questions about birth family

when birth family questions arise
Conversations have been interesting in our house recently. Conversations can be interesting when you adopt your child from foster care, or adopt in general. They can be even more so when your child obsesses about their past (okay she obsesses about everything).

Lots of questions have risen about Payton’s birth family, and we’re answering several and adding more than we’d like at this time in her little life. We have a six year old who’s easily going on sixteen. Yes, I’m confident if given a set of wheels, and pedals she could reach, she could drive into town, pick up items from the grocery store, and return in one piece. However, she would definitely be stopped for speeding. (You can read more about how we handle the birth family situation here.)

We hadn’t told Payton her birth mom’s name. No specific reason really, maybe somewhere in my mind I thought that she’d go searching for her as soon as she could, but then how could she do that with only a first name? The other hurdle was that she has an aunt with the same first name, so that could get confusing for her, especially since she’s never met her aunt, You know, it’s all those unanswered questions in a child’s mind.

It’s those unanswered questions that keep Payton wondering, and creating. Adopted and foster children can create great imagined stories in their minds about what living with their biological families was like. Usually it’s pretty rosy. And that’s where we run into problems.

It wasn’t rosy, and it wasn’t better than where she is now.

I suggest reading the post I linked to above that explains where we’re coming from in sharing with Payton about her birth family, it will make things a lot clearer. So, we talk about adoption a lot in our house, both of our kids are adopted, I write about adoption, and we’re fans of adoption, so it’s no secret that Payton and her brother are adopted. We’ve talked about her “tummy mommy.” but like I said, never gave her a name.

So, the wondering popped up one day in an interesting conversation. Jeremiah’s Developmental Interventionist was at our house and Payton said, “When I was with that other lady, I didn’t have a brother or sister.” WHAT??? I just stared at Payton, thinking, “What are you talking about???”

The answer took a little while to settle in, and I was surprised. So I asked, “What are you talking about?”

She said, “You know, when I was with the other lady…”

I said, “Oh, you mean your tummy mommy?” Meanwhile the Developmental Therapist is trying to pretend she’s not in the middle of this awkward discussion.

“Yeah.” Payton replied, “Her name’s Laura.”

Shocked again, because that’s not her name, I ask, “Who told you that?”

“Grandma Jane.”

“Well, honey that’s not her name.”

“Yes it is, Grandma told me.”

“I’m sorry, but I know her name and that’s not it. We’ll talk about this later.” Since that wasn’t a time for birth family conversations in front of a therapist, I put it off. I still wondered if we should tell her.

The next weekend she went to spend a few days with my parents (Nana & Bompa to her). She had never been away from us this long, so it was something new and kind of dreadful for us. Okay, that’s a tad dramatic, but I was concerned about the behavior we’d have when she returned. I also thought we’d get a crying phone call while she was there and we’d make a trip to pick her up. We did not get a phone call, she had a blast being the center of attention. But, when we met my parents to pick Payton up, my mom whispered to me,

“She asked if we knew her tummy mommy’s name, she said you knew but wouldn’t tell her.” Oh boy.

So, we told her.
birth parent questions

Then came the comments, “She loved me even though she didn’t take care of me.” Now, I think this started with me. In the adoption circles it’s the proper thing to tell your adopted or foster child, “Your birth parents love you, they just couldn’t take care of you.” But really, when my daughter said this, a big check mark popped up in front of my little eyeballs over her words. It didn’t sound right.

Now that Payton has these words she can fling them at me when she’s mad, and that’s exactly what she did. She thought her birth mom loved her more, and at that moment she was unhappy with me so obviously I love her less (in her mind). I’m wondering if we do a disservice to ourselves and our children when we spout that a birth parent loved the child they abused and neglected to the point of someone else coming in a removing them.

I know each persons definition of love is different. That’s why some parents walk away from children and some stick through the extremely ugly. That’s why I wrote a post asking if love is enough when helping a child with a traumatic past heal. If I go by that definition of love in that post, then no, Payton’s birth family didn’t love her.

I don’t know what to say. Some would argue and say that all birth parents love their children, but because someone gives birth does that mean they love the child? I think we honestly want to say it to make the child and the birth parent feel better. I think we also say it because the child won’t feel worthy if they believe their birth parents didn’t love them. They’ll ask questions like, “Why didn’t they love me, was I not lovable, not good enough, not worthy, too ugly, too disruptive?”

After we told Payton her birth mom’s name, several other questions came up, and lots of answers to unasked questions, because we don’t want her living in this imaginary world, thinking it would be better with her bio dad (who scared her to death, and is the ONLY man she’s ever been afraid of). She has a tremendous memory, and I’m sure that there are several memories of her time with them and afterwards while she visited them in foster care.

This girl has a superb memory. When she was about four, she was standing on the back of my chair while I looked through photos on the computer. She said, “I wasn’t happy when I was one.” I asked her about it and she said, “I was really sad.” Wow! That was the year DHS was trying to reuinify her with her biological parents. She was right, she wasn’t happy that year!

We’ve had to explain things that I didn’t want to have to tell her until she was much older. It’s not pretty, but she says things like, “My dad loved me.” We’ve said, “Payton, this is your Daddy and he loves you very much.” We don’t want her living in that imaginary world. We aren’t happy with all these conversations taking place at her age, no kid should have to deal with this at age six. But then no child should ever be removed from their parents at nine months, or any age. This is our life, and we deal with it as it comes. It’s what we’ve been doing and will continue to do with God’s help and His answers.

After writing this post I chatted with Jeremiah’s Developmental Therapist (yeah, the one who was here for that awkward conversation, that conversation that will always be known as “the awkward conversation”) about Payton and her questions about her birth family and my conundrum about telling her they love her. Her suggestion was that when Payton throws it at me, which many adopted children will at some point, I say, “Yes, your mom (point to myself) loves you very much.” A light went on, and I was like, “That’s it! Perfect.” Then I went back and read what I had written for this post. And behold, I had written something very similar. Well, there you go.

Another post that may be helpful is Birth Family Relationships.

Have you had conversations about birth family with your children? What were those conversations like?

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