How I Do Updates

I’ve been writing this post in my head ever since Ariel wrote about her son’s adoptive parents being late with their one year update. I didn’t write it sooner because: a) I don’t want to sound all adoptive-parent-expert-y, b) I’m actually working on my children’s birth parents’ updates, and c) I always feel guilty about my updates.

I never had the question of what to send in an update. The first year Jackson was born, every month, I sent S almost every picture I took. I sent every scrap of information I would want to know if I were a parent who wasn’t there to see my son. I figured that some of it would be painful for S to see and read. However, I didn’t think that holding information or photos back were going to decrease the pain she felt. She had placed her child for adoption. That’s huge. Ultimately, seeing him grow up was supposed to help her in the long term, even if it hurt her in the short term. At least, that’s what I think. I could be wrong. Even so, I sent everything.

In subsequent years, I sent updates less frequently. Part of this was due to changes in our lives, but part of it was due to S moving around so much. I even had one update returned to me because she hadn’t given me her new address. I started a rating system for photos, and only sent the ones that got 3 or more stars. I still typed everything I could remember, often using the photos as a starting point. I would also copy and paste my Live Journal and/or blog posts, because S didn’t have Internet access.

When we adopted Cassie, I realized that sending every photo was not economically feasible. When I had been ordering all of the photos for S, I had photo processing bills at or above $100 per month. Usually, that was just photos for S and for us, not for anyone else. I would order pictures for everyone else at Christmas time, resulting in a huge bill in the middle of the season of huge bills, as well as sorting and captioning photos from an entire year. Oh yeah. Did I mention that I at least write the date on the back of every photo? I usually write a caption too, explaining who the people are, or what’s going on, or why I chose that particular picture.

I also knew that sending updates whenever I felt like it wasn’t fair to Laine. I agreed to every two months for the first year. I thought I could handle that. I also figured that, as long as I was sending updates to Laine every two months, I should send updates to S every two months. In January, I added Cassie’s birth father to list of people getting updates. At that point, the people receiving regular updates included: S, S’s mom “Greta”, Laine, Harris, GG, and Grandma Sandy and Grandpa Clyde. I also ordered pictures to just give to Grandpa Bob and Great Grandma. I also started ordering the photos to be saved to send with Christmas cards to various relatives (Aunt Pam, Aunt Lolo, Auntie Ann, and so on).

I set myself a limit: up to 30 pictures per month per birth parent, no more, sometimes a few less. Sandy and Clyde asked for no more than 10 per month, and I try to adhere to that, though it’s been hard. For GG, I usually order about 5-10 per month. Grandpa Bob and Great Grandma get photos that they’re in, plus the very best photos. Greta gets the best photos of Jackson.

I believe I’ve mentioned that I am always late with updates. I think how I do them is a big part of the reason why.

I take about 300 pictures per month. I have to edit a lot of them (cropping, mostly) and decide which ones to send. Because I have so many people, I have a spreadsheet to track who gets which photos (listed by file name with a brief description of each, so I can tell what’s what) , how many each person is getting, and how many of each photo to order. After I order the photos and receive them, I write on the back of each one and sort them into piles of who gets what. From there, I write the letters.

Each person gets a letter. Laine’s and Harris’s have the same basic information in them, obviously, but I do ask questions about their families and try to call out things that I think each will like. S’s letter is heavy on Jackson, light on Cassie. Greta gets a shorter version of S’s letter. GG  gets an amalgamation of the letters that I send to the birth parents, in larger type. Sandy and Clyde probably get the shortest letter, because we Skype with them weekly. The birth parent letters are always more than 5 pages long. Usually, they’re about 9-10.

At this point, I’m doing seasonal, or quarterly updates. I order about 300-400 pictures per quarter. Most of the time, I use Snapfish, but only if they have free shipping. If they don’t, then I use Costco. However, I still have to order some pics from Snapfish, or I have print out some pics, because they’re the digital camera size, not true 4 x 6. Blah. My monthly photo bill is only about $20-30.

So, why do I feel guilty about my updates? Because I’m always late. A number of commentators on Ariel’s blog post wrote about how rude adoptive parents are when they don’t send updates on time. And I get that. It is rude to say “I’ll send you updates every X months” and then have it be one or two months later by the time they actually get out the door. On the other hand, I know I try to do my best to update everyone in a timely fashion. I don’t do “quick updates.” I do serious, this is our child’s life updates. And I don’t just send a few pictures. I send practically one photo for every day. S once said that she has more photos of Jackson than she does of her three other kids combined.

Maybe I go overboard. I just don’t want to miss anything important. I’ve also said that they can call, text, or email me and ask for pictures whenever they want. Both Laine and Harris have taken me up on this. Harris once asked me to snap a pic right then and send it. So I did. I don’t know if it was a test or something, as it was a little odd, but it didn’t cost me anything.

I am supposed to have online albums for them to see. I was really good about putting them up monthly last year. I have not been so good about that this year. That is a problem, and I will try to be better about that, especially now that everyone has Internet access. (Yay S!)

So that, dear readers, is how I do updates. I’m not saying it’s the best way, but it is my way. If you’re an adoptive parent, how do you do updates? If you’re a birth parent or adoptee, what do you think of my way? If you’re someone else, what do you think of the situation in Syria? Because I don’t even understand what’s going on there.

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13 thoughts on “How I Do Updates

  1. No comment on Syria.

    The first two years, I sent updates anytime I could. Recently, I declared that I would send them quarterly (Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct). That way, they knew when I would send them and I could schedule it in my calendar. I save pictures to an online photo store where I type the date and a small description of the event. I can save these up throughout the quarter then send them all at once directly to them instead of being sent to me to sort. Also by doing this by quarter, I know which pictures I’ve sent. I send generally a 2 page update, mostly following the pictures and including a few cute things my daughter has said/done. I told them this won’t mean that I won’t contact them inbetween updates, I would just only do the pictures/long letter on a quarterly basis.

    I get an update from some of the extended bio-family, but hardly anything from the birth mother. I just use the feedback from the extended family to include in future updates. I plan to send an email to the birth mother soon to find out some information on family history.

    As far as pictures, I only send a few, mostly around 10 each quarter. I’m not going to comment on how you do updates as it is a very personal choice and if you have the time to do it the way you are, then more power to you. But if you feel it is not working, you might want to look into scheduling the update and scaling back the letter and pictures.

    • I think I have to add we adopted through foster care and do not have a post adoption contact agreement. It’s not enforcable in my state. I decided to maintain contact anyway as I know my daughter will have questions that I cannot answer as she grows older.

    • “Time” is relative, I guess. I’d feel like I was gypping them if I didn’t give them more pictures, seeing as I take so many. Once Cassie is older, I’m sure I’ll take less, so the number of good pics will naturally decrease. I wish I could have Snapfish print on the back of the pictures for me. That would help immensely. Maybe I’ll suggest it as a feature…

  2. There are two reasons, to me, that my son’s parents being late with an update felt unacceptably rude. (And besides, they have not been late yet, the agency just sucks at doing things on time. So good for them!) One, they send an update every 6 months. That’s not very often to remember to do something. Two, they don’t have any other contact with me. If they shot me an email or text letting me know I have to wait, that’s different. It’s the feeling of waiting and not knowing that’s awful. You were one of several people who told me it’s silly to think they will close the adoption. Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t feel silly to me. My contact with them is on a very thin string. Not everyone is the same–just because closing off contact is something you would never do predicts nothing about their actions.

    • Ariel, I never meant to offend you. I know our situations are different. Your post, and specifically the comments to it, just reminded me that I had been wanting to write about updates. Maybe I shouldn’t have linked the two, but I do think your blog is very much worth reading. I’m sorry if I insulted you.
      I never said you were silly to think your son’s APs would close the adoption. I just asked *why* you thought that, because, from what you’ve posted on your blog (and I realize that probably isn’t the whole story), it seems like they might be open to more contact. I don’t think it’s silly for you to worry; I just wonder why you do. That’s all.
      I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.

      • You’re totally fine! I was never offended. I kind of say things very plainly, but I promise I meant them in the warmest way.

        I can’t speak for them since I haven’t asked and I know I could reach out on my end, but it should be their call. They obviously want to go through the agency and have that distance. I think the tone in their updates can be endlessly interpreted, which I don’t want to do. I think she was simply being friendly and conversational, and trying not to sound awkward.

  3. I was getting ready for work this morning and couldn’t comment on the rest of this post. Your updating system sounds complex, but that’s awesome you remember the rest of the family with your spreadsheets! I don’t blame you for being late, yeesh.

    • I’m glad I didn’t offend you.
      I make lots of things more complicated than they need to be. I have a friend who is always taking pictures (much like I am). Her husband said, “J’s a picture taker, not a picture giver.” I strive to be a picture giver. Hence, the insane updating system that means I’m always late.

  4. I write quarterly which was our original agreement. I write one letter that I tweak for D and J. I then typically write one to Ds parents and one for Baby Girls birth sister. I send a couple-30 pics depending on who they are w D getting the most pictures. I try about every other weak to just get I. The computer and add to the outline of the letter so when I go to write it I don’t forget things and it goes faster. I try to tell them in the last letter when I plan to write next. Jan and April I tend to write later in the month while July and oct on the start of the month.

    I stunk at filling in her baby book but she will always have these letters. I hope they are as special to her as they are for her birth family.

    Oh and I was very late once to the point of feeling bad about it. I am acknowledged the late arrival and D responded that she understood life could get crazy and appreciated the update. The next one (about a month later was on time!)

    • I tip my hat to you, my lady! 🙂 You are a better person than I.
      Although, Jackson does have a complete baby book. Cassie doesn’t. Yet. I stress the *yet*. I will get around to it!

      • I think doing it just a little at a time keeps me on task and not overwhelmed this I can get it out generally on time. Giving them a date also I feel gives me a hard deadline. I responded on my phone and I think that got lost in the poor auto correct. I write just a sentence or two so when I sit down to write I already have the outline. I also don’t write a letter for each birth parent the major content is the same except for maybe one or two paragraphs. I now date each picture by month and year but don’t caption them. Most major events I write about so I figured I was redundant w the captions. You are way better w taking pictures then I am! I think as long as it seems to work for us, our kids and birth parents that’s really what counts. Have you ever asked their birthfamily what they thought of frequency and your perceptions?

  5. Ever thought of sending a photobook instead of just photos? That way you can put dates and captions, and you can put four of five pictures on one page of those events that there are just too many cute photos to not send all of them but too many cute photos that it would be too expensive to send all of them? Plus, photo books are great for sticking on the shelf and always knowing where they are, and they’re so nice and easy to just pull out and show to friends/family. I agreed to once a year contact with our kids’ bio family, but since I told them they could call any time, we usually end up doing phone calls every other month (obviously mine are older than yours and since it was via foster care they have a relationship that yours don’t have – I’m not saying you should do phone calls!), and then I send pictures about every other phone call. I have the kids write letters and I add my letter in with that. Then I just usually have the photos send straight to their home from Walmart or whichever online site I’m buying from. Saves me from having to pay for printing and shipping separately or twice. I did a photobook once as well, and she loved it. I just had it shipped straight to their home. If you are interested, I use Artscow.com – their prices with the free shipping sales are the best I’ve found. They also do prints fairly reasonably. I think Snapfish does photobooks too. Might be something you’d like to look into. One advantage to that is that you can be creating the book as you go, and then when it is time for that update you just complete it and have it published! Anyway, wasn’t even thinking of commenting but I love photobooks so much…it’s the only way pictures come into my house anymore – the traditional ones just get lost and never looked at here!

    • I find that the photo sites, like Shutterfly and Snapfish, don’t offer the flexibility and the ability to customize as much as I like. Great-Grandma (GG) gets a photo book that I make using Memory Mixer every year. Last year, I made photo books of Cassie’s “firsts” for her birth parents and grandparents.
      However, maybe I could stop being so darn picky and look into photo books for the birth parents. They might prefer them to loose photos. You make some good points.
      We do phone calls for birthdays, but the time difference and scheduling keeps us from contacting Jackson’s birth family as often as I might like, and Cassie’s birthmother keeps changing numbers and sometimes her phone’s turned off, so I don’t call her as much as I should. I’d love to Skype, but that hasn’t worked out so far.
      I’ve never heard of Artscow, so I’ll look into it. Thanks for the tip!

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