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How do I deal with / answer Heartbreaking questions?

(9 Posts)
PirateJones Wed 30-Apr-14 09:02:11

I haven't adopted, but I have been told to re-post this here as the issues overlap with those of adopted children.

I have parental custody of my nephew, he hasn’t seen his mum or dad in 2 years, we have photos of his mum we look at and he knows he can ask questions, I always try to answer them as truthfully as I can.

Yesterday, I asked him what his children will be called when he grows up, he replied “I won’t have children; I don’t want to forget them like mummy forgot about me.”
I don't know how to respond to things like this i just hugged him held back the tears and changed the subject.

In the past he has asked "does mummy love me?", and "why doesn't mummy love me?" and I've reassured him that his mum does love him, but some people feel they can't cope and they think that their children will have a better life in someone else’s care.

I realise I will get this more frequently so I really need advice on what to say and do.

Buster51 Wed 30-Apr-14 09:13:42

Similar situation, however we are getting Special guardianship for our DS, he knows us now as mummy and daddy, and he doesn't have memories of knowing us when he was a baby, although he does know we knew him as we talk about it often, show him videos and pictures. We feel it's great for him to know about his life as a baby. I do find that has given him the opportunity to 'move on' if you like (not sure if that is the right words!) but he now has his forever family, which he was promised in his FC placement in between birth mums care, and us. We didn't see him sadly for roughly two years, so it does make us sad we missed out on that time (couldn't be helped).

I'm going off track here - anyway, he has said similar things about both birth mum and FC, like you it is heartbraking, but I tend to say they both loved you very much, and talk about them individually. So birth mum loved you but she was unable to care for children in a way she should have due to having grown up problems. These problems just meant that she couldnt always keep children safe (few childlike examples), so although she loved you it is very important for children to be kept safe (I tend to say 'children' although he is the only one as I don't want him to feel it is 'him'). I then say this might not make a lot of sense at the moment, but if you ever have any questions at all I am always here to listen to you. I reassure him we will never have such problems and will always be here for him. We have done this since placement, (6 months in 5yo) he initially didn't talk much at all about her, but has since started opening up about remembering certain things/contacts etc.

With regards to FC we explain he went to that lovely home with FC and her lovely family until coming to live with mummy and daddy, as FC kept you very safe and well, you had lots of fun there and they all love you very very much, we have been in touch with them a few times since too.

I am not sure if that helps, I just try to be as honest as I can in a 'child like' way.

Lilka Wed 30-Apr-14 13:10:11

Had a lot of very difficult questions over the years, as i suspect nearly all of us adoptive parents and guardians have had, and you have all my sympathies, it's very hard thanks From the sounds of things, I think you're already handling it very well

I think when talking about the past and birth parents, it's important to be honest, whilst also recognising that young children need to feel wanted and loved. So the answer to "Does my birth mum love me?" would usually be either "yes, she loves you very much, but she can't look after you because xyz" OR maybe if appropriate, "I don't know for sure, but I think she did. You were a wonderful, lovable baby <etc>"

Honesty, not demonising birth parents, although recognising when appropriate that people can make bad choices/decisions and not lying if the background is very difficult, and emphasising to children that they are lovable and wanted very much, is what we should try to do. And have an open door policy and let our children know that birth parents are an open topic of conversation and they can ask you anything at any time and you will always do your best to answer.

I think you are right in trying to get across to your DN that he isn't alone and this is also something which happens to other children. My older children have really liked meeting other adoptees who were in care, because unlike at school, they aren't 'different', but they fit in with these other children and share some of their experiences.

If we do that, I don't think there is much more we can do. If a child is asking a lot of questions over time and is sad and unsettled, that doesn't mean we are handling it badly. Some children ask a lot more questions than others, and some children find it much more difficult to 'come to terms' (not sure what the right word is) with their background, and to believe in their own self worth and lovability, than other children do. It isn't a reflection on the guardians/carers/adoptive parents ability to handle questionning, it may well be the childs natural personality and way of thinking. We all hope our children will have good self esteem etc, but we have to accept that we can't make it all better and we usually have no magic words to help a hurting child feel much better.

Also, most children have certain periods in their childhood where they think about their past more than at other times. So you may get months with a lot of questionning then very little for another couple of years then suddenly a renewed desire to know more and question more for months etc. That's very normal.

PirateJones please do not say anything confidential but do you know his Mum has forgotten him? t is my understanding many birth parents do love their children, they just cannot look after them. Either they cannot keep them safe or just cannot keep them fed etc. So it is not about lack of love but about lack of ability to do things and the reasons may be drink or drugs or mental illness or other. So whateer the reason that led to his being with you does that automatically mean Mum does not love him or think of him or that she has forgotten him? How old is he?

The fact you are caring for him and loving him is a positive role model for him, IMHO.

Hope you get some more answers and I am sure Lilka and others will wisely guide you.

PirateJones Wed 30-Apr-14 19:29:05

Thank you for the advice.
I guess I’m approaching things more or less the right way, it just feels like i never have the words to say to him when he needs them the most.

please do not say anything confidential but do you know his Mum has forgotten him? t is my understanding many birth parents do love their children, they just cannot look after them. Either they cannot keep them safe or just cannot keep them fed etc. So it is not about lack of love but about lack of ability to do things and the reasons may be drink or drugs or mental illness or other. So whateer the reason that led to his being with you does that automatically mean Mum does not love him or think of him or that she has forgotten him? How old is he?

He is 6, and no, i don't think she has forgotten him.

PirateJones Fri 02-May-14 07:41:36

If we do that, I don't think there is much more we can do. If a child is asking a lot of questions over time and is sad and unsettled, that doesn't mean we are handling it badly. Some children ask a lot more questions than others, and some children find it much more difficult to 'come to terms' (not sure what the right word is) with their background, and to believe in their own self worth and lovability, than other children do. It isn't a reflection on the guardians/carers/adoptive parents ability to handle questionning, it may well be the childs natural personality and way of thinking. We all hope our children will have good self esteem etc, but we have to accept that we can't make it all better and we usually have no magic words to help a hurting child feel much better.

Thank you

Lilka Fri 02-May-14 20:08:59

It's very hard to watch your child struggling to process their past and life story, and to try and help them but realising that this is something so big you can't solve it for them.

As I said, you seem to be handling it very well, telling him that his mother loved him but couldn't look after him etc, and it's absolutely not your fault if your DN is struggling to process his past.

I have a 28 year old, over the years we have talked a lot about the past, and she has had therapy relating to it, but she still struggles with it at times, understandably. It comes up throughout her life and significant moments in it cause her to revisit her early years - eg. having children of her own. And for many children who are not raised by their birth parents, processing and dealing with their background can be a lifelong process, as big events like having children often make you go back over it. Some people are naturally very resilient and robust and don't think about their past a lot at all. But again, that's a natural character trait, good parenting won't create that way of thinking in a child who doesn't naturally have it. And you know, my adult child has a great life and much happiness in it, even with her struggles

The big thing is - however your DN thinks about your past and however he processes it in his life, by handling your conversations well, by being honest, empathetic and having an 'open door' conversation policy, we can have a major impact, because our children/relatives can trust us with their feelings, they can know that we will be there for them when they are struggling, they will come to us if they want to talk (assuming they want to talk about it). Your DN trust you with these big and distressing feelings of his, and that's because of you creating an environment in which he feels safe to express this to you. So recognise that that is a big achievment for us carers and parents, even though we can't solve this for our children, we can still really make a difference just by being there for them. You're already making that big difference smile

Lilka Fri 02-May-14 20:11:37

should say "thinks about his past" not your past

What I'm trying to say is that you're already doing more than you think you're doing, because if children feel unsupported by their carers/parent, they will not approach them with their feelings. Your DN is trusting you and by continuing to talk to you, he is showing you that you are handling it well

PirateJones Sat 03-May-14 22:02:38

Thank you all.

It's just so hard to know what to do for the best isn't it, especially when a child’s past might come into the situation. It's also hard to know if they are asking because they are not happy, or because they remember something which they are not telling you.
Then at times i wonder if i might be doing too much, and bringing up feelings and upset which i shouldn't, maybe he would like to forget it.

There are so many factors which are worrying; it's nice to have some reassurance.

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