I understand that economics is a fundamental part of adoption. I’ve understood this from the very beginning when we started contemplating adoption. But honestly, after our most recent visit, I’m actually starting to really understand just how financial disparity is critical to adoption.
Let me be frank and make an over-reaching statement (something I typically tend to avoid doing): In almost all adoptions, financial disparity is likely to exist. One family has the money to adopt (i.e. adoptive parents) and one family does not have the money to raise a child (i.e. birth parents).
I know this isn’t true in all circumstances, and this is an oversimplification of adoption, but I do believe financial disparity is a factor in almost adoptions.
Realistically, the financial differences in my adoption story means that in any other circumstance my path would not have crossed with my son’s birth mother. But our shared love of one child, means our lives are forever intertwined.
When Little MPB was born until his adoption was finalized, there were a lot of government restrictions on what we could spend and how – no cash could change hands, we could pay for group meals when we were there and Little MPB was born, we could give a small gift to her at the hospital and send small birthday/Christmas gifts but no gift cards. Once the adoption was finalized, there were no longer any rules and as such we’ve continued to send gifts, just as we would for anyone else in our family. We also send Little MPB’s clothing and smaller toys when he outgrows them (I always ask if they want them as to not force these things on them). With our most recent visit, we also offered to pay for meals, admission fees, etc. These are things we can afford without any real worry so it just makes sense in our minds.
But one thing that happened on this particular visit was that the financial disparity was very apparent. I wont go into details, but I will say, we likely saw the disparity more on this visit then when Little MPB was born because we spent more time with each other without an infant or adoption agency worries consuming our every sleep-deprived moment. Which meant we had time to talk about life – jobs, how we met each other, daycare, clothing, food, extended family, medical care, etc. We learned a lot about real life. Things that one cannot read in a textbook and truly appreciate.
So, here’s the thing that Mr. MPB and I have been trying to wrap our brains around ever since we got home. What is our role in providing help/assistance. Do we always send Little MPB’s clothing that he outgrows, even when he’s 10 years old? Do we always offer to pay for things when we visit? Should we be sending clothing and paying for things? When we buy something for Little MPB at a museum, do we buy something for her child (we did, but is it the right thing to do)? And, if they need money to help meet their basic needs due to unforeseen circumstances like medical bills, do we give it?
Our role as adoptive parents is to care for Little MPB, our child. Heck, we literally signed contracts to this end. And no matter what, Little MPB will always come first. Thus, we know that we are in no-way responsible for his birth-mother and birth-sibling, and yet, we see them as an extension of our family. And, so this begs the question, what is our role as decent human beings?
What I do know is that this all comes back to the fact that open adoption has no rule-book. We have no idea what is right or what is wrong, so we are just doing what feels right to us, while trying to speculate what would also feel right to Little MPB’s birth-mother (hence, why we ask before we send things). As I said to Mr. MPB, if any other member of our family needed clothing for their kids, we’d offer help in an instant. So, for me, it’s a simple decision so long as they want it and we aren’t forcing it on them. But, do we draw a line somewhere? And if so, what is that line?
I don’t necessarily have the right answer to any of this, but it sure is taking up a lot of my brain power right now. Heck, I’m not sure that there is a right answer to be found.
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You do what you want to do for all people in your life because it’s part of your moral code. You also owe nothing because of the adoption and that needs to be a clear line understood on both sides – perhaps in this area you might choose to do ‘random acts (big or small) for no reason’ so no expectations happen that could potentially harm your relationship because that is what’s important here.
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Thank you for this TAO. Moral code is exactly what guides me day-in-and-day-out. I really like your idea of ‘random acts’ for no reason as to not inadvertently create an expectation on either side of the relationship. Also, I think we just have to keep asking questions when we are unsure and keep being honest. If we do that, then things should tend to be okay in the end.
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Well, you do what you can do/ afford. You are in no way obligated to meet another family’s financial necessities no matter how small or big.
As good humans, we always want to help those who need help, and when someone is a close family member, we try to do our best.
But the very fact that you are even questioning your role clearly states that you are not clear with what you saw and are unsure with money being spent. Id say go with what your heart tells you to do, end of the day, you need to sleep with your conscience.
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You are right with all of this, especially the part about being good humans. That is exactly what my goal is in life, everyday. But this situation is just so very unfamiliar/unique that it’s hard to know what’s right.
Honestly, we have no concern with how money is spent when we give gifts. As far as we are concerned, if we gift money/gift cards it’s none of our business how it’s spent. I’m not sure if this is what you meant by us being unsure with money being spent. But I thought I’d clarify just in case.
Oh lady, when you figure it out let me know, We struggle with this all the time. Our middle foster son has two sibling who live with his birth mother. The mother struggles to buy basic like diapers, uniforms for her school age son, etc. She lives in a NYC shelter so most meals are cooked via microwave or hot plate. We give her gift cards regularly and we do pay when we’re all in a group. I don’t know if this is right, or will always be right but we try to just ask her how she feels, what she needs, how we can help, etc. It’s awkward but saves us a lot of time second guessing ourselves. Our youngest foster son also has 4 older siblings but his mother is 100% shut down to us – it stinks but does make it easier. We simply pass along photos and videos to her. I’ll be interested in how things are on your end in terms of what does work/doesn’t work or what feels right…
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Thank you for sharing this. Honestly, it’s nice to know we aren’t alone in trying to figure out what is best and what is right.
We also ask direct questions to make sure what we are doing is acceptable and wanted. But I still find we spend a lot of time second-guessing ourselves and over thinking this stuff. But I guess this is just part of the struggle.
We also do gift cards, because it feels better then sending money. But also, we cannot really send Canadian cash, since it would be impossible to spend it anywhere in the USA.
There is no easy solution, obviously. In an equitable world, no one would be forced into a situation where they had to give up a wanted child due to expense, but that is not the world in which we find ourselves. It sounds to me like you’re doing a good job supporting these unexpected extended family members, and your instincts are right on.
I give you huge props for thinking and writing about this. I want to share my perspective as a low income parent. It can be really hard to see other people being able to afford things for their kids when I can’t. Sometimes it is fine when a close friend or family member offers to pay for something or our ticket to get in somewhere, but sometimes it fills me with shame when they ask (not their fault, just how I feel). I feel inadequate as a parent in those moments and just the fact that they offered makes it sting more even though I appreciate it. Since I don’t know what all happened on the last day of your trip, it could have been her feeling similarly and not wanting you to pay for anything else (or else pay for it herself, cutting into money that is needed elsewhere). It is a really tricky balance of appreciation and shame, of making it on your own and having the help you need. When I know I can’t afford to do a museum or class or adventure with a friend, I suggest free activities so I don’t have to feel bad. Free play areas, parks, splash pads, free library events, classes, outdoor community events vs museums, paid attractions, etc. It sounds like you want to keep communication with her open and always get her consent, which is amazing. It might be hard for her to say no thank you if it is something she actually could use or need even if she feels shame about not being able to provide it herself. Keep being amazing parents. You got this.
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Thank you so much for sharing your perspective Jenn.
I can honestly say nothing was said about money on the last day, but it’s been a nagging feeling that both Mr. MPB and I felt, which is a coincidence that is too hard to ignore.
We don’t have the answers on how to handle these things, but I think we just have to keep trying to do our best, knowing that sometimes what we think is best will not actually be best for everyone, and when that happens we will have to learn from it and try again next time.
Thank you again.
If it had to do with the financial disparity, she might not have felt she could say something or known how to say something. It can be really hard to say to my friends “I can’t do that because then I wouldn’t have money for gas this week.” It can be different when a fellow low income friend and I plan something because we know we gotta keep it as cheap as possible, ha. It’s really hard to explain even for wordy articulate decently educated me. Maybe once it’s been a bit, you can ask her about it or if there is anything she wants to talk about, or what version of open adoption she is comfortable with right now. Maybe the images you all have aren’t quite matched up or she thought she would be okay with something about it but isn’t and doesn’t know how to say it. All speculation and you’ve probably already thought of it!
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I liked the idea someone put forward of random acts of kindness. They make sparkles, and when times are tough we can always use a bit of extra sparkles… 🙂
That said … when I had my daughter, I had very little money. I’d managed to save a bit by working right up until the day before she was born, but it wasn’t much. I lived cheaply by sharing a house with four other single women. But it was really, really tough – and more so because her father was absolutely not interested, and MY father was furious that I hadn’t “gotten rid of it” (he eventually came round but that first year… oy) and he forbade my mother from helping me.
My aunt and uncle wrote to tell me that they were committing to send me a small amount of money each month, and although it wasn’t much – certainly not enough to live on – just knowing it was coming, and knowing they cared enough to make a sacrifice for me (they weren’t wealthy) was HUGE.
Now it’s my turn to pay it forward, and I’m helping a beautiful young woman – used to be one of my pupils, but we’ve sort of adopted each other. She has four kids – one in first year at university, and a set of triplets. She’s employed, but in a very poor rural community, and not getting help from their father. I make sure that, one way or another (including by persuading generous friends to help), the triplets’ school fees get paid, and I make sure the older daughter’s rent is paid (school and food are covered by a government bursary). Sometimes – less now than before – their mom feels bad about needing the help, but as our personal relationship has become deeper she has learned simply to accept what we give as an expression of love. And she knows that one day it will be her turn to pay it forward.
If you really do regard Little MPB’s birth mother as a member of your extended family, then I would encourage you to decide what size of commitment you can make, and then sit her down and discuss with her whether that would be helpful. If it feels awkward to give her money – and in all honesty that might not be the way to go – maybe undertake to cover the cost of childcare, or help her get a car, or put a deposit down on a house so that she’s paying off a mortgage instead of rent. You know what your means will permit, and you know what kind of help she needs to be able to lift herself out of poverty.
Make sure she understands that this is a gift, freely given, because you love her … and also make sure she understands that you trust her one day to pay it forward in some way – not necessarily with money; maybe she’ll give her time to someone who needs it, or maybe she’ll help someone in some other way. All that’s hoped for is that she keep the good flowing, because THAT is how, together, we heal this poor, sick world.