The subject of contact has been prominent in our house this week for a few reasons. My involvement in it has got me thinking about the importance of contact in general and how it is of multi-faceted benefit. There are benefits not just to the child in the centre of it all but to those around him and those on the receiving end of the contact too.
The first thing that happened was that we decided that Little Bear had asked us enough times now if he could see his Foster Carers and we needed to listen. It has always been in a casual way – mentioned one day then not for weeks and usually mentioned in passing.
Initially, when Little Bear first moved in, it was an active decision on our part that he wouldn’t speak to them for a while. The transition had been quite rushed and Little Bear hadn’t seemed to miss his Foster Carers Karen and Bob at all. If he did it wasn’t in a way that he could verbalise or even that he shed tears over. It felt odd.
It was only after about 6 months that Little Bear started to mention them and then it was usually when he was displeased with us.
During the first months my own feelings about Karen and Bob were very confused. They had been lovely to us – very friendly and welcoming and they had gone out of their way to include Big Bear and ease his distress when Introductions proved very hard on him. However, I also felt angry about various aspects of Little Bear’s development that clearly hadn’t been nurtured or developed in their care. I was upset that he should have been further ahead than he was after such a long time with them. I knew he had the potential to be further on because he was literally flourishing in front of my eyes. I was upset that his tongue was cracked from dehydration; he didn’t know what fruits or vegetables were and was having to take laxatives for his sluggish digestion. He hadn’t learned to do basic things like walk holding hands and was used to playing in his room with the light on in the middle of the night. I was upset that we had to start parenting from scratch, down to teaching him his own name and getting him to follow even a basic instruction.
We had our work cut out and I honestly didn’t know if I could speak to Karen and Bob or what I would say to them if I did.
I suppose if I’m really honest I was also worried about our attachments at that point. I genuinely think speaking to them or seeing them could have broken the fragile bond that we were gradually forming with Little Bear. I guess some of my motivations for not having contact were selfish.
However, I always intended that in the longer term we would have some sort of contact for Little Bear’s sake. I do think children should be able to stay in touch with their Foster Carers but I also think this should very much be taken on a case by case basis and directed by the child. I sent occasional messages and Christmas cards etc. I thought Karen and Bob might have sent Little Bear a birthday or Christmas card but they didn’t. Perhaps they weren’t bothered about him anymore?
More recently I have known that the time was coming when instead of just allowing Little Bear to talk about Karen and Bob and affirming that it really is ok for him to miss them, I would need to go one step further. I would need to facilitate him speaking with them and possibly seeing them. All of a sudden I felt ok to make this happen. I didn’t think it would threaten our bond at all. And moreover I wanted him to have the opportunity.
So recently I contacted them to see how they felt about it. I was surprised by how keen they were and how happy my text had made them. The phone call took place and I was surprised by how nice it was to hear their voices. An adopters relationship with foster carers is unique I think and can’t really be likened to any other type of relationship. After all, you don’t usually move into a stranger’s house for a week or so and then take away the child they have been caring for. It is a very unusual dynamic.
For us, it turns out, it is a dynamic in which despite not speaking to them for 2 years and having very mixed feelings about the care they provided our son (though I know they didn’t do any of it purposefully) we are still able to have an easy and comfortable conversation. It was lovely to hear how they and their family are doing and also their genuine joy in hearing about Little Bear. It seems as though they do think about him and wonder about him but don’t want to intrude into our lives by getting in touch to ask us about him. I have made it clear that we would not see that type of contact as an intrusion and would welcome it.
I think the phone call was important for them. They needed the contact.
Little Bear needed the contact and wanted it but was quite discombobulated by it. When Grizzly asked him why he wanted to speak to Karen and Bob he said, “Because they used to love me”, which really hit the nail on the head in the brilliantly simple way that Little Bear does. It also meant we were able to explain that they haven’t stopped loving him and I’m sure the phone call helped with proving that.
Little Bear didn’t talk to Karen and Bob for long though he did tell them he would like to see them. Although he was a bit all over the place whilst I was on the phone, the behavioural fall-out that we expected afterwards didn’t materialise. I think for him, the wait was the right thing to do.
I was also surprised that Big Bear was really keen to talk to Karen and Bob and he too got a lot from the conversation. I suppose that Bob and Karen are a part of his brother’s past that he is a part of too, in a way that Little Bear’s birth family are not. He remembers being in their home and the kindness they showed him.
All in all, I think our first foray into making contact with Bob and Karen was really positive and I genuinely hope it will lead to more chats and possibly even a meet up. The whole thing has just served to illustrate that in adoption nothing is black and white; nothing is purely bad or purely good. Most things are a weird swirl of greys – a very complex mix of positives and negatives that cannot be separated into neat piles. Once you embrace the grey swirl, rather than being upset by the negatives or viewing the positives through a rose-tinted lens, things seem much easier to navigate.
And when it comes to complex grey swirls, nothing is more complex or swirly than our relationship with the other people we need to maintain contact with: Little Bear’s Birth Parents. It is Letterbox time so I have been thinking a lot about Sian and Joseph too. When I last wrote about this it was to say that we had requested an update that I didn’t think we would ever get. Miraculously we did get an update (to which Sian and Joseph had to consent) and it gave us the clearest picture we’ve had of them to date. The update also included information about Little Bear’s birth siblings.
What was brilliant about it was the insight it gave us into how they are all coping with Little Bear’s adoption and what some of their worries and preoccupations are. This has made writing Letterbox letters so much easier and has allowed me to tailor the letters to address their anxieties. Last year (our first experience of Letterbox) I think I felt quite vulnerable in my relationship with Little Bear and the thought of Sian and Joseph alone was enough to jiggle my confidence, let alone having to write to them.
This year I feel very different. This time I feel the responsibility of playing my part in helping them to cope with the loss of their son. That is not something I thought I would ever feel or say. I feel the same about supporting Little Bear’s birth siblings. Luckily they have sent us some specific questions and we have answered those. The letter to Sian and Joseph has been harder but I have tried to anticipate their concerns and address them as best I can. I have made sure they know Little Bear knows he is adopted and that we talk about them.
It is suddenly very obvious to me how important the contact is for them. At this stage I would say it is more important for them than it is for Little Bear, though I anticipate his need for it to grow as he does.
I think our role in it all is quite different to how I used to think of it. The contact is not about us. First and foremost it is about Little Bear and trying to future-proof as much as possible. Secondary to that, we might actually be able to make a difference in Sian and Joseph and the siblings’ lives if we can put our own feelings aside and think carefully about what they need from us. This is where good social work is crucial and why I really feel that allowing us updates is so vital. It is a road that has to be walked with caution but one that I am hopeful about travelling.
A crucial part of our update was that it would be okay for us to meet Sian and Joseph (we had previously been told we couldn’t) so now we need to think long and hard about whether to go ahead and do it. I rather suspect we will but therein lays a massive grey swirly mire to wade through.
I would say that adoption has about fifty shades of grey but that would conjure up the wrong image entirely. It’s grey and swirly and the black and white is inextricably tangled. Lets stick with that.