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When Grandparents Protest Adoption Disruption

Q: Our families were very excited that we were adopting and involved through each step of the process, and sent nice cards and gifts. After we returned home from Russia with our two daughters, however, we realized we could not parent the older girl. She had been abused and was abusive to our other children. We tried therapy, but, in the end, we found a childless family who adopted her. We are at peace with our decision. Our families are not. They say we “gave up on our daughter.” We have no idea how to mend the fences.

A: Your families’ reactions are, unfortunately, normal for an adoption disruption. They feel this way not because they don’t love you, but because they don’t understand disruption and they are grieving in their own way for the grandchild or niece they will not have.  Disruption is a “no fault” situation that does occur, although rarely. It is not your daughter’s fault that she had been abused, nor is it surprising that, in turn, she became abusive to your other children.

The placement choice that you made—parents with no other children—sounds like an excellent one for a child with these issues. Let your families know that the child has the best chance of dealing with her history, bonding appropriately, and enjoying her childhood in this type of family unit.

Recognize that your families’ anger is the result of the grief they are feeling. Say things like, “You must be sad that she will not be your grandchild; we are sad that she will not be our child.” Share your reasons for disrupting, as well as the opinions of professionals (including the social worker for the adoptive family) who supported your position. You made a logical (albeit heartbreaking) decision that was in the best interests of your family and the child. Finally, ask them specifically what you can do to make them feel more comfortable with your decision. In one case that I handled, the grandparents requested a photo and update on the child. In another, the grandparents made no requests, but the offer began the healing process.

Understanding all of the aspects of disruption is something even experienced professionals struggle with. So it is not surprising that extended family members have difficulty accepting the situation. My experience is that, with love, communication, and time, your extended family will come to terms with their grief and realize that you need their support, not their criticism.

—Lin Strasser,
who has been working with disrupting families and adoption agencies for several years.

Contacting a Birthmother

Q: I have always been open and honest about my children’s adoptions, and have felt secure in sharing the information I had about their birthmothers and birthfathers. They know that I will help them contact their birthmother, if they choose to, when they turn 18, but my 12-year-old daughter has shown an interest in contacting her birthmother now. She wants to write her a letter. Do you think this is a good idea?

A: Writing to her birthmother may be a good way for your daughter to explore her feelings about adoption. The process of writing the letter can be therapeutic by itself. Thus, it might make sense to keep the letter, rather than mailing it right now, for a time in the future when your daughter might be ready to meet her birthmother.

If you feel it is important for your daughter to have contact with her birthmother now, you need to do what is in her best interest. But I feel that, if you actually do mail a letter to the birthmother at this point (after checking with your agency to see if she is open to contact), it should come from you rather than your daughter, given her young age. In that way, the adults can work out the arrangements and expectations on both sides before you involve your daughter.

—Ronny Diamond,
Adoption Resource Center,
Spence-Chapin, New York City

A New Line of Questioning

Q:

We adopted our 7-year-old son at birth. We have always discussed his adoption openly, and he seems to understand and accept it well. Recently, however, he’s begun asking me rather vague questions, such as, “Where am I?” or “Where do I belong?” I do not want to attribute every element of his development to adoption, but I wonder if that might be behind these questions. He is very bright, and understands that he knows the answers on a surface level, but that he is really asking something else. He just can’t explain what he is actually asking.

A:

It’s impossible to know whether or not your son’s questions relate to adoption. However, you might start by assuring him that he belongs with you. “You belong here and we belong together. We are a family forever and ever.” You can add that, whether children are born or adopted into their family, they belong to that family in the same way. “We know you understand this, but you can still be curious. Are you wondering about your birthmother?” At about age 7, children begin to understand adoption as not only getting a new family, but losing the first one. Sometimes questions like your son’s come from wondering whether they could also lose this family. This is a time when showing a child the legal adoption documents with the official stamp can make the permanence of adoption concrete and real.

—Ronny Diamond

Writing to the Birthfather

Q: My husband and I adopted a baby boy about four months ago. Much to our surprise, the birthfather has decided to file an opposition to the adoption. We’re not certain of his motivation, as he was originally in agreement with the placement. We haven’t had any contact so far and he did not support the birthmother throughout her pregnancy. Our attorney requested that we write him a letter, telling him about ourselves, our relationship with our son, and proposing a system or schedule for communication if we’re allowed to raise the baby. What could we say?

A: In all likelihood, what your son’s birthfather wants to know is that he will not be cut off from information about his son in the future. You can tell him how much you love your son. You can say, “He’s been our son from the time we saw him. We’d be happy to let you know how he’s doing over the years. Right now he’s doing fabulously. He’s rolling over, etc.”

—Ronny Diamond

Resources for Biracial Children?

Q:Thank you for the great stories and articles on transracial families, especially those in the last issue. I have a biracial daughter and was wondering about books, stories, and articles that address the questions that arise when the child is of mixed heritage. The books you listed seemed to focus on families where the parents and children were each of one single, albeit different, race.

A:Visit www.adoptivefamilies.com/multiracial.php for links to great AF articles, book reviews, and Web sites and organizations for parents raising biracial children. Then, from our transracial adoption page (www.adoptivefamilies.com/transracial-adoption.php), follow the link to “Kids Books,” where you’ll find a list of picture books and novels featuring multiracial families and biracial children.

—The Editors of AF

Age Difference

Q:When we adopted our youngest daughter nine years ago, we were told that she was 18 months old. However, we have just learned that she is anywhere from two to three years older than we were told. She’s had trouble making friends at school for the last two years, and we are working with her teacher to let her skip fifth grade. Should we tell our daughter about the age difference? Is there a way we can have her birth certificate changed to reflect her actual age?

A:Adoption attorneys sometimes submit applications to the court to correct a child’s date of birth. If you have not yet “readopted” the child in a state court within the U.S., you can file for readoption and include a request to correct the date of birth. If you have already readopted, you can go back to the same court that granted the readoption, on the theory that the court has continuing jurisdiction. You will need medical evidence to submit to the court to support your claim as to your child’s correct age.
—Mark McDermott,
Former president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys

A:First, I’d be sure that there is medical evidence to support the age difference. Perhaps she was premature and malnourished and, once in your home, flourished and grew. Some children go through early onset puberty, which shouldn’t be confused with an inaccurate birth date.

If your daughter does seem emotionally and intellectually more mature than her classmates, and you decide to proceed with correcting her birth date, you will definitely want to tell her what has happened. Explain that sometimes people who are responsible for finding families for children don’t know their correct age and make a mistake when they are estimating it. Tell her that she was smaller than other children as an infant, but that she’s flourished in her “forever family.”
—Ronny Diamond

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