I miss my Foster Family…

My oldest daughter is a tomboy but you’d never know it by looking at this photo. She loves to pose for me and she’s always full of surprises.

Last week, she was keeping me company in the master bathroom while I was putting on my makeup and doing my hair when her face suddenly got all serious and she announced, solemnly, that she missed her foster family.

“I miss my foster family, sooo much! I really want to visit them but you won’t let me and that makes me sad. I feel like I have two hearts thumping in me.” Then she patted her chest to show me where those two hearts were thumping.

It was sweet and touching and I stroked her silky cheek with the back of my hand and told her that I love her two hearts with all of my one heart. Then I gently reminded her that she doesn’t have a foster family.

Yep, she made it all up.

She was never in foster care in China so she clearly didn’t really miss her foster family. And she knows what a foster family is so there’s no confusion about that either. She was merely pretending. She has a beautiful imagination and frequently tells stories with fuzzy edges between reality and fantasy and this was just another story to her. She probably hasn’t even thought about it again but I sure have.

She doesn’t have a foster family but if she’d gotten that one critical little detail right, I almost certainly wouldn’t have questioned her sincerity about the rest of what she said. But maybe I should be skeptical because there’s a pretty hefty price to pay if I get it wrong.

As I write this, she’s playing in the other room and she isn’t sad or mournfully missing anyone or bearing the weighty burden of any aspect of her unfortunate beginnings. And that’s a relief because, even though my intentions are always completely honorable, I have tremendous power to influence how she internalizes some pretty hefty issues. I can make her believe that she’s suffered tragic and unfair losses, that people on the other side of the world cry for her and miss her and think about her every day, that it’s perfectly understandable that she’d miss them too. And even though all that might very well be true, there’s a pretty good chance that she wouldn’t be spending any time thinking about it if I didn’t make a ritual out of putting it under her nose and helping her scrutinize her feelings about it. In other words, I’m careful not to treat my kids like injured baby birds because they might start believing that’s what they are.

I feel like I should end this with some really enlightening tie-up-the-loose-ends way but I can’t do it. I know it’s a hard subject for many adoptive parents to discuss because most of us want to err on the side of caution and that means we’ll risk delving into these issues prematurely because we think doing it early will make the path easier to navigate later. Personally, I don’t recommend that because I’ve seen many instances of kids crying for lost loved ones that they clearly don’t remember. But there must come a time when we need to wade out into these waters with our kids just so they don’t think we’re uncomfortable discussing these topics. I’m not sure what that age is but I know it’s not 5 and a half. Maybe ten? If anyone with older adopted kids has started discussions about “loss”, I’m curious to know how it went.

As always, you can see the everyday happenings of my cheerful little brood on our family blog, here: http://2happy.typepad.com/

Comments

  1. Dear Seoul

    You're kidding, right?

    I'm not going to defend my parenting practices to you. Especially when you use terms like "baby factory". We're not talking hypotheticals here. We're talking about MY kid so I get to decide when the discussion is going over the line.

    I've tried to keep this an open and friendly debate but I guess that's just not possible.

    Donna
    Our blog: Double Happiness!

  2. InMySeoul.com says:

    There are some things I would like to clarify:

    1. "She was merely pretending. She has a beautiful imagination and frequently tells stories with fuzzy edges between reality and fantasy and this was just another story to her."

    Im no psychologist, but I think if you were to discuss this with a child psychologist, they would tell you that some of these things should not be brushed aside just because there is a "fuzzy edge"…many things that are suppressed have a "fuzzy edge" between reality and fantasy.

    2. "she's playing in the other room and she isn't sad or mournfully missing anyone or bearing the weighty burden of any aspect of her unfortunate beginnings."

    Just because you haven't seen it, does not mean that she does not carry a burden. More than likely, she's internalizing it or keeping it a secret…perhaps because the clues that she gives are brushed aside because she uses the wrong vocabulary or "fuzzy edges"

    3. "And that's a relief because,"

    Personally I would be very worried if your adopted daughter has never poured out her heart, lungs, and tears for a full night. I don't know any adoptee that has not done this while growing up…regardless of their adoption situation.

    4. "I can make her believe that she's suffered tragic and unfair losses,"

    What is there to "make her believe"? It's the truth…she has suffered tragic and unfair losses.

    5. "understandable that she'd miss them too"

    She is missing them…regardless if someone else misses her or not.

    6. "there's a pretty good chance that she wouldn't be spending any time thinking about it"

    Wow….fat chance! either that or you have a robot for a daughter.

    7. "Personally, I don't recommend that because I've seen many instances of kids crying for lost loved ones that they clearly don't remember."

    Do you honestly think your kids will not cry or they won't miss lost loved ones they don't remember just because you waited until 10 or 12 years old before even acknowledging they were adopted and have missed loved ones??

    You only address the concern of addressing this too early. What about if you try to address and acknowledge the issues too late? Meaning, if you keep brushing aside these questions and concerns she has and the stories with "fuzzy edges" because you are waiting for the "ideal age" to start "wading into the waters", but you miss it by a year, 2, or 3 years? What irreparable damage do you cause then? For a year, 2, or 3 your daughter is internalizing and struggling with a gigantic burden on her own because you refuse to address it until "the perfect time"? Are you willing to risk this?

    My sister was adopted when she was an infant. I was adopted at 5. If 5.5 is too young, then what do you do with someone like me? Based on your writing it seems that you would assume that I would struggle more than my sister because I was much older when I was adopted and have more feelings. Ironically, my sister has had much more difficulty with missing her family than I have.

    Im sorry to be so blunt, but there are a lot of things in your post that really concern me from an adopted perspective….I don't think many other adoptees would disagree with me…

  3. InMySeoul.com says:

    I don't see how Diane's blog was "unfriendly". If anything I think her daughters have some great insight that you might have overlooked? Particularly her oldest daughters' comment:
    "She didn’t make it ALL up. Those feelings about missing another family are REAL. "

    Regardless of the lack of foster parents, she is obviously feeling that something is missing. It seems that too much emphasis was put on the wrong use of the word "foster"? I can't blame a 9 year old for using the wrong term because, after reading this post, I'm thoroughly confused on who you call what? Even I wouldn't know what to call her birth parents and what to call the people who took care of her at the orphange/baby factory/baby city or whatever the label is.

    What was important, and missed, is that she tried to express her sense of missing an emotional attachment, but it was brushed aside because it was tied with a misused vocabulary word?? Which I find very ironic thinking that the same 9 year old can fully understand the word "foster" and not understand "birth mother" or "orphanage" because I would think that both of those words would be pre-requisites for fully understanding the term "foster"…

    Maybe next time you should ask her to explain further?

  4. Kay, I'd love to know more about how common this might be. I've heard of such things but we never would have believed that it was possible that we'd be one of those families who figures it out. But dozens of little "Ah Ha!" moments just fell into place during our visit with them. When you think about it, it's not really that far fetched.

    Part of why we keep our family blog public is so our girls birth families might someday be able to find them and know they're healthy and happy.

    Donna
    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  5. Kay Bratt says:

    Donna,

    Thanks for your clarification, and what you says makes perfect sense now. That is really interesting about the possibility that your other daughter's foster parents may have been her bio's. From research I have read, that may be more common than we'd think.

  6. What fun to see old friends! How have you been, Sparky!?

  7. I'm at a loss at to what was so unfriendly about Diane's comment or the post she wrote on her blog.

  8. Just to clarify one point I made earlier (in a comment here)… When I said that we modify the titles of some things (like calling the orphanage the SWI or avoiding terms like birth mother), I guess I should have clarified that we do this because our kids are still very young. Even though we don't call her their mother, we speak very respectfully of the woman who carried them inside of her and gave them to the nice people who would care for them until we came to China to bring them home.

    Yes, it's sugar coated but they're only Kindergartners! Obviously the words we use to explain their story will mature as they do.

    I completely respect the right of all parents to pick the timeline and language that works best for their family and I only share my opinion on sites like this because I hope our perspective can be one of many that prospective parents find helpful as they face similar issues.

    Donna
    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  9. Hi Kay! I'm glad you didn't refrain! I enjoy the opportunity to think about things in different ways and share thoughts and ideas with other people in our community.

    The child in question (Gwen) was referred at 13 months of age. She wasn't in foster care and we know this because we found an ex-patriot living in her city who volunteered at the SWI. She'd been visiting all of the babies for many months and she confirmed that there were no children in foster care.

    Our other daughter (Maddy) was supposedly in foster care from the age of 8 months but we learned that she didn't start foster care until age 14 months. Most of what the SWI told us about her history was totally incorrect. We were able to track down her foster family (who we believe is actually her birth family) and we flew back to China and spent five days with them. They'd been visiting her at the SWI since her birth and only started to foster her when she got very sick. They had her for ten months before we adopted her. Only 17 months had passed when we reunited them and Maddy didn't remember them at all. Nothing, nada, zip. Not the language or her room or her toys or her cousins. Not even the woman we're convinced is her birth mother. We're in email contact and we'll take her back to visit them again when she's older. It's possible that this is the foster family Gwen said she missed. She knows this is Maddy's foster family though.

    Donna
    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  10. Kay Bratt says:

    I wanted to refrain but simply cannot. How do you know for sure that your daughter did not have a foster family? Many times the ap's are told their children were never in foster care and many times I have found that to be incorrect information. I do not understand why the SWI's tend to cover up that information, but in many cases they do. I respect that you know more about your daughter than I do, but I strongly encourage you to delve a little deeper to really confirm that she is 'making it up'.

    P.S.Your daughter is very beautiful and I can tell by your writing that she is much loved.

  11. Diane,

    Parenting is full of personal choices and I appreciate that you might feel differently about this particular issue than I do but I'm surprised that you chose to debate me in such a unfriendly way.

    Donna

  12. Talking adoption with our children is very close to my heart. I have quite a different perspective- as do my children. Initially I was going to comment here but my comment turned into a long blog post of my own.

    http://anyadiary.blogspot.com

    -Diane

  13. Yep, it would have been a totally different deal if my kids were older when we adopted them. As it is, they don't remember anything at all from their pre-adoption life. I guess I'm not too surprised since I distinctly remember being 4 years old but nothing before that. We moved when I was 3 and I don't have any memory of life in the old house. For me, all of my memories started at 3.5 to 4 and didn't really become reliable or verifiable until age 4.

    I do wish our little one (Maddy) remembered her foster family though. She was 25 months old when we adopted her and we took her back to visit them just before her 4th birthday and she didn't remember anything. It was kinda sad.

    Donna
    Our Blog: Double Happiness!

  14. you find a balance, and it's tough. i love this post. a wise person once said to me, 'let her be the guide' and that's what we've done. granted, we've adopted and almost 4 year old (in 2 weeks- adopted in September) who has a RICH and full history in China- 3.5 years at New Hope with nannies that LOVED her- and ones she names and remembers fondly (where before she'd wail for them to return). Now we go through the Lifebook that Hope put together for her and talk about her friends and nannies, not so I can remind her of what she's lost, but so that she can connect with her beginnings and never forget those who loved and cherished her. She had 6 nannies, but they were crucial to her learning to attach and love. Thank God for them.

    And when she does have her (very few and far between) moments- where she wants to be the "baby" – be held like one, fed like one- we go with it. We know it's meeting a need deep inside of her, even if it is "play". But like you, we don't treat her like an injured bird. She's strong, courageous, beautiful, resilient, and not afraid to cry and let us know "where" she is emotionally. She is already so much braver than I've ever been my whole life.

    my hope is that i can raise a confidant, loving, self-actualized girl. one who is able to INTEGRATE her losses, not internalize them. my hope is one day she'll know that some losses never leave us, but become part of who we are- and if we allow it, our grief/pain has the power to transform us.

  15. My girls know where they were before we adopted them but we call it a SWI or "the big baby room" and never call it an orphanage. The orphanages in the cartoons are not the same and we didn't want them to have an incorrect image of where they were or why they were there.

    They know they didn't grow inside my belly but they don't know the term "birth mother" or "first mother". To them, "mother" is synonymous with permanent love and the knowledge that their mother gave them away would only cause them to worry that someday I'll do it too. Especially if their first mother did it because she loved them. How confusing would THAT be? We tell them that they grew inside the China Lady's tummy (and that is why they are Chinese). None of these modified titles and names are lies. It's all truth. But it's served up in sizes that don't confuse them or make them sad.

    So I guess I'm saying that the terminology made all of the difference to our kids. In time, all of the pieces will fall into place but they're content with the kindergarten version of the details we've shared so far.

    Donna
    Our blog: Double Happiness!

  16. I completely share your thoughts. I also didn't want to delve into these topics when my daughter was too young. My daughter though, didn't share my timeline and at age three started asking some really tough questions and really probing for details. For her, it's been a process, but I think she truly needed the information to fill in the gaps we'd left in her story–the "gaps" being the parts of the story I knew she'd find painful. She wanted the details and wasn't at all satisfied with our happy, abbreviated version. I so wished she was!

    I don't think there's necessarily an "ideal" age; it's too individual. Like you said, you don't want to push it at them, but you also don't want to be evasive (which I was guilty of) when they ask about it. I think my daughter's active imagination was coming up with stories that were far scarier than the truth. I think at one point she was pretty sure WE'D put her in the orphanage. For her, getting the whole story on the table was very important. She's had moments of grief over it, and that's been heartbreaking to see, but after she learned her story, I also saw new confidence emerge in her. The questions she'd had were scarier for her than the reality, if that makes sense.

    I guess the best age is whenever they have the hunger to know.

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