Insecurity of Adoptive Parents
Insecurity is the “elephant in the living room” for many new adoptive parents. This insecurity can complicate our relationship with our child’s foster parents and birth parents.

I receive lots of questions weekly, but this one really stuck with me.  I thought of her question as I typed emails during work and washed dishes after dinner.  I felt such a need to reach out to her to coach, teach, comfort, or in some way help.  The underlying concerns she expresses are the “elephant in the living room” for many newly adoptive parents.  With her permission I am answering in a blog post because I would love to get your input.  Creating a Family and this blog have become a community of folks who have had to work extra hard to create their families.  So, please share your insight and wisdom in the comments section.

That Niggling Fear in Adoption

“We’ve been home 6 months with our adopted son from S. Korea and feel completely blessed to have him as part of our family. We traveled to Korea to bring him home and therefore met his foster family. We were contacted by our agency after being home 4 months that the foster family was in the USA visiting and wanted for us to call them collect so that the foster family could hear our son’s voice. Our son was 14 months at the time.

To make a long story short, we decided not to call the foster family and made up a lie to our agency as to why we couldn’t return the call. The reason for not returning the call is due to fear that somehow our collect call would be traced and they would obtain our address and phone number. We also fear that if they had our address that some day it could be given to our son’s birth family or blood related relatives if the foster family ended up meeting them some day. Also, our son had very limited English words and he doesn’t respond when he’s given the phone to talk to someone like his “papa” because we’ve done it and he stays quiet.

Our agency has the option for adoptive parents to send letters to the foster families through them and they go directly to the agency in Korea and they in turn contact the foster family. Our son or us may decide to contact them through this method which feels safe. We think the foster family visited the Korea adoption agency when they returned and probably informed them how we didn’t return the collect phone call. I say this because shortly after this situation our US agency mailed us a photo of the foster family holding our son and the letter said the photo was sent to them from the Korea adoption agency. (This persistence from the foster family also made us nervous and not too happy that they feel some rights to our son.)

In addition, my husband and I are upset at the foster family for also having taken nude pictures of our son. The pictures are of the front part of his genitals (penis and testicles). She gave us tons of pictures and hiding in there were those too. We never disclosed this information to our adoption agency nor with our social worker for fear that they would side with the foster family. We never developed a trusting relationship with our social worker, it just never happened. (Taking completely nude pictures of children is a big NO, NO for us and we were stunned that this family felt they had a right to do this to a child that they were fostering and getting paid to take care of him.)

Our experience is/was not as rosy pink as the adoption agencies picture it to be. I know we’re not the only ones that have experienced some questionable behaviors coming from the foster family.  Please feel free to comment on our situation. I am overall confused, but I know my husband is not and he doesn’t want us to keep in contact with the foster family for the above reasons.”

Thank you for the thoughtful and honest question.  You are not alone in these feelings, and I appreciate you allowing me to share your question and my answer with others who are struggling with some of the same uncertainties.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I answer you in a round about sort of way.  Your question presents the specific issues you raise, but also some underlying issues common to adoptive parents, and I want to try to address both.

Getting Our Parenting Sea Legs

When you were contacted by your agency about the foster family wanting to hear your son’s voice, you were in the brand new stages of parenthood.  Four months is not a long time to get your parenting sea legs.  Most new parents have to grow into their role, even parents by birth, although few admit it.  I remember hating to get advice when my first child was a baby.  I so disliked the feeling that the advice-givers were the experts, and I was the rookie–especially since it was true.  But many adoptive parents also have the added burden of feeling entitled to the name Mommy or Daddy and claiming this particular child as their very own.  This wee bit of insecurity in our role as the “real” parents can leave us feeling threatened.

While you are 100% your son’s real honest-to-goodness parents and will be for life, he also has two other sets of parents—birth and foster.  This is both confusing and sometimes hard for us adoptive parents to accept.  Even if we accept it on the intellectual level, it’s another matter entirely to accept on the emotional level.

Who Has a Right to Claim our Adopted Kids

I sense an underlying concern in your question of the foster family’s attachment or “claim” on your son.  While I completely understand how that can be unsettling, especially during the time you are trying to establish this sense of attachment and claim yourself, I do want to gently suggest that they indeed are, and have every right to be, attached to your son, and they do have a claim to him.  That’s the nature of love.

It is this very love that they felt for him that has given him such a healthy start in life and laid the foundation that your love will build on.  Who would your son be if he wasn’t so thoroughly loved and claimed by his foster parents?  It is possible to foster a child just for the money without forming that sense of attachment, but it isn’t best for the child.  Your son and you are blessed that this family chose the harder route of falling in love even thought he wasn’t going to be theirs forever.

I am in awe of foster parents who allow themselves to attach and love their foster children.  (We’ve done a number of shows with foster parents (e.g.  Fostering and Adopting Children in Foster CareAdopting from Foster Care) and each one left me weak in the knees.  I also can’t recommend enough foster mom Kathy Harrison’s book Another Place at the Table.)  Love isn’t something that can be turned on and off.  They love him and will always love him.  Can you imagine how phenomenal it would make him feel later in life to know that he was so loved, and so lovable, that his foster family just wanted to hear his voice four months after he left?  It gives me goose bumps.

“Inappropriate” Depends on the Person

As to the pictures, I understand your hesitancy about pictures of naked children.  I think most of us are more sensitive now than ever before to pedophilia and the possibility of abuse. I haven’t seen the pictures, but if you think they rise to the level of pornography, you absolutely should contact your agency to protect future children.  However, I’m assuming from the wording of your question that these are more your standard issue baby pictures, albeit sans clothes.

Although I understand and respect your position on any form of nudity in pictures of children, not everyone feels the same, especially with pictures that are intended solely for the family album.   Childhood nudity is viewed differently throughout the world.  In high school I was a foreign student in Germany and was surprised that most German kids stripped down pool side to put on their bathing suits.  On a family vacation to Italy a few years ago, kids as old as nine freely swam in their birthday suits at the beaches.

Even in the US, differences exist.  I would venture to say that most family albums have at least a few bare tushies and even a full monty or two of a baby or toddler.  There are very few pictures of me as a baby (second child syndrome—{sniff} {sob}), but one shows me lying spread eagle on my back in a shallow baby bath.

With my own kids, I never went out of my way to capture them nude, but I didn’t take heroic measures to avoid it either.  Yes, mostly any picture without clothes were of little bare behinds, but there was that one time we were getting ready to leave, and my two year old son came out of the dress-up closet wearing nothing but a Barbie wedding hat, complete with veil, a pink feather boa draped around his neck, and the most awful pair of chartreuse pumps (part of a bridesmaid ensemble from hell).  It was the rakish draping of the boa that did me in.  I simply didn’t want my hubby to miss this image of his son.  I tried to pose him looking over his shoulder, but he wasn’t buying it.  He knew that the full affect of the veil and boa could only be appreciated from the front.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I was laughing so hard that the picture was blurry.

In no way am I saying that my acceptance is preferable to your avoidance.  I simply want to share that within bounds, it really is just a personal preference.  But I suspect that what hurts you is that you didn’t get to make this decision.  Your son was part of another family for his first 10 months, and it was their preferences that prevailed.  If your son comes out dressed in a Barbie hat, pink boa, and bright green heels next year, you can make the decision of whether to laugh privately or run for the camera.  But you didn’t get to decide on the pictures in his first 10 months, and that is hard and a little sad.

Foster Love is a Gift

What struck me when I read your letter the first time was how blessed you are to receive “tons” of pictures.  I know that Korean foster families are encouraged to take some pictures, but it sounds like this family went above and beyond.  Very few adopted kids, unless adopted in infancy, have many, or any, pictures of their early life.  You and  your son have been given something unique and precious.  Foster families can be paid to take care of a child; they can’t be paid to love a child.  Love is a gift.

Our Kids Have Another Set of Parents Whether We Like it or Not

It is worth examining your feelings about his foster family because in addition to a foster family, your son has a first family, and many of the same feelings you have about his foster family are likely intensified in your feeling about his birth family.  Working through your discomfort with the foster family’s love for your son and the “rights” they feel towards him will help pave the way for greater comfort towards his first family and acceptance of their “claim” on him and on his possible desire to have a relationship with them when he is older.

I have interviewed many adult adoptees for the radio show and for the book and articles I’ve written.  One thing that stands out to me is how important it is for adopted kids to not have to hide their natural curiosity and feelings for their birth families from their parents.  Kids have the amazing ability to know what subjects make us prickly and uncomfortable.  I can’t change the fact that my kids will have to come to terms with adoption and may have confused feelings for their first family.  All I can do is be there for them to help them make sense of it all.  Sometimes being there is all we can do, but it’s a lot.  If your son senses that you are uncomfortable with this conversation, it won’t happen.  He will likely still have the feelings, but the conversation will be in his head or with others.  I want you to be a part of that conversation.  I can not stress enough what a gift you will be giving him to become more educated about your feelings about his birth family and what adopted kids need and want to grow into healthy happy adults.  We have done many Creating a Family shows on this topic (Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents KnewHow Children Process Adoption at Different Ages, How to Talk With Kids About Adoption, Parenting after Infertility, What 3rd Party Reproduction Can Learn from Adoption).  We list many resources under Adoption Resource, and many many books in our Suggested Books pages.

Dreams of Parenthood

I’m sorry that you were left to deal with these confusing feelings by yourself, and I’m so glad you reached out to me.  When most of us where growing up and dreaming of parenthood, we didn’t dream of the complexity of adoptive parenting.  It can be unsettling to realize that we aren’t the one and only set of parents that love our child and have a claim on his love. The time you spend now working through your feelings and getting more education will pay you back in spades as your boy ages.

By all means, send pictures regularly to his foster parents and include an extra set of pictures for the Korean agency to keep in case his first family asks for them.  Write a thank you letter to his foster family.  When you feel more secure, write a letter to his first family expressing your love for their (and your) child and wishing them a peaceful mind about their decision.  Nurture your son’s awareness of the love all three sets of parents have for him.  Life can be cold, and all kids need all the layers of love they can get to keep them warm.


Image credit: Mrs Suzie Cue