I said the word respond instead of react, because that's part of this boundary setting and patrolling as well.
All right, so let me give a specific example. So you can put the boundary setting into into context. Let's say you have a meeting setup or a visitation setup, and the child's birth parents show up to the meeting and the child's obviously going to be there. And the parents show up high or stoned or drunk.
Yeah, so I'm going to assume that that crosses the line of the adoptive parent on what isn't isn't okay. And we always do need us out and prioritize safety, safety has to be at the foundation of everything that we do the safety for our child. But we also have to be have a mind to not let safety mask possible internal issues that we're having, which means we have to stay intentional. So we again, we look within to find out, are we bringing anything into this boundary line? That is ours, like an insecurity or an envy of the child's parents for being the real parents? Are they the other parents? Is there an element of superiority? I'm better than they are? Because I would never do this? Is there an element of disgust? So when you ever have some of these out of proportion, emotions around this, it's probably beneficial to you to to examine those, work those out, perhaps with your own trusted person to figure out what what's behind that? No, you can't do all that. In the moment of fun, all of this has happened. But I think in that moment, we need to remember we're modeling for our child, how to do boundaries? Well, and it is okay to say this is not alright, right now. And you know, a lot of this depends on the age of the child, how egregious the behavior is, how noticeable it is on the part of the parents, because not all, not everything is unsafe. If your line is that the birth parents need to, you know, have passed a drug test for a couple of and be completely pure, you may not ever get that. So is there any squishiness in your boundaries, that can still be okay, from a safety standpoint. I know parents are probably worried that their their child will take on that behavior someday by seeing it. And I don't. Yeah, and so everything can be a teaching moment, kids are pretty smart, they can see that that kind of behavior leads to those kinds of consequences. And it can be a moment of closeness and connection between adoptive parent and child instead of a moment of disconnection and separation.
I also think, just from a practical standpoint, are there ways that what I particularly appreciated what you said about that boundaries can be masked as our own insecurity and our own desire to, to not continue the relationship so that I think it helps to be grounded in the understanding that there are advantages to our children from having some form of a relationship with their birth family. And so if we come from that perspective, it helps us set boundaries in a way that are not in your boundary may have to be rigid for a variety of reasons. But I do think it's helpful to understand what we are bringing to the table. And sometimes we can choose practical ways to work rather than just saying, I'm cutting off all form of contact, all form of openness. I don't want to have it you've got to be you got to take a drug test. And the day of you got to take a drug test two weeks before before every meeting type of thing that would be on but there are things that we could do that make it more likely that the parent would not be impaired. Find out if there is a time of day there may not be but there may be a time of day that if we can be flexible. We can capture them at that time. There may be a way of having somebody meet them before the child meets them to make an assessment on So how impaired they are, there are things that we can do if we go into it with the idea that if I can make this work, it would be a good thing. So anyway, just from a practical standpoint, there are things that we can do.
Yeah, and I love that. Because what I, what I coach my clients to think about is in terms of stop thinking in terms of an open door or a closed door and start thinking instead about a screen door. So you know, we have screens, so that lets in the breeze without letting in the mosquitoes. And so we're trying to better screen and let in all that we want in. So that takes a lot more work, it takes a lot more thought. And I think you're right that there's there's something else going on with this boundary. Because here's what our child is going to hear from us. If we just cut people off, that we're going to we could one day cut them off. I interviewed social worker, Rachel white for my book. And I thought I might read a small excerpt of how she framed this because it goes to that point. She says, If we parents have negative judgments and rejection of biological parents, this can have an effect on the child. She said, What does that say? Teach the children that you reject people who make poor choices, that family is family, only if you never have problems? How can we ask these children to trust us to love them when they make bad decisions? What if they grow up and struggle with mental health issues substance use or the like. So I think that that's another really important piece is that the child is going to know that how we treat their birth parents is a risk for how we may one day treat them. So that compassion and expansive way of trying to make the relationship stay engaged is really important for us in our child.
That was beautiful. And I also think what you said before was so important, I want to repeat it. And that is, we are also modeling for our children, how to set boundaries, healthy boundaries, I love the concept of a screen door, chances are extremely good, our children will have some form of relationship as they age, with their birth family. And if their birth family is birth, parents, birth siblings are struggling with substance abuse, they're going to have to figure out how to make how to how to navigate this relationship. And we can be their first model. And that's an important thing. So how do you set healthy boundaries with people who are addicted? Because that's the nature of addiction is that they tends to dissolve or tried to dissolve boundaries?
Yeah, and let me go back, I want to get to that. But I wanted to tag on to something else that you said that I thought was really good too is, depending on the circumstances, you might be able to invite the birth parent into this problem solving with you, like you said, change the time have a pre meeting. But even an invitation showing a relationship is that something like this isn't working for us. And I'm wondering if you have any ideas on how we might make it work better for Billy. So depending on, you know, just how severe the behaviors are. And the effect is enlisting them in the honor to be on the same side as you as always is always very helpful. But as far as boundaries, I think what we need to do is in our minds, we need to divide into divide in our minds, into what we can control and what we can't control. So we can control when to tell the child that we're having a visit. So this will go kind of also to the question I hear a lot, which is, what if they don't show up for visits, or what if they're late,
we're gonna come up to that one that will actually go Go ahead. That's our sticky situation number two. So let's, let's go ahead and throw that in because oftentimes the sticky situation the difficult situation, and that is failing to show up for a meeting or a visit or showing up late. And often the cause for failing to show up or showing up late is addiction itself, the only cause about it is a cause.
So what can we control in these two situations you can control? When we tell the child, we can control how we prepare them for the visit, though you know the words we say the way we couch it, the timing we do it with? We can control modeling flexibility, modeling resilience, when things don't go the way they're planned, we are modeling. So even if we what comes up with what we will call a fail, they don't show up or they show up high. And we're still modeling how to recover from something like that. We also can control how we communicate with the birth parent. Do we do this a week before, a day before an hour before all of these things to try to keep those touch points and try to improve improve the odds of the showing up? We can control being present with the child's emotions. No matter what happens if the visit happens if the visit doesn't happen. We can model how to be okay with To all of the emotions that come up, where we can't control as what the birth parent does, and we can't control how the adoptive feels. So that that's a big part of setting the boundaries is only try to control the things that you actually can control, you're going to drive yourself crazy if you're trying to manifest that the birth parent shows up on time. And in a good state of mind, you don't get to control that you don't get to when you can maybe just choose how to lose. So
how do we explain drug addiction of a birth parent to a child? And should we, if the birth parent is an obviously as a somewhat age dependent on the child? But so is it important that they understand the reason that their parent seems out of it? Or is acting inappropriate or is not showing up for meetings?
Yeah, I think that is important to add that context in an age appropriate way. So that the child understands that that context is everything. And like you said, it really depends on the age. And this is where having a an adoption competent therapist already engaged with your family can help guide those conversations, understanding child development, understanding attachment issues, that these are really, really important moments, you always want to err on the side of connection. And if you can get extra help on that attachment connection from an adoption competent therapist, I I'm, I think that is so necessary.
And the age appropriateness is you can start by saying information about that your mom and dad or dad have have a sickness or something along those lines so that the child doesn't internalize it, and then start adding more detail as you go along.
Yeah, because you want to do it without blame. You want to do it without shame. And you want to do it with compassion. You and I have talked spoken before about some reframing techniques, which we might also get into, but a reframing technique that you might use here, especially if you find yourself as being judgmental of the birth parent, it would be this if your child were to grow up and experience addiction, and that's a really hard hypothetical to even go to. But if that happened, how would you treat your child and try to do that here in the present moment, because what you would really want is probably three things you would want compassion, you would want healthy, well discerned boundaries, and you would want integrity in your what you do and say and believe and the way you treat them. That's what you would want for your child. And so we can reframe it as a way to see the birth parents with more compassion, a struggling birth parent with more compassion. Excellent.
Let me pause for a minute to tell you about a free resource. Thanks to our partners that Jacobean Family Foundation, we have 12 free online courses available for you, you can find them at Bitly slash JBf support that's bi T dot L, Y, slash J. B F support a wide variety of titles all directly relevant to adoption, foster kinship, parenting, so check them out. Alright, the second, we've already started talking about second difficult, or sticky birth parents situation is, as we mentioned, as a failing to show up for a meeting or showing up late and certainly one of the causes for that is substance abuse. However, it seems important in this situation, if it's not obvious that that the the main cause for this is substance abuse is at least to look for what the cause might be, does the birth parent have a car? Does the birth parent have gas in the car? Does the birth parent struggle with time management? Are there other other reasons other than they just don't care? Are they're just irresponsible or any of the other judgmental things that we all say when people show up late for meetings and show up especially if it's hurting our child. So that seems important as one of the first steps in in handling this sticky situation?
Yeah, and this is another reason why if we orient on openness, first and contact second, then we will look for ways to make it work. We will investigate the reasons we might collaborate on solutions to help with transportation to help with time management. To help with a time of day we will be creative. This openness creates a creative mindset for us to try to figure out how to solve the problem from the same side. If we focus on contact first, then we may be too easily wanting to close the door and not get creative and just say you know what? This too hard, it's not working. And this is my excuse to earn a reason to say no more. This is too hard. Now, people may get to that point anyway, even if they're working from an orientation of openness. But I think this is really where why I want to say, openness leads to creativity and in solving these things and expansion in looking for ways to make things work and contact as the focus can keep us closed to to that creativity.
Excellent. So how do you protect your child from disappointment, because that's often at the heart of why parents are so frustrated, they, the child is expecting a phone call, the child is expecting a visit of the child is expecting something from their birth parent, and it doesn't happen. And it breaks our kids hearts, but it also breaks our hearts as parents. So how do we protect our kids?
Yeah, we do everything that we can to prevent the sequence of events that causes the disappointment, we do everything we can in our control to make that visit happen in a smooth way to make that phone call happen. And I know I know, from personal experience, what it's like to watch your child watch the front door, exactly doesn't come
in, or if they're expecting a call where they won't, you know, they won't get away from where the phone is, yeah,
and the anxiety that you can see in your child and it starts to leak into you. And no matter how hard you're trying to calm yourself down and keep yourself that, that calm, safe space. This goes back to discerning what you can control and what you can't control when you've done everything you can to prevent a situation to to make the situation go in the smoothest way possible. And there still is a disappointing turn of events. What is within our control is to make space for those emotions. And that is super hard. Sometimes the anxiety is volatile and outward directed, and sometimes that anxiety and disappointment is inward directed. And neither one of those are easy. This is where professional help is helpful. This is where us doing our own work to provide as much space for these emotions is important. If we can't, if we're super uncomfortable with the disappointment, and anxiety, and we're already full, we are not providing the space for our child to have that. So I think this is where our own practice somehow of keeping ourselves self regulation and maybe even co regulation can help. But there's no magic answer, we can only do what we can do on that front end to prevent and on the back end to give space.
There are exactly right, there's, there are some practical things that you can depending on the age of your child. And depending on how often this happens, but not to telling your child about the visit until you think it is going to happen. You can even go to the for meeting at a park or if the birth parents are coming to your house, or if not mentioned, and until just show up at the park and play. And then if the birth parents show, they show that gets complicated because if you have the same place you always meet them, the child is expecting when you show up there, but so in a practical solution there is trying to choose different places so that when they don't show the child is not aware that they haven't shown and then trying to plan a plan B have that in mind. If they don't show we will do this. So these are all alternatives that take some of the sting, but it doesn't take the it doesn't take the feeling of rejection and disappointment away completely.
Yeah, and those are really good techniques as don't. I've heard people say Don't Don't tell them, it's happening until you see them walk up, right.
All right, the third difficult birth parents situation is similar to the second and that is when birth parents make promises that they can't or won't keep. And this happens where I'm going to send you a big present for your birthday, or I'm going to come visit that goes back to the visit thing. Or I'm going to set up a phone call with your birth sibling, or any number of things that there are promises that are being made. How will we handle that as adoptive parents?
Oh, those are just heartbreaking in the same ways. I think it goes back to discerning what you can control and what you can't control and adding in an element of I think intervening with a birth parent again saying are you aware that when this continues to happen, this breaks our child's heart we both love him and this is what it does to him. Let me just read flecked to you how it feels for him and what I observe when you do this? Are you aware that this is happening? And maybe they never thought of it? You know, maybe they aren't aware. So bringing that awareness to them is one thing and then working together trying to collaborate on how can we make sure that we don't hurt him? What what do you think we can do and get their ideas get their buy in, because sometimes that can even come with a little bit of commitment to stopping that behavior.
Yeah, I also think sometimes if some of the things, again, practical things are, when the child is on the phone, if that's happening, or in a meeting, having the adoptive parent listen in, so that they are aware of what the promises because it is so important that you know, because otherwise you're not you don't know when the disappointment hits, you don't know when the promise has been has been failed to follow through. So being aware is one thing. And so if you know that you're that the child's let's say it's the child's birth father, then insist that you are a part not necessarily participating in the call, but that you're listening, or in a meeting that your present. You know, the other thing is that, at some point helping our if this is a recurring problem, talking with our kids without putting their birth parent down, but say, you know, your birth dad often says he's gonna do things. And I'm not sure why. But he doesn't always follow through. So how can we how can you prepare yourself for that maybe, maybe he's going to do it, maybe he doesn't, maybe he's saying it, because he, he thinks it's will make you happy, and he wants to make you happy, I don't know. But whatever reason, we're not sure. So doing something to prepare the child for the possibility in advance. Absolutely, that preparation
on the front end, and that just being there, and holding space, on the back end, both of those things are very connective. And I also was thinking, as you were talking that in some ways, we are modeling for the birth parent, how to take care of this child. And so in a way we're teaching. And so completing the circuit between the two of them, I really liked that point you made about being involved. overhearing making sure they know that you're, you're there, because your child is going to know that you're there as a protective mechanism, if that's kind of where your orientation is, and that that's going to build connection between you and your child. And the birth parent is also going to know there's going to be some measure of accountability as well. So I think that's, that's very important.
I know of a situation where it was with the birth father, and he had some developmental delays, not significant, but there were some developmental delays. And adoptive dad was the one who would live was on the call and when they are on the calls, and when the birth dad would say something, like, I'm gonna take you to Disney World, or whatever, adoptive dad would intervene right then and say, Boy, that it, it, that would be great if it if it could happen and just kind of put a element of reality there. So that it diffuses. And it also gave the birth dad a face saving way out about well, yeah, you know, I wish it could happen. And maybe it will happen, something along those lines. So participating is I think, very important.
Yeah, just to tag on to that I had a client to the birth father, they when the kid was about 14 started promising a car for when the child was of driving age. And the adoptive parent had to say something like, Do you really think your dad is in a position to buy you a car, let's, you know, just kind of like opening it up, look at this objectively and to open to allow for the possibility that it may not happen,
and also say why do you think he would want to be able to buy you a car? Why would he be telling you this? When let's be honest, you don't really think he has the money for this? So why would he be doing that? And then opening that up as a possibility of, of ideas we may not know, but we could we can make some guesses. So in a
beautiful teachable moment. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Did you know that most people find out about podcasts through word of mouth. They're sitting next to somebody in a meeting, on the subway, in a plane, at a dinner party, at the park, whatever. They're sitting next to somebody and the topic comes to podcast or to adoption. And that's when most people are adoption or fostering or kinship. That's when most people find out about podcasts. And if you want to help us, the best thing you could do is let others know about the creating a family.org podcast. Our mission is to inspire and strengthen the adoption foster We're in kinship community, and we need your help. And that will be a big help. So the next difficult situation is a particularly difficult one. And there aren't easy answers to this. And that is, how should you? And if so, how would you maintain any type of relationship with a birth parent who has abused or neglected the child? Wow,
this is this is so hard and actually so common, especially if there has been, you know, we tend to think of neglect and abuse is the with a capital n and capital A, but even just substance use disorder during pregnancy is
Oh, that's, I'm glad you brought that one up. That is such a good point. Yes.
So I think I would caution to be very aware and monitor your own inner judgment judge, listen to I call her in me. If you start to feel super superior, and kind of disgusted with your child's birth parents for this hurt, that they inflicted, you're going to be less effective in walking alongside your child. So I think some of this is that inner work. And this understanding that there's always context, there's a reason why people are the way they are. Abuse comes from abuse, and predators come from being prey. And trauma comes from trauma and neglect comes from neglect. So it didn't happen, it probably didn't happen in a vacuum, this person has probably led a difficult life. And this is what I'm going to say next is not popular with a lot of people. But I think for the most part, I think people usually do the best they can with what they have. So this is the best that they this is possibly the best that they could do. And that's really sad. Isn't that really sad? So your first priority to your child is to their well being. So this requires attunement and connection. And at some point, your child is going to be old enough to weigh in on what contact and relationship with this parent looks like. So again, bringing in that collaboration with your child at the point where it makes sense. I would say bringing in a therapist on these really high stakes decisions can can be super helpful to bring clarity, and that attunement and connection and help with those boundaries, not only setting them but patrolling them. You know, I am such a proponent of open adoption. And I don't want people to think that what I mean by that is that we always need to have contact just for the sake of contact. Because there are some times when we should not have contact, we should never do an open adoption, what we should do is discernment, about contact. So there are some times when maybe for a time for a season, we do not have contact with somebody who had abused our child. But we need to work out our own feelings about that and not bring that into the equation for our child because it's too much for them to try to navigate on top of their own feelings about it.
And often, quite frankly, the decision has, if the child has been abused, the decision of contact may well have been made by it by the foster care system. Now once you become what's the adoption, you get to choose on that but you will certainly be guided by what was the existing contact relationship before the child was placed? For a narcissist.
Let's just reiterate here that being an adoptive parent, and being open and managing all of these relationships, starting with managing our own feelings, takes a huge amount of emotional intelligence takes a huge commitment to do this work and to focus on our child and to know when when we've got something going on. So this is a big ask of adoptive parents. I just don't ever want to minimize this. This is a big ask to do that discernment.
Yeah, excellent point. All right. Another difficult situation that comes up is if the adoptive family has more than one adopted child, and there are obvious differences between the degree of openness or contact or relationship within the multiple adoptions within the same adoptive family. How do we handle that? Yeah, I
hear this one a lot to parents really, I mean, human beings really love the idea of equity and equality. And to see inequity and inequality is really hard in our families. So again, we have to look at what we can control and what we can't control. And I also like to do this reframing exercise again. Is there a way in our parenting that we already do this dealing with inequity that has nothing to do with adoption? So let's find that let's take away the adoption charge and let's see how we how we resolve a different situation. So one we might use is that we have two kids and they both play soccer and one gets picked for the team and the other one doesn't or they're both in math and one gets picked for advanced math and one doesn't. So how would you deal with that? What are the some of the things you would think of to deal with different levels of ability or talent or something that seems unequal as well.
And then use that as an example, when you're speaking with your child.
Yeah, as well, as you're figuring out what your course of action is going to be. Because you've removed the adoption charge, that emotional charge, it's like, oh, I can't make this right. You can't make that right either. But parents do it all the time. Right, what we do is we meet each child where they are, you can't, you wouldn't want to bring down the contact with one, the child that has it, and you can't bring up the contact with a child who doesn't have it. So this is where we enter into dealing with what is and expanding our comfort level in dealing with what is we help our child who has the contact to be a gracious winner, I'm saying that with air quotes, not to rub it in not to use it as a weapon against their sibling. And we meet the child who might be grieving and feel sad and black, and maybe even angry, we meet them where they are, and model for them how to deal with what is giving them space to have their the emotions that they're going to have. Okay, and although all the while behind the scenes, if there is a way to build a relationship with that birth parent, find, find them, make contact with them, make them feel welcome, safe, you know, maybe working behind the scenes that way too, but with our child, what can we do other than meet both of them where they are, and give them the space to feel the emotions they feel.
Another difficult situation that's becoming far more common is around DNA testing. We received this question through our Facebook group. And the gist of it is that it is a semi closed adoption. And as far as the adoptive parent knows, the birth mothers, other children do not know that she had a child and placed the as far as the adoptive parent knows, the adoptive father is either unaware our app is, let's say unaware or are not involved. So where does the should you do a DNA test. In this particular case, the child is young, and has a minor health condition that the doctor said could be genetic. And it would be interesting to know if it was genetic and doing a genetic testing would provide that. In other cases, it's just in general, should you run a DNA test knowing that you may be opening up a can of worms for the birth family, and but perhaps going against the at least the spirit of what the birth parents said they wanted?
Yeah, this is this is another sticky situation. And even after all these years that I've been in an adoption world, I don't really know what semi-closed means. So I'm going to assume here that this means, as you said that the birth mom is okay with her identity being known and limited contact, but really nothing more. So I think we can probably assume from that, that she's living in some sort of shame about this pregnancy, and perhaps the length relinquishment and secrecy. And there's a fear of something coming up. So those are some of the things that we can assume are motivating her. As far as the adoptive mom, I'd say that the the first priority needs to be to her son. And this sometimes does happen in families where what the birth parent wants or needs or expects is different from what the child needs. And I actually had a therapist tell me, you always have to pick team adoptee if you're faced with that. That split and you know if you can avoid the split, if that's your first line of defense, but her priority is to her son. So she really needs to consider weighing the necessity of getting that information from DNA testing, with rocking the boat with the birth mom. So I think what I would enter into this conversation is to, you know, let the, again try to collaborate with a birth mom on this, is there a way to let her know that her son needs this information for medical reasons, and not even asking her but telling her you know, I'm going to pursue getting it. So at the very least, that's a heads up for the birth mom, that this is happening and at best, maybe she'll come alongside your efforts. So those are my thoughts on that.
I would also say that in this case, the reality is that at some point, chances are extremely good. Even if she isn't the one. Let's say there is no health issue with the child. The child turns 18 and 20 or 16. orders a kit. Yeah. So the idea that secrets will be able to be held is not a realistic one. So preparing the birth mom for that as well. Absolutely. DNA
testing has made closed adoptions and continued anonymity. Just a thing of the past.
Absolutely. There is a great resource available to you, as adoptive or foster parents. And it's absolute love adoptions, the solace, adoption or solace, gift baskets, they are sponsoring this show and we are so appreciative. They created the idea solace group created an idea of creating gift baskets for birth parents, birth moms, the boxes there, they're actually boxes, not baskets, the boxes come in three adoption themes. And they really are the perfect gift to a birth parent, it could be for her birthday, it could just be it'd be for a holiday. But honestly, it could be for any just no reason at all, just maybe to congratulate her for graduation. Or maybe just as a way of saying I'm thinking of you, you can purchase our donate and solace gift box for birth mothers by visiting adopt solace.com. That's hp o ptsolace.com. You can also check them out on Instagram at adopt solace. Another difficult situation and adoption. It really deals when the adoptive parents are the problem. You know, we've been talking up to this point about as if the the issue is with the birth parents, the birth family. But I think we'd be remiss if we don't acknowledge that we as adoptive parents are sometimes the sticky situation, we are the problem, we are the difficulty. Can you throw out some examples where this you see this happening?
Yeah, and this, this happens a lot when we have some below the surface things motivating us maybe that's insecurity that we have, we can't even afford to see and acknowledges there, maybe we are looking for reasons to shut down that contact because it gets us in that insecurity. It gets us in a place where we have this idea of what our family would be and we outsource our reproduction part. And there's grief there. And if we haven't dealt with our grief, and if we haven't entered into the place where we can deal with what is what is is that there's another set of legitimate parents out there for our child. And if we are struggling with all of that acknowledgement and acceptance, it's going to come out sideways. And so so much of what I espouse for adoptive parents is to do this work to have this inner reflection to figure out what emotions really are motivating us. So yeah, it can it can come up without the snap decisions to want to close things down looking for excuses to close things out. Of course, when we're doing it. We don't think that that's what we're doing. Because we don't have a self awareness.
We're not being proactive. we're reacting, we're reacting to generally fear of some form, fear of having to share a fear of being less a fear of not being chosen. Fear of not being the favorite fear of not being real, all of these fears jump up. And if we haven't thought it through ahead of time, it is so easy to just react.
Absolutely. And so I put in my notes to talk to you today that if this is a if this is the birth parent thinking that this is a problem that they're their child's adoptive parents are being unreasonable. Super close, super reactionary, you know, try. And it's the adoptive parent who realizes I need to do a better job of this. This is feeling really icky to me, and I think I'm the one with the problem. If they get to that point. I would say have them join creating a family. I think the online group is so good for all of this. I think the resources you have are so amazing for all of this, I would say read my book, The open hearted way to open adoption. I would say listen to both of our podcasts. And then I want to throw in also that I work on a it's currently called three sides to every adoption video podcast with an adoptee Sarah easterly, and a birth mom Kelsey Evander of late Ron yard. And we have two episodes up. One is problematic behaviors of adoptive parents. And another is problematic behaviors of birth parents. And so both of those episodes on YouTube will cover a lot of these things from whichever angle you're looking at.
Excellent suggestions. All right, another difficult situation is What if the birth parents don't want any contact don't want any relationship. They want to place the child and not have contact. And you've some people might be saying, Well, why is that a problem? Somebody asked you that? Is that a problem? Is that a difficult situation? And, and what do we do about it?
If anything? Well, this is where we accept what is and it doesn't have to be forever, I find that sometimes what is one way in a season doesn't stay that way, whether that's our child, or our child's birth parents or even us. So just because they say that for now doesn't mean like, it's always going to be there. So the way I conceptualize it is that instead of an open adoption with contact, what we're going to do is have an open door adoption. And we let birth parents know our porch light is on for you. We are here. When you're ready. This is the kind of host you're going to be are you are welcome at our door, let us know when when you're ready. That's what's within our power to do at that point. And then on the other side, I would say you can still have an open adoption, because what you're doing is you're building that relationship with your child, you have openness and adoption, and you are going to make space for your child's birth parents with your child in your home, you're going to talk about them, you're going to be curious with your child as they grow up. I wonder if your birth dad like chocolate chip cookies, too. Oh, I bet your mom was good at soccer. I had some guests who were both adoptees, and both playwrights. And they both said to me, I needed my adoptive parents to make space for my birth parents who weren't there. And so opening those conversations, being curious with them, giving your child the permission to go there and wander alongside you by watching you do it. So that those are ways that we can still have an open adoption, even if birth family doesn't want contact.
Excellent. And the less difficult situation is if the our child's birth parent is already parenting children that they have not placed or has subsequent children that they parent and don't play. So birth siblings that are being parented by the birth parents. It brings to four potentially could bring to for for the child to feel like she chose someone else. But she didn't choose to parent me.
Yeah, that that will happen somewhere along the way. If we can't prevent it from happening, nor should we want to prevent it from happening. Can we be there alongside them? When it does happen? Can we hold the emotional space for them? Can we talk with them and do the reason part of why it happened? Can we d personalize it and make it about the time period of when that child came along in relation to the other children we can we can do that reason and emotion have to kind of work together because the child will feel this in their in their emotional body. The reason will help mitigate it but it won't make it go away.
That is so true. It doesn't there usually is a reason. But that doesn't take away the sting that doesn't take away the pain and expecting it to is really unfair. So why should we as adoptive parents try to maintain relationships with birth family? In difficult situations? Why not just say to heck with it, you know, we are enough. We don't need this complexity. Life's hard enough. We don't need to bring in more hardness.
I think Leslie Johnson who is an adoptee and a therapist, she said that your child's birth parents are there, whether they're there or not. You're sharing your child, whether they're there or not. So this is part of dealing with what is you know, the our children's birth parents are in their DNA, they're in their heart, they're in their origin story, they're in their thoughts. They're in their dreams, they're in their fantasies, especially if they're not actually around to counter the fantasy. So our children's birth parents are there, whether they're there or not. And so for us to acknowledge and accept that and not resist it not provide the energy that pushes it away that reality, a way that makes us feel safer and more approachable to to our child. And the more we can accept all of that honors, the child all honors all aspects of the child and helps them to integrate all their pieces, whether they're present, or not present. So contact again is less essential to our child than openness with our child. So always, always, always in in open adoptions, which is everybody. Pursue the openness first, and the contact seconds contact is always secondary. Make it happen if you can, but provide space and an open channel between you and your child. As just as a matter of parenting. That's parenting.
Thank you so much Laurie Holden for being First day to talk about navigating these difficult birth parent situations. We so appreciate your wisdom and your
thank you so much, Don. It was a pleasure to be here.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai