Healing Families

A Critical Aspect of Family Reunification
Daniel Carlisle, FCNI Supervisor and Adoptive Parent
September, 26, 2017 -

“Family of origin” is just a fancy way of talking about the family that you grew up in. For a large portion of us, a “family of origin” means our biological mother, father, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the like. If you will indulge me for a moment, I would like for you to take a moment and reflect on your family of origin. When I reflect on mine, I have memories of my dad’s humor, my mother’s cooking, family traditions, fighting with my brothers, feeling scared, feeling happy, feeling loved, feeling lonely, and the list goes on. My childhood was not perfect, and I can guess that neither was yours. But despite the imperfections of my family, they are MY family. I love them. I am deeply emotionally connected to them as a family and as individuals. My definition of a “normal” family was developed within my “abnormal” family.  My best guess is that you have similar thoughts, feelings and connections to your family of origin.

During a training I recently participated in, we were asked to make a list of people we deem important to us. Family members were on everyone’s lists. Some lists consisted of only family members. Once the lists were completed, the trainer directed us to pick a person on the list and draw a line through their name, asking us to think about what it would be like if we weren’t allowed to see or speak to that person again. This exercise continued until all the names on the list were gone.

The loss of relationships is deeply painful. So painful that it is hard for most of us to even imagine the hurt of losing our entire family. However, there is an entire population of people who know how much this hurts all too well--foster children.

On the other side of this equation, are the parents of these children. I would suggest that the parents who have been separated from their children have a deep understanding of pain and loss. One of the things that I remind myself of when meeting parents who have been separated from their children in this way is that no parent wakes up and says, “Today is the day I will do something to jeopardize the wellbeing of my child.”  Loss of family is painful, no matter the reason. It may be even more painful if you hold yourself responsible for the loss. Responsibility, however, does not imply that the loss was the intended outcome.

I wanted to share all this because I believe that one of the greatest privileges one can have is to help facilitate healing these deep wounds by supporting families in reunifying with one another. In my experience as a foster parent, Social Worker and therapist, one of the greatest obstacle in the reunification process is the prejudgments made on parents. I am sad to say it is not uncommon to see and hear people be skeptical of these parents’ motives and abilities. However, I have also seen families made whole again when these parents are supported by foster parents, Social Workers and therapists. These are the families who come out on the other side of loss and tragedy stronger and better prepared for the struggles we all face in life. I often tell people that you cannot believe that children’s lives can be redeemed and at the same believe that their parents’ lives cannot. You either believe that people can persevere and heal, or you don’t. I choose to be a person who believes children in foster care along with their parents all have the ability and possibility to heal.