I’ve written a few posts over the last few years about life story work with our daughters. It’s still the thing that worries me most about parenting our children. What if we get it wrong? What if we say the wrong thing? Once words are said, you can’t take them back.
Clearly, I’m putting myself under too much pressure. I do that a lot. Whether your children are adopted or not, we’re only human. Yes, being a parent to an adopted child often means we need to parent in a different way to those who have birth children. But no parent can ever be perfect. So we will get some things wrong. But hopefully, the way we deal with that will teach our kids that we all make mistakes and that’s ok.
I was terrified the first time we formally introduced life story work to eldest. She was about three. If you want to find out how it went, you can read about it here. She’s now seven and I’m so proud of how she’s handled all the information we’ve given her about her birth family. To her, she’s known no different. She doesn’t remember the first time we told her she didn’t grow in my tummy which is how we wanted it to be.
Clearly, it’s a massive thing to find out you have another family. But I don’t want that to weigh my children down. I want them to be curious and feel they can talk to us about it all whenever they want. And feel whatever they need to feel about it. We can’t stop them being hurt and upset by it. Not being able to grow up with their birth family is trauma. But by being open with them, hopefully it will help them come to terms with it all.
At the moment, eldest is content to know she has a birth mum, dad, brothers and sisters who she’ll hopefully meet when she’s older. From time to time she looks at her life story book (it’s in her room so she can access it whenever she wants) and if she wants to ask questions, she does. She says that she loves them all and we’ve talked about why they can’t all live together, in very basic terms at the moment.
Youngest is two so we haven’t done any formal life story work with her yet, but we will be starting to introduce it soon. Eldest knows the history behind all of her and her sister’s names. She knows their birth family chose their second middle names and that if they want to use them as their first names, they can. At the moment she doesn’t like her birth first name because it’s normally a boys name. But that may change as she grows up and if it does, she can decide how she wants to use it.
Last summer, eldest had been looking at her life story book and said she wished she had a recent photo of her brothers and sisters. It was around the time we were due to send our annual update so I said I’d ask the lady who sends on our updates, if she’d find out if their parents would send us some new photos.
One of the things I wish we’d had more training about, is contact. And the contact agreement in particular. It was covered on our prep course, but it didn’t really prepare us for the realities of contact or that it might need to change as the children grow. I wish now I’d asked for there to be provision for things like photos to be regularly exchanged. When we signed the contact agreement, it was early on in placement. It was a very basic agreement that allowed for an annual exchange of letters. At that time, I hadn’t got my head round the enormity of life story work and how crucial things like photos can be.
Fast forward six years and eldest is desperate to see what her brothers and sisters look like now. Unfortunately, all responses to our annual updates have stopped. We’ve never had anything from birth mum which is very sad, but I kind of understand that. I can’t imagine what it’s like for her and I suspect that she’s not felt able to reply because of her circumstances.
However, I’m very angry and disappointed that none of the siblings’ parents have kept up with contact. Our request for photos has been met with complete silence. We haven’t had any letters back from them for over two years now. In some ways, doing it for a few years and then stopping feels worse than not doing it at all. Why have they stopped? And why can’t they see how important it is for their children to keep in contact with their siblings?
Unfortunately, we’ve had very little support from our agency with this. The pandemic hasn’t helped because staff are working from home or are on furlough. But my requests for them to encourage siblings’ parents to engage, haven’t been responded to. So I feel utterly helpless. Eldest wants to know how her brothers and sisters are doing. She wants to know what they look like. She wants to lay the foundations for having a relationship with them in the future.
Obviously, I don’t know the circumstances of the siblings’ families. There may be very good reasons why none of them are replying. But it’s so disappointing that we’re not getting supported with this by our agency. So, once things settle down a bit after the kids go back to school, I’ll be back in contact with them pushing for some kind of help.
I hate that our children are likely to suffer more pain and upset because of the lack of contact, and that it seems there’s very little I can do about it. For now, we’ll continue with what we have. We’ve had a few conversations with eldest about what she thinks her brothers and sisters look like now. Whether they’ve got long hair like her and her sister. Whether she thinks they’ll like to dance like they do. At the moment she’s not asking about her birth parents. She knows from their photos who they are, but I think she’s probably still too young to understand the role they play in her life. Hopefully that will come with time and she’ll be curious about them too.
I’d be really interested to hear about other people’s experience of this. What kind of support have your agency given to get contact up and running if siblings in particular don’t respond?