Adoption hot topic: visiting foster parents

It's been pretty light, content-wise, around here, so let's change that for today. There's been a discussion on one of the adoption pages that I read that has generated a lot of comments and some diametrically opposed opinions. The question that was originally posed was (in my own words), "I am in my child's country and have a chance to meet the foster parents. My child is grieving heavily and having a difficult transition, should I take my child to see the foster parents one more time?"

What follows is my personal opinion, and while I'm certainly not a therapist, it has been an educational past eight years. The two differing opinions seem to be: 1. Take the child to see the foster parents one more time, even though it might be hard, and 2. Go and see the foster parents by yourself, but do not take your child. It would just add trauma onto trauma and the child needs to start bonding to you and let go of the foster parent.

At various times in my life, I have strongly held both opinions, and I will be the first to say that it is a difficult call. To see how I have ended up at the opinion I currently have, we need to step back eight years and revisit our time in Vietnam adoption TM. (You can read the blow-by-blow account by clicking on the 'Adoption' tab up above and following the links to TM's adoption. I will also add that I cringe a bit to read these early posts... I know so much more now than I did then.) If you are not familiar with the story, here's the short version. TM's transition was hard. Very, very hard. He grieved and fought and grieved and attacked anyone within arms' reach. He was a mess; we were a mess. Even though I had dutifully prepared by reading and reading and reading everything I could on adoption and attachment, nothing prepared me for what we were facing. I don't believe anything truly can until you have lived it.

In the midst of this upheaval, we had the chance to meet with TM's foster father. We went back and forth and back and forth. Do we take him? Do we just send J. alone with a camera? What do we do? We certainly don't want to make things worse (as if!). We want him to attach to us. Our agency representative suggested it might not be a wise idea. So we opted for TM to stay with me while J. went to the meeting with a camera.

And I believe with every fiber of my being that it was the single worst decision I have ever made in my life.

Yes, it would have been hard. Yes, it could have made our lives a little more miserable in the short-run, though frankly, it's difficult to picture what that would have looked like. While I don't have a crystal ball to tell me what how our future would have changed, if at all, if we had made a different decision, I still think we should have taken the chance.

You see, ultimately, it was an incredibly selfish decision to not take TM to the meeting. If I am really honest with myself, it was a decision made to make my life a little easier. (To extend myself a bit of grace, we were in a difficult spot without a lot of knowledge and truly did the best we could at the time.) It was because it might have upset him more and an upset child always makes the parents' lives more difficult. It was so that he could begin to attach to me and start to leave his attachment to his foster parents behind. It was so that he could begin his new life RIGHT NOW and start to put his past life behind him sooner, to get over it.

But you and I know that we don't just get over pain and grief and loss. If you have ever lost someone close to you, you know that it takes a long time to function again. It takes a long time to feel as though life is normal again. You never really get over it, and even years later, something will catch you off guard and the grief will feel brand new. You learn to live with it because it is now a part of you. Forever. And if you were given a chance to see that person one more time... even if it was just for 15 minutes, I bet you would do it. You would do it even though it would make that grief raw and present all over again. Because seeing the beloved person just one more time would be worth the pain. Love is that strong.

Our children losing their previous lives is the same thing. It is a loss and one they will never get back. This is particularly true if they were close to and loved their foster parents or a particular person at the orphanage. They will most likely never see that person or persons again. It is like a death. And it is particularly difficult because often they are so young that they can't understand what is happening. Sometimes, the whole problem is compounded by a child so not understanding the situation that they believe they have been kidnapped. I believe this is what happened with TM, and I can't say I blame him for coming to that conclusion.

We need to be the grown-ups and make the hard decisions. We need to make the decisions that will be best for our child and not one that will make our lives a little less painful. Because watching your child grieve is hard. In some ways it is almost harder because there is nothing you can do to make it better. All you can do is offer support and love and wait by their side while they go through that valley. It is painful because while you have been in love with a picture for months, they don't know you at all and would really, truly rather be with that other person they do love. It is hard to love someone and know they don't love you. It is hard to be patient and wait and let love grow. We want to DO something about it. We want to make them love us.

As you can probably tell, I now believe that we should allow our children the gift of a last good-bye if it is possible. It allows them closure. It allows them to see that beloved person one more time. It honors them as fellow human beings with real emotions and loves. Will it hurt? Will it make your life and theirs, feel more difficult for a while? Will it cause pain? Yes, it probably will. But you can't go through the grief without the pain. The pain will always come out somehow. It is better to face it head on together... even if it's hard.

It will be your first parenting lesson. Parenting is hard. When you love your child and that child hurts, you hurt, too. You hurt more than you could possibly imagine because you love that person so much. It's all part of the package.

One last word about the advice of guides and agency reps. We have had some lovely, caring people when we have been in our children's various countries on adoption trips. They have truly cared about children and want to do what is best for them. We have had very, very good experiences. That said, they are not trained in attachment and trauma. They have not lived life as a therapeutic parent. They want everyone to be happy... both children and parents. It does color their opinions. Just because one of them suggests something, it does not mean it is the best advice. Take it with a grain of salt.


sandwichinwi said…
I agree with your current stance for your circumstances. Especially for a child of TM's age. I think it's always beneficial for the child to see that the familiar person is friendly with the new parents, enhancing the feeling that they are safe to go with. And to have it explained in their own language, again, now that they have a tangible figure to go along with the story they've been told about having a family.

That said, my son transitioned so smoothly to me that his foster mother was sent home without seeing him again and I would do it that way again. He was only 1.5, however, and I do feel that seeing her again would have disrupted the smooth transition he had. At his young age, I don't know that they could have explained to him any differently. I do feel badly for HER, however, as she didn't get to properly say goodbye.

I don't think one can live with regret, though. It is such an emotionally charged time, filled with fear, love, jet lag, culture shock, new parenthood, high expectations. We all just make the best decision we can with what we have to go on. Yes, things could have been better with a different choice then, but who could know?

And God can heal all hurts. That's what I cling to.

Good post!


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