Thursday, November 10, 2011

Belonging

I recently learned that the most important factor in whether foster/adopted children feel they belong in a family is the approval and welcoming of the grandparents in that family.  So while children must be granted appropriate access to what led them to become adopted and know that there is not a return policy on their adoptive status, grandparents play a vital role in a child's sense of belonging in a new family.

Which then begs the question, as foster/adopt parents, how do we help our parents become foster/adopt grandparents?

My wife and I are fortunate to have started out with two fairly good, if not great, sets of grandparents to begin with.  We never had to breakdown the barriers of racism for our families to welcome any children during the holidays or vacations.  We were never told to give a child back even in our most difficult of placements.  We did however have to work through underlying issues of favoritism.

At one point, we had three boys from a sibling group of six that were living with us.  Over the summer, grandparents would come to visit and routinely take one or two of our biological kids home with them for a few days to have them all to themselves.  We loved this multi-generational investment in our kids alongside the gentleness and care they expressed...until, the three boys began to get angry, then sad and cry.  Memaw, Grandad, Nana and Pa had all welcomed them when they were in our home, but they were never invited to come spend the night at their house.

On another occasion, we were on a trip to Red River, NM one summer.  And each night, a different set of grandkids got to go stay in the grandparents' room and be unconditionally cherished for an evening.  On this particular trip, we had two foster sons who everyone absolutely loved...but originally no invitation had been given to them to spend the night.  This is when my wife and I began stepping in and not only encouraging them to consider the idea of including our foster kids in their grandparenting plans, but stating that if everyone couldn't have a turn no one would.

Over the years, our parents have grown to understand more of the behavioral and developmental issues of our children, and they have become advocates themselves.  My mom is now a CASA volunteer speaking on behalf of foster children in court.  When our oldest son was adopted, we had planned a deep-sea fishing trip in the Gulf the weekend he first moved in not knowing those two events would coincide.  Years later, when asked what made him feel at home, he responded, "The very first thing I ever did with my family was go on a deep-sea fishing trip with my dad, granddad and uncle.  It wasn't convenient for them to take me with them...they hardly knew me, but they welcomed me as if I was their own.  And, I was."

You might copy pages from books like Brothers and Sisters in Adoption by Arleta James or the Connected Child by Karyn Purvis to give to your extended family ever so often to read.  You might have to go above and beyond to invite your family over to your house letting them know that you are not too busy for them.  You will have to have some direct conversations about why you don't spank, do time-ins instead of timeouts and curb their curiosity.  Ultimately, you will benefit greatly in allowing your children to feel at home even if they aren't at home by encouraging your parents to create a sense of belonging for these children.

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