The other day I talked with Maureen, whose granddaughter “Janie” – her son’s child – was a ward in another state. Little Janie has two half-siblings (by a different father) who were also in the system, and were about to be adopted by a gay couple. Because the older children were unrelated to her, Maureen wanted to adopt only Janie.
Maureen was upset because the agency had recommended to the family court judge that Janie be placed with the other two children, rather than sent to live with Maureen. They didn’t want to separate the siblings unless it was absolutely necessary.
Maureen thought this was ridiculous. “Why should I take the older two? They aren’t my grandchildren, just a reminder of their no-good father. Besides, that judge should choose family over a gay couple!” Clearly there was a long, sad story behind Maureen’s words, and my heart went out to her. But I was pretty sure the judge wouldn’t rule in her favor.
What I really wanted to say to her was, “Are you sure you can’t find it in your heart to take in the other two children? They can’t help who their father is.” We use the same reasoning to explain why a woman who has been raped should not abort her child: Children should not be forced to pay for the sins of their parents.
Maureen has a difficult choice to make: relinquish her grandchild or welcome Janie’s siblings as well. Not to thwart the adoption plan of the gay couple, but because it is in the little girl’s best interest to stay with her brothers. If she were to be separated from them now, Janie may forget them for a while. However, her brothers’ grief would be compounded … and one day, when Janie finds out what happened, she could very well come to resent her grandmother from pulling her away from the rest of her family.
There are situations when there are serious reasons for siblings to be separated – my own children have two older siblings that do not live with us. We’ve done our best to keep the kids in touch with one another through periodic visits, though it isn’t the same as being able to run down the hall and jump on a sibling’s bed every morning. But in order to keep them safe, we had to make a tough call knowing that one day we will have to answer for that decision.
In the world of adoption – particularly with the prevalence of “open adoption” – the traditional definitions of family become rather fluid. Yes, our children are really ours … but the relationship between other family members is less clear-cut. We find ourselves being tangentially related to people we would just as soon disappear. The temptation, of course, is to ignore the connection and write them off – after all, these people mean nothing to us.
But it isn’t that simple. Even when the bonds of birth are stretched, they are never wholly broken. Separation may be the better of two bad choices. The pain and longing remains. Periodic visits are no substitute for being able to giggle over Cheerios every morning.
We do not choose to have these people in our lives. But in a very real sense, they are the “family we didn’t pick.”
“We’re going to see birth-mom and dad,” I tell my noisy bunch.H.H.Saxton, 2004
They squeal and jump in car seats, ready for their junk-food lunch.
I’ll pay for their indulgence; As they bounce till they get sick.
Thank you, dear birth parents, family I didn’t pick.
Time for Christmas with some people who are clearly less than glad
“those children” are still with us since we’re not “Real Mom and Dad.”
Hand-me-downs and garage sale finds will have to do, St Nick.
Give me patience,” I pray gamely, “with these folks I didn’t pick.”
When asking for a sibling group, we only wanted two.
The social worker asked us if instead we would take you.
Who’d have guessed it? It was madness! What a dirty, rotten trick!
That we should fall so much in love with three we didn’t pick!