Tag: adoptive mom

Building a positive relationship with birth families (Part 2)

I concluded part 1 of this blog post: “Now that we have established why it is important to build a good relationship, let’s talk about how to do that.”

Introductions

I always introduce myself the same way every time I meet a new birth parent: “Hello, my name is Eleanor; I am your son’s/daughter’s/children’s foster mom. I’m sorry to have to meet you like this because this must be a hard time for your family. Your son/daughter/children (insert comment about a positive trait here).”

Let’s break this down:

First, I use the words “foster mom” right away—I have had birth parents say things such as, “Oh, you are the lady watching my kids,” or assume this is a paid “job” for me—so I make certain to introduce the idea immediately that I am the person mothering their children right now. We are going to be co-parenting these kids for the foreseeable future, so let’s be clear on our roles right away.

Second, I acknowledge that this is a difficult situation. Whatever has happened up to this point, there is no question it’s a challenging time for everyone involved. Showing empathy for the family makes you seem less of an enemy.

Third, in making a positive comment such as “Your son has such an infectious smile,” you establish the fact that while you are mothering or fathering the child at the moment, you also want to be clear that this is their child. As far as the compliment, well, what parents don’t want to hear nice things about their kid? Besides, being friendly never hurts when meeting people the first time.

Photo album

The first time I meet parents I show up with a small dollar-store photo album to give them. I always ask the caseworker first if this is okay—and if there are safety issues I need to be aware of.

I include a photo of our family (if safe to do so), a photo of our house (again, if safe to do so), a photo of the child’s bedroom, our playroom, our pets and so on. In the early days, I always try to get a few photos of the kids playing or eating or involved in similar activities and include those. I work really hard to make sure I have at least one photo in which the child is smiling!

I used to not include photos of the kids being held or cuddled by us (I always assumed it would be upsetting to the birth parents to see photos of their child being held by someone else) and then had one mother tell me that she was afraid her son was not being loved while we had him. I immediately showed her all the photos on my phone of him being held, cuddled and rocked and she felt much better, so now I include those photographs, too.

While children are with me, I keep printing photos and taking them to visits. Plus, I scribble notes on the back about what we have been doing and what the kids have been up to each week. If my children were not living with me, I know I would wonder what their days looked like, so I try to make sure parents know what their kids are up to.

Crafts/Artwork

If your foster child is in preschool or school, you should have an abundance of craft projects coming home. I take one or two to each visit and give them to the parents. Kids love showing off their work!

Holidays

For Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas and so on, I help my foster kids make a small gift or buy something small for them to give to their parents. Most parents are touched to receive something and most kids really enjoy giving gifts.

For the child’s birthday and Christmas I normally take a small gift in my bag to the visit that falls closest to the holiday. If the birth parents did not bring anything to the visit, I let them know I have something in my bag for them to give their child if they would like to.

I have had birth parents burst into tears at this point because they just didn’t have the extra money to buy anything for their child and are so happy to have something to give.

I once had a fellow foster parent tell me I was enabling the birth parent, but I disagree. Most birth parents have all kinds of enormous tasks to complete, which can include finding housing, getting a job, completing rehab or attending parenting classes, so having money and time to buy their child a gift can be just one too many tasks for the week.

And it doesn’t take much effort for me to pick up an additional small gift; often, this kindness will go a very long way.

Don’t take it personally

All birth parents with whom I have worked have, at some point, critiqued the way I was caring for their child. One didn’t like the brand of diapers I was using; another insisted I must be neglecting to change her son because he had a (slight) diaper rash. One mom got upset that I had juice for the child in the diaper bag, while another was concerned I didn’t have juice on hand for her to give her child.

I figure it’s not about me.

This parent has almost no control over their child’s life, so they seek it where they can. I smile and tell them I hear them, but I don’t rush out and buy a new brand of diapers or run to the store for juice boxes. Their concern or anxiety is not typically about diapers or juice anyway.

Ask the parents about their child

Parents know a lot about their kid, how they go to sleep, what their favorite television show is, what they like to eat and so on—so ask!

In doing so, you will learn important information about the child you are parenting while also acknowledging the birth parents’ role in their child’s life. They are probably not feeling amazing about themselves or their identity as parents right now, so acknowledging they know a lot about their child they can teach you will be validating to them.

Boundaries

Sometimes, maintaining a positive relationship means setting good, firm boundaries. If parents are given my phone number or manage to get hold of it and start texting or calling constantly, I politely but firmly tell them that I am busy caring for their child and we will talk at the next visit. Your social worker can help you with setting boundaries if you need to, but I often find that having a frank but polite chat solves most issues.

Sure, it’s not always been smooth sailing with every birth family, but for the most part we have been able to build positive and respectful relationships with our foster and adopted kids’ parents, grandparents and even extended family.

It has not always been easy and has sometimes involved a lot of tongue-biting on my part—but it has been 100% worth the effort!

—Eleanor Delewski, Diakon Adoption & Foster Care parent

(A final note about language: for a child who has been adopted, the commonly accepted terms are “parent” for the adoptive parents and “birth” or “first parents” for the child’s original parents. However, for a child in foster care, “parent” typically refers to the birth parent, with “foster parent” being used for the moms and dads caring for the child while he or she is in foster care. For clarity, the term “birth parent” is used in this blog post to refer to the foster child’s original parents, but I fully recognize that while a child is in foster care the birth parents are still the legal parents of the child. Not everyone agrees on what language should be used for which parent, but that is a debate beyond the scope of this post.)

Adopting a teen means being “someone to stand by them”

Amy Murray has a plan, should she ever be lucky enough to win big in the lottery.

“I’d buy a big piece of land and build homes for all of them,” she says of older children who remain in foster care, waiting to be adopted. “They are at a huge disadvantage. When these kids go through what they go through, they trust no one. Sometimes they don’t even know how to articulate what has happened to them.”

In May, Amy formally adopted one of those young people.

Skylar, now 13, had a long history in foster care, Amy says. At the age of six, she had been removed from her mother’s home, when the environment became unsafe, and placed in foster care. She then lived with her birth father and his girlfriend until that arrangement became unsafe, which led to her being moved to a number of foster homes.

The chance to change a life

Janice and her husband, Will, recently adopted a brother and sister, ages 13 and 16 respectively. She shares her thoughts and a few lessons she’s learned about first fostering and then adopting teenagers.

I always wanted to adopt. My best friend growing up was adopted and when I was dating my husband, I told him I wanted to adopt. Luckily, he was on board.

I was particularly interested in adopting siblings. I had heard stories about siblings being separated when adopted and thought how sad that is and how terrifying it must be for them. They were just taken away from everything and everyone they know and then to lose their last connection.

When we were ready to adopt, we went to an information session provided by Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.

Worth the wait

I always wanted to be a mom; in fact, when I was younger, I knew I would adopt someday. I just always knew.

When I was 25, I decided I would go to an information night for foster-to-adopt; this was with another organization than Diakon Adoption & Foster Care. I was a teacher at this point and ready to be a mother.

The training was quick and painless and I was approved. But, if you foster or adopt, you will quickly learn that waiting is part of the experience.

Following approval, I said yes to foster-parenting a girl, but was not selected. Before long, however, I was asked to provide a home for a 15-month-old girl on a foster-to-adopt basis. A few weeks later, the exciting part began and I still recall that day 18 years later: A little girl walking in with her social worker. That was followed, however, 20 minutes later by the toddler’s mother coming by with a different social worker.

I was asked if this was okay. My daughter’s birth mother was young and had not seen her in a while. I agreed; I was new at this and was afraid to say no. But the visit went quickly and painlessly and provided me with the opportunity to meet my child’s birth mother in my home. I knew as well that it would benefit my child to see her two mothers interact in my home. Looking back, I am glad I did this.

In fact, my daughter and I got into the swing of our relationship. She had weekly visits with her birth mom. She always went to her birth mom willingly and always left the visits just as happy. At a young age she understood that she had two moms.

But … I was always waiting for an update, always wondering how long my daughter would stay. Would I adopt her … or would she go back to birth mom?

I think that is probably the hardest part of being a foster parent. You are always waiting.

You wait for the call. You wait for any updates. You wait for court. You wait for termination of parental rights (TPR) or reunification. Luckily, you have things to fill in the wait. You are able to watch a child blossom in your house. You get to bond and create a family. It’s a stressful, yet exciting time.

I was lucky. I had to wait only 10 months for TPR. It was granted by yet again I had to wait—this time for 30 days to see if the birth mother appealed. She did and I went through a year of different appeals, making the time seem like the fastest and longest year I’ve ever experienced. The adoption was finalized just before my daughter’s fourth birthday.

I gave myself a break and enjoyed a quiet life without court dates, social worker visits and everything else that accompanies foster care. I decided that I would try private adoption next, thinking it would be easier. Boy, was I wrong!

Although I was told that as a single mother, I would wait longer because a birth mother, not a social worker, would have to pick me, I waited just three months until news came that my son was born, though seven weeks early. I visited him in the NICU for two weeks, during which time his birth mother left the hospital and could not be found. She had not, however, terminated her parental rights!

But the birth father then said he wanted the child; later, he, too, could not be located. TPR was finally granted on grounds of abandonment—one year later!

My life as a mom of two was great. We went about our day-to-day life and I was enjoying not waiting for court dates and phone calls. Six years later, I gave birth to a daughter. I was now a mom to three! And when my youngest daughter was three years old, I decided to try foster-to-adopt one more time—because I wanted to adopt a boy so that my son could experience having a brother.

I also wanted to take part in an older-child adoption. I wanted to help a child who might not be chosen because of age.

I had heard about Diakon Adoption & Foster Care and contacted the program. From the first call to today, I couldn’t be happier.

All of the people at Diakon have been wonderful and helpful. I went through the training and was ready for the call. But waiting is part of the process; this, I’ve come to know.

While I waited for a boy, I was approached about providing for care for a 12-year-old girl facing several challenges. Diakon needed someone to care for her temporarily while a permanent family was found for her … but, three years later, she is another loved part of my family—adopted.

I now had four children but still felt as if something was missing. I still wanted to adopt a boy.

I went back on the list and was called for a five-year old boy. He stayed with us for four months but had behaviors I could not handle. I felt like such a failure. I knew that I could not give him the help he needed. Diakon was very supportive and helped me during this process and he moved to a home with fewer children. I knew that move was best for him, yet I still found the situation among the more difficult ones I have experienced.

Seven months later, I was called about an 8-year-old boy but he soon returned to his home. I knew that was a possibility in foster-to-adopt, but I was still shocked. Three weeks later, I was called about an 11-year-old boy from a large family. I said yes and headed to his county to pick him up.

The experience changed my life forever.

In fact, I experienced many things for the first time with this placement.

First, I learned how much he missed his siblings. The first night home I said to myself, “I should have taken one of his siblings, too.” I learned how important it can be to try to keep as many siblings together as possible.

Second, I had the wonderful experience of connecting with his birth mother. She has had a hard time in life and needed help and support as much as her children. She truly appreciates all the things foster parents have done for her children. So I learned that if you have the opportunity, you should try to connect with your children’s family. In fact, that connection made the placement so much easier.

Because of the support the mother received, the boy was able to return home in a few months. I was sad to see him go yet so happy for him and his family. They had worked very hard to get back together.

Unfortunately, the situation didn’t last and when I was called about the boy again, I asked to care for one of his siblings so that he wasn’t alone.

So here I am today—a mother of six! I don’t know yet what will happen with the boy and his sister. Will they go home? Will they go to a relative? Or will they stay with me?

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I am always asked by others: How do you do it? How can you sit and wonder each day if these kids will stay or go?

I tell them that it is just part of the foster-to-adopt process. I get through it with lots of support from adoption staff, social workers and others who are going through the same process. I connect with people who are walking the same walk. I use my Diakon staff worker for support. When I am stressed from all the waiting, I reach out to her. She tries to get me information and supports me.

The key to surviving the wait is to surrounding yourself with people who have done the same thing.

But—all this waiting and risk-taking have given me a family! I have grown as a person through these experiences. And I can truly say all of it has been worth the waiting I have done the last 18 years.

If I had to give advice to those just starting the foster-to-adopt process, I would tell them the journey may well be full of highs and lows. I also suggest thinking outside of the box and being flexible. Everyone goes into this with a specific picture of what you want in a family.

However, be open to expand on that picture.

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I also would say to be prepared to be patient. The process can be full of waiting. But it also is full of amazing people who will support you. It is full of children who want to be part of a family. It is full of children who need you for support, love, and safety.

Trust me when I say it is worth the ride.

Stacey
Diakon Adoptive/Foster Care parent

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Shared love: A potential bridge for birth and adoptive parents

Josh and I have been married for 18 years this year. We have five children, three born to us and two adopted; our oldest daughter has a son, so we’re also grandparents!

Josh owns two businesses and I stay at home to homeschool the children; in fact, we’re in our ninth year of homeschooling.

Our first adopted child was placed with us when she was 6 months old and we fostered her for 17 months before the adoption was finalized. Our second child was placed with us when she was 2 days old and we fostered her for 18 months before adopting her.

As you can probably tell, we are a busy, active family! We spend a lot of time with our extended family; in fact, the kids are very close to their cousins.

In the past, there was usually a “distance” kept between birth parent or parents and the foster or adoptive parents, but that is changing in many cases—and we think it’s a great thing, if possible in light of individual circumstances.

We met the birth mother of Izzy (Isabel), our second adopted child, when we took Izzy for her first doctor’s appointment. In fact, I had asked if we could meet Izzy’s birth mother in the hospital when we were being placed with her, but the response was that it was not a good idea. I wish now that I had pushed the idea more because at our first meeting, Izzy’s mom said she felt a little better after having met me.

I can’t imagine how scary and difficult it would be to have your newborn baby placed with “faceless” strangers. I felt it would have given her some peace if she had seen and met us.

In fact, that first meeting went really well!

We connected right away. I had been a little nervous because I didn’t have much information about the case, but had been told there were significant issues in the family. Yet, both parents were always respectful of us, kind and very appreciative of the care we were providing Izzy. She had been sleeping in her baby seat and her birth mother asked if she could hold her.