By An Adopt4Life Member
Two years ago, my son’s maternal grandmother took him out of her daughter’s arms and handed him over to a CAS worker. In that moment, she knew she might never see him again. But she knew what she was doing was in his best interest.
This is what she told me recently when we gathered for our monthly visit with her and her husband. I could feel her pain and the immense loss that she suffered alongside her daughter on that day. Child welfare interventions have far-reaching effects on everyone who loves a child, including and especially grandparents.
We have an openness order with our children’s biological parents. We see them on a semi-regular basis and update them frequently by email with photos and anecdotes of their daily lives. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship that so far “works” for us.
But when we received a note from our worker that grandma had reached out to her for an update on the kids, we jumped (cautiously) at the opportunity to open a door to more of our children’s biological family.
Starting with emails and photos, we eventually agreed to meet her and her husband (now affectionately known as Grandma and Papa) at a neutral location. They were understandably apprehensive and nervous – they hadn’t seen their grandson in more than a year and now had a granddaughter they hadn’t even known existed – and they were about to meet complete strangers who were now their parents.
We talked. A lot. We learned so much more about the difficult circumstances that brought our children into care. We heard wonderful stories about our children’s birth mom as a child. We shared our hopes and dreams for their future with each other. We agreed that we would all work together to do what was best for the children.
On our son’s second birthday, we sat around a table enjoying pizza and cake and ice cream, together with his maternal grandparents and biological parents. We laughed as stories were shared. We played with toys and had an impromptu volleyball game with birthday balloons. To an outside observer, we would have looked like any “normal” family celebrating a birthday. It is now our “new normal”. And it’s what is best for our children.
We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some of our suggestions when establishing a relationship with grandparents (and other extended birth family like aunts and uncles, cousins or adult siblings).
Points to Ponder:
Remember that they too experienced loss when their grandchild went into care or were placed for adoption. They are still dealing with the grief and emotions that come with that loss. Be respectful of that.
Set appropriate boundaries early on, but talk about them openly and honestly with them and work towards an agreement that is mutually beneficial. Don’t come across too heavy-handed.
Establish a relationship with grandparents independent of birth parents. If the relationship with birth parents runs into difficulties, that shouldn’t impact the relationship with grandparents and vice versa.
Have a discussion with them about what they’d like to be called (first names? Nana? Grandpa?) Recognizing their special role in your child’s life by using an appropriate “grandparent” name doesn’t diminish the role of adoptive grandparents.
Discuss with them about how they will share information and photos (including social media) with their family and friends. Recognize that there is a balance between your need for privacy and autonomy as the adoptive parents, and their need to “share and brag” to family and friends.
Remember that the past is the past. Grandparents can’t go back and change anything. Focus on the future.
Above all, always put the needs of the children first. Put your ego aside.