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It's Not Your Fault

It's Not Your Fault - Caleb Woods 182648 Unsplash

‘I thought my birth mum was dead!’ said our eldest this morning, as we discussed the letter box contact we’d just sent off. We looked at him in amazement. We thought we’d been through this, again and again. ‘How did I get left, if she wasn’t dead?’

We talk about birth family and how and why the kids were adopted most days, and thus do a lot of 'Life Story Work'. So, as you can imagine, this morning’s statement was quite a shock. How could our child possibly have thought his birth mum was dead?

I said, ‘You know she’s had more babies, don’t you? She’s alive and well.’ He computed and agreed (having met the half siblings several times), and we went on to talk about what lovely babies birth mum had had but what a shame she couldn’t care for them. Our youngest said that he missed her, and we said she missed them too. It’s all very sad, but at least it’s true. It’s dealt with, in terms of the kids’ immediate needs before they have to get ready for school and go about their day.

I’ll just pause there to acknowledge that they do that. How incredible our children are.

You’re left with a load though, and sure enough my head is heavy with this. Mostly, I am fascinated that he’d been fantasising about his birth mother leaving not through choice or circumstances, but through dying. IE, I don’t really think that he thought birth mum was dead. I believe that she’d decided to think that because it was easier to deal with. None of this is probably conscious, I hasten to add.

Thinking about it in terms of defence mechanisms, has the ego decided to shield him from the terrible pain of rejection by telling him that birth mum died? Are there feelings of guilt and self-blame there that feel unbearable? If so, a construct of, ‘It can’t have been my fault; she left because she died’ makes a lot of sense.

Our post adoption support worker has said repeatedly that all traumatised children believe that the break down of their birth family was their fault. I’ve always had a little voice at the back of my head whispering, 'Don’t say "It’s not your fault"' (as advised). The little voice says, ‘Saying that might plant the idea that it IS their fault.’

In our talks about birth family and adoption we’ve talked about poor choices, the birth parents not being able to look after themselves let alone children and, above all, the sadness of it and the fact that it was not fair on the kids. But I haven’t punctuated those talks with, ‘None of this was your fault’ for ages. I used to, but the eldest always looked indignant and said, ‘Of course it’s wasn’t my fault, I was a baby!’ So, I kind of felt my work was done there.

At the risk of oversharing (although I am blogging, after all!), I took this very issue to my counsellor the other day, before this comment about the dead birth mum came up. She tentatively agreed that she could see why I wouldn’t say ‘It’s not your fault’ to the eldest, but we discussed that the youngest might have quite different needs and I was reminded that he has considerable struggles with low self-esteem. I felt that I should start saying it to him, but now I think that I need to consider whether they are BOTH struggling under a burden of guilt about breaking their old family up. What a thing to carry around. No wonder they need to deploy defence mechanisms to deal with those feelings.

It is our job as adoptive parents to be explorative, empathic and reflective. Sometimes I feel really disappointed in myself, like this morning. But at least a moment like that gets you off your laurels (although I wouldn’t exactly say I was RESTING on them!) and, ultimately, helps your family work a little better.

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