One of our children's first parents is homeless. I should say currently homeless; there have certainly been more times in their life when they did have housing than when they didn't. But they had been homeless for a stretch in the years before we met them and, sadly, are again at the moment.
Poverty is, of course, part and parcel of homelessness. It's also not always as simple as a lack of cash. It would be ridiculous to think that money had nothing to do with them not raising their child. But there is a lot going on with our loved one, a tangle of disability, unemployment, addiction and recovery, mental illness, broken support systems and more. I don't even pretend to be able to tease out what is cause and what is effect in all that.
They are safe right now, thank goodness, in what seems like a really good long-term shelter program. Now the part of my brain that was absorbed with worrying about them has started thinking about why it is that I've been reluctant to talk about what has been this hugely influential piece of our open adoption.
I can count on one hand the people in my life who know about this first parent's housing challenges. We've tried to be sensitive to the fact that they struggle with embarrassment over their situation and don't want people to know if it can be helped. When they're visiting we'd never want them to feel like our friends are looking at them as The Homeless Birth Parent. And we've thought about the fact that although it's something our child probably wouldn't care if people knew right now, they may choose to keep to themselves once they hit school age. I suppose I've wanted to protect their privacy here, as well.
We were fairly involved during a recent crisis period, at least as much as we could be from a distance. There were some emotional late-night phone calls that Puppy was very aware of. Todd and I talked a lot about what was going on and how we might help, and Puppy listened. The thought of someone you know not having a home is pretty scary when you are little. (Hell, it's scary to me as an adult.) He and I talk about it sometimes still, even though the crisis has passed. If nothing else, I hope he's picked up that his and Firefly's birth families are family, and that we approach helping them out the same way we would other family members. There's not a separate category. (Although even that isn't so simple. One thing we talked about was them maybe living with us for awhile. But they knew it would be too much for them right now to be living right in the middle of the adoption like that. So in some ways it's not just like any other family.)
It has pushed at our pre-conceived ideas about what a flourishing open adoption looks like. The most important pieces--mutual respect, honesty, trust--are there. But then there are all the things you might expect a good relationship to include: maybe sharing pictures, chatting frequently, spending time together in person, exchanging presents. There's an assumption of a heck of a lot of stability on both sides there. We've had to figure out how to send pictures to someone who doesn't have internet access or a consistent address. How to keep in touch when there's no email and phones sometimes get shut off. What sorts of gifts to give when they don't have a lot of space to call their own, or when they're struggling to meet their basic needs. The logistics of visiting when they don't have access to transportation.
Sometimes, especially in the last several months, all that is going on in their life has simply been so overwhelming that they haven't been able to handle the emotions of visiting us. So then there is the added sadness of them missing out on time with their child. They wish they could put together big boxes of birthday presents like other birth parents they know, or come to visit more often. On both sides I think we're trying to figure out how we show our love, trying to figure out the practicals of maintaining a healthy, strong connection given everything else that is going on.
Money did influence and continues to influence the shape of our open adoption, in ways I never expected.
This is my contribution to the latest open adoption roundtable.