Tuesday, June 21, 2022

DEFINING A FAMILY

Merriam Webster’s first definition for family is “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. The second definition is “all the descendants of a common ancestor.”  As many adoptive, blended and foster families are defined by who lives in the home, and not by blood relationships, the first definition is the one I am partial to.

Children as young as pre-school are asked about family. They are asked to create a timeline from birth. Instead, I have always advocated for a “How I Have Grown” timeline, starting with whenever they want (they can include a photo) and ending at the present.  This way if they don’t have an infant photo, it doesn’t make their timeline stand out. In kindergarten, they are asked “Who is in my family? -often done as a family tree. If you ask a young child “who is in your family?”, they will include human household members and often add pets, nannies, grandparents, and other important people in their lives. As children grow, they are taught that only direct household members make up their “immediate family” and who is in their “extended family.” Adopted kids also learn about “birth family.”  I like the concept of a family tree with the birth family as the roots and the current family as the branches. I also like the idea of a forest instead of a tree. If a child is in contact with their birth family, they can have each household as a separate tree, both as part of a forest.

Many adoptive parents struggle with the complexity of “who is family.” They are advised to tell their child information about their birth family. Some are having in-person meetings with them. Such knowledge and contact do not diminish an adoptive parent’s role in a child’s life. Nor does it mean there is co-parenting. It is just providing children with knowledge of their full background.

Birthparents give children the foundation and adoptive parents nurture their talents and spirit. Like growing trees, it takes many years to mature, each year adding height and bringing new opportunities. You need to water, prune and correct and encourage new branches. Your efforts will be worth it.

You put a great deal of energy, emotion and resources into raising your child. This should include conversations about their background. One day they will make decisions about who to include in their “family” and circle of friends, as well as, in which community to live. You can then stand back and watch them continue to blossom.

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  active  in  the  Adoptive Parents Committee in  New  York.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

OUT OF THE SHADOWS

I’m back and want to explain where I have been. I COULD NOT ACCESS MY BLOG ACCOUNT. Tried everything I could to no avail until I discovered that the blog shifted to my second email account sign-in without my knowing. It probably happened during an upgrade installation, but I never knew. Made me start to think. 

We all have different personas that emerge in work and in personal situations. Our basic character is the same, but there are variations in the ways we interact with others. My caring and empathetic nature and my appreciation of privacy and confidentiality are always present, but come across differently with friends, family, and clients.  

It makes me wonder about our kids who have intersecting sides of their beings - the life their adoption has given them and the background and identity they were given at birth. Do they sometimes hide behind one or the other? How do they form their identity and integrate the adoption and birth components of their lives? Are they complimentary or conflicting? Or, does this depend on the circumstances?

I guess we all have parts of our personalities that shine through and which the outside world responds to. But what happens when we are struggling to become who we want to be? Can all of us decide which of our family traits and behaviors to perpetuate? There are certainly days that the words coming out of my mouth are echoes of my mother’s. I hear my kids say things I know they learned from me. But there are so many unique experiences that have shaped who they are.

How can we help them with the adoption side of this process? By creating and maintaining a space for them to share thoughts and feelings, without feeling judged or criticized. It’s hard to listen to your kids struggle and not want to jump in with a solution, but sometimes they need the room to figure things out for themselves. This is particularly true with adoption, where each person reacts differently and in their own timeframe. This does not mean you can’t be an active participant. You can encourage them to express themselves, without adding your opinion (unless asked for one). You can pose questions to help figure out what they are really asking (like – How do you think your life might have been different if you weren’t living here with me?). 

Such conversations may cause the resurfacing of feelings around the reasons you chose to adopt. It is important to address those issues consciously on your own without allowing them to influence your discussions, particularly with a child. Some of you talk to friends, family members and other adoption parents. Many of you continue to reach out to me when conversations about adoption are pending or have been raised by children and others. It is important to recognize what exactly you are grappling with in preparing for these conversations, and preparation can lesson anxieties while helping you know when to talk and what you want to say.

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA,  a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and a past member of the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood and the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt. She is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  provides support & information for the Adoptive Parents Committee New  York City Chapter, as well as through her private practice.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.

Friday, November 5, 2021

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH

I like predictability. I can re-watch a movie or shop for the same foods over and over. When I find a comfortable pair of shoes, I immediately buy a second pair. However, I can also be very accommodating and flexible, and this has served me well as I navigated the adoption process and parenting.

While you decide which adoption opportunities to pursue, how much contact to have with a birthparent and how to help your child, extended family and community understand adoption, you also need to listen to the guidance of you adoption team. Your attorney, the adoption agency, the social worker and the doctor reviewing birth history and pre-natal records are all working for you. Getting their feedback, as well as the feedback of others who have gone through the process, will assist you in the decisions you make and they will support you throughout the journey. It is critical that you remain flexible and accommodate to new possibilities or uncertainties along the way. As you learn more and interact with birthparents, you may change your views on the amount of openness or the type of child you feel ready to parent. You might identify areas in which you need more education or support and learn of resources from your professional team.

Every child has their own personality, ways of processing information and doing things. Initially, your schedules and routines will change to accommodate the new family member. You are learning how to be a parent. As they grow you need to remain flexible, with wonders and surprises coming with each developmental stage. As an adoptive parent, you will be sharing with your child how they joined the family, adding more details as they get older and are able to understand more. Some of you, will include discussions about or contacts with the birth family. As you help your child process information and understand relationships, you will teach your child the difference between privacy and secrecy, what words to use to describe people and situations - that being adopted is nothing to be ashamed of. You will help them learn which words to use when talking about adoption by modeling conversations and answering questions and that they only need to share any details about their adoption or history that they choose.

As a parent, you will also make decisions about what to share about your own adoption process and child’s history with those whom you come into contact. You may change your mind over time and reconsider your options over the years. Some things will become easier to share. Some you will decide not to continue revealing. As your child grows, it is they who should be making these disclosure decisions. You should be having periodic conversations to make sure you know how your child is feeling and if they need help with when and what to say or to withhold. Also, they may change their minds and you need to be accepting of their new choices.

Deciding to adopt might have been the first of your decisions in how to start or enlarge your family. You learned a new process and language, and chose how to proceed. Through the homestudy, you learned more about adoptive parenting. Your adoption agency or attorney advised you on state regulations and other aspects of the adoption process. As you moved forward, you became more adept and comfortable talking to birthparents. When they day came to welcome your child into your home, you were ecstatic and nervous, embarking on a new adventure. The following years, were filled with a mix of activities in which adoption ebbed and flowed. You navigated the bumps in the road and came out victorious with a child who was comfortable in their identity and place in your family.

We all need to learn when and how to stand firm and when to let go. When to be more flexible and when to make accommodations. When to try something familiar and when to try something new. The adoption process and adoptive parenting are such times and opportunities. 

For more information on the adoption process and parenting, come to the annual ADOPTIVE PARENTS COMMITTEE VIRTUAL CONFERENCE 11/19-11/21, 2021 Attend live or pay for the full conference and see recorded sessions after the weekend. 

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  active  in  the  Adoptive Parents Committee in  New  York.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

THE TIME HAS COME TO ADDRESS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

I saw a chiropractor this week. After months of knowing I needed to deal with an achy shoulder and back and putting it off, I took the plunge. Why am I telling you this? Because, talking about adoption with kids is similar. You were advised that this was an important and necessary part of parenting through adoption. The thought that you need to do it comes and goes, and becomes a nagging task. You keep putting it off because you’re unsure of what you are going to say or supposed to say and what the response will be. So, you put it off, again.

Perhaps, it will be your child asking a question or encountering a situation that needs to be addressed. It could be a comment from a family member, friend, colleague or someone in your community in front of your child. Something one of your child’s friends or classmates says. Maybe an in-school curriculum or homework assignment. Not having background information requested by a professional seeing your child (i.e., physician, dentist, counselor, etc.).

Whatever the incentive, the time has come. It is not only preparing what you will say (or hold for another day), but being ready to sit back and listen, which is sometimes the hardest part. You can review what kids know and how to talk to them at various stages in some of my earlier blogs:

The Adoption Maven: A CHILD'S UNDERSTANDING OF ADOPTION

The Adoption Maven: TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT ADOPTION

The Adoption Maven: YOU CAN DO THIS - TALKING ABOUT ADOPTION

The Adoption Maven: CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY

Remember, this will not be a one-time discussion. There will be questions and opportunities to explore your child’s history and what it means to be an adopted child and family as the years go by and as your child grows.

I am so happy I decided to face the elephant in the room and see the chiropractor. I realized I could not heal myself and reached out to the professional I felt could best meet my needs. I am also aware that these next few weeks of ‘adjustments’ will not be the end. Like you, I will need to return to the issue over the coming years – but with more knowledge, less fear and the satisfaction that I took care of an important aspect of my life.

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  active  in  the  Adoptive Parents Committee in  New  York.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

BACK TO SCHOOL - ARE YOU READY?

Many of us are still adjusting to the return to routines they haven’t experienced since March of 2020.  And now what with the continuing updates on COVID and its changing advice on what to do to be safe, leads me to having questions about the return to in-person schooling for our children.

I  think   about   the   lack   of   vaccinations   for   children   under   age  12  and  the  impact this  may  have  on  them  in  an  indoor  environment. For  many  the  new academic year no longer offers remote-learning as an option.

Are the new masking and classroom spacing precautions enough to protect the children and any adults they come in contact with, in and out of the classroom? Will there be any way to know who and who isn’t vaccinated in the upper grades? If a family member has contracted COVID will the school be notified, and the kids asked to quarantine at home? What will the guidelines be if an ‘outbreak’ of COVID cases occurs in the school?

I wish these questions weren’t on my mind. That my blog could be my usual returning to school advice this time of the year. That I could just focus on school assignments and disclosure issues that may arise as the result of being an adoptive family. But COVID is now a part of our lives and we do have to consider how it affects us.

Now onto the usual adoption related considerations when kids head back to school:

That kids as young as pre-school may be asked to create a life time-line or family tree. That elementary school children are asked about that family tree or “who’s in my family” curriculum. That junior and high school students would have assignments relating to genetics and sex education. At any age, any of these classroom discussions, assigned readings or homework assignments can raise questions for your child (and you).

How can you help your child address this work? There are two things you can do. Be aware of upcoming schoolwork and prepare your child how to talk about adoption. This may mean sharing their adoption, sharing general information on adoption, or just not answering questions. This means making sure your child has the vocabulary to express their thoughts and experience of being adopted. Continued conversations with your child about their early life, birthparents’ decisions to make an adoption plan and an assessment of their cognitive and emotional level of understanding, will enable you to identify when they need more support or information.

How do you intercede at school? You are the one to educate teachers about the complexity of the adoptive family and some of the assignments. You may need to provide information, reading materials and other resources for teachers. You might want to ask a teacher to tell you of any upcoming assignments that may include family formation etc. so that she knows that the biology related family assignment does not fit you or your family or others that have been built through adoption, inter-marriage, foster or kinship homes. For example – the pre-school timeline with a baby photo (not always available to adoptees) can become a “how I have grown’ timeline with a photo from when the child was younger and one more recent. Family tree assignments may include who the child considers part of their family, perhaps a nanny, a grandparent, etc. This may lead to classroom discussions on family composition and diversity. Older children may grapple with the genetic ‘why are my eyes this color’ chart. Sex education curriculums may stir up feelings about their birthparents’ choices. Teachers need to know what your child’s triggers may be.  They should be asked to also alert you if they hear any conversations about your child’s adoption that need your attention.   

The decision to disclose a child's adoption is a personal one. Revealing how your family was built, does not mean you need to share any specific details about your child's background or your reason for choosing adoption to build your family. You are alerting those around you that your child may choose to talk about adoption or that they may have a different take on how families are formed. When my older daughter was 3 years old, she told her pre-school teacher 'babies come off airplanes. The teacher told her they didn't. The very next day, I corrected the teacher. To my daughter, her 5-day old baby sister (while from another woman's belly - not mine) did arrive via airplane. There was no need for a sex-ed discussion at age (that came years later). Over the years, I ran defense and offense for my daughters with school assignments, peer relationships and more. Sometimes, it was a bit dicey. But better that I, not my young kids, grappled with other people and their misunderstanding of adoption and adoptive families. By now, I have answered thousands of questions and provided direct information, as well as realized some people would never understand the joys, challenges and complexities of being part of an adoptive family. Each school year, I made a new decision about what and when to reveal my kids' adoptions to teachers, after-school providers and other parents. You need to consider that too,

To all this we have to add on the possible worries about kids going back to school after a year or more of a different learning pattern. Of your returning to a work environment as they return to classrooms. Of, after being together for many months, you or your child experiencing separation anxieties.

No one said being a parent was going to be easy. The last17 months have put us all to the test – parents and kids. Let’s hope the new school year is a safe and rewarding one.

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  active  in  the  Adoptive Parents Committee in  New  York.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.

 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

ON BECOMING A MOTHER

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had never adopted. If I had not thought I could accept and love anyone that wasn’t my biological child

What if I decided to never ever talk to or meet a birthparent?  Would a “closed adoption” be possible? Would I trust I was getting all the information I needed? Would I have any way of reaching out to the birthparent, if needed, as my child grew?

I was very nervous talking to and meeting my older daughter’s birthmother. I wondered if she would like me - approve of me as a potential mother for her child – go through with her decision. But meeting my husband and me reassured her who we were, comforted us that she was making the decision of her own free will, and we each were able to ask the questions we wanted.

By the time my second daughter came around, I was disappointed that I would not get to meet her birthmother. We had talked and agreed to meet, but at the last moment she decided it would be too difficult for her. We did meet, 15 years later, when my daughter’s desire to see her birthmother was strong and unwavering. Over the years, I have seen families make all sorts of arrangements: to talk and meet before the birth, to remain  in contact afterwards through texts, calls and video chats and to meet in-person at varying intervals. Some adoptive parents were even in the delivery room.

What if I never adopted and missed those first steps, first words and other milestones? My life would have been so different. I would have watched my family, friends and neighbors raise their sons and daughters, but my heart would have always ached.

There were steps along the adoption process that were tough. Ones I wish I, nor any of the families I have worked with, had to experience. But I got through them, surged forward and welcomed two daughters 3½ years apart.

Growing up I never imagined I wouldn’t become a mom., It just happened differently than I had planned.  I couldn’t have been one without an adoption plan, devised with the assistance of an attorney, revised along the way and successfully carried through (twice). Adoption made it possible for me to know the joy of being called mom, mama and mommy – to have daily calls and texts with my daughters now 30 and 33 - to have grandchildren.

However your path to parenthood takes you, know it is worth the wait and the effort.

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  active  in  the  Adoptive Parents Committee in  New  York.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

WHEN THINGS DON'T GO AS PLANNED

Did you ever have one of those days? You woke all ready to take on the day with a well thought out plan. But soon enough, things start going off course.

The coffee machine isn’t working - there’s a snag in your favorite sweater - the cat is sitting on the morning newspaper. You miss the bus, can’t find your metro-card, or have a flat tire. And it’s only Monday. You vow not to let this ruin your day, but your mood is turning sour, and you just know it’s a bad omen.

Arriving at work, there’s coffee and bagels set out for an impromptu scheduled meeting to announce some changes in the office. Your stomach drops – but bagels wouldn’t signal something bad, would it? Bad news is usually delivered privately in the HR office. You sip your coffee and talk to colleagues as you wait for the news. The current CEO is leaving, and they are announcing his replacement. Whew! This might even be a good change.

Building a family through adoption mirrors life – it is based on plans, bumps in the road, ensuing worries and then, finally, that new family member. The road may be filled with twists and turns. There may be days you just don’t feel it will happen, but you have heard from others that the process works and you see many adopted children in your community. Hopefully, you have started to create relationships with other adoptive families so you and your child will have a peer group - people who truly understand.

Parenting is similar. You have hopes and dreams for your child and yourself. You know how you want to raise a child and the opportunities you want to provide. You know the things you want to do differently than your own parents, as well as the things you want to continue as childrearing techniques. Maybe adoption is new to the family, but you will learn how to help your child understand how they joined the family. You will learn when and how you or your child should include adoption as you interact with others.

Listen to your gut, but also listen to those around you who are there to support you and give guidance. They have your best interests at heart. Thank them for their support and advice (even if you decide to go in a different direction). You know yourself best, so let them know how they can help.

Not every day will be the one you planned. Going with the flow is necessary, especially during the adoption process and then as you parent. Put on your emotional lifejacket and ride those waves as you go. I know you can do this successfully.

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared  thousands of adoption  homestudies, counseled  expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and  adopted  persons, as  well  as trained  professionals  to  work  with  adoptive  families. She  was Director of the  Ametz  Adoption  Program of  JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption  Series and the  Adoption  Advisory  Board  of  Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption   Professional   Advisory  Council  of  HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and  active  in  the  Adoptive Parents Committee in  New  York.  Her  blogs  and  written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including  her  BLOG  and  as  Head  Writer  for  ADOPTION.NET   She  was  named  an  “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.