Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What to do When Your Adoptee Is Struggling With Adoption

It happened unexpectedly.  

One of my kids was focused on a worksheet in class when one of her peers seated next to her pointed to our family picture on the family poster on the wall nearby.  

"Is that your mom?" he asked.

She nodded yes.

He replied, "But she's white."  

My daughter didn't reply.

He continued, "That's weird."

The teacher had overheard the boy and immediately stepped in, telling him he was being rude and told him he owed my child an apology.  

(Read the end of this post to see what we did about this situation)

Sometimes our kids can be minding their own business, and adoption is thrown in their faces, uninvited.  

But that's how adoption goes often, right?  

The adoption conversations, thoughts, questions, and emotions can crop up anytime, anywhere.  They might be external or internal.  They can be positive, negative, or they may just be what they are.  

Sometimes they manifest into your child dramatically concluding they will run away and live with their birth parents.  Sometimes the manifestation is sadness, anger, frustration, or confusion.  Sometimes it's an adoptee fantasy of what their birth family's life is like, or they fill in the gaps of their own adoption story.  Sometimes these feelings and thoughts are fleeting, while other times, they sit and stay awhile.  

And the holidays, birthdays, school breaks, and traumaversaries can be triggering for adoptees.  You might see your child struggling more this time of year (Thanksgiving and Christmas).  

What about the hard seasons?  What is a parent to do?

1:  Review what you know. 

Pull out your copy of The Connected Child, meet up with your adoption support group, talk to your social worker, meet with that wise adoptive-mama friend, adoptee, or birth parent.  Look to the trusted people (your village) and resources you already have in place and are familiar with.   

When something challenging crops up, we often go into anxiety-mode.  When this happens, we are unable to think clearly and often forget what we already know.   This is why the very first thing you should do is pause and ask yourself, "What do I know to be true?  What do I know to be helpful?"  

If you're a person of faith, a great first-step is also to PAUSE and to PRAY.   I've had many help-me-Jesus moments with my kids when they've asked me HARD questions, and I started to internally panic.  When I said a quick prayer for wisdom, I was always granted something helpful.  

2:  Work to figure out what you do not know.

As your child gets older, new (and often surprising) struggles may crop up, leaving you wondering, "Why didn't I learn about this in our adoption training?" and "What do I do now?"   

Again, you are not helpless.  First, you have the foundation of what you already know.   Second, you have the ability to decide to seek additional resources and take action.   

You have to decide, do I channel my time and energy into worrying, or do I use my time and energy to work toward helping my child?  

3:  Find a counselor or other professional.  

Finding an adoption-competent counselor for your family can be one of the best moves you make.   This person serves as support, a sounding board, and a wise encourager.  He or she can point you to resources (books, conferences, other professionals, etc.) that can assist you in parenting your child.  

Some counselors will work with the entire family, while some specialize in just working with adults, teens, or children.  

Note:  I encourage families to do this even if their children are having no obvious issues related to adoption.  Why?  Because being proactive matters.  Don't wait until you're in crisis-mode to seek help.   

4:  Don't beat yourself up and take your child's struggles personally.

Adoptees struggling with adoption happens.

Re-read that for me, will you?

So, knowing this, your job, as your child's parent, isn't to get into an unhealthy cycle of self-blame or defensiveness.  

Your job IS to problem solve and work through feelings with your child.   

This isn't to say you aren't allowed to have your own feelings.  Many of us are "mama bears" and have BIG feelings when our kiddos are struggling.  This can be a powerful motivator to help our children, but it can also cause us to be really hard on ourselves.  If you find that your child's feelings are triggering feelings in you, figure out what you can do to help yourself.  Is it seeing a counselor?  Meeting with friends from the adoption triad?  Reading a book?  


I talked to my daughter about how she felt about what the child said to her.  Then I asked her how she would respond if something like that happened again.  She came up with 2-3 responses.   I told her she could be funny, serious, snarky, whatever!  It's HER adoption and HER personality, so it's HER choice how she responds.  Then we did a few practice conversations in which I played another kid talking to her about her adoption and her family.   I got these ideas from this workbook for adoptees.  

How have you helped your child work through an adoption struggle?

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