Dear Prudence

Help! I Was Ready to Cut Off My Parents, Until I Found Out What They Want to Do Next.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A photograph of a big family as seen from the back, arm in arm, that's been torn to separate one person out.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by JBryson/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Q. Conflicted: My birth parents died in an accident when I was 13. After a stint in foster care, I was adopted into a family by “Joe” and “Sarah” at 14.

Joe and Sarah are Evangelical and strict about purity culture and church attendance. They treated all three of us adopted kids differently (my adoptive sister and I were basically permanent babysitters to their two small bio kids), pushed church harder when I asked for therapy, and disowned my adoptive sister for being out after curfew when she was assaulted at 19 because it was “her fault.” Nothing ever crossed the line into reportable abuse, but it was a hard place to grow up.

Against their wishes, I ended up going to technical college with scholarships and getting a good job. During that time period, I rented from Joe and Sarah, and had to at least pretend to play along with their rules. Now, at 21, I live independently and every interaction I have with them is a fight, especially since I’m not pretending to be in the church anymore. My adoptive siblings are both struggling in huge and sad ways as adults.

I was seriously considering cutting Joe and Sarah out permanently, because of all the fighting and bad memories. I’ve connected with some extended family, and I have good friends. But recently I learned that Joe and Sarah are looking to adopt again. I want to be able to protect other kids in a way that I wasn’t able to help my adoptive siblings, and wonder if being in touch could make a difference. How do I make this choice?

A: While I don’t doubt that your presence would potentially improve the life of another child that Joe and Sarah adopt, you ought to seriously consider how the negative effect that Joe and Sarah have had on you and continue to have on you will diminish or even completely destroy any positive impact you might be able to have. Are you in the position to protect another child in a toxic environment that continues to harm you? If you want to intervene, and you know which adoption agency Joe and Sarah are working with, you may want to try reaching out to their social worker to express your concerns and share your experience. In any adoption process, prospective parents need character witnesses, and while Joe and Sarah may be past this stage as veteran adoptive parents, your word will no doubt carry weight and doesn’t have to meet as high a bar as “reportable abuse.”

It’s not your fault that your adoptive siblings suffered in Joe and Sarah’s house. You were all powerless against them and in a vulnerable position. I know you wish you could have done more, but the truth is you all needed an advocate. I think you should ask yourself whether you’re actually in a good position to be a direct advocate for this prospective new adoptive child or whether you can protect yourself, continue to heal, and still make sure that those who have the power to make a difference in this situation can do so.

Classic Prudie

I was told as a teenager that I could never carry a baby to term, so my husband and I immediately started the process of adoption as soon as we married. After many years of waiting, we adopted a beautiful little 5-month-old. I love her and would die for her if need be, but I find myself unexpectedly hating parenthood three months on. My daughter, bless her, wakes up every two-three hours every day. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has helped her to sleep. I terribly miss my old life and feel anxious about going out in case she gets unsettled (which she often does). My husband and I have no quality time together and we’ve bickered a lot because I am always snappy and stressed out. I find myself resentful of her sometimes and then feeling horribly guilty for feeling resentful. Is there any advice you have for me?