open adoption advice

I Tried to Communicate. She Got Hurt. Things Closed Down.

Last week’s question was from an adoptive mom wanting to open herself up for her daughter’s sake in spite of past hurts. This week we have a birth family member who wonders how to pry open a relationship with the adoptive family in light of a perceived hurt.

open adoption advice

Dear Lori: I am an adoptive mother and have recently become part of a birth family. My niece and three nephews have been living with a foster family who are now in the process of adopting them. We have been very supportive of the adoption as their birth parents are not in a place to take care of the children.

Here is the problem. On the day of relinquishment the foster mom said on Facebook that “one family’s loss is another family’s gain.”  I reached out to her and told her that her statement was very hurtful.  Her response was to claim we are not supportive and in response they are pushing out my entire family, especially my mom and myself. How do I facilitate openness with the adoptive family when they seem very resistant? ~~ Anna

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Brooke RandolphOpen Adoption Advice

Guest advising today is Brooke Randolph, LMHC. Brooke is a parent, therapist, and adoption professional with 25 years of experience working with children, families, and individuals.

Brooke’s response: This isn’t an easy situation, Anna. There are so many factors to consider.

Please understand that in what I’m about to say, I am not blaming you or placing fault for what you said or how you said it. I ask you to trust that the fix — what is within your power to do — may lie in you being willing to offer an apology anyway. Keep reading.

In expressing your hurt and asking for the foster mom to relate to you differently, you unintentionally hurt the relationship with her. She therefore incorrectly perceives you as being unsupportive of the adoption moving forward.

While the advice to offer an apology may surprise or even appall you, I see it as the most direct route to relationship repair. As I’ve stated before, “An apology is absolutely necessary to repair, restore, and continue a relationship after a hurt… An effective apology can not only restore a relationship, it can help it to grow. An effective apology communicates that the relationship is important and the person’s feelings are important. An ineffective apology or no apology at all can communicate to the other that you do not truly value the relationship.”

In your apology, make sure to use all five components of an effective apology. If you need help coming up with how to integrate some of them, a neutral third party or trusted counselor may be helpful.

If your apology is accepted, great. You can move forward together. But if the apology is not met with the spirit intended (which is a key ingredient but not always a deciding factor, result-wise), you may need to gracefully allow her to choose to hang on to hurt. If this happens you could ask if the adopting family would be comfortable with you sending letters to her children. Go the extra mile and identify the children as hers rather than “your niece and nephews.” I know this may be difficult or even painful, but your ultimate goal is an open relationship for the children more than it is about introducing your wants and needs.

If you try to share information with her about open adoption, you risk appearing to be a know-it-all or holier-than-thou. As parents, we all get it wrong sometimes, but perceived mom-shaming rarely brings about true change and it almost always harms relationships. Because you are further along the journey of adoptive parenting, she may take unsolicited information or advice as belittling her. Is there anyone else who might be an ally for you and the children from whom she might welcome input?

Don’t give up if the apology doesn’t bring healing right away. Do you remember, Anna, how much anxiety you experienced during your adoption process? If the adopting mom is like I was, she probably doesn’t even realize how unsurefooted she is. Time can bring changes and new information and new needs. Remain open, remain positive, remain loving. Avoid negativity, gossip, spite, etc. Remember that your ultimate goal is an open relationship with your niece and nephews for their benefit. They need the opportunity to attach to their adoptive mother. They need less drama in their lives. They need you to have an open heart, ready and waiting to give, and always loving.

Brooke Randolph is a private practice counselor in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was a founding member of MLJ Adoptions, Inc. She is a Young Professionals Advisory Board member for The Villages, Indiana’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency. Brooke adopted an older child internationally as a single woman, which she considers one of the most difficult and most rewarding things she has ever done. She is a contributing author to the book Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues (2014).

Lori Holden, adoption authorMy 2 cents: Often we want to make the other person change. We don’t actually have that power, though. We have two other powers: we can help that person WANT to change, and we can determine if we need to change something in ourselves.

The former requires that first we be in relationship with the other person. The second requires an honest assessment of our role in the conflict and a pragmatic approach to doing what’s within our power to do.

Brooke’s approach utilizes both of these powers. An apology — “I’m sorry my words hurt you; I didn’t mean to and I respect what you’re doing with these children” — is within Anna’s power to do, AND it has potential to repair the hurt in the relationship.

Anna, I want to acknowledge your own hurt and fear, and your original desire to support these children’s adoptive mom. I’m sorry that your true message — not to split the babies between their two families — got lost in her hurt.

This brings me to one last point.  The trigger for all this hurt was when the adopting mother said, “one family’s loss is another family’s gain.” This is evidence of the too-prevalent and potentially harmful Either/Or mindset. The adopting mom may hold this only because she doesn’t know there is an alternative. Adoptive parents in varying degrees of surefootedness can easily envision and embrace a Both/And heartset once they know that it exists.

Dear Readers, what say you?

See also: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, aimed to help both adoptive and birth family members navigate contact and openness.

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About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • Rather than tell people what they should do, instead I say what *I* might do were I in the asker’s position.
  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

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14 thoughts on “I Tried to Communicate. She Got Hurt. Things Closed Down.”

  1. There was something missing here for me.

    “On the day of relinquishment the foster mom said on Facebook that ‘one family’s loss is another family’s gain.’”

    What was the context of that quote: ‘One family’s loss is another family’s gain.’ — it sucks to be you, losers.

    or

    ‘One family’s loss is another family’s gain.’ — that’s the way it seems to be with adoption, that there can be no joy without someone’s loss.

    I think might have asked for clarification first. Even if I was pretty sure, it could be a way in. Once that was settled and the writing was on the wall, I agree that an apology is sometimes the only way to get beyond these things.

    1. Good point of distinction, Jess.

      I find little downside to assuming the kinder of possible interpretations, and a risky downside in assuming the less kind option. Good to clarify before acting on the assumption that someone is being unkind.

  2. As a long-time childcare provider and an advocate for young people, I have watched (without feeling it’s my place to say a word) similar uncomfortable situations like this play out, even on FB. As an adoptee myself, ones’ insensitive words like “one family’s loss is another family’s gain” does hurt on a personal level, but most of the time, I’ve been able to look at the bigger picture. I’ve seen confused children still acting out and sobbing uncontrollably for their parents, regardless of the awful set of circumstances behind their relinquishment. From my perspective, I believe most foster care parents, relatives that have stepped up to the plate, or even prospective adoptive parents go into this like protective mama bear mode. It breaks my heart to see any innocent child not possibly be able to grasp or totally understand such significant losses. If Anna, were my friend, and she asked me for my thoughts/opinion, I would suggest also that she take the high road and say, “Yes, your choice of words seemed a little harsh to me, but I truly know what’s most important to both of us. We want what’s best for these precious children. Maybe we could focus more on the dialog being about their new family. I am glad you are going to be a permanent part of their lives.” Hopefully, it would help her not be so defensive while Anna was able to state her piece.

  3. What this foster/adoptive mom isn’t seeing is that her language reduces the children to possessions – being “lost” by one family and “gained” by another. I agree with JoAnne: kids don’t understand the circumstances of relinquishment, they are not able to easily detach from one family & attach to another, and part of them will always belong to both. Whatever the intent behind this hurtful statement, she fails to understand that the children have lost a family, and this loss doesn’t need to be absolute or permanent. Going into protective mama bear mode can do more harm than good in the long run.

  4. I’m very confused about why you would advise the birth aunt to apologize. Apologize for what? She didn’t do anything wrong. Why is the adoptive family defensive about an honest statement that someone experienced something hurtful? Sharing that you were hurt isn’t being “unsupportive,” it is being honest.

    Until adoption professionals start truly supporting birth families, adoptive parents will continue to dominate the relationship. Adoptive parents need to be held accountable for maintaining the openness that they agreed to. If adoptive parents feel unsupported, they should call a counselor and get support. It isn’t the birth family’s job to make the adoptive parents feel better.

    1. You are right, Liz, that adoption professionals should better support birth families (and, I would add, prepare adoptive families). And that the foster mother could get support if feeling unsupported.

      But both those things are outside the scope of Anna’s sphere of influence. She has asked what SHE can do.

      Though Anna didn’t intend to hurt the foster mother when she commented on the Facebook statement, hurt was received. Perhaps the most direct way toward Anna’s goal — and within her power to do — is to offer a heartfelt apology for the hurt (though unintentional) and ask for a fresh start.

      What would you tell Anna?

  5. Social media adds such a huge new dimension to open adoption, doesn’t it? I would agree with your recommendation for this woman to offer a sincere apology. I think the foster parent / newly adoptive mom may want to begin officially parenting these kids without any anxiety. And as well-meaning as the birth-Aunt is, she created some anxiety. Might sound harsh, but she’s not the parent; therefore, her relationship to these kids needs to come second. She also should remember that this woman isn’t “babysitting her nieces/nephews”, she’s adopting them and will be parenting/raising them.

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