Adoption is the most amazing thing that has happened to me. It has allowed me to become a Mom, which otherwise would not have been an option for DH and I. It is not popular in the adoption world to say but in some cases it is true: the birthparent would never be in a place to parent. I do not know how often this happens but in our case neither of our children were born to parents that could parent. For Baby Girl she has shown time and again that she cannot parent- ever. Baby Sam's birthmom is younger and has exhibited a pattern of never achieving the ability to parent. While they both struggle to care for themselves they both made decisions that put the well being of their daughters first and their emotional well being second. Even in the most clear situations in which time after time a birthmother has been unable to change her pattern of self injurious behavior I still believe that the pain of placing a child is just as strong as it is for any other birthmother.
Our girls because of our devotion to age appropriate honesty have learned more about the world then most four year olds and 3 month olds. Baby Girl is just starting to understand the concept of adoption. She is just grasping why D couldn't care for her but still loves her SO very much. She knows the love of her birthfamily and they are as much as our daily conversation as any other member of our family.
We set in motion as we do every January our visit for May. I unfortunately learned just prior to Baby Girls birthday that D was back in jail. She was arrested for parole violations in December for shoplifting. Her birthfamily "forgot" to tell us until midJanuary and I'm sure they were hoping that maybe they wouldn't have to tell us because she would be released quickly. She has yet to have a court date (thats just crazy to me) but they now believe she will be in jail until at least October maybe even December but that is all a guess. I proceeded to coordinate our visit with her extended family as we did the first year we visited. Baby Girl was too young to understand who anyone was let alone that anyone was missing. This time we knew we were going to have to talk to her about it.
So how to do you talk to a 4 year old about jail and more specifically how do you tell a 4 year old their birthmom is in jail? Each morning Baby Girl would wake up and ask if today was the day we drove to D's house. Each morning I'd remind her that we were driving to Mom-mom and Pop-Pops house. Each morning I was reminded that I needed to talk to her. Each morning I was fearful of the cascading implications of this conversation.
I was fortunate to be able to talk through the conversation with a post placement social worker at our agency. We talked about how since DH is a police officer we have been very conscious about NEVER calling the people he deals with "bad guys." They are instead people who have made bad choices. Jail has never been for "bad people" but instead "a place where grownups take time by themselves." I'm constantly battling our influence at home with the world around her. Clearly preschoolers are into "bad guys" who go to "jail" and their families don't have to frame the conversation any way other than the way the media does: good guys vs bad guys. They dont have the complexities my family does. She assired me we laid a strong foundation and my gut was right we needed to tell her.
So tonight was the night we agreed to talk to her since she will be home for 3-4 days and it hopefully would decrease the chance that she would tell people at school. We also wanted to do it together. DH reminded her of our trip. He reminded her of all the people that love her in her birthfamily. He listed the people that would be at our visit and then told her that D would not be there. "oh, why." was her response. DH invited me to explain further. I reminded her that D loves her SO much and that im sure she is sad she wont be there, but that she broke a grown up rule and was spending time by herself. "shes in jail?" she asked. I have never been so happy to have a smart 4 year old that can say the hard things for me. Jail was the one word that was hard to say. "yes she is in jail." I responded.
We answered her questions at an age appropriatly as we could. I did lie in saying that I didnt know what she was in jail for but that she had broken a grown up rule. We explained about judges and how they decide how long people stay. Yes the door is locked. We dont know if she cried but we assured her she was sad for missing out on things like our visit. Baby girl was certain her heart was broken and wanted to send her 100 hearts. I'm sad yet impressed by the maturity of my 4 year old. Tomorrow we will work on a way to send 100 hearts to jail and I'll then have to find the words to tell a grown up that I told her biodaughter she was in jail.
In the end I care just as much about hurting Baby Girl in risking altering her perception of who her Birthmom is. She is not a bad person but rather an adult that made bad choices. Choices that hurt herself and those around her. I still admire her strength and love for our daughter.