Whether you’re an adoptive, foster, or even divorced parent, it’s hard to share your children. This post is primarily written to adoptive and foster parents, but there are take-aways for anyone who finds themselves in a “sharing” situation.
I’ve never really been good at sharing.
It’s not because I don’t want to share, it’s because I’m afraid of what someone else could potentially do to the things I’m sharing with them. This is exactly how I feel when it comes to being an adoptive parent. The sharing part of adoption [and foster care] is one of the hardest parts. My children will forever have 2 sets of parents. If you’re confused by this, allow me to explain:
My children have a mom and dad, which is my wife and I, and then they have birth parents, the people who gave them life. Therefore, 2 sets of parents.
The concept was very difficult for me to wrap my head around when we first began the adoption journey. The reason is simple- as a human being I tend to be naturally possessive of the things I love- my car, my home, my gadgets, my finances and, beyond everything, my wife and my children. I love my children. I’m protective of them. I don’t want to see them get hurt or suffer in any way.
So factor in another human being who has eternal ties to my children and it’s very difficult. It’s also very difficult when you have a birth parent who does not share the same values or moral as you do, or treats you negatively in front of your children. Fortunately for us, this has not really been the case with our birth parents. We have been blessed to have solid, healthy relationships that have benefited our children. But for many adoptive, foster, and foster-to-adopt parents, this is an on-going struggle.
When it comes to interactions with their birth parents, they are constantly dealing with negative comments, destructive choices, disrespect and more. So how do you navigate these difficult waters? How do you successfully “share” your children with their birth parents without it taking a huge toll on your children?
Here are some things we’ve discovered personally and learned from other adoptive and foster parents:
1. Have a concrete plan in place before the adoption is final.
When we first adopted, 11 years ago, our daughter’s birth mother did not want to have an open adoption. However, when our next two children came to live with us through foster care, we had to share. When it became clear, after a time, that they would stay with us permanently one thing we did not do was establish healthy boundaries with their birth parents. We had to go back and outline things like proper terminology, the amount of visits we would allow, the locations, and more. When you proceed without a plan, you spend most of your time trying to play catch up and that’s draining. The best thing you can do is create a solid plan before the adoption is final. Make sure you give the birth parent adequate time to weigh in and voice their opinion. This doesn’t mean that you change everything in the plan if they disagree, it just allows the birth parent to feel like they have a voice.
2. Put yourself in the birth parent’s shoes.
If you have a pushy birth parent it’s easy to say, “Well, they made the choice to place their child for adoption,” or “They got themselves into this predicament and that’s life!” But ask yourself this: how would I feel if the tables were turned? The vortex of shame, guilt, jealousy, and wounded pride is magnified by your involvement in their birth-child’s life. When you keep a perspective from their point of view it helps you to share much easier.
3. Respect the birth parent and model this in front of your children.
The fact that your birth parents are human means they deserve respect. This is in-spite of their personal choices or story. Sometimes the easy option is to ostracize a person who has made bad choices or forfeited their rights to their children. But this does nothing to preserve a healthy relationship. You must show respect. And, you must model this for your children. It is crucial that they grow up with a sense of respect for their birth parent. It preserves their relationship with them but also helps them to have a genuine compassion for all human beings.
4. Have an open attitude and spirit.
When you keep your heart open toward the birth parent it helps you to be less apprehensive about sharing. I know how hard this is, however. There is a part of us that feels threatened. Also, our need to protect gets in the way. Going back to #1, though, when you create a detailed plan ahead of time, it’s easier to have an open heart, and much easier to share.
5. Don’t take anything personally.
You may have a birth parent who makes snarky comments or treats you with disrespect. As hard as it is, do not take this personally. Remember, they are coming from a difficult place and that propels their negativity toward you. You may have to make the choice, for the health of your children, to distance yourself from the birth parent until they stop doing this and that’s okay. It’s important to explain this in detail to the birth parent. And, it’s important that you do not allow your children to be treated poorly. Showing respect and being open to sharing in no way means you should deserve disrespect. You’ll have to be the judge in these situations.
Truthfully, sharing is just plain difficult, regardless of the situation. It’s not natural behavior. It’s learned behavior. Even if you’re a divorced parent who shares custody with an ex-spouse, you can identify- this is hard. But the longer you work on it, the easier it is to manage the tension.
What are some other things you’ve found helpful when it comes to sharing your children with another parent? Or, what feedback could you offer?