As I write this I’m wrapping up my East Coast adventures that included an open adoption visit with my son as well as an adoption conference. During one of the many wonderful conference sessions we were reminded that a child acting out during or after a visit is to be expected and is not in and of itself a reason to discontinue visits. The mention of not ending contact due to tantrums, meltdowns, or bad behavior was really just that. A brief mention, so I don’t have an exact quote or even quite remember which of the amazing presenters said it, but it stuck with me.
This is actually something I get asked about a lot in my work. Not because adoptive parents are looking for reasons to close an adoption, but because they want to be good parents. It hurts to see your child hurting, and as parents we all want to stop whatever it is that may be hurting our children.
My son had a hard time at the end of my visit right before I arrived at the conference. Since my son didn’t name his feelings and I’m not inside his head, I won’t presume to do so, but I know he was feeling things, and so was I.
I was feeling sadness, guilt, love, joy, grief, anticipation, and so much more all at the same time. It’s hard to deal with a lot of emotions at once, especially when they’re conflicting emotions. As an adult I used my skills to handle those emotions. Children can’t always do that.
My son actually held it together quite well for most of my visit, but in the last moments of my last day some feelings combined with other things going on in his life affected his behavior.
It was hard for all his parents to watch. It would be completely understandable if for a moment his parents thought about discontinuing visits. I know as his birth mom I consider that sometimes when I see this kind of behavior. Not because I don’t want to see him, but because I think it might be easier for him if I weren’t there.
It wouldn’t be easier though. Sure he may not have the emotions from interrupted schedules, over-stimulation, too much sugar, and saying goodbye, but he would have other feelings.
Perhaps feelings of abandonment. Feelings shame or guilt based on the assumption that his behavior drove me away. Feelings of not being loved. Feelings of being disconnected.
So if feelings are inevitable, why err on the side of continued contact? Because as he gets older, learns more skills, and has more contact his visit meltdowns are getting fewer and less intense. Because by staying in his life I can show him unconditional love. Because by sticking it out through his feelings I can comfort him and remind him of his worth. Because by allowing him to feel his feelings and express them in any way he’s able as he learns those new skills, he is learning it is okay to have feelings and it is okay not to hold them inside.
Have you experienced post visit emotions (your child’s or your own) that left you reconsidering openness? How did you handle it? Not in an open adoption yet? How might you handle it in the future?
About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She is a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and will soon be returning to school to pursue a PhD in Social Work and focus on adoption related research . She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption. She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.
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