April 16, 2010


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.


luna said...

I'm sorry to hear about this, and I hope they land on their feet sturdy and strong.

all I'll say is that we've dealt with some similar issues with one of baby J's birth parents, and it's tough.

thanks for sharing this part of the story.

Megan said...

I think I would find this to be a very, very difficult situation to deal with. I'm so sorry they have to deal with this situation, and that you do, too.

Thank you for being so honest and open about everything, especially online. I hope to reach that point someday.

Rachie317 said...

First, I want to say I'm sorry you are all going through this - it is hard to watch someone you love go through hard times and not know how best to help them.

I also want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for writing this post. I can not say enough how much others need to hear that these situations do happen and that they are hard - but they must be dealt with by using compassion and careful thought about what the adoptive parents' place is in helping the birth parents.

So many people who have never been in such a situation do not understand how "disability, unemployment, addiction and recovery, mental illness, and broken support systems" can all come together in a way that is hard to understand but even harder to work their way out of for the person living it. Your non judgemental account brought me to tears. Thank you for being brave enough to share this part of your family's story with us - I believe many will benefit from it.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Oh, how tough, for everyone, especially the parent who is temporarily homeless.

The husband and I have housed three different people before... ranging from two months to just over six months. One is family; two are close friends. And that situation (having them live with you) does change the relationship - in some ways for the better, but in other ways it can become much more challenging.

I pray he or she lands softly very soon. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story... I never would have even thought of the possibility otherwise.

Jess said...

I agree with some of the others...this sounds so, so hard.

I'm sorry things are difficult for them right now. I hope soon things look up. :(

Tammy said...

Heather... my heart goes out to your whole family. This has been a part of our reality over the last six years and I struggle to know how to respond except with empathy and hope, that your loved one will be able to find hope and stability very soon.

I am grateful on your behalf, that as hard as I can imagine it has been to walk through this with this family member, they reached out for support from you. Our biggest struggle has been with not even wanting to let us know so we can support them, as their embarrassment at being in that continued cycle overwhelms them. I hope that together, you'll be able to find a way through.

You're in my thoughts...

Lori Lavender Luz said...

You write with such respect and sensitivity for your son and his birth parents.

"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."

These types of issues were a challenge for us at one point, as well. We wanted to "help" but all that was appropriate in the long-run was to provide emotional support while they found their own way.

Which they eventually did.

I wish good things for you and your loved ones.

Anonymous said...

My sister is a birth parent who has had unstable living situations in the past. It's hard on her knowing that she's not always able to drive to see him and it's a blessing to her that she can see her son in a stable and loving household.

Being her sister, I love her more than life, but there have been times I can't do anything but pay for a tank of gas (I buy it - there are times I can't give her cash.) There are reasons she chose open adoption for her son, and finances was a big part of that. It's hard to balance it where everyone's pride comes out intact, especially when there are mental illness and addiction problems to work through.

All I can say is offer unconditional love and acceptance, but be wise with what you offer as far as material things go. What will happen with Puppy is that he'll learn that skill by seeing it in y'all.

Andy said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I can imagine how hard it is for everyone involved.

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

I can imagine the empathy you have for them. It is a tough situation, and I can understand how visiting with their daughter would be difficult.
My youngest child who is adopted was homeless along with her parents. She picked up all kinds of bad habits, stealing, going into anyone's house to get warm and food, doing almost anything for money...people who are homeless are desperate and it must be very stressful for you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you for opening my eyes to an entire subject that I know very little about-open adoption. I think it's amazing that all of you work through everything for the children and as tough as their situation might be, it sounds like you are a great source of support when needed.

Wishing you all the best, as well as this family who is going through an obviously trying time.


Jill said...

Wow, I am really blown away by your post and by your situation with your open adoption. Your love for not only your children but their first families is so evident and touching. I feel that homelessness has so many factors behind it and that the vast majority of homeless people are not simply lazy as so many would label them. Your children are lucky to have a family who respects them and where they came from.


Eva said...

Wow. This is a great post. I admire the courage it took to write this. You are really modeling what a respectful, sensitive open adoption should be. Thank you.

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