Last two weeks had been quite intense: first my mum came to visit for a week, after that we all had a nasty stomach flu, still quite poorly, we attended fostering panel, and finally Diego’s parents came to stay with us for another week.

Spending time with family is always pleasant, but when parents invade and take over your home for a period of time, it’s all another matter. Life tends to become chaotic, routine goes out of the window, stress levels rise, and by the time the guests leave you don’t even remember how family life used to be before.

Over these last two weeks, we had a chance to talk extensively with our parents about adoption and fostering. I realise only now how little they know about it, how uninformed they are, and yet how opinionated they can be.

They told me, for example, that I shouldn’t mention to Ben his birth family, and that I should hide his Life Story Book “somewhere safe”. They were horrified when I told them that I regularly show Ben pictures of himself with his birth mum and dad. In their opinion, we should wait until Ben is older to tell him he is adopted (they never told me how old is old enough though), and someone even entertained the idea of not telling him at all.

They believe that, because Ben became part of our family when he was an infant, he won’t have memory of a life before us, or won’t know any better. In a way, they think life before us doesn’t have any influence on who Ben is today, his behaviour, or his volatile emotions. In a very sweet but foolish way, they think that everything a child needs to overcome a difficult start in life is love. It’s a very bohemian take on life, “love will conquer all”, but I’m not sure love alone is enough.

I told them a typical backstory of two look after children. It went more or less like this:

Two little girls, 8 and 5, live with mum. Mum is an heroin addict who makes money having sex with man who she brings back home. 8 ends up having to take care of her little sister, as well as mum, most nights. Both girls are exposed to the attentions of mum’s male companions.

That was just the begging of my story, but I could see apprehension in my parents’ eyes and their heads starting shaking, so I stopped and waited for their comments. “Yes but these are stories from the news, you won’t get children like that. Right?”, they told me.

I have to wonder if there is a general miseducation around the reasons why children are in care, or if it’s just easier to think that awful things never happen close to home.

Either way, I failed to explain my family what our worries are, what risks we incur, and the reasons behind our choices. Diego’s parents, my own parents, and I’m sure many other people out there, feel confused and a bit alienated for not being able to grasp the dynamics of the adoptive family they know.

I feel sometimes that I put a huge effort in protecting my son from the world: no sharing pictures, no telling his story, no revealing details of his birth family, even omitting he’s adopted at times. I understand it’s not my story to tell, and it wouldn’t be safe to share it openly, but I have to ask myself what would happen if his story was told unreservedly.

In many adoptive families there are behaviours and needs that are directly related to the children earlier life. If my parents and extended family knew everything about Ben’s past, they would be able to understand why Diego and I parent him the way we do. They would be able to make sense of all the small things that seem to be so insignificant to others, but that are so important for Ben. They would be able to abstain from judgement and be more supportive.

We will become a foster family very soon. Our family will grow into an even bigger riddle for our relatives and friends. Ironically, the one clue that would help them solve this mystery is the one we cannot disclose: the life our children lived before us.

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