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My Inner Knowing Podcast...


Check out my talk on my own healing journey on


My Inner Knowing Podcast: "Being Painted Red"


As I listen to this conversation with Theresa and Walker again on "My Inner Knowing", I think about this notion of "doing your own work" as Theresa had mentioned. What does that look like? When we become adults, it's not hoping for these experiences where others provide this for us... but choosing to ask ourselves these difficult questions like, "Is this as good as it gets?" And listening with curiosity for the answers. Being curious is not so simple of course, because it does require a sense of safety to be curious. I think about those who are struggling to just survive from a day to day with sometimes the basic needs being challenged... there is sometimes little space if at all to have curiosity. And what we forget sometimes as adults is that for children the basic needs ARE, in fact, to have healthy attachment, relationship. So just as it is in these relationships that we may be injured, it is also in relationships we begin to heal. The misconception about healing is that we just go to therapy and psychoanalyze ourselves and with that understanding we heal. Understanding and awareness is the first step and an important step. Then the true therapy happens not in the therapy office, but in your day to day life. How are you applying what you are aware of now? Who does it feel safe to share your true self in hopes that you will not be rejected, abandoned, or shunned by? This is not easy and of course, because it requires us to be vulnerable when perhaps we haven't had evidence of it being received well, or you may not have all the skills to do this with finesse, and not everyone will choose to join you in this journey... All of that is okay. We are all in process... Including me, even still. 

The Jordan Harbinger Show Consults...

Check out my educational consult on "relinquishing an adopted son" starts 37:23 on

The Jordan Harbinger Show 953: We Did the Math - Our Colleague’s a Sociopath

My full response:

Children need caretakers more than caretakers need children. These include basic needs for survival as well as emotional needs for healthy development. In this case, your parents are the only family he may know and have been raised by them since he was 2 months old. He is never going to not need a connection with his parents and his brothers even as his needs change. As the old saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child” and in some cases a village may include both natural and formal supports.
Your 9-year-old brother clearly has a lot of needs that your parents involve formal supports such as foster care system and the police, etc. This would be okay if these were short term acute interventions and if the problem wasn’t getting worse. The combination of your brother’s unfortunate history and circumstances, explosive ways to get his needs met, and your parents’ style of parenting seems to not be working. You mentioned that the energy that they put into helping your little brother could be used to “help dozens more…and allow [your parents] to live longer.” What a great description of how much energy is used by everyone involved (including your little brother) and how inefficient and unsustainable the whole dynamic is. The fact that your brother’s behaviors are global and happening in other environments outside of the home also speaks to the pervasiveness and scope of the problem. We can speculate if this doesn’t change, the prolonged regular interventions from the police every time he has a tantrum could create an attachment and relationship with law enforcement that could set him up to be familiar with moving through the revolving door of the justice system as a way to regulate himself as an adult. In other words, let’s not have law enforcement as unofficial “co-parents”.

I can’t diagnose from afar or make any specific therapeutic intervention recommendations as I would have to assess personally the history of treatment from psychologists and “special schools.” There may still be hope even in a situation like this if we hold the narrative that “children do well if they can” a catch phrase coined by a psychologist, Dr. Ross Greene who developed a way of working with families with children who exhibit explosive behaviors like your little brother. There may still be hope because he is only 9 years old and still a minor, because people with histories of mental health challenges like bipolar and schizophrenia can do well with proper medication and therapy, because there are somatic and neurofeedback therapeutic modalities that help children who may have had perinatal and prenatal or any preverbal trauma, that consist of the trauma of separation like adoption, because your parents love him and don’t wish to give up on him. I would like to believe that your family may still have time to figure this out and perhaps have some untapped resources and solutions… However, having an honest, curious, collaborative conversation with the right resources and specialized professionals are very important elements to get there.
My first suggestion is to start by being curious about what they are going through. I can only speculate why your parents shut down conversations about this… Most people would not dream of “giving up” on blood related children even with these challenges. Speaking in terms of “giving up” on a child could be too simplistic and probably inaccurate and nonnegotiable if your parents had already emotionally committed to being his parents. Adoption is a commitment for life. And even if he never turns out to be a functional adult doesn’t make a good argument for “giving up” on a child that one has either adopted or given birth to, because every child deserves someone who believes in them. Besides, no one has a crystal ball and can predict the future. Parents who have not exhausted all their options may not be ready to hear negative feedback about an already difficult situation. Additionally, some older parents can have trouble facing their own mortality so they avoid talking about future planning, while some parents just don’t like getting critical feedback from their own adult children about their choices.
With that said, a thing to consider is to change the narrative that could encourage a productive conversation on this family issue. So this means changing this notion of the binary solutions of “giving up” vs. “fight a losing battle” in your own mind first. It’s not easy, but I would invite you to explore something to the effect of “finding sustainable solutions for your little brother to have his family, grow up healthy and functioning”. With this open-ended frame of mind, there is more room for discussion. Even if they end up deciding to “relinquish [some or all] responsibilities” of caring for your brother, the relationship and caring doesn’t have to end, it will just look different. Parenting duties and needs evolve over the course of a family life cycle, as the child becomes an adult; parents have less and less logistical responsibilities for their adult children in varying degrees based on a child’s ableness. Though you may not be the parent, it’s important to have a family discussion about this because it will still affect the whole family. Your relationship and caring for him as a big brother matters too. And as your parents age the shift in caretaking and decision making often does go along with it.
This leads us to the point you made about your need to get clear what your parents’ expectations are for future planning for your little brother, should anything happen to them. You can share your fears of loss in connection, your capacity and limitations should your little brother continue down this emotional and physical trajectory. This is not going to be an easy conversation, but even if you are not going to have the final say, it sounds important to you to share your concerns and to know what the plan is.
My last thought is…
It might be in your family’s interest to seek out a highly skilled collaborative family therapist/social workers/mental health professional/case manager who are specialized in working with families as well as the community of helpers. These types of services can be and are often times homebased, and depending on your area they have different classifications and titles and might be provided within the foster care system and/or department of youth/child services. They are essentially frontline workers who may be able to assess more concretely the protective factors and risk factors to consider while working with natural and formal supports to find solutions and connect the family to community resources. I don’t know if your little brother might always need some sort of formal support throughout his life, but there might be a need for a reorganization of the current combination of formal supports and perhaps addition of other supports. If your family hasn't had collaborative therapists/case workers who do this type of systems coordination, I suggest you see if there is something like it in your area. 

Check out my featured educational consult on telling family secrets on

The Jordan Harbinger Show 928: Whisper or Withhold Stepson’s Paternity Untold?


My full response:

Secrets –

Family secrets are more common than not, and it is often associated with shame. The writer is astute in naming the possibility that the birth mother may be feeling immense shame for her past along with the fear of loss. If it is the case that even peripheral relationships know more of the stepson’s story while he himself doesn’t, it naturally feels wrong. For this family, it is not 1 “HUGE secret”. There are multiple secrets; secrets embedded in secrets. Adoptive dad is not the birth father. The father is possibly the birth mother’s step father and/or the pregnancy was a result of an assault. Not sure if he knows, but possibly that he was in foster care for the first 3 years. What the birth mother did from age 15-17. So along with fear and shame that needs to be overcome to share, revealing it is at the least going to take a very long conversation… or over many conversations. And in my view, it is an amazing, challenging, and meaningful opportunity for healing.

My take on a situation like this –
The writer’s stepson has every right to the truth about his origins, his story. However, this does not mean it will be beneficial that the writer shares these family secret(s), without considering the impact of the most important ones this secret involves. I agree with the writer’s close friends and the adoptive father/writer’s late husband that “it’s not [the writer’s] problem”, because it will be less consequential to the writer’s and her nephew’s life than the folks it’s actually about. Additionally, the writer’s choice to “plant the seed”, and almost forcing the birth mother to share her secret(s) to her son unintentionally, takes the power away from her. Doing this in front of the mother who does not consent to revealing her story does not foster trust, even if truth telling and curiosity is a virtue. And for the writer to reveal this more directly would take away the birth mother’s ability to decide to share, how to share, and how to repair any betrayal from hiding the truth with her son if and when she does share. It is, in my opinion, a type of boundary violation.
For a more relational approach…
One option is to carry the privilege and burden of knowing someone else’s story and to heed the advice of her late husband. For better or worse the birth mother is the one who gets to decide because it is also her story. It might be helpful for the writer to think of it like a chain of command. Perhaps the good news is the next in line could be the writer, as the step mother, if the birth mother ends up dying not having shared with him their story. The stepson might still feel betrayed that his stepmother knew but also kept it from him, in which case she might need to apologize and make amends with her stepson, if she wants to restore trust with him. Another option the writer might consider will take a lot more personal development work – that is, making a request or to advise the birth mother. This is no small task. It is likely this request or advice will be quickly shut down just like it did with her husband, if there is little trust or relationship. So, the writer could choose to make the investment of building that trust and relationship with the birth mother, reminding herself that physical proximity does not determine relationship. Perhaps, the writer could explore what part of her cares for her stepson and his mother. If she only sees the birth mother as “an ex” of her husband who is “image conscious… and has a personality of a sugar-coated steamroller,” I would suggest she re-orient her perspective to a neutral one if possible, or even better, a compassionate one. Referring to her as “my stepson’s mother” rather than “the ex” is a good start. This would also mean apologizing and repairing any damage the writer might have caused relationally with her stepson’s mother (i.e. intending to “plant a seed” making the birth mother to be “visibly shaken”, judgements of her, or anything else that might have happened in their history together). Reorienting the writer’s perspective and repairing with her stepson’s mother without any agenda is crucial for trust and relationship. This is paradoxical, to let go of the agenda to make a request/offer advice… but it takes the privilege of having a trusting relationship to hope for any genuine consideration as a response. If building a trusting relationship with stepson’s mother is impossible to the writer, I believe the relationally minded choice is to respect the boundaries of the primary relationships that the secret story(s) involves and hold out hope that her stepson’s mother will share one day… not just for her son, but also importantly for herself.

Check out my featured educational consult on adoption secrets on

The Jordan Harbinger Show Episode 720: Should You Confess You Know He’s Not Your Dad?


My full response:

It's common for folks when they think of adoption, to think of the obvious heart-tugging scenario of an orphaned child being chosen by a loving, and maybe childless couple, who then receives much praise from their community for their charity. This is only one, and a socially preferred, example of a legal type of adoption. There are many "unofficial" adoptions as well as legal ones that happen every year: (a) grandparents who take on parenting while a birth parent works multiple jobs to make ends meet, get rehab, or addressing some other limitation(s), (b) step parents emotionally "adopting" their partner's children even without legal custody, and (c) for many recent past adoptions, where out of wedlock pregnant teens took "leave" from their studies to give birth secretly in religious convents while the orphaned newborns would be domestically adopted. Not so long ago even legal adoptions have been shrouded in secrecy and shame. Along this continuum of adoption scenarios of which there are many more, there is this writer's story of adoption, that lands on the secrecy end of the spectrum. In all these examples, one thing remains missing... how the narrative, both spoken and unspoken, impacts the adopted person! 

For this writer, who may never have identified as an adopted person, may also have existential issues about their identity and experience grief that is felt by all, even if none of it was explicitly explained. Having healthy honest conversations about such matters is the job of the adults when their children are still children. I would affirm to anyone whom their stories resonate... that they absolutely deserve to know the truth! Not only do they deserve this, they have deserved the truth all along. 

Now this writer has grown up into an adult, 52 years old, wanting to talk about "the elephant in the room", that is, the truth. This often brings up a lot of grief... for loss of time, identity, connections, and relationships (to name a few). It is complicated in any parent/child relationship, whether one is adopted or not, to talk about how their grief was the result of how the parents handled things. "I want to talk about my shitty experience, but please don't reject me for it" is often the subtext from the "child" to their parent(s). And perhaps as this writer described, having a lifetime of experiencing in subtle and some not so subtle ways an adoptive parent's unresolved feelings, like Frank, may or may not leave one to grow up believing they deserve the lack of affection, lack of emotional attunement, rejection, and abuse. 

In a situation like this, I would ask, "what are you hoping for in talking about the 'elephant in the room' with your adoptive father?" I would encourage them to get honest with themselves about the reason(s), because it is from this place one could really be clear as to how to go about this conversation and give them a sense of agency and empowerment. And although what happened to this writer is not their fault, it is their responsibility now that they have grown to know what they are needing from themselves and others. Being prepared in this regard will help them get the most out of their inquiry to talk about the truth, and especially a truth that was so protected in a family system like this one. And in my experience, with a family therapist who is trained to talk about "elephants in rooms" can serve to do some major healing... perhaps for this writer, it may be a start of a lifelong journey to relearning who they are, as no more or less legitimate and loveable than anyone else. Maybe this process has already begun for them. 

Check out my featured educational consult on kinship adoption with reluctant family members on

The Jordan Harbinger Show Episode 636: Is It Wrong to Decline Guardianship of Family?

My full response: 

Here is my opinion about the case with the "uncertain aunt". First of all, no she is not selfish for being hesitant. It is in fact very evolved of her for being true to herself with her feelings about taking on such a task despite how it might make her look. If we didn't have hesitancy on complex decisions like this, we would be learning by way of hindsight, which happens too, but of course it's not ideal. So I would give congratulations for being honest enough with herself at the cost of not looking like Mother Theresa. If I were speaking to her now I would say "Now feel free to take a deep breath. :) You are not a monster." 

Regardless of the family situation, what matters is that you both seem clear on your "no", so let's start there. I wouldn't open the "can of worms" as you call it by asking if there will be financial compensation because that's not at the heart of the issue. I am hearing that you both don't want this choice for your lives. Unfortunately, we still live in a society that privileges heteronormative family systems to eventually have children. We often hear, "Why don't you have kids yet?" and then when you have one, "When are you having your second?"  Generally speaking, society is not yet at a place to acknowledge that there are adults who don't want to have children and that there is nothing wrong with that. 

Now let's talk about the children in this situation, the ones least empowered to make major decisions like this to shape their outcome in the family system. One of the worst things a child can experience is losing their parents at a vulnerable time in their life, but it's not much better to be cared for by reluctant caretakers who didn't sign up for this journey.... And as much as I, an adoption therapy specialist, like to see children be placed in natural kinship supports, it's not fair to the children to have new adoptive parents who are not up for the task. We don't also want to automatically assume that these kids would be in foster care either, let alone be separated from each other. This process takes many steps with many people and no one can predict that this will be the outcome, because it's not the only one... just the worst one. Take a moment to think about your relationship with these kids. Do you love them? Do you want them in your lives? What do you imagine that to look like? Do not lose sight of the most important players in this conversation: the children, and your connection with them. Really get clear on how you want that connection with the kids to look like even if you do not end up becoming their guardians. Focus on what you can and want to do, and very briefly on what you can't and are not willing to do. So in essence, it may be helpful for the both of you as a couple to be really honest with your brother-in-law and talk with him about how you would like your connection with your niece and nephew to look like. Then lastly, the part that is out of both of your control is how he will respond and how the extended family will respond. That is out of your control, unfortunately.  If you feel you need some support, you can opt to look for an experienced family therapist to guide you through this conversation(s). You don't have to do it alone and there might be more solutions available than you might know. The adults talking about it together in a respectful and collaborative way is a start. The children deserve no less.   

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