Sink or Swim – the world of fast transitions…
As I’m rounding the corner into parenthood through local adoption from foster care, I have asked the question of those who have gone before me if they felt pressured into a swifter transition than they were expecting.
A resounding “YES!” was the reply.
Several of those families that I spoke to said that if they could have their time again they would have stood their ground about their own timelines and not be herded into the Ministry’s timeline.
They told me that their children were in a safe foster care placement before transition, and felt that to the child another two weeks, or month, would not have made a difference.
However, those few weeks or month would have made the world of difference to the receiving parents and families (some of them had children already), to be fully prepared to support and nurture their children through another disruption.
This “push” was likened to the old cliché “sink or swim”.
Whenever I think of that term, I remember people telling me how they were thrown off a dock or the side of a boat by a caregiver in order to teach them to swim.
Survive or die.
The end result for a lot of those kids was one of the following:
- they don’t swim at all – their fear of the water is intense and they will never set foot near it again
- they never learned to swim properly – still as adults dog-paddling their way around the shallow end of the lake
- they have a distant relationship (and often highly dysfunctional) with that “care”giver
So why put parents in the sink or swim environment? When this is already a sink or swim experience? Why make it harder?
Why not follow the parents own gut instinct about the transition? This is really the first choice that a pre-adoptive parent will make for their children.
Some parents said to me, “I wish I’d stood my ground, make sure you stand yours!”
When I posed the next question on how quick the transition was… they all told the same story “ours was an ‘unusually‘ quick transition” of 2-4 weeks.
They’d all had the same “unusually” quick experience. Hmmm. Sounds like the “norm” doesn’t it?
All through the AEP (Adoption Education Program for pre-adoptive parents) we were told that the ideal length of time for a transition is 3 months, with the initial work being done through photos and discussions with their foster parents and social workers, and then the meeting of the new parents, weekend visits, overnight stays, and slow, steady transition with the child as the guide. When the child feels more comfortable with the new parents and is ready to leave the foster parents…then it happens.
Of course, distance can be a problem, and it’s not viable for this kind of transition over several months when the child is a days journey away. Although there are many face-time options available nowadays so that still shouldn’t make a transition uncomfortably fast just for the sake of distance.
The reason for my question was that at the end of the conference call with H’s foster parents, social worker, and my social worker the other day, there was a distinct ‘rush’ feeling when we talked about placement.
Their suggested timeline was not at all like my own timeline.
They want to start transition in October. I want to start it in November.
They want things to move as soon as two weeks from now for the initial meeting, with (from my sense of things) a potential three week to placement after that.
There are many reasons for me why that is much sooner than my own idea of a “perfect timeline” for this particular transition.
Let me preface my list of some of those reasons with where H is right now.
She is in a safe, loving home, with foster parents who want to remain in her life as her “grandparents”. They love this little girl completely. There is no need for a swift move from their home.
If she was in a place that was not loving or safe, I would absolutely put her safety and her heart first. This is not that situation.
- My work
I will be taking vacation for H’s placement, not parental leave at first until B is placed with me too. I have a coordinator’s job right now and am in the midst of training someone to be able to support our department. That will take at least another month – ideally two, but one will suffice.
Also, even though I would be “within my rights” to demand that time off, I still have to work there.
It’s a small office, it’s a small company, and when I return I don’t want to be returning to a workplace filled with hard feelings. It’s also a lot of work and responsibility to leave someone with and I want to set up my co-worker, who I adore, to make sure she succeeds and is not too overwhelmed while I’m gone.
I also want to request a flexibility with my hours that is currently outside of the scope of our contract when I return to work, so I don’t want to burn any bridges now.
And I have a good work ethic and I would not feel right about leaving them in the lurch. I am the person that even if I won the 50 million lottery draw would stay two-three months to ensure I trained my replacement well. Yes, we do exist.
- Our home
As mentioned in a previous post, I currently live in a one bedroom rented condo. I have been looking for the last few months for a suitable three bedroom, since the first glimpse of children appeared after signing my home study. Nothing has worked out so far.
I still need to find a place to live that will house all three of us.
Both social workers in the conference call told me that a one bedroom condo is not a problem to have H placed with me. She can have my room and I will sleep on the couch in the living room.
Sure, if it comes to that I will absolutely make the best of it until we find a place.
However, it’s not ideal, nor is it the start I would like to give my family. So another month to find something suitable would be helpful.
- H’s birthday
This is the number one reason for me to want to postpone the start of transition until November.
H’s birthday is at the end of November.
H is in a loving home with people who love her like a grandchild, people who want to stay in her life as grandparental figures. She is in a town where her three sisters are local. Everyone and everything that she knows and feels good about right now are there.
Her foster mom told me that H LOVES birthdays, anyone’s birthdays, but especially her own. She gets super excited for birthdays. And they have even been planning her birthday party for a while.
So my feeling about taking her away from all of those people only a few weeks before her birthday is that it would be an unnecessary cruelty, for a child who has already suffered many unnecessary cruelties.
Again, if she was in a place that was not suitable, loving, or kind, and if there was no family around her – I would say let’s transition her right away and I’ll make it the best birthday I can make for her.
That is not the situation.
I feel that this may be the first important decision that I make for her as her MOM.
This may potentially be our last pre-placement visit in her hometown, if the timeline of a three week visit schedule is accurate.
It would be a celebration of her birthday with her sisters present and the friends that she has made, and an unspoken send-off (unspoken so that the send-off part doesn’t overshadow her birthday, but so that everyone including H is aware that she will be moving shortly after).
I feel that it will be vitally important for her to see her foster parents – who will become her “grandparents” – and me working together to make that birthday and her “send-off” special.
I deeply want her to know that she is not going to “lose” anyone who loves her and whom she loves in this transition, but rather that she is gaining a mom who will love and be there for her for the rest of her life in addition to the people who already love her. To do this I feel we need to show her we are working together now.
Even if it doesn’t make the transition any smoother, and even if she doesn’t appreciate immediately why we waited until after her birthday, in the future (1 year, 2 years, 10 years) she will look back on it and will know that we worked together to make that birthday and that weekend special.
This is important to me.
This feels really important to me.
And thankfully, after talking with her foster mom this weekend, I know it’s important to her too. We are in agreement that this would be best for H.
Now, perhaps I am projecting my own feelings about birthdays a little bit. I too feel that birthdays are special, more-so than any other “celebration”, because birthdays are a time to celebrate that someone you love lives.
They should be a big deal and they should be filled with people who love that person to remind them that they are special and loved for exactly who they are right now.
My birthdays have more often than not been disappointing, and as a result I have cherished the few magical birthdays I’ve experienced.
So, while I’m conscious my desire to create a beautiful memory for my future daughter may be a projection…, so what?!
That’s what parents do right…?
They make decisions for their children that are based on their own experiences…in fact, it’s what we ALL do every day of our lives. We make the best choices for ourselves and our families based on our own experiences, determined by our own values, and guided by our own ever-evolving beliefs.
So my first decision for my child is to allow her to have the proper send off, to see her current parents and her new parent working together to give her the best 9th birthday she could have, and to get to have her sisters and other loved ones present.
If someone can give me a good reason to reconsider this, I for sure will reconsider – but it would have to be a really good reason.
I know that one of the reasons may be schooling. Getting her into her new school sooner.
And my response is this: she will still be starting at a new school part way through the year, she will still be behind, and will still need the extra help. It will still be something that we will work through together. In the grand scheme of her schooling life, a whole month won’t make or break her future graduation, when she’s only in grade 3.
So schooling is not a good reason to deny her the memory of her 9th birthday or to have a loving send-off.
Actually, as her mom (even a future mom), I don’t feel I should need to justify this choice.
This is my first opportunity to advocate for her rights as a child, as a human being with emotions, and for my rights as a parent to give her what she really needs: Love, harmony, and perhaps most importantly … happy memories.
This beautiful child deserves so many happy memories to carry her through this new change in her life and to carry with her through the rest of her life. We all deserve those.
What do you think?
If you adopted, did you feel cajoled into a timeline that was uncomfortable for all involved?
Please leave me a comment.
Warm smiles and Love,
Ali Jayne 🙂