Let me start off by saying that I deeply believe in family preservation and open adoption whenever and however possible. I think there would be far less of a need for adoption and foster care if we really believed in family preservation and providing families with the support they needed to parent successfully. I also think that fears about whether and how we process our emotions and relative standing around family status is a huge barrier to successful open adoption. It’s so much easier to see families as a threat and inconvenience than it is to see families of origin as having meaningful standing in the lives of adoptees. Yes, yes, #notall situations can be preserved or open, but smart folks can easily distinguish those situations from the mass.
Hope’s adoption opened weeks after finalization. I didn’t want to be that judgy adoptive parent, but in many ways I was. I desperately wanted to protect Hope, who at the time was still easily overwhelmed by just about everything. Her family wanted to reconnect, but in their excitement they just kind of breezed past several years of Hope’s chaos. There was a huge gap, and I had to get right into the middle of it to sort things out.
That was four years ago, and we’ve all grown in our understanding of how this big family thing works. Family can be really messy, and my daughter’s emotions about how she fits are messy too. And there’s still a huge gap and I’m still right in the middle of it, and sometimes, like lately, it’s really, really sucky.
Hope is now an older teen. She’s matured some; she’s developed some more coping skills. She has unpacked some of her trauma and her emotions around the need to be adopted by a non-family member. She’s really doing great even as she has a long way to go.
She’s happy to be in contact with her extended family, but she still hasn’t unpacked a lot of her feelings about all that happened or figured out what kind of consistent contact, if any, she wants or how to manage the increasing expectations of family that she be more participatory in big family events.
There’s a gap. I reside in the translational gap.
I’m there to encourage some interaction, to manage expectations, to make some desired connection happen, to decline some invitations, to offer some explanations, to try to facilitate and guide negotiated connection.
My daughter is increasingly clear about what she doesn’t want—even if she isn’t clear about what she does want. Her family is increasingly clear about what they want and hope for—even if they don’t get why that vision isn’t shared by Hope.
In the last year I’ve found myself the bearer of really difficult messages to share.
“I’m sorry, she doesn’t want to come.”
“Is so & so going to be there? If so, that’s a non-negotiable no for Hope.”
“I’m not sure when we will get to visit next. Hope doesn’t want it to feel like a huge family reunion; she wants it to be like this….”
At every point of connection, I check in with Hope, see how she’s feeling, what she needs, how does she want this thing to go, what will make her feel good about this, figure out what success looks like for her. It’s actually getting harder on her end. As she gets older, her desires are crystalizing around what kind of interaction she wants but the latent desire to please and to capitulate makes her shut the whole thing down. Her choices are different than what most of us want; I do my best to honor them. I often find myself in that gap, feeling like I’m delivering news that just hurts.
I know the news hurts her family. I hear it in their voices. I see it in the texts and emails. I try to be open and transparent, and I often wonder if they think it’s me keeping her away. I often wonder if they think I’m really an ally. I’m trying to be, but I also know that Hope will always come first. #teamHope #alldayeveryday
And then something will be said that feels like there’s still an obliviousness around the history of the situation.
“I really wish I knew all that happened to her.”
“So and so just said it was XX, which doesn’t seem so bad.”
“If I knew what happened, I definitely would have responded differently.”
And I get emotional, and I’m reminded why it is so complicated for Hope. I get that she wants and needs a very specific type of acknowledgement about certain events in her life. I also get that we aren’t specifically dealing with her birth parents but extended family who may not be privy to the story as I know it or the story as Hope lived it. And Hope isn’t ready to share her full story with them, so…
There’s a gap. It may be there forever. I hope not, but it might be there for a long, long time.
I am sensitive to the fact that I sometimes see Hope mentally comparing “us” versus “them.” My family and the family she’s been grafted into is different. Not better, not worse, just different. My family has long joked about our dysfunction—every family has some—but what and whether that looks like dysfunction to someone new(ish) is different for every family. That seems to be the case for Hope; it’s normal.
When I was little I couldn’t understand why my two sets of grandparents seemed so very different. It was something I had to reconcile in my mind. They weren’t better or worse, just different. I see Hope doing that processing at nearly 17. I probably did it at 5.
There’s a gap.
I’m prepared to stand in it for a long time. It’s really uncomfortable though, can’t lie about that. I know it’s uncomfortable on some level for everyone involved and that that discomfort is probably way worse for Hope than for me. There are no regrets about trying to figure out this family thing. I know it’s in Hope’s best interest to have access and relationships with her extended birth family. More is more. But it isn’t easy. It requires constant scanning, checking in and assessment that her needs are being met, whether it’s to visit or to decline to visit. I pray it gets easier for Hope, that she’ll find her way and heal from the hurt. I also pray that the family gains a better understanding of the hurt and what it has been like for her.
I think that will be the thing that narrows the gap, maybe even eliminate it.
I hope so.