Everyone can see we're together
As we walk on by
(And) and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won't tell no lie
(All) all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close?
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose
“We Are Family,” the signature song performed by Sister Sledge is a perfect theme song for families involved in the adoption kinship network. The lyrics and music celebrate the joy and love garnered through family connection.
Who is in your family? How was your family created? How do you define family? How do you describe your adoption journey?
Since participating in Voce’s Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) cohort, these questions, and many others, have caused me to ponder my family, my adoption experience, and my role in the adoption kinship network. I was so fortunate to participate in this intensive six-month program where clinicians learn best practices to support the adoption kinship triad, ensuring children who are adopted thrive.
This accredited program impacted me, both professionally and personally, in numerous ways. I was initially drawn to the program because as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I wanted to serve families with the best clinical practice possible. Imagine my surprise when it really hit home for my most important job, being a mom of two siblings adopted from the Pennsylvania foster care system.
Adoption, while wonderful in many ways, is built from loss. On one of the happiest days of my life, my children were grieving. Looking back, I remember my daughter having a huge meltdown prior to leaving our home for the adoption hearing. I chalked it up to too much stimulation, sensory issues from wearing the itchy dress, and all the rushing around that morning. Was she, in fact, feeling the true loss of her biological family? It is critical we become aware of this grief and undertake the difficult conversations which need to be had.
Our kids lost not only their parents, but also their infant sister who was adopted first. At five years old, my daughter was her caregiver. They ask about her or will share tidbits of their memories of her, hoping one day they may meet her again. TAC reinforces the importance of maintaining contact with siblings, if possible, and being aware of the parentified child in the sibling group. We learned how to best manage this child’s skills, redirecting the skills in a positive way.
Another impactful concept was the importance of inclusion of all family members of kids who are adopted whenever possible. This means both adopted family and birth family! At ages eight and eleven, my kids were defined as “older children” when they first moved in with us. They had well-established, consistent visits with both sides of their biological family. They both deeply loved and were loved by their family members. Those connections do not end simply because they have a “new” adopted family.
TAC increased my empathy for birth parents, especially for the birth mom. We discussed the processes moms must go through whether it be a choice or parental rights are terminated by the courts. It made me aware of the lack of services to support first parents once the adoption occurs and the longing these parents have for their children despite years passing. I realized how important it was to maintain contact as long as it is safe and what the children want. We were going to figure this out for our children.
For my family – the Fogel family – the response was simply to create connections with everyone. After all, we loved and cared for the same kids. Honestly, the process was slow as we all brought our own beliefs and fears into the relationship. Starting with invites to soccer games, chorus concerts and, of course, ice cream outings, we got to know each other. Activities led to pick-ups at our home with invites to come in to meet the pets and show off bedrooms. Chit chat grew into small talk, which led to longer visits and meals. We were sharing jokes, talking about hobbies and interests and, through it all, building trust.
Our family was expanded to include “Aunt Sue,” “Uncle Butch,” and “Mommom.” This is how our kids know their family members and everyone else followed along. Even our biological son affectionately identifies them by their family names.
Speaking of biological kids or kids who have been previously adopted, TAC teaches participants to consider the impacts brought by adoption: change in birth order, additional stressors, loss of individualized time with parents, and the reality that this new family member is permanent. While my biological son was excited to have a new brother and sister, we did not realize the impact on him until the kids moved in and he started with regular tantrums. As he adjusted, the tantrums subsided, and today, he and his siblings are the best of friends.
Over the years, three families have united to become one. When you attend a party at our home, you see one large family gathered around a table with laughter, conversation and lots of food. I’m grateful for my new skills and knowledge from TAC to best support the adoption kinship network, including my own!
We are family, sing it, sing it, everybody
Get up everybody and sing, yeah, yeah
- Sister Sledge