The Birth Family Letters

mailAs I think I’ve shared, Daffy has not seen her birth Mom since July and her birth brother, Donald, since December 2012. We have allowed letters to be exchanged during that time, but of course we open them and read them before giving them to Daffy to be sure nothing questionable is being said. We were instructed to do this by Daffy’s most recent therapist and we agreed it was a good idea. This also allows us a heads up that behaviors may occur as a result of being triggered. The most recent letter arrived last weekend. First, the envelope return address stated “XXXX Family” rather than the usual “Mommy XXXX” that is usually used as the name in the return address. When I read it, I immediately felt pangs for Daffy. I know she will view it as just one more reminder that Donald is back with their Birth Mom and she isn’t.

I opened the envelope to find 4 letters enclosed… one from Donald, one from Birth Mom, one from Birth Mom’s new husband and one from Birth Mom’s older biological daughter (who was taken by the state many years before Daffy was born). Apparently she is 18 now and is living back with her Birth Mom.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe the issues in these letters, so let’s just take them one by one:

1. Birth Mom: Birth Mom wrote once again reminding Daffy that she still has her Christmas gifts and will give them to her when she gets to see her. (It was previously discussed by the post adoption unit working with Birth Mom’s family that she would give the gifts to staff to pass on to Daffy, but apparently Birth Mom decided that she would rather have a carrot to dangle in front of Daffy. Sigh. ) She then told Daffy all the things she had received for Valentine’s Day. She went on to say that she bought Donald a 7″ Tablet and a goodie bag for Valentine’s Day and she got coloring books and a goodie bag for her step-daughter. She then pointed out that she got a goodie bag for Daffy and it was with her Christmas things. REALLY???? I do not expect- or even WANT- Birth Mom to buy a tablet for Daffy, but to describe each gift in such detail clearly indicating to Daffy she doesn’t mean as much to her is just plain wrong. At the end, she closed with a PS telling Daffy that her oldest daughter is now living with her and asks if its okay that she wrote a letter. Ummmm, hello? Clearly it’s too late to be asking since you included the letter. She did not provide any further details, but it’s sure looking like a bizarre family reunion over there, one that Daffy is not a part of.

2. Donald: As surprising as it is, Donald’s letter was actually the least offensive of the 4 letters this time. He told her he heard a Hannah Montana song that made him think of her. He called her “sis” a lot (same as last letter when he wrote “I’ve been a bad boy, sis.“) and he drew her a picture of a tree with her name on it.

3. Birth Mom’s New Husband: I’ve never thought of this guy as a bad guy. He has custody of his young elementary school-aged daughter. (Side note: Daffy’s Birth Mom HATES his little girl and has no problem sharing that with anyone who will listen. She resents the fact that she could be allowed to raise this stepchild but not her own biological children, 4 in total, because the court terminated her rights). Anyway, the new husband seems to be fond of Daffy, despite only have met her once or twice in 2008 before Birth Mom’s rights were terminated. So, he wrote a fairly generic letter and then requested Daffy draw him the China Doll they talked about. He them went on to remind Daffy to include the butcher knife in the pictures. WAIT, WHAT? I had to read that part a few times over. Why on God’s green earth would this man ask Daffy to draw a picture of a China Doll with a butcher knife???? I’ve tried to see what I can found out about the Chinas Doll in the Great & Powerful Oz movie but so far not too much luck especially as it relates to a butcher knife. Regardless, I dont think Daffy needs ANY encouragement to draw ANYTHING featuring ANY knives after the incident at school in 2012 and the photos she drew of death last year.

4. Birth Mom’s Older Biological Daughter: Ok, so let me start by saying, when we first learned back in 2011 that Donald and Daffy had 2 older biological sisters that had been removed and ultimately adopted into a neighboring state, we spoke to the kids about them. Neither child had any clue what we were talking about. The workers from the agency we were with were made aware and also spoke to Daffy about the and Daffy still denied having any sisters. On the first visit Daffy had with Birth Mom in 11/2012, Birth Mom brought a photo of these “sisters” and Daffy did not recognize them and said she did not know who they were. Fast forward to receiving these letters. I was shocked to see this letter included. The letter didn’t say a lot other than the fact this 18 year old has now moved back with Birth Mom and is hoping to finish high school. She gave Daffy her phone number and said to call anytime. She said she misses Daffy.

As if the birth family stuff wasn’t already wreaking  havoc in Daffy’s life with the Birth Mom she wants to see, Donald whom she doesn’t want to see, her Birth Mom’s new husband and his daughter of whom she hardly knows, she now has a Birth Sister that she doesn’t remember who wants to be a part of her life. WTF. I really wish Birth Mom would work with me for her to see Daffy without adding this barrage of other people into the mix. Daffy can not handle it right now. She is struggling with daily life. Things like this could easily put her over the edge.

So, my gut said maybe these were letters we should save in a special place until Daffy is older and can deal with everything. Mickey disagreed. He feels like Daffy needs to see the reality (and insanity!) of what is going on at Birth Mom’s house. I relented and he gave her the letters tonight, coincidentally the second night of his two days off.  I’m sure I’ll get to enjoy a spike in behaviors the next few days and into the weekend. Lucky me.

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Communication Games In Family Therapy

communication gamesThe second worker from the agency texted me yesterday and asked if I still wanted her to come since I had just met the day before with the post adoption worker from the state for 2 and a half hours. I wanted to say “No, don’t come! I’m tired of talking!” but instead I found myself doing the right thing. Next week seems a lifetime away…. much too long to wait to check in. Tink and I had been the only ones home to visit with the state worker on Wednesday, so I thought it best that maybe a few more of us get the chance to check in before the weekend.

It tuned out to be only Mickey, me, Daffy and the worker. Tink is exhausted at this late stage in her pregnancy and was napping, Goofy was at work and Pluto? Well, he avoids all of this at all costs, so he was off with his friends.

The worker started by asking what in the hell had happened Tuesday night (not in those words, of course, lol). Daffy tried to explain but was really emotional about it. (She had overheard some things I said to Mickey that were very hurtful about her birth family. It’s something that will have to be acknowledged and dealt with in time, but yesterday was not the day with all our emotions still running so high.) We then went on to discuss Daffy’s report card. I had to walk away at one point when the worker asked her about her homework and she said she had trouble getting it done at home because a girl at school likes to tell her stories. I was relieved that the worker could see through her excuses and admired the more gentle way she brought the conversation back around every time Daffy tried to get out of answering something.

The worker helped us to strategize some ways for Daffy to improve her ability to get her homework done. Daffy also learned that my disappointment from her report card was less about the actual grades and more about the fact she had been lying for weeks about doing her homework. In my opinion, lying is the ultimate disrespect of a relationship. Daffy seemed shocked to learn that is why I was so upset and not because of the grades themselves. Clearly, we lack communication.

At that point, the worker suggested that maybe we work on communication as the most important element in family therapy and asked if we agreed. I whole heartedly agreed because without it, we certainly can’t accomplish anything else, at least nothing that could be long lasting. One of the things she had us do was to pair up round robin style and sit back to back. She gave each of the same set of Mega Blocks. One person would build a stack and then have to describe to the other person how to build it themselves (without that person seeing the other person’s blocks). I don’t think Daffy & Mickey got nearly as much out of it as I did. There were soooo many times throughout the activity where I literally said “AHA!” as I could see how this applied to real life. For Daffy & I, it was a really nice ice breaker, though. We often go for days without speaking at all and then get stuck in knowing how to start communicating (or heck, even TALKING) again, so having this “forced” activity allowed us to break the ice. I was surprised at how well the rest of the night went once the worker left. It actually felt nice.

Of course, any “good day” is always ruined by SOMETHING. That’s par for the course in this post-adoption family. Daffy was getting ready to head to bed and I had just come upstairs to work. Suddenly I heard Tink SCREAMING. Apparently Daffy had picked up the cat. To most of you this probably seems like a harmless event, but given Daffy’s history of being abusive with animals she is allowed ZERO contact with the cat. She knows this. (In fact, Tink and I had been talking recently about how well Daffy had been doing with it. Sometimes Tink will watch Daffy when she is outside shooting hoops and even when the cat comes over to her, she had been simply walking away. Really impressive stuff, actually.) And then there was last night. Out of nowhere, she decides to pick up the cat. WHY? Why would she do this? My gut tells me that things were going too well. I think when Daffy feels happy here she feels disloyal to her birth mom. Maybe I’m way off, but I feel like that’s where her actions came from last night. Mickey was standing maybe 15 feet away during the whole thing and SAID NOTHING. I was FURIOUS! I think I was more mad at Mickey than Daffy at that point! Our family is already so divided because of Mickey’s lack of understanding of what really happens and to have him right there and then do and say nothing? I thought I would lose it. Mickey did begrudgingly give me some time to calm down and then we were able to talk about it later last night. He seems to KNOW he needs to address things as they happen and follow through with consequences, but just doesn’t know how to do it. It’s just not him. He hates anything that even LOOKS like confrontation. He doesn’t want the kids to be mad at him. This worked “ok” for our bio kids, but this does not work for the adopted one. We have heard a million times over how adopted kids NEED consistency. The worker will be back on Monday and we will be working on a concrete rule and consequences list. I’m hoping this will be beneficial to all of us. Mickey won’t have to try to figure out an appropriate consequence to any given infraction of the rules and the kids will know what to expect each and every time. I hope that this will also lessen Daffy’s hostility towards me in that I won’t always have to be the “bad guy.” The rules and consequences will be things we ALL agreed on, thus not just about me being the parent.

So, despite the bad ending to the night, I still feel more hopeful today than I did Tuesday. Several of my friends asked if I wanted them to take Daffy for the weekend and I declined. While I do need a break now and then, I want those breaks to be scheduled rather than used in crisis. (Daffy is going away next weekend because I will be traveling.) I worry that Daffy will feel punished and I don’t think that’s helpful. And yes, it startled me just as much as you that I was that concerned about Daffy’s feelings. I thought I had stopped caring at all when survival became the focus, but maybe there is still something there and, maybe with time, those feelings can grow again.

Incidentally, tomorrow marks TWO YEARS since the day we first met Daffy! I want that feeling back.

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Expect The Unexpected (The post about the letter)

Today was the big day… the day Daffy received the long awaited letter back from her biological Mom… their first contact in 3 years. Daffy responded so emotionally to receiving a photo of her birth mom from her Fairy Godmother that I was sure that today would overwhelm her. I was wrong.

This morning we met with our social worker before Daffy’s therapy appointment. Daffy was her usual fidgety self, but nothing out of the ordinary. We arrived at therapy and I went in first so I could sum up the week and review the letter with her therapist. I could not ask for a more appropriate letter. Her birth Mom answered all her questions and provided many subtle clues that it was okay for Daffy to move on, including that she was happy Daffy was safe & in a new family and that she wants to meet us. She even signed the letter with her first name.

Daffy came into the office to join us. As she slowly read the letter, she smiled a few times. She commented that her birth mom said she no longer had the family cat from years ago. And then she folded the letter, put it back in the envelope and was ready to know what was next. Next she was given  3 cards that we recently found in the files at the state office. Her therapist explained that someone in the past made a poor decision by not passing on the cards at the time they were received and that the current team was correcting that by giving them to her now. She further explained that clearly her birth mother had thought of her over the past 3 years. The cards included birthday and holiday cards with notes written inside. Daffy read each one, again with little response, other than to note that her mother must have remembered her birth date. Her therapist asked her how she felt about finally hearing from her birth mom and she replied with short answers like “happy.” Oddly, she barely even commented on the fact that her birth mom had included a picture with the letter!

I know that she must have been feeling a thousand feelings on the inside, but one of Daffy’s issues is that she does NOT like to show emotion, particularly sadness or crying. As emotional things have come up, Daffy often asks if I cried or will cry about them. She is almost to the point of obsessed. Unfortunately for Daffy, I am much like her in that way. I *hate* crying. I feel like its a sign of my weakness when I cry, so I avoid it all costs and feel very embarrassed if others see me cry for any reason. This is something I am definitely going to have to work on so that I can help Daffy deal with her strong emotions.

This afternoon our case worker came for her monthly visit. She asked Daffy about her experience receiving the letter this morning. Daffy was happy to get the letter and show it to her, but again, quickly moved on to other subjects.

Had this happened in January, I would easily have attributed this to her diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder. At this point, though, her therapist disputes that diagnosis and seeing her in our home (& with our family) and how she recently reacted to reconnecting with her former foster (pre-adoptive) family, I don’t think that is the case. I think she is fully capable of attaching and I am wondering if she is simply not attached to her biological mother.

I am definitely ending this day in a much different place than I expected. I guess thats the name of the game in foster care.

Expect the unexpected.