Back in December, you printed a letter from a young boy named "Jamal" who was in foster care. He had asked you to publish his letter about wanting his foster family to be his forever family, so he could show the family court judge how much it meant to him to be adopted by the family he already saw as his own. Tazi, I am Jamal's Mom - I am so happy to be able to write those words because, you see, I am not his birth mother; I am his adoptive mother. The judge blessed us with the okay to legally adopt Jamal back in January, and the adoption has just finalized! Jamal is ours forever now; and we are his forever family. My husband, children, and I are overwhelmed with joy, as is Jamal. Even our puppy Max seems to understand what wonderful news this is.
Tazi, I want to thank you - and the friend from the system - for the support you gave Jamal when he was obviously stressed about facing the judge. Seeing his letter in print meant the world to my son (I love being able to call him that!) and the follow-up letter of support gave him the courage he needed to go before the judge and pour out his heart.
The one thing marring our joy is the fact that Jamal's mother contested the adoption - from prison, where she is serving a decades-long sentence for drug possession and armed robbery, presumably to support her addiction. Jamal does not know that his birth mother is in prison, or that she contested the adoption; all he knows is that his birth mother stopped visiting him one day. She is well into her 40's (she had Jamal a bit later in life) and has a lengthy criminal record, is HIV/AIDS positive (from using intravenous drugs), and Jamal barely remembers her. At one point, she had petitioned for jailhouse visitations, but the judge refused her request as he felt it would not be in Jamal's best interests.
I am uncertain if I should explain to Jamal and my other children now, or when he/they are a bit older, the reason his birth mother stopped coming around. I am afraid whatever I decide that it will hurt Jamal, which is the last thing I want to do to any of my children. All Jamal knows is that his birth mother loves him very much, but that she had to go away on a very long trip. Jamal adores you, and I read your column to him whenever the subject is age-appropriate. Do you know of any way to appropriately address the subject of his birth-mother? What if she gets out of prison and comes looking for him?
Dear Jamal's Mom:
I remember Jamal's letter vividly, and am thrilled beyond measure that his wish to become a part of your family "FOREVER" has come true! I know that my readers will be equally delighted, especially "Friend From the System". I will be certain that everyone hears the wonderful news as soon as possible by immediately printing your letter!
As for your quandary regarding Jamal's birth-mother...I think it is terribly sad that she could not put the welfare of her son above her own desire to hold onto him. From what you write, it is obvious that she cannot give him any kind of life; and it is obvious that the judge felt so, too. You say that she is "well into her 40's" and serving a "decades-long [prison] sentence" for some less than savory acts. This leads me to believe that she will not be released until Jamal is a grown man. For these reasons and more, I believe that an edited version of the full story would be the appropriate thing to tell Jamal.
At 8-years-old, Jamal is old enough to understand the concept of jail and prison; as well as the types of behavior that can put a person there. If you have not already done so, I suggest that you and your husband sit down with Jamal and explain to him that his birth-mother cares very much for him, but is unable to take care of him the way he needs and deserves. Explain to him that his birth-mother did some naughty things, and a judge sent her to a place that will help her to try and put her life together, while teaching her that what she did was very, very wrong. If Jamal asks if his birth-mother is in prison, be honest; if he does not ask, do not volunteer this information. As Jamal gets older, he may ask this question. I suggest that you always be honest with him. If he would like to share this information with his siblings, let that be his choice. If he prefers to keep it to himself, please respect his privacy.
Due to Jamal's birth-mother's special health conditions, it is a very real possibility that she may not live out her prison sentence, so your fear that she may seek him out upon release may never come to pass; however, the possibility - however slight - that it could occur is just one more reason to always be open and honest with your son. From the tone of his letter to me, I don't think you have any reason to worry that he will want to return to his birth-mother. Jamal sees YOU as his mother, so feel free to wholeheartedly embrace him as your son - because he is! Congratulations to all!
Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.