adoption, family

Sobriety Not Required: Biological Parents

I am forever curious about how other adopted families do this. How does everyone else manage incorporating the first family into their child’s world? I admit that I don’t know much about domestic infant adoption or foreign adoption. All of my experience stems from children placed in foster care because their parents were unable to properly care for them. I suppose other situations might be vastly different.

We do have an open adoption with Mary and Carl’s father, Dad C. The biological mother does not want contact. Marcus is an adult and manages his own contact with family so I won’t detail that. I’ve only written about the relationship with Dad C because that’s the only one at this time. Mary is not mentally stable enough to participate in contact right now. We had one visit that was very detrimental to her last year. At the advice of her therapists we are holding off until she can handle contact.

For us, it was never a question of if  biological family fit in, it was more how to fit them in. Our children are older and therefore remember their first years with these parents. It’s a part of who they are and so we try to respect that. I’ve gotten a number of emails asking about our open adoption so I will do my best to answer them below. I am in  no way an expert so please don’t take this as advice. I mess it up all the time in a hundred ways. This conversation is what happens in our family only. I’d love to hear what it looks like in yours!

Private Information: Dad C has our address, has been to our town, and has seen the kids’ schools. He isn’t allowed to show up to these places and all parties are aware of that. He hasn’t been to our house. I think it helps that he knows the kids are in a nice area. He’s met my mom and the kids’ godparents at football games.

Photos: During one of our first visits with Dad C he asked apprehensively if he could have permission to take pictures. He asked if he could be allowed to post them or share them with his family. Luke and I didn’t hesitate to agree. We took pictures with his phone so that he could be in them. This is one of those pieces I don’t entirely understand. A stranger could come and sneak a picture of my kids on their phone. It really doesn’t affect us if Dad C posts pictures of the kids or tries to paint a Facebook-friendly image of a family that is still together. Who cares? We live in different states and don’t move in the same crowds. I might feel differently if people in the community thought the kids were “back” with Dad C. Probably not, though. Our friends know what’s going on and everyone else can think whatever they like.

Sobriety: I have had some questions about requiring bio parents to be sober. It has even been suggested that bio-parents present a clean drug test for a period of time before being allowed visitation. Personally, I think this is more for a foster-care situation than an open adoption. If the parents could maintain sobriety then they might have been able to parent their children. Since the time  to prove they can stay clean and resume parenting has passed, I can’t see that it’s my business.

The bio-parents are only required to be 100% sober for visits. Our children will not have contact with anyone under the influence or behaving erratically. Other than visitation times, it’s their life. I hope they do get clean. If not, it doesn’t change anything. We adopted these children. We parent them safely. If they can feel loved by multiple people and have positive interactions, I think it’s good. Our kids know about their bio-parents problems. They already lived through it.

In-person visits: Luke and I supervise these. We only have them with Dad C because bio-mom does not want contact. We schedule them when/if Carl wants to see Dad C. We will give gentle reminders or prompting that this is available. Typically Carl isn’t that interested in seeing Dad C but he likes to get letters in the mail. Carl also likes when Dad C attends a few sporting events to watch him play. We support this and arrange it as best we can. During visits Carl can give us a signal if he feels uncomfortable or is ready to end the visit. Dad C does not drive Carl anywhere or take him to another location. We usually have a post-game meal at a fast-food restaurant together.

Luke and I field requests for visits. If Carl doesn’t want to see or speak to Dad C, we handle it. It’s OK with me if Dad C thinks we are keeping him away sometimes. It’s fine with me if he believes we are mean for not giving him holidays. We take care of our kids first. We protect them from having to say “no” or be in an uncomfortable position. Luke and I are only concerned with the well-being of the kids.

Letters and presents: Sure. Bio parents can send these any time. We do read them first to make sure they aren’t triggering or inappropriate. Dad C likes to give the kids money. Cool.

I also post pictures and report cards to a closed Facebook group for bio-family.

Boundaries: This one is hard. Dad C doesn’t seem to understand, or at least admit, why he doesn’t have any of his children. This is fine as long as it’s not a conversation with our kids. We know he has several more although he only mentions one other son. This is his private business so we don’t ask him about the other kids. He sometimes mentions he “lost his case” because he didn’t have enough money. We know this isn’t true at all. The kids know this isn’t true and obviously remember why they aren’t with him. We ask that he does not mention the case. We require that he avoids adult conversation, violence, and inappropriate language. He is not able to ask the kids why they didn’t want to live with him etc. On the flip side, he can answer anything the kids ask him.

Do we get along: I guess we do. It’s more about getting along in front of the kids than anything else. Even if I am annoyed or unhappy with something Dad C has done I try not to show it in front of Carl. I dislike that Dad C spends a lot of the visits crying and saying he misses Carl and thinks about him every day. This is probably all true. However, I don’t think it should be Carl’s burden to make Dad C feel better. I don’t think the visit should be about Dad C’s feelings at all. It should be about the child.

I don’t like having to provide prompts and reminders over and over (and over!) again about the children’s ages and birthdays. I am frustrated at trying hard to plan visits and give reminders, directions, and more prompting only to have things fall apart. Dad C and his wife aren’t good at this stuff.  Since this is my personal problem and not the kids, I keep it to myself.

I really dislike the different treatment Carl gets in comparison to Mary. He always gets a card and money for holidays and birthdays (as long as I give multiple reminders first.) Mary has never gotten the same. On her last birthday she was overlooked for about 4 months despite reminders. She wrote a sweet letter asking for a card or letter. Eventually she got a card with less money. This came with another card for Carl with money. Luke and I had to make it clear that both children had to be treated the same.

I don’t like that Dad C’s new wife considers herself the “stepmom” and wants the kids to hug her. It’s weird. They don’t know her. She talks to me a lot about asking the kids if they want her to have a baby. We do not allow that conversation because it shouldn’t be Mary and Carl’s burden to handle big adult decisions. She also talks a lot about how the kids are bonding with her and accepting her. She thanks them and says she loves them and talks my ear off about why this is a big deal for her. I know I’m being unfair but that is just plain annoying. It shouldn’t be about her. It should be about the kids.

Neither one of them has ever asked about how the visit was for the Carl. They’ve never asked if he had a good time, if he wants to do something different or how he felt about it. Both of them just talk a lot about how the experience was for them and what they might like next time.

Look, I don’t think we are ever going to be BFFs. As long as we maintain a polite and functional communication for the kids I feel accomplished.

The Takeaway:

At the end of the day it’s their relationship, not mine. I tell the children the honest truth about everything if they ask. I keep my judgments and opinions to myself as much as possible. I honestly don’t always do a good job. It’s complicated  and fraught with my own emotions. In our case Dad C has been respectful of boundaries and we’ve never had an actual problem. During one visit he became angry and struck the table a bit with his fist. Carl wasn’t present for that. Dad C’s wife intervened quickly before he got too angry. This is the only hint I’ve personally seen that he has aggression issues. If he had raised his voice, if Carl had noticed, if anything had escalated we would have terminated the visit. However, cooler heads prevailed and it ended on a pleasant note.

Someone in the blogosphere recently suggested to me that the state lies to kidnap kids and adopt them out. No. Just…no. I’ve seen the evidence in this case. I believe the DCF reports about how my kids lived before they came to us. More than that, I believe my children when they describe how things were in their first family.  As accepting and open as I try to be, I’m not an automaton. There are things in my children’s past that enrage me. There are things about these first parents that chill me to my very core. But still, the bio-family belongs to my children. So I try and then I try again.

No matter what happened, no matter what their biological parents did or didn’t do, my children love them. Carl will be thirteen next month. He has such a wise perception of the events in his earlier years. When discussing his biological dad he says, “It’s not my fault he did those things. He made bad choices. I know he loves me though.”

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.


Bio Dad Visit Success!


We finally did it! We pulled off a bio-dad visit for Carl. It started with a closed Facebook group where I posted pictures and report cards for Carl and Mary. I invited bio family into the group, when I could find them.  Bio mom joined, but only looked at a few pictures. She hasn’t watched the video I posted of Marcus graduating high school. It breaks my heart.

“Hate me,” I want to say to her. “Go ahead. It’s OK. Just please, please watch him walk. It’s one of the few things he really wanted. For his family to see him graduate.”

But I say nothing. It’s not my place. Bio Dad, however, has been as involved as he can. He has looked at everything I posted. He’s made comments and asked questions. He isn’t Marcus’ biological father, but he watched the video and congratulated him. Bio Dad sends cards if I remind him about a birthday or holiday. He was very open in asking me to tell him when their birthdays were. That’s OK. He’s trying.

I’ve asked the kids if they would like to write a letter or make a phone call. The response is usually “no.” But I float it out there, just in case. Luke and I often say however the kids feel is fine. We support them. This is their biological family. It’s their choice. It’s fine to have more than one set of parents. It’s good to have many people who love you. The door is open.

Finding Bio Dad was tricky. The address he gave to DCF for the open adoption agreement isn’t valid anymore. Nothing we sent to the department got picked up. He had himself listed under an animal on Facebook. Let’s face it, I was looking under his name, not searching for something like “The Stallion.” Eventually I skipped through the “Friend” lists of enough relatives to find him. Waiting for him to respond was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done.

Bio Dad’s response was amazing. I couldn’t have even hoped for this. He wanted to do whatever he could to contact the kids. He thanked us for taking care of them, which he didn’t need to do. He opened up about the bad place he was in when DCF was involved. He told me about his own family history, and why he didn’t have any support when he lost his case. He never mentioned why he stopped coming to the visits at DCF. I never asked. It’s not important.

The only important thing is what kind of relationship, if any, the kids want to have with him.

Bio Dad was very nervous about the visit. He kept texting me about how nervous he was. How emotional he was. After all, its been 3 years since he saw Carl. He was so open and emotional, I started to feel like I maybe accidentally adopted a 40-something-year-old man.

“He’s going to hug you, you know,” I say to Luke, “just you wait!”

The visit, itself, was amazing. We all sat together at a McDonald’s in the mid-point of our 2 addresses. When Bio Dad saw Carl, he practically ran to him. Carl got swooped up into a big hug and Bio Dad shook with tears.  He silently cried behind his sunglasses many times. We stayed right there through the visit in case Carl needed us.  I’m happy to say that he didn’t. We got to meet Bio Dad’s new wife of a month. She was lovely. He says that meeting her and becoming religious are the things that made a difference in his life. I’m glad.

He also brought Carl’s little brother from another previous relationship. The little guy is 5 and was terrified of the whole situation. He burrowed into his stepmom’s side. He was meeting Carl for the first time he could remember. He had a little yellow cast on is left arm. Stepmom and Bio Dad both rushed to tell us it had been an accident from riding a bike. We told them we know all about little boys playing rough. Carl broke his leg playing soccer 2 years ago. They looked relieved.

After eating lunch and talking, we encouraged Bio Dad to take his boys out to the playscape. He almost hesitated to take them on his own.

“It’s fine,” I told him, “We will stay right here.”

That’s all he needed to take the two kids out and play a rousing game of tag. This was a much better visit than sitting in a DCF visit with a social worker watching. Stepmom chose to sit inside and chat with us. It was pleasant and eye-opening. She had been in foster care as a child. She was happy that Mary was getting treatment. She told me about how they always prayed for the children. She told me they prayed Bio Dad would see them again someday.

“I have a question to ask you,” Bio Dad said over ice cream. They boys came in sweating and happy for some ice cream before we left. Bio Dad looked nervous as he asked me, “Would it be alright if I posted some of the pictures we took? Can I share them with anyone?” I was dumbfounded. Luke and I looked at each other.

“Your camera, your pictures, your kids. Yes, Of course! Do whatever you’d like!”

It wasn’t all puppies and roses, though. To be honest, the kids have a history of being hurt by this father. And they never forget. He has since apologized, but some things can’t be wiped away. Yes, Carl had a good time at the visit, but he was relieved to go home. Although we were open about the visit with Mary, she adamantly did not want her own visit, and did not want to see pictures from this one.

Mary says that she is afraid of Bio Dad, but that she likes him “as a person.” For now she only wants to get letters and cards. She does not want to write back. We never lie to our children about their Bios. Everything is an open book, including the reasons they came into care, which oddly enough, social workers never told them. No matter how uncomfortable to us, we share whatever information we have. We offered Mary a visit when she gets to the weekend pass stage of her program at the therapeutic treatment facility. She declined. She isn’t ready, she tells us. That’s fine.

This visit went better than I could have hoped. Even if it didn’t, we’d still offer another to the kids. Carl had fun. We were all safe and I think our families built some mutual trust.

And of course, before walking off, Bio Dad clasps Luke’s hand and pulls him in for a hug. As they walk away I arch an eyebrow at Luke. “Told you so!”

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.


One Step Closer to Biology


It always strikes me as peculiar to refer to “our children” when I’m speaking to a man who is not my husband. Well I’m actually messaging via Facebook, to be more specific. I’m nervous, it’s awkward, and he hasn’t legally been “dad,” to our Chickens since October of 2014.

I’ve made contact with our children’s biological father. Or first father, depending on how you look at it. He was in and out of their lives for the first few years so he contributed more than biology.

Some of his contributions were great. Our son builds robots and toy cars and can build things from scratch just by figuring out the pieces. He gets this from his bio-dad, who fixes cars. They used to “work” on cars together when Carl was 3 or 4.

Some of his contributions were harmful and it’s hard to say how much came from him and how much came from the many men in and out of their biological home. Our children are still afraid of the smell of beer. They still cringe a little when my husband removes his belt too quickly.

I am surprised by how gracious he is to me. How nice. He thanks me and my husband for taking care of the children. He wants to know how they are. He has looked at and “liked” every picture of them on the closed Facebook page I created. This isn’t a man who doesn’t care. He’s missed the children and he wants to see them, but he agrees it would be better for them and for him to start slowly.

He gives us his home address under the condition that we not share it with the Department of Children and Families. He agrees to send us pictures of himself and one of his other sons through the mail. He doesn’t mention the other children I know he has.

I want to ask a million questions:

  • Do you remember their first words?
  • How old were they when they took their first steps?
  • Where does Mary get her blonde hair from? Does it come from your side of the family?
  • How was bio-mom’s mental health? Did she sometimes hear voices speaking to her? Is there a diagnosis we aren’t aware of?
  • Is there a history of mental illness on either side of the family?
  • Did you ever get all of the pictures we left for you at the DCF office?
  • Do you or Bio-mom sing? Both children are musically inclined. Mary sings and Carl plays the trumpet.
  • Was Bio-mom sober during pregnancy?

I want to ask these things but I don’t. Not Yet. Instead, I mail out a package of 3 years worth of school pictures, sports pictures, and refrigerator magnets with our children’s faces on them. I send him everything that we saved for him. It’s a step. I’m not sure where this road will lead, but it’s a step.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.



Biological Parents: Waiting for the Pony



When I was 4, my father promised me a pony. He said it would be white and beautiful and that it could live in a barn next to the enormous house he would buy just as soon as his “ship came in.” I believed him. When I was 6, he promised me a pony. He said I could ride this pony when I came to see the big beautiful house he would buy near the ocean. I believed him. When I was 10 he told me that his “money was going to come in soon,” and that I could have a horse. Despite my misgivings, I believed him.

My parents divorced when I was 4 years old. During my childhood my father would bounce around from apartment to apartment, never staying in one place for too long. He also bounced around from fiancee to fiancee and the occasional marriage. During our bi-weekly visits he would often spon great tales about how fabulous life would be if he married so-and-so and bought the big house with my horse. Then he would leave me in his apartment while he took his newest “lady friend” out dancing on the town.

Needless to say, the fabled pony never appeared. A small part of me believed that someday he might actually pull off one of the many business schemes he was always planning. Sometimes I actually believed he would marry and stay with one of his nicer more stable girlfriends. It wasn’t the empty promises he made that hurt me the most. I wasn’t looking for a pony. I just wanted a relationship with my dad.

During my teen years I questioned why my mother encouraged me to have a relationship with him. She tried to keep her own negative experiences with him to herself.  I think my mother wanted him to know me. She wanted him to watch me grow up because, despite his many flaws, he was my father. She wanted me to have visits and phone calls to understand him for what he was. She recognized my right to know my own origins. I only realize now how wise she was in doing so.

My father was a confusing, difficult to explain, part of my family tree. But I had a right to this part of my history. Knowing him allowed me to see him for the man he was; irresponsible, flawed, and caring in his own way.

“He won’t be around forever,” my mother always told me. She didn’t want me to have regrets. She was right. He died this past summer, and I do not have regrets. I know that I was a good daughter to him. The flaws in our relationship, which began in my infancy, were not my fault. In the end, my mother’s early actions were able to provide me with a sense of peace when he died.

It pains me that my own children are growing up so beautifully, and the people who created them don’t see it. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not comparing them to my father. My father wasn’t the greatest but he never hurt me physically, neglected my basic care, or put me in imminent danger. The situation isn’t the same in this way. But I believe it’s the same that despite all the mistakes that were made, these parents loved their children. Despite what our children sometimes believe, they are NOT throwaway kids.

My husband and I tried an open adoption agreement, we tried saving memories and pictures for the biological parents. Our overtures were not received. Not at all. It’s been almost 3 years now. It doesn’t matter how the biological parents of our children feel about us, or about DCF. It doesn’t matter what kind of people they are. Even the things they put our children through cannot negate what matters. All of this pales in comparison to the amazing children we are raising.

“Look at them,” I want to say, “See how beautiful they are? They have your eyes. He looks like you. These kids are beautiful human beings.” I can’t say this to them. We have no contact, at their choice. It’s alright if they won’t hear us. It’s alright if they won’t hear our children. Maybe they can’t.

But I made it possible anyway. I created a closed Facebook group with pictures of the little chickens through all of the years they missed. This isn’t about giving them access to my children, or putting my children in danger. Maybe the biological parents will never pick up the school pictures we ordered them (which are still sitting in the DCF office collecting dust.) But online, it will always be there if they ever want to see.

It took me awhile, but I managed to find and include older biological siblings and both biological parents into the group. At the very least, nothing at all happens. At the very worst, we start a web of contact that may backfire. I don’t want my children to be the ones always waiting for that pony to materialize.  Despite everything, my choice has been made. I have just cracked open the door on our closed adoption.


**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.




Anger at Biological Parents: Adventures in My Own Humanity


Carl facedown on his “fainting couch”

I’m not even sure where the anger comes from. All I can see is red in this moment. I’m not proud of it.  I am tired, I am frustrated, and I am DONE with this whole conversation.

It’s early in the morning. The children are getting ready for school. Carl wakes up angry, as he so often does. He is arguing with me from the moment he opens his eyes.

“Carl, please get off of the floor. Your sister needs to walk through there.”

“I’m NOT on the floor, Mommy!!” He yells from the floor. Then he heaves himself up with an elaborate sigh and an eye-roll. I can hear him muttering “stupid” under his breathe. To Carl’s credit this is a far cry from the “stupid b*tch,” he might’ve muttered at one time. He also used to threaten me with a fist or with a suggestion that he would physically show me or teach me a lesson. He no longer does these things. In fact, I should be saying to myself, “Progress! Look how far we’ve come!” Instead, I am stumbling to the coffeemaker with a murderous feeling blossoming in my tummy.

After my husband distributes meds, Carl flops down on the couch and feigns sleep. (As a side-note, he is an excellent flopper. Usually face down, in the middle of the floor, or on his “fainting couch” as we have now dubbed the oversized ottoman in the living room.)

“Carl, get up. You need to get ready for school.”

“I AM up! And it’s 6:22! I don’t HAVE TO be up now!!!” he yells from his prone position.

The fact that his alarm goes off at 6:25 is a moot point. Those 3 minutes are black and white to him. After I have banished him to the bathroom to brush his teeth he continues with a mix of yelling at me, saying nasty things to me and his sister, or singing and dancing. I give him reminders to brush his teeth. Mary needs to get in there, too. I remind him at 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and then 15.

“I AM brushing them!” Carl shouts through a mouth unobstructed by toothpaste or toothbrush.

As I begin a final countdown for him to exit the bathroom he screams, “But I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet! You are the WORST!!” and slams a few things around. Then he shoves his sister in the hallway and I send him into his room. When he is this angry it is better to take a few minutes before having him come in close to me in order to practice respect towards family and emotional regulation. His engine is revving too high at this moment.

Once in his room, he slams things around, slams the door (Flexible particle-board doors never break. I swear! Always buy the cheap ones!) He screams at me the whole time. Part of his issue is that we will have a high of 32 degrees today. That means he must wear his coat and his gloves. He absolutely hates dressing for winter. Part of it is a control issue. Unfortunately for Carl, it’s a battle he cannot win. When he was small, in his biological home, at some point he suffered frostbite on his hands. That means he has 2 fingers on each hand that are extremely sensitive to cold.

Carl is different from other kids in the sense that he feels physical sensation differently. He is highly sensitive to sticky or wet substances. It takes a great deal of pressure or force to make him feel hard physical impact. For example, breaking his foot wasn’t nearly as bad as having tree sap stuck on his fingers. Many children from hard places have a smattering of sensory processing issues due to their past trauma.

In his biological home, he was beaten so badly, so many times, that physical impact doesn’t phase him. I believe he honestly doesn’t even feel the New England chill until it is too late. Until he comes inside screaming in abject pain and holding bright red, naked hands, out to me. They hurt him so much but he refuses help to keep them warm. It’s much easier to argue with mom.

Today, Carl yells at me from his room this morning that I will have to make his lunch because he can’t make it from his room. I sip my coffee and tell him that he can easily dip into his money jar and bring his own money to buy a school lunch. No worries.

I am mad at Carl this morning. Really, really angry. He is screaming and shouting horrible things at me. He shoved his sister. He sometimes reverts back to whatever mentality in his bio- home that taught him women were meant to be beaten, controlled, and dominated. He isn’t often like this anymore. He’s not physical with me but it sounds like his bunk bed is taking a solid beating.

It occurs to me that I might not be completely mad at Carl. I am mad that we have to worry about his frostbite because his first mom left him alone outside in the snow, under the age of 5. I am mad that no one bundled up my little boy and met his needs. I am mad that he was beaten so badly, and so often, that sensations rarely register with him. After all, nothing will ever hurt him as badly as his biological parents did. I’m mad. He’s my baby now and I wish I could have met those needs. But I wasn’t there. I am here now and instead of letting my pre-teen boy have a healthy parental rebellion, I’m stuck attempting to further protect him from damage that she has already done.

Realizing this softens me towards him. He hugs me and apologizes on his way out the door.Of course I squeeze him tight and wave good-bye.  I am left to wrestle with this anger I have towards her. I try to be understanding. I try to be forgiving. But I am only human. At this point in the day I am a very disheveled, under-caffeinated human. I guess grace and forgiveness will have to wait until I’ve at least had a good long shower.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.