Author Archive

Saturday, October 17th, 2015 | Author: mjward
CHILDREN IN POVERTY
Too many North American children are living in poverty. Although everyone is thought to have the same opportunities, these seem to pass by children who grow up in poor homes. They are more likely to drop out of school, have children young and become adults living in poverty. Thus their children live in poverty in their turn.
Some social analysts tie this cycle to the number of lone parent families and deplore the drop in marriages. They advocate marriage as an important solution to poverty. Promoting marriage as a prevention of poverty is simplistic. There are far too many factors involved. Certainly in the past, marriage tended to mean that families lived above the poverty line. In part, this was tied to men’s greater earning power. In part, it was the result of the growing number of two-earner families. Recent trends suggest that married couples have higher levels of education, greater earning power, and more stable relationships.
Yet trends appear to be more complex. The power of marriage to keep families from poverty seems to be waning. Increasing in importance is the income level of the family. Single mothers have, in the past, been categorized as young with lower educational levels and poorer wage prospects. More single mothers now have a college education and thus better financial prospects. The role of long-term cohabitation is often ignored in marriage statistics. Many of these relationships, however, are stable and often involve dual earners.
Parents’ choices can increase the impact of low income. For example, in my role on the Foster Care Review Board, I encounter parents who opt to use their money to buy alcohol or drugs, rather than food or clothing for their children. Even if they do use their resources for family needs, some may be poor money managers, while others budget wisely.
The community itself is important. The availability of child care affects both the opportunity to earn income and the amount of that income that is available after paying for the child care. While this can involve formal care (with or without subsidy), it is often provided by extended family members. A supportive family network can help mitigate the effects of poverty through activities like child care, as mentioned, and also through shared resources like garden produce and cooperative food preparation.
Child poverty isn’t simple and can’t be cured with a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a complex issue and needs multi-faceted solutions.
Reference:
Baker, R. S. (2015). The changing association among marriage, work, and child poverty in the United States, 1974-2010. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1166-1178.

CHILDREN IN POVERTY

Too many North American children are living in poverty. Although everyone is thought to have the same opportunities, these seem to pass by children who grow up in poor homes. They are more likely to drop out of school, have children young and become adults living in poverty. Thus their children live in poverty in their turn.

Some social analysts tie this cycle to the number of lone parent families and deplore the drop in marriages. They advocate marriage as an important solution to poverty. Promoting marriage as a prevention of poverty is simplistic. There are far too many factors involved. Certainly in the past, marriage tended to mean that families lived above the poverty line. In part, this was tied to men’s greater earning power. In part, it was the result of the growing number of two-earner families. Recent trends suggest that married couples have higher levels of education, greater earning power, and more stable relationships.

Yet trends appear to be more complex. The power of marriage to keep families from poverty seems to be waning. Increasing in importance is the income level of the family. Single mothers have, in the past, been categorized as young with lower educational levels and poorer wage prospects. More single mothers now have a college education and thus better financial prospects. The role of long-term cohabitation is often ignored in marriage statistics. Many of these relationships, however, are stable and often involve dual earners.

Parents’ choices can increase the impact of low income. For example, in my role on the Foster Care Review Board, I encounter parents who opt to use their money to buy alcohol or drugs, rather than food or clothing for their children. Even if they do use their resources for family needs, some may be poor money managers, while others budget wisely.

The community itself is important. The availability of child care affects both the opportunity to earn income and the amount of that income that is available after paying for the child care. While this can involve formal care (with or without subsidy), it is often provided by extended family members. A supportive family network can help mitigate the effects of poverty through activities like child care, as mentioned, and also through shared resources like garden produce and cooperative food preparation.

Child poverty isn’t simple and can’t be cured with a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a complex issue and needs multi-faceted solutions.

Reference:

Baker, R. S. (2015). The changing association among marriage, work, and child poverty in the United States, 1974-2010. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1166-1178.

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 | Author: mjward
I’ve been serving on our county Foster Care Review Board for over a year. A critical question that arises is: Is it in the child’s best welfare to return to the care of his or her parents? Children are in foster care because of their parents’ failure to provide adequate physical care and suitable nurturing. The reasons vary from parents’ drug and alcohol use (even exposing babies prenatally), criminal activity or incarceration, neglect, inability to care for a difficult child, parents’ mental problems, to violence in the home.
Almost without exception, parents are provided tasks to complete before their child can be returned home. These tasks can include remaining free of drugs or alcohol, taking parenting classes, learning to avoid violence, and providing income and housing adequate for the family. The parents are given a time period to accomplish these tasks, six months for young children and twelve for older ones. The time can be extended if they are making serious efforts to meet the goals. If parents are not making progress, their parental rights can be ended and the child placed for adoption, often with a relative. The judge relies in part on the recommendation of the case manager, in part on the recommendation of the Review Board, as well as other parties.
It is usually obvious that the parents and children love each other and want to be together. This is true even when parents have done a poor job raising their children so far. Thus the questions become: (1) Is it safe for the child to return to his or her parents? (2) Will they provide good enough care for the child. Notice, that the question does not ask if the care will meet the highest standards laid out by child development specialists. It asks if the care is good enough. When we think about it, no one is a perfect parent. We all have our failings, yet most of us succeed as parents. We may want better for the children than “good enough” but it may not be just to separate parents and children if they don’t meet higher standards.
I think of one case. The boy was removed from his parents’ care when there was a suspicion that he had suffered some physical abuse. His parents were abusive toward each other and the home atmosphere was therefore unhealthy. During the year or more that followed, his parents took parenting courses, undertook anger management training, and worked out a plan to defuse any argument that threatened to become dangerous or any build-up of anger toward the child. They called on their religious beliefs to help them cope. For me, that was part of the problem. I have little or no sympathy for their religion and they were almost smug in talking about it. They planned to include their toddler son in religious activities early on. And yet — they loved their son and he obviously wanted to be with them. He would be well cared for physically and, with the help of relatives and their religious group, he was unlikely to be exposed to serious family violence. It really didn’t matter, then, that I didn’t approve of their religion or particularly like the parents. They met the criteria of offering adequate care and a safe home. Our Board recommended that he go home to his parents.

I’ve been serving on our county Foster Care Review Board for over a year. A critical question that arises is: Is it in the child’s best welfare to return to the care of his or her parents? Children are in foster care because of their parents’ failure to provide adequate physical care and suitable nurturing. The reasons vary from parents’ drug and alcohol use (even exposing babies prenatally), criminal activity or incarceration, neglect, inability to care for a difficult child, parents’ mental problems, to violence in the home.

Almost without exception, parents are provided tasks to complete before their child can be returned home. These tasks can include remaining free of drugs or alcohol, taking parenting classes, learning to avoid violence, and providing income and housing adequate for the family. The parents are given a time period to accomplish these tasks, six months for young children and twelve for older ones. The time can be extended if they are making serious efforts to meet the goals. If parents are not making progress, their parental rights can be ended and the child placed for adoption, often with a relative. The judge relies in part on the recommendation of the case manager, in part on the recommendation of the Review Board, as well as other parties.

It is usually obvious that the parents and children love each other and want to be together. This is true even when parents have done a poor job raising their children so far. Thus the questions become: (1) Is it safe for the child to return to his or her parents? (2) Will they provide good enough care for the child. Notice, that the question does not ask if the care will meet the highest standards laid out by child development specialists. It asks if the care is good enough. When we think about it, no one is a perfect parent. We all have our failings, yet most of us succeed as parents. We may want better for the children than “good enough” but it may not be just to separate parents and children if they don’t meet higher standards.

I think of one case. The boy was removed from his parents’ care when there was a suspicion that he had suffered some physical abuse. His parents were abusive toward each other and the home atmosphere was therefore unhealthy. During the year or more that followed, his parents took parenting courses, undertook anger management training, and worked out a plan to defuse any argument that threatened to become dangerous or any build-up of anger toward the child. They called on their religious beliefs to help them cope. For me, that was part of the problem. I have little or no sympathy for their religion and they were almost smug in talking about it. They planned to include their toddler son in religious activities early on. And yet — they loved their son and he obviously wanted to be with them. He would be well cared for physically and, with the help of relatives and their religious group, he was unlikely to be exposed to serious family violence. It really didn’t matter, then, that I didn’t approve of their religion or particularly like the parents. They met the criteria of offering adequate care and a safe home. Our Board recommended that he go home to his parents.

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 | Author: mjward

Children, American citizens, are too often caught in the crosshairs of the child welfare system and immigration enforcement. Both systems believe in protecting children, but their policies often work against each other to put children in jeopardy. A report from November 2011 by the Applied Research Center, Shattered families: The perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system, details the damage caused by conflicting rules.

Let’s take an example. A woman we’ll call Mariana had been working in New Mexico for six years. She had two children born in the U.S. She had separated from their father, and he had returned to their original country. After immigration officials received a tip that Mariana was working at a local factory was in the United States illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested her at her workplace. They charged her with being in the country without proper documentation and took her to a detention center about 90 miles away. They refused to let her make a phone call to arrange for someone to look after her children, who were in an informal daycare home. Instead ICE officers called the local Child Protection Services (CPS) and her two children, aged 4 and 5, were taken to an emergency home. Mariana was not allowed to attend the court hearing that gave CPS custody of the children.

When it was clear that Mariana would not be released soon, the children were moved to a longer-term foster home. CPS drew up a plan so that the children could be returned to her. She was to take a parenting course and visit the children regularly. But ICE did not provide such a course at the detention center and would not let her out so that she could enrol in one. Because the center was so far from where the children were, they could not visit her regularly. Besides, the atmosphere there was not good for children. Mariana’s extradition case dragged on. Time ran out. The court judged that Mariana had not fulfilled the requirements for getting her children back and terminated her parental rights. The children were placed for adoption.

Mariana was not a negligent mother. She had been raising her children well. She lost them only because she was an undocumented immigrant. The story need not have unfolded that way. In fact, both ICE and CPS believe (on paper) in keeping families together. But their policies too often work to separate them.

For example, ICE detains parents who are unlikely to disappear because they don’t want to leave their children. Instead they could be released into the community with supervision. Often detention takes place many miles from the parents’ home so that visiting is extremely difficult if not impossible. In addition, centers do not permit parents to fulfil agency and court requirements so that they can regain their children.

For its part, CPS is often reluctant to place children with relatives who are undocumented because social workers argue that the relatives may also be arrested and detained and the children will have to move again. They ignore the fact that foster homes are not permanent and that children can move from one to another. The requirements they set are often impossible for detained parents to fulfil, and the timelines are too short to allow for the length of detention. All too often, agency personnel do not contact the appropriate consulate if parents have been deported. Some also think that an American child is better raised in the United States with a substitute family than in another country with birth parents.

What can be done? Federal, state, and local governments need to create policies to protect families from separation. They need to develop alternatives to detention that allow families to stay together. Judges need to be given the discretion to consider the best interests of the children when deciding their care and custody. Parents of children, especially those in foster care, need to be given relief, including release into the community. Local authorities need to allow exceptions to the termination of parental rights for detained and deported parents. Policies are needed allowing parents to say who should take custody of their children. Agencies need to develop guidelines for working with consulates to enable reunification of families. When such regulations and policies are in place, then children need not lose their parents.

Sources:

Applied Research Center (ARC). (2011, November). Shattered families: The perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://www.arc.org.

Pertman, A. (2011, November 8). Immigration and ‘shattered families’. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://adampertman.com/category/quick-thoughts/.

Thursday, August 16th, 2012 | Author: mjward

It is November 2011 and we are visiting the fort in Chittorgarh, India. Our guide is an attractive young woman named Parvati after a benevolent Hindu goddess. A rose-colored sari drapes her slim form and a waxy white bloom graces her braided hair. She tells us she has a master’s degree in economics. Although she grew up in south India, she married a man from Rajasthan in the north-central area. “It’s where we came from,” she says. I don’t ask if the marriage was arranged. She has two children, a girl aged six and a boy three. Both attend school in English. A nephew stays with them to help out.

Her mother-in-law apportions the work in the extended family. Because Parvati speaks English fluently, both her mother-in-law and husband approve of her acting as a guide. Other women in the family also work, but in more traditional occupations. Parvati normally spends two days a week as a guide. She and her husband also have a travel agency and are developing a bed-and-breakfast with foreign financial backing.

No, her mother-in-law doesn’t live with Parvati and her husband. She lives with another daughter-in-law and does much of the cooking for that family. When asked, Parvati agrees that sometimes difficulties arise when generations live together.

A group of tourists stops her to take her picture. After she poses for them, she hands out the family’s business card, ever the entrepreneur.

Saturday, December 10th, 2011 | Author: mjward

The sight is not unusual in India. You see a modest-sized motorcycle – not one of your Hogs – weaving in and out of city traffic, passing a bicycle rickshaw here, getting out of the way of a bus there, then squeezing between two cars, swerving around a cow or an inattentive pedestrian. All the while the driver is honking his horn. Perched behind him is his wife, riding side saddle, her sari fluttering in the breeze. In her arms she holds a baby. An older child is perched in front of the driver and a third clings to her mother’s back. If anyone is wearing a helmet, it is the father. 

Then I think of North America’s seat-belt laws and child safety seats within the protective shell of an automobile. I think of children wearing bicycle helmets. India seems such a different world, so careless of its women. Especially careless of the young. Yet you see parents cuddling a baby and playing with a toddler. And you know that they love and value their children.

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Do you remember playing sexual exploration games when you were a child? I do. Many were of the type “if you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” At what point does normal curiosity become abuse? For many years, as the awareness of father-daughter incest grew, sexual abuse by siblings was under the radar. Even now, it still does not raise the same concern as the former, though it is in fact probably more common.

Most research and discussion on sibling abuse has used a deficit model focused on problems within families rather than on their strengths. Professionals discuss sibling incest as part of a family pattern of abuse and neglect. Often there is a sexualized atmosphere in the family. Perhaps parents engage in sexual activity in front of their children or perhaps they have extramarital affairs. Children are more likely to witness such acts or to have access to pornography if living quarters are cramped. Some parents give older children too much responsibility for the care of younger siblings. Often such a child assumes authority over younger siblings and even cares for parents, but has undeveloped social skills and may exercise power through violence and intimidation. Sexual abuse of younger siblings can be one expression of this power. Abuse occurs more often if children are neglected or have insufficient supervision. Neglect, in turn, may bring inadequate upbringing, including a lack of or inappropriate sex education. Most of these factors are made worse if parents feel overwhelmed.

Marsha L. Heiman’s 1988 paper in Bank and Lewis’ book Siblings in Therapy sets out four preconditions for sibling incest. First, the brother or sister must want to be abusive. This factor includes sexual arousal, poor social skills in filling the desire in appropriate ways, and poor understanding of sexuality. Second, the abuser must overcome inhibitions, which include social taboos against sexual relations with close family members. In adoption, foster care and stepfamilies, children without a biological relationship or common history are thrust together. Thus the taboo might not operate in respect to the new sibling. Third, the child must overcome outside barriers such as close supervision. If parents are unsuspecting or do not care, they may not be watchful. Finally, the abuser needs to overcome the victim’s resistance through bribes, threats, or other forms of force.

Most interventions and therapies rely on the deficit view of the family. However, such an approach is not appropriate for many families that are otherwise pretty healthy. This includes adoptive or foster ones. Many families have weak points in recognizing sibling sexual abuse. Some have an “it can’t happen in our family” belief. They may not be aware of the physical and behavioral signs that abuse might be occurring. Or they may be unsure of the border between normal exploration and play and sexual abuse. Adoptive parents I interviewed were told only after their new son had molested two cousins that he had been sexually abused by his father. His foster mother said he hadn’t shown inappropriate sexual behavior in her home, though she had needed to stop him from aggressively tickling another child. His adoptive mother was certain in hindsight that the tickling had been sexually motivated. Third, parents are worried about the repercussions of reporting suspected sibling abuse. They fear, often realistically, that their family may be broken up by the authorities. A therapy model that looks at family weaknesses rather than family strengths is further inhibiting because parents believe they are blamed for their children’s actions.

What then can be done to prevent sibling sexual abuse and to help families when such abuse occurs?

Knowledge is the first line of defense. Parents need education in the signs that abuse may be occurring. It may be difficult to distinguish emotional reactions to abuse from changes in behavior that result from the family upheaval following the adoptive or foster placement of an older child or following the formation of a stepfamily. Parents also need to know how to prevent sexual abuse from occurring. A pamphlet on parenting the sexually abused child, published a number of years ago by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse provides guidelines. Some precautions are common sense. Privacy in bedrooms and bathrooms should be enforced. If children share rooms, then boys and girls should not be in each others’. Public nakedness or near-nakedness should be discouraged for both parents and children. Suggestive or obscene language needs to be vetoed. Aggressive wrestling or tickling may have sexual overtones. Children should receive appropriate sex education. They also need to learn to differentiate between feelings and behavior.

If sibling sexual abuse occurs in spite of education and parents’ preventive efforts, interventions should draw on the strengths of the family, rather than looking for weaknesses. All family members need support, parents and children, victims and offenders alike. Blame should be kept to the minimum, with a focus on what actions need to take place. First, it is important to ensure the safety of all the children in the family, including the one who has offended. Reporting to authorities must occur as legally mandated. If feasible, the family should be preserved. A conference of the family and support individuals, including agency personnel, relatives, and friends, may come up with creative solutions. For example, the offending child may be placed with a relative or in a care facility without severing ties with his or her family. Such an arrangement does not preclude reintegration into the family, if circumstances change. Whatever the solution, the family needs to be vitally involved. There are, of course, no easy answers.

Sources:

 

Caffaro, J. (2011). Sibling violence and systems-oriented therapy. In J. Caspi (Ed.), Sibling development: Implications for mental health practitioners (pp. 245-272). New York: Springer.

Heiman, M. L. (1998). Untangling incestuous bonds: The treatment of sibling incest. In M. D. Kahn & K. G. Lewis (Eds.). Siblings in therapy: Life span and clinical issues (pp. 135-166). New York: W. W. Norton.

Narimanian, R., & Rosenzweig, J. (n.d.). Parenting the sexually abused child. Washington, DC: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. (n.d.). Sibling sexual abuse: A guide for parents. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.

Wiehe, V. R. (2002). What parents need to know about sibling abuse: Breaking the cycle of violence. Springville, UT: Bonneville Books.

Sunday, July 17th, 2011 | Author: mjward

There is a knock on the door. The stranger standing there asks, “Louisa Miller?” When you say, “Yes,” she slaps a paper in your hand and leaves. You stare at the notice telling you that your child is suing you.

The first reaction is dismay, followed by anger. How could this be happening to you? What kind of child takes a parent to court to get damages for a wrong she believes you have done her? You may call a relative or close friend. Then you find a lawyer.

This situation probably occurs more often than you imagine. In the past, children were considered the property of their parents. Parents had almost absolute power over them. What happened inside the house was nobody else’s business. Children have, over time, gained rights that limit parents’ authority to exploit them financially or to abuse them. These rights have eventually included the right to sue their parents.

There are several types of lawsuits. These include disputes over property and disagreements about inheritance. A child may feel entitled to financial support from the parent. For example, a mother may be receiving child support from an ex-husband even though her daughter has moved out. The daughter may sue to have the support paid directly to her. Some cases involve damages for being a child-abuse or incest victim. Parents have also been sued for failure to protect their child from abuse by a family member. In the past, some young people have sued parents who kidnapped them from a cult they had joined and deprogrammed them. Others have sued because they were required to do so in order to get a settlement from an insurance company after an accident.

Children may sue parents when they reach the legal age for adulthood. If the child is not yet an adult, a guardian can sue on his or her behalf. In most jurisdictions, an individual has a limited period of time after reaching adulthood during which a lawsuit may be started. In some areas, sexual abuse receives special consideration. The time clock may start to run when the victim retrieves suppressed memories of the abuse. In some places, there is no statute of limitations on bringing a suit for sexual abuse.

Lawsuits are expensive. Parents may choose to settle out of court, sometimes through the services of a mediator. They see this as cheaper in the long run because it limits the fees they pay to their lawyer. It also cuts short the length of time the whole matter lasts. Besides, the outcome of a trial is uncertain.

A lawsuit damages, even destroys, family relationships. Usually there is a serious rift between parent and child before the suit. After it, there is scant possibility of reconciliation. The division affects other family members, too, because they take sides in the dispute. It is no wonder that one writer refers to such lawsuits as a form of family homicide.

After the lawsuit is over, you are left with lasting pain and anger toward at least one child. Part of your family is probably cut off. You may lose contact with grandchildren. Your family may be in tatters. But you have survived.

Sources:  Intra-family lawsuits and immunity. (2011, July 8). Available http://www.civiljusticeattorneys.com/newsletter.

Johnson, M. (2010, August 19). Adoptive parents prosecuted for failure to protect children. Available http://www.mjsol.co.uk/2010/uncategorized/adoptive-parents-prosecuted-failure-protect-children/

Kaslow, F. W. (1990). Children who sue parents: A new form of family homicide? Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 16, 151-163.

Kroll, J. J., & Driscoll, S. P. (2007, February). The incredible expanding/shrinking right of children to sue “parents.” Tort Law IBJ. Available http://www.kroll-lawfirm.com/files/rightofchildrentosueparents.pdf.

Saturday, April 02nd, 2011 | Author: mjward

It’s what I always wanted to be–a mother. And I knew I was going to be a good one. Through some kind of osmosis, I had absorbed the image of what she was like. Without even thinking about it, I knew she fostered the best in her children. She protected them from harm and kept them safe. She was patient, nurturing, warm, and gentle. She guided rather than punished, so that her children might in their turn make their valuable contribution to society. Oh yes, she also “did for” her children, cooking, cleaning, sewing. She, and all the world, would know what a good mother she was because her children would be a credit to her. Although the details of the picture were hazy, I saw her with an aura around her as she gathered her loving and beloved children into her nurturing arms.

I tried to be a good mother, I really tried. I think I even succeeded to some degree following the birth of three children in close succession and then the adoption of a baby. But then my fairy tale was shattered. We adopted a sibling group of five boys aged five to thirteen and, two years later, eight- and twelve-year-old sisters.

I wasn’t able to protect my children. One of our new sons was incensed at the whole world and verbally and physically attacked other children in the family. He gave one brother a concussion; there were numerous other incidents. I couldn’t even protect him. Someone, never found by the police, beat him up so badly we didn’t recognize him in hospital emergency. Another of my boys, thanks to an ill-advised experiment, had his shotgun explode in his hands. He still carries the physical scars. Some of my children carry invisible scars to this day from the verbal abuse and various cruelties that others heaped on them behind my back.

My children gave signs they weren’t going to be the paragons I planned to raise. Two never completed high school. Another two seemed determined never to find gainful work and to live on the generosity of society and the welfare system. We survived other episodes when the children were younger. The two youngest, for example, sneaked out of the house one night and were caught trying to set fire to the gas tank of our neighbor’s car. I spent many days in court with one of my sons as he faced charges of theft and vandalism. No, my children were not much of a credit to my parenting.

I tried to do everything for them–cook, mend, wash clothes, supervise homework, chauffeur to activities, go to parents’ night at the school–everything. I nearly burned out. I couldn’t even “do for” my children. I was too exhausted to be patient, kind, and warmly nurturing. In fact, I had to devise an on-going schedule of chores for all of them in order to get even the minimum housework done. So I fell short on the caregiving too.

There was a final failure that it took a long time to admit. I couldn’t say for sure I loved all my children; I certainly didn’t like some of them very well.

Out of the crucible of failure, however, I eventually distilled a new image of the good mother.

A mother who is worth her salt, I believe, is committed to each of her children. She doesn’t have to like them or even love them, though that helps, but she must be steadfast in her devotion to their welfare. When their various needs conflict, she tries to balance her commitment to each of them, difficult though that is, as she attempts to work out the greatest equity possible. If it means sitting in hospital emergency with an injured child or going to court with a delinquent, then she is there, but only after she is assured the others will be cared for. Yet there must be a limit to this commitment: it mustn’t be so single-minded that the family, or she herself, is destroyed.

She provides her children with opportunities for growth. It means allowing them to take increasingly greater responsibility for themselves and others, and the chance to mess up. It involves exposing them to options they never before considered and opening the world to them. It also includes therapeutic nurturing for those who have had traumatic experiences. Adopted children have been wounded to their vitals through separation from those who would, in the normal way, have nurtured them. They need healing. In our family, so did our initial four. By adopting acting-out children whom we expected them to regard as brothers and sisters, we had laid on them a burden of pain. It also means that a mother remembers that her children may choose not to profit from the opportunities afforded them.

A good mother recognizes her own limitations. She doesn’t expect herself to do the impossible, but does what she can with her physical, emotional, and intellectual resources. She understands that, in spite of her most diligent efforts, she cannot always keep them from harm. She allows others–spouse, friends, relatives, therapists–to help her care for her children. She also sets limits on her children’s behavior. For example, she may choose not to talk with them when they are drunk, saving discussion for sober times. She tries not to feel guilty for failing to live up to the romantic mother image.

She fosters the sense of herself as an individual and looks for opportunities for her personal growth and enrichment. She nurtures her own relationships and allows herself to be cared for when she needs it. That is, she is both a needy child and her own good parent. For how can her children learn about self-esteem and healthy relationships if she doesn’t show the way?

Finally, a good mother lets her children go. She does not claim their accomplishments for her own credit. Rather, she rejoices in even small steps they make. It is a milestone when one of them graduates from college. It may be as great an achievement for another to be alive, if most of her biological brothers and sisters are dead. It is cause for celebration when a man of thirty finally, after years of drifting from one nothing job to another punctuated with spells on welfare, phones to say he has just got his mechanic’s papers. Or when a daughter, in her turn, cradles a baby. A good mother enjoys without recrimination the adults her children have become, wonderful and flawed as they are. As she herself is.

(Revised 2006, 2011)

Friday, March 11th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Many of us would like our grandchildren to know our family history. It might be easy enough to tell them stories when they live nearby. But if they all live far away, how can we pass on our family stories to them? Family history and family stories are important. They help us all, but especially young people, build a sense of who we are. They can also draw generations closer together. Unfortunately, family stories can get lost when we live far apart.

Of course, family get-togethers can be a time for sharing past events and learning tales we never heard before. What happens sometimes, however, is that an older member takes over the stage and others roll their eyes and think, “There goes Grandma (or Aunt Nettie, or Uncle Joe) again.” Others don’t get a chance to speak. Other times, things get so busy, there is no time for quiet storytelling. Stories can get lost as people die or forget.

It is possible to tell stories in small doses when you are far apart rather than in big chunks during the rare times you’re together. Letters or e-mails are probably better than telephone for two reasons. The first is obvious–the cost of long conversations. Writing things down also means that what you say can be saved. If you’re writing to clear-the-house-out addicts, you can keep a copy yourself. In time the letters or e-mails will become a written family history that can be passed down. Older children can also be recruited to help you set up a family-history blog or website.

According to family life educator, Mark Elliott, family stories come in three varieties: everyday, landmark, and life-changing. For young children, sticking to stories of everyday life is probably best, because they do not have the experience to understand other types. Older children and adults are more likely to value more detail and learning about the significant events from yours and your ancestors’ lives. For anyone, it is important to avoid long and preachy lectures or comments like, “Back then, it was better.”

While it is possible to write story letters for any family members, it’s particular fun to send them to children. As soon as youngsters have a reasonable grasp of language, at about three years, they will enjoy getting mail. For very young children, letters should be brief and, if possible, tied to what they can see or hear. You can also link your own experiences to events taking place in the child’s life. For example, Selma Wasserman, author of the Long Distance Grandmother, suggests that starting school is an event that you can compare with your own first day of school. For older children, beginning a new grade level or starting high school can be the opportunity to tell of your experiences, or your grandparents’. A small gift may also be a springboard. Here, for instance, is a letter written to a six-year-old by his grandmother. Events in her present and past are linked to a new object he can see and touch.

“I’m sending a little bit of cotton I picked up off the ground. There are cotton fields growing near my friend’s house in Arizona. They are in the desert. A desert does not get very much rain. Cotton needs lots of water to grow. Water comes from the Colorado River in a big canal and then goes in little canals to the fields. Then the cotton can grow. When it is ready, a big machine pulls the cotton fluff off the plants. Some falls to the ground. Then the cotton is taken to a factory called a cotton gin that takes out the seeds and the dirt. Afterwards it goes to factories that make thread and weave cloth. Do you think that some of the cotton from the fields I saw helped make your clothes? When I was a girl, I lived in a country called India. They had cotton fields there too. But they didn’t have big machines to pick it. People walked along the rows and pulled the cotton off and put it in baskets or bags. It was hard work.”

 

Reference:

Wasserman, S. (1988). The long distance grandmother: How to stay close to distant grandchildren. Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks.

Monday, February 28th, 2011 | Author: mjward

There are many excuses for separating siblings. Some argue that one child (or more) in the group has too many problems to be placed with siblings. Or that the younger children aren’t bonded with the older ones. Or that the older ones might sabotage the placement. Or that foster parents want to adopt one of the children. Or that you might continue unhealthy relationships among the children. Or that they require too much attention for any one family to meet their needs. Another argument … is that these adoptions require a lot of time and effort. If sibling adoptions make so many problems, why bother keeping children together? After all, placing the children one at a time will avoid all kinds of difficulties, won’t it?

First, separating brothers and sisters is actually a form of emotional abuse. Sibling relationships are extremely important to children who have been separated from their parents. Brothers and sisters are attachment figures too. By keeping them together, we can reduce some of the distress of separation. Often two, or if they are lucky three or four, do move from place to place together. The brother or sister can become the only thing in their lives that stays the same–an emotional shield in a world of uncertainty. These children don’t need any unnecessary losses. Sibling ties are strong–many adult adoptees spend more time searching for brothers and sisters than for birth parents.

From an adult perspective, most of us look back on our childhood remembering our sibling relationships with varying degrees of fondness. Some of us feel that if someone had offered to separate our siblings from us at certain stressful times of our lives, we may have opted for that solution! However, as adults, many of us have realized the importance of our shared history ad experience and have drawn closer to our siblings. It is hard to imagine how different our lives might have been if we had been separated. From this adult perspective, we need to preserve the rights of children to grow up with their siblings whenever and wherever this is possible.

Siblings come as a set. As prospective adoptive parents we don’t have the right to take some and not others. We already have to live with the pain of the children whose parents or foster parents kept some and not others without us being the ones who are inflicting further pain…. Adoption workers who encourage separation…are helping to set families up for unnecessary trouble and to set children up for intense loss/separation problems which may never be fully resolved…. Workers should even explore the willingness of the adoptive family to take yet another sibling if he or she comes into care later. Some agencies have already begun to do this.

Sometimes children are separated because it is reported that one or more of the children has “not bonded” with somebody and is therefore not ready for placement. No one is bonded when the children come into your home! If you get a family interested in taking the five siblings, place them…, get a therapist in place, and then work on bonding. We can’t doom a child to a lack of opportunity for permanence because he didn’t bond to someone we wanted him to bond to. If a family takes a sibling group of five and three bond to them in the next twenty years, they should consider themselves lucky! To the others they have given the stability of growing up in a permanent home with their siblings. That stability is the greatest gift from adoptive parents!

Although placing siblings together is definitely placement of choice, there are some exceptions, for example, siblings who are extremely destructive to each other. Perhaps they have been separated for too long or were abusive to each other in their original home. One group of five children placed together was eventually separated when the oldest siblings tried to kill the two youngest and subjected the other children in the family to sever physical abuse. It soon became obvious that they would before long have destroyed each other and the adoptive family. Unfortunately, this was not predictable before placement as the children had never actually been together before…. The question remains, “Why were they separated for so long and then suddenly placed together with an unsuspecting family, with no preplacement work done? Why wasn’t accurate information shared? Why did the adoption worker set them up for disruption in this way?”

Such horror stories can be prevented from happening in the future. We can, through adequate education, preparation, and support, place most sibling groups together and keep them in those placements. We can help them to grow up in a stable adoptive environment which preserves their history and identity as siblings while enabling them to share in the history and identity of their adopting family.

 

An excerpt from M. Ward & B. Tremitiere, Kids in Batches: Placing Sibling Groups for Adoption. York, PA: Tremitiere, Ward & Associates, 1990.