I’ll begin by posing a series of questions:
Why do you feel afraid? Is there a reason? Did something specific happen? Did a bio parent show up at your door and threaten your family? Or did they do something dangerous?
Or is your fear coming from….you?
I don’t mean to come across harshly here, but I have to be honest about something important: Over the past 2 decades, fostering more than 20 children, adopting 8, and interacting with more biological parents and family members than I can recall, I have never had a legitimate reason to be afraid of them.
Quick story. Many years ago, Kristin and I were walking out of a courthouse after a permanency hearing for a child we were caring for through foster care, when the father of the child’s bio mom stopped us, looked us in the eye, and said bluntly, “Don’t allow [the baby’s] father anywhere near you, your house, or your family. He’s crazy. Don’t tell him where you live. He will come and kick your front door in, and take the baby from you.”
As I type these words, I can still remember the way I felt when he told us this. My body instantly filled with anxiety. There was a pounding sensation in my head, and my hands became cold and clammy. I had that out-of-control feeling the entire drive back to our house that afternoon. This continued for a month or so. Until I met the child’s father. He was respectful. He was kind. He was human. He told me his story….his hopes….his dreams…his own fears. Had he made mistakes? Yep. But then again, so had I. Every fear I had built up in my mind, based on the word’s of the child’s grandfather, were unfounded. I had nothing to fear but the fear I had bought into blindly.
On March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke these iconic words during his inauguration as the thirty-second president of the United States: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This quote has been recited during times of war. It has been repeated by politicians and government officials in times of world crisis or terror. We see it branded on signs during natural disasters and social unrest. These words have made their way into our homes and our hearts. But what was FDR really saying on that cold winter day in 1933? I believe he was warning us that if we give fear enough power, attention, or authority, it won’t hesitate to start controlling everything we think and do. It’ll even damage relationships (or would-be relationships)
We often allow ourselves to think the worst before we really know the facts. We instinctively allow fear to take up residence in us and fester. To break this unhelpful response, ask yourself a few key questions:
- What are the cold, hard facts? Find out what the facts are surrounding a case. It’s okay to read police reports or court documents. Take time to weed through opinions and sort out the facts. Meet with the bio parents if you can (more on that in a minute). Listen to their story. Get to know them as a fellow parent. Just like it did for me, it may give you a brand new perspective on a situation, and this person who gave your child life. This has been the case with nearly every bio family member I have met and have a relationship with.
- Have we talked (and CAN we talk?) This question is two-fold. First, have you tried to connect human-to-human with a bio parent? Start there. Maybe you can, or maybe you can’t. This depends on your specific situation. Second, if you can, have a conversation with them, learn about them AND from them. And believe the best, unless or until you have reason otherwise. You will almost always discover that your fears are unfounded.
- Am I in danger? This is a very important question to ask. Not “Do I feel that I’m in danger?” but rather “Am I IN danger?” Feelings are important but not always based on reality. “Am I in danger?” is based on facts.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this: 99.9% of the time, the fear you feel is unfounded. We are so prone as humans to buy into something someone said, something we read online, heard in a training, or a news report on a hot topic which, newsflash (pun intended) thrive on sensationalism. I think bio families, and bio parents have gotten a bad rap. I think far too often they’ve become the scapegoat for the apprehensions and insecurities we have as parents. We need to stop this. It’s not healthy for our children, and not healthy for us. And by the way, our children who were adopted, will ALWAYS have 2 sets of parents. Get used to sharing.
Are there dangerous cases out there? Sure. Are there times when you need to have strong, immovable boundaries around your family? Absolutely. You may even be reading this and you are in a dangerous situation and it’s legitimate. But these are rare. Putting up your defenses and safeguarding your family must be the response to legitimate concerns with actual facts, not the reaction to a feeling that’s unfounded, or a persisting insecurity you have.
The most important thing to remember is this: Bio parents and family members are human beings just like you. They have made mistakes just like you and I have. Let’s not treat fellow human beings poorly, with contempt, or differently because they’ve walked a different life path than us, or made different choices than we have. Let’s celebrate the fact that we are fellow human beings who are living, breathing, and trying to figure out life to the best of our ability.