Openness doesn't always go smoothly--especially when a child was appreehended because of abuse or neglect.
Openness between the birth and adoptive parents of children who were in foster care because of neglect or abuse has become the norm. This sort of openness relationship can be very different to that between adoptive parents and healthy birth parents who made adoption plans for their children.
During the first few years of her life, our daughter Jodi lived with her birth parents and experienced significant neglect and abuse. When we were in the process of adopting Jodi, it was with some discomfort that we created an openness agreement with her birth parents--the exchange of letters being the main way of communication, at least to start.
Openness and children who have been abused
Unfortunately, our daughter’s birth father manipulated his way into a visit early in the first year she was with us. He convinced our social worker that he was leaving the country. Bearing that in mind, we designed a lovely day where we would spend the afternoon at a park, followed by dinner. It turned out that his story was completely fraudulent and, after obtaining our phone number from Jodi, he told her he could come and visit whenever he wanted. When we left the restaurant she asked, “Can I live with my dad?”
After that, he began calling regularly, which we put a stop to by screening calls and being abrupt with him when he did get through--there was no evidence that his lifestyle was better than when our daughter was apprehended, or that he was no longer drug and alcohol dependent. We then wrote him a letter explaining that the visit had not gone as we had anticipated and we encouraged him to continue building a relationship through writing. Although we wrote to him for five years, our letters were returned. Unbeknownst to us, using the computer at school, Jodi and her birthdad kept in touch on Facebook.
In the meantime, Jodi’s birthmom was in a better place. She had remarried, and was successfully parenting two younger children. After several years of writing to her, my husband and I asked if she would consider meeting with our daughter--she had a good understanding and acknowledgement of the reasons her daughter had been placed for adoption. We agreed to begin openness in the form of visits. This started with some neutral locations, and moved on to visits in both our homes.
Fast forward to this past summer. Jodi (now 16) went for a visit to her birth mother, from which she decided not to return. During this, birthmom and I remained on good terms and we had almost daily phone conversations. Jodi is extremely hard to parent and, after a few months, birthmom reached the end of her parenting resources and asked Jodi to return to us. Instead, Jodi contacted her birth father, who drove from another province, and took her home with him. That’s when our nightmare really began.
Sadly for Jodi, (who had great expectations) within 10 days, her birth father abandoned her in a small town with a distant relative of his and claimed not to want to see her again. She is now at home with us, angry and unhappy.
Since then, she has continued contact with her birth mother by phone, and there will be another short visit with her soon. Although there is agreement that it is not a good place for her to live, the relationship is important to them both.
Jodi is sorry (as are we) that her dreams for reunification did not work out. It was, of course, extremely painful to watch her go through this, and our grief and loss when she chose to live with her birth mother was huge. We are just glad that we were here to catch her, when her dreams didn’t come true.
*Names, including the author’s, have been changed to protect privacy.