Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which you start that conversation completely at a loss?
It’s like the other person has been talking to you for over an hour, but in reality you have barely gotten past the hellos.
The fact is, none of us exist in a vacuum. We are surrounded by people and things, and these are constantly changing. Even when we are in a relationship with someone, we don’t spend every waking moment with that person, whether it’s our spouse, child, best friend, or parent.
One of the tricky parts of understanding the behavior of others is realizing that we might not have intimate knowledge of the precipitating factorsin their lives.
“Precipitating factors” is a fancy way of saying “come to find out.”
Here’s an example of “come to find out.” Several years ago, I worked as a child therapist in a large, urban, public school district with behaviorally challenged children. One day, around mid-morning, I received a crisis call from the third-grade teacher. “Eric” had just had a disruptive meltdown in the classroom, and in addition to calling me for help, the teacher had summoned school security.
When I arrived in the classroom, Eric was being escorted from the room by the school security officer. I asked the officer to bring Eric to my office. Once we were there, Eric began shaking and crying. Working backward, I learned that Eric was late to school that morning because his mother had overslept. Because his mother had overslept, Eric had not had breakfast, nor had he had his medication for ADHD. I broke into my snack drawer, and Eric began eating what turned out to be the first meal he had eaten since the previous day’s lunch.
Continuing the conversation, I asked Eric why he and his mother had overslept. Come to find out, Eric’s stepfather had been released from jail the day before, and his mother, stepfather, and assorted other relatives had been on a drinking and drugging binge until the sun was about to come up.
Is it any wonder that Eric had a meltdown in his classroom?
Navigating open adoption relationships brings its own set of precipitating factors.
Envision a Sunday afternoon phone call between adoptive mom and birth mom. Baby has been colicky and only slept about three hours from Saturday night into Sunday morning. Adoptive mom’s symptoms of endometriosis have been acting up again, and she is clearly in pain. Adoptive dad had to take an extra shift the previous night. Neither mom or dad wants to mention any of this, because they want birth mom to feel confident that they were the right choice to raise this baby. They want her to think all is going well and that they can handle this. They also want to stay in touch with birth mother, because they genuinely like and respect her.
As the phone call starts, the birth mom seems more quiet than usual. Adoptive mom almost senses a bit of a cry, but then second guesses herself and doesn’t ask about it. Birth mom ends the call almost as soon as it begins, and stares at her phone. On the phone is a text from her brother’s girl friend, who wants birth mom to loan her $500 to bail her brother out of jail. Birth mom doesn’t want to do this, and she doesn’t want to mention it to the adoptive family because she doesn’t want them to have a reason to stop communicating with her. Birth mom had wanted to plan the first visit, but her car had broken down again on Saturday, and she didn’t have anyone who could help her get it fixed. She was hesitant to say anything about the visit because she didn’t want to raise her hopes and then not be able to have the visit.
Neither side of this conversation has any idea what is going on before the conversation starts. Both sides are left feeling unsettled and unwelcome.
Can we ever come to find outall the factors that make for strained behavior or uncomfortable interactions in an open adoption relationship?
The answer is probably “it all depends.”So much depends on the relationship that is developed between those who are in the relationship.
Are you open to hearing the precipitating factors to behavior that puzzles you? Or do you find yourself thinking those are just excuses?
Are you willing to be vulnerable and share precipitating factors, at times causing your behavior to be unexpected or unusual?
Are you able to extend grace, understanding, and forgiveness?
For an open adoption relationship to work, the answer to all of this must be a resounding “yes.” Trust is built over time, with stops and starts, but the ultimate goal of open adoption is to create an environment of trust and commitment for the child.
Come to find out, we all need a little grace and understanding in all our relationships.