Sunday, 19 July 2015

Feelings about Contact

The word "contact" suggests a two way event. When you contact someone the inference is that there is communication. The giving and receiving of information and conversation. It occurs mto me that there are lots of words here that begin with the prefix "con" but it sure that's just a coincidence. 

Five years into our first adoption I'm just starting to question a lot about the adoption process. I'm definitely starting to question what we've been told about contact and how difficult the lack of it being a two way event actually is.

In adoption terms contact can mean letterbox contact or direct contact. In our family we have both. We have letterbox contact with the children's Birth Mother (BM) and Paternal Grandmother (PGM) and direct contact with their joint sibling and his family and also with both sets of Foster Carers (FC). It's a lot of contact to coordinate and for me it's a constant pressure to balance everything and everyone. So far in five years of writing we've received no communication from BM but we receive letters from BGM who writes for herself and her son who is Katie's Birth Father. We have no letterbox contact arrangements as yet for Pip, which considering they share a BM is strange, to say the least. I have raised the lack of contact arrangements for Pip with our Social Worker (SW) but nothing has ever materialised, for reasons as yet unknown. 

I'll be honest, contact raises a lot of different emotions in me. I am delighted that BGM writes to us and gives us a lot of information about their daily lives but equally frustrated that her letters stop at any time her life is more complicated and she is unable to cope with it. I agonise over what to include in my contact letters. Do I create a positive picture or do I present a more truthful picture? I feel guilty that her letters are filed away for a time when Katie is old enough to handle the contents.  I'm frustrated for Katie and Pip that BM has never written although understanding of why she might find it difficult. I feel anxious about the trust that we've given to the Birth Father of the children's sibling to not divulge our whereabouts. I worry that we dutifully maintain letterbox contact because we've been told it's in our children's interests whilst I question the benefits of pulling the plaster off an emotional wound twice a year. As a result I have not given Katie any details of the letters I send and receive.  I feel happy to see the relationship between the three siblings and know we've made that possible although worry about Katie's recent indifference and desire to not go along to see him and wonder whether I should push her or let her take a step back. Hearing her telling her friends at school about her brother who lives with another family recently was interesting and positive that she felt able to speak openly but I quickly became aware that she felt ill equipped to deal with the questions from her friends that followed and this is something I will be approaching with her over the school holidays. It also made me wonder how she would handle the information that she has a paternal sister. 

More recently I really am concerned about the impact of being adopted on my children and query whether being so open about it is beneficial. I always wanted my children to know that they were adopted and that we were positive about that. We have lots of friends with adopted children so it's quite the norm in our house to be adopted. I wanted them to feel that it wasn't a secret they should feel ashamed of and that we were proud of them. More and more I am realising that this approach is a balancing act that can easily tip over to being a reminder of being different from their school friends or feel like a bit of overkill. Katie particularly is currently very angry and unsettled, a feeling exacerbated by the end of school term and a transition to a new school and hopefully back to our old home. I am noticing a pattern of tantrums when we leave a place or event where she is feeling happy and have realised that this is triggering feelings of loss in her from when she moved to us. There is a big part of me that doesn't really want to add more pressure onto her plate about this period of her life by revisiting it, whilst the counsellor in me wonders if experiencing those emotions during periods of transition will help her resilience to them with time and support. She's only 7 though. How much is she expected to handle and isn't it my job as her mum to out the brakes on if it's all getting a bit too intense? Add into the mix contact with her brother and I can see why she's not keen to see him currently. Although she knows she and Pip share the same BM with their middle sibling I know she identifies differently with Pip than she does their other brother.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you view it, their brother's family live literally around the corner from us. We bump into them often at our local Costa so Katie can't really control the contact there. She could be confronted by a situation she's not in the mood for at any time. We're now so embedded into the lives of their brother and his family that this situation will be forced to rumble. Pip loves seeing his big brother although is currently too young to understand who he is. Sometimes I just take Pip along to see him and blame Katie's absence on a birthday party but I'm acutely aware that this contact is also for the benefit of their brother as well. The wellbeing of another individual rests in my decisions. It's a minefield that I do not feel the adoption preparation course or subsequent training has really prepared us for. 

A lot of thoughts and emotions within the subject of contact and I realise that I'm not sure we are always given the best advice for our children. The advice adopters are given is the current thinking on an issue and contact can also be very important for the birth families but I'm not always so sure it is in our children's best interests to have their identity constantly challenged, especially for children who were adopted very young. I'm not saying say nothing, I'm just starting to wonder whether sometimes less might actually be more until the child is old enough to emotionally hold the fact that they sit in two worlds or ask to be involved. It's a hard enough concept for an adult to handle, let alone a child. What do you think?




7 comments:

  1. It's an enormous amount for a child to get their head around. I was actually talking about parental contact with a friend today whose family have supervised contact with another member of the family-we decided that where it causes harm and emotional turmoil to the child it should not be forced to happen.
    I hope the beginning of the holidays go well!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jska and thank you for your reply. I think I'd agree with both you and your friend. I. Realising how much pressure SS put on us to do things a certain way but I'm questioning it all more and more. I've been so terrified of getting it wrong for my children so have followed the guidance and current thinking but can no longer ignore the questions running around my own head. Sometimes the weight of the responsibility for the needs of everyone (the children, BM, BGM, BF, siblings etc just feels too much to negotiate and I'm not sure I get enough time to ask myself is it helping my children. Then I think of how birth family might be feeling, especially BGM who does write back, and I feel sorry for her and what she's going through. I just want the children to feel I've done right by them, trouble is I have no idea what that means anymore.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps just keeping the avenue open with BGM until they are old enough to choose if they want to make contact themselves. Thinking about it maybe viewing it as 'keeping avenues open' rather than contact might be a good way to think of it. Then it takes off the pressure to share lots of info but does allow the door to stay open a chink so that if they ever choose to there is a link still slightly open for them to approach. I don't envy you having to juggle so many contacts!

      Delete
  2. It does sound like a complete minefield and I do see your point that managing all of that contact must feel like you are all constantly transitioning between bits of your children's lives and it would be good just to get a consistent stretch of time as just your immediate little family of 4. As an adoptee, it just makes me feel relieved that people didn't even consider this in the 70s: you were in a new family and that was that! I am now in contact with my BM and it has been really good, but I am glad I was old enough to deal with the emotional upheaval that brought. I look forward to delving into your blog more, it is a very interesting read and great that you are prepared to talk so openly about issues that must help a lot of people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for replying Helena and I'm particularly delighted to have a reply from an adoptee. If I'm honest I was anxious that this post might appear uncaring towards the needs of everyone in this scenario (my children; BGM, BM etcetera) but reading your reply made me feel that maybe I'm not being mean but that there might actually be some credence to my anxiety about the impact of all the information on the children. I'd be interested to know how much, if any, emphasis was placed on you being adopted as you were growing up. Xx

      Delete
  3. FinallyAFamily201323 July 2015 at 23:17

    I can't imagine handling as much contact as you are dealing with. Letterbox once a year is more than enough for us. At present has been fairly positive but as years go by I wonder if it will start to distress him more or if he will decide he just does not want to do it full stop. I think actively reminding in an "in your face" way (as letterbox is) your child once a year is more than enough "emotional disturbance". To be physically visiting or writing more often etc must feel to them like they might as well be in foster care as that is the kind of lifestyle they would have then rather than in a "new permanent family". Our son is very aware of being adopted so for him one letterbox a year is enough.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a lot of sympathy with what you are saying here. I find that many of the reasons that are trotted out for maintaining contact don't really hold water or seem to be based more in wishful thinking than in real life. I am also very aware that the ones with the pithy advice are rarely the ones living it out day to day in their families. We also have letterbox with BM and paternal BGM, with exactly the same results. I don't involve OB in it at all. He knows about his BM - he knows her name and he's seen pictures - but doesn't know about the rest of his family. He's only just starting to sort out family relationships in his own head so adding in a whole other set of family members would be beyond confusing for him right now. Like you, I find it hard to maintain a balance between being open and honest about the facts of how OB came to be in our family, while not continually smashing him in the face with his adoption. Having spent a fair bit of time around young people who have been raised in long-term foster care with plenty of direct contact, I no longer believe that contact alone will prevent fantasising about birth family, prevent a child feeling unwanted or forgotten, or, in fact, do any of the things I am told it will do. And this is especially reinforced when letterbox letters go unanswered year on year. While modern adopters are open with their children, the regime of contact makes us regularly bring up the subject according to a forced schedule that is not our children's own, not led by their questions, wonderings and desire to make sense of themselves. For all that, I still dutifully write the letters each year!

    ReplyDelete