TALKING ABOUT ADOPTION
Many parents struggle with how and when to talk to their children about being adopted. My experience with adoptive parents is that the topic often brings up feelings of anxiety. Parents wonder, “What will I say? What should I say? And what if my child asks questions that I can’t answer?” They worry that the adoption story, and all of the circumstances around it, will be too much for their child to handle emotionally. Many adoptive parents struggle with what information is appropriate share, and at what age.
Because talking to your child about her/his adoption is an important part of their development, I’m suggesting some basic guidelines:
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
All the behaviors we struggle to reconcile, that we find most perplexing and difficult to understand, are signs. The most confusing behaviors emerge because of stress. When they pop up, it’s a signal that triggers have piled up a bit too much and stress is bigger than our tolerance for it. We are, literally, bubbling over. In order to manage the behavior, we need to calm the stress. In my situation, a “swear jar” isn’t going to be enough to curb my single-fingered gesture and choice words for the person who cuts me off on the highway. A lecture on respect for others’ time won’t ensure I never double-book my calendar. Structured meal times are unlikely to remind my body to feel hungry when it isn’t fed. In order to get back in the saddle, the underlying stress will need to be reduced first.
I took the responsibility very seriously all the way through adoption day. The short version is that, as I must always do, I watched them fly and wished them the very best in happiness with the Mom and Dad who must have been made for them.
THE HOLY GRAIL
Flanked by my Mom and one of my best friends (who also happens to be an adoptive Mom), I had the good fortune of attending the screening of “STUCK” last night. (Don’t know it? See the trailer at www.bothendsburning.org). Our conversation afterward was interesting, charged, and thought-provoking. Because I’m indulging myself as an advocate for “my kids” and their parents, I have a few things to say:
NEVER, NEVER ALONE
Because so many families I’ve worked with are enslaved to the search for the “Holy Grail,” my hope is that it that these words will set you free… There is no substitute for human relationship. So, if you are in search of the Holy Grail, the thing that will heal your child and help your family… Permission granted to abort the mission. As a lifelong learner, navigating the complex maze that is loving a child with a history of trauma, you will need to continue to be open to exploring which tools may be most helpful to your family.
After losing a friend and colleague in a terrible accident on July 19, 2011, the last year had been filled with a great deal of learning and grieving and missing and waiting… and wondering. Much of it was very painful and lonely. And most of it was awfully dark. With the anniversary upon me of Laurel and the Ladybugs’ flight Heavenward, I was eager reclaim the light and love that felt like my friend.
SHOULD WE ADOPT?
Dr. Perry once said the most significant trauma a human being can withstand is separation from the birth mother. Even so, life with an attuned and loving cradle care provider may very well be in a child’s better long-term interest than being in the care of a tortured birth parent trying to make heads or tails of the circumstances. I can concede that, but is does not negate the trauma that occurred. So I boiled it down to this: The difference between tribal living and cradle care is significant because of the puzzle piece named trauma that precedes cradle care.
"I JUST DON'T KNOW...
“Should we adopt?” Families who can read through this without balking… who are willing to have the conversations… are resting on that springboard to, “Yes! Let’s!” And in the meantime, if there are sticking points, it’s not necessarily a sign to close the adoption door, but perhaps an indicator that more conversation and education are in order. Let the question-wrestling begin so kids can come home!
This is conversation is all to common with adoptive parents. They find their best intentions and most well-planned efforts at guiding their children sometimes shrink in the face of a strong-willed child. our child’s determination is a banner over his head, marking him a survivor. ”Our” children have often suffered trauma we can only begin to imagine. The very determination that can bring you to your knees (or to tears… or to your own boiling point) is probably a big part of the reason your child survived his private hell. Instead of being feared or loathed, we should encourage one another to re-frame our view of that determination… It is something to be celebrated and revered. That kind of determination keeps people alive.