What Adoptive and Foster Parents Can Do When Kids “Out-Stubborn” Them
All my child says when I try to connect with her about adoption is, “You don’t get it.”
Truth be told, parents don’t “get it” because adopted and fostered children look at life in a totally different way.
I used to think that we as adoptees and fostered had this unique view because we are so gifted (haha).
In reality, we look at life through a lens of trauma. Pre-birth trauma and post-birth trauma.
Here are some tips that may help adoptive and foster parents “get it” and gain access to their child’s world.
What will prevent access to your child’s world?
- Avoid the topic of adoption as long as possible. Hope that your child will never ask about his or her past.
- Deny the differences between your adopted child and your biological family. “You are just like us” or “You look just like your daddy” are prime examples.
- Correct any expression of uncomfortable emotions about adoption by accentuating the positive: “Count your blessings” or “You’re so lucky to be adopted; you should be thankful.”
- Pretend your child’s life began on adoption day. Don’t mention her birth or birth family—it will only upset her and you.
- Enforce an unspoken “no talk” rule through your body language. A quivering lip or a clenched jaw speaks volumes.
- Be sure to take offense if your child uses words like “real parents.” Interpret them as a rejection of you rather than an innocent expression of your child’s curiosity.
- Foster silent shame about your child’s need to consider searching for his birth family. Say “Why not let sleeping dogs lie?” or “Let bygones be bygones.”
How to Gain Access:
- Acknowledge the reality of adoption, from day one if you can. When diapering your infant or cuddling your older child in your arms, use adoption language: “I’m so glad we adopted you. I’m so glad you’re ours.” This way, the subject becomes familiar instead of denied.
- Initiate conversation about your child’s pre-adoption perceptions: “Do you ever wonder about your birth mother? Do you ever wonder if you look like her? I wonder about that sometimes.” Or, if you have adopted an older child who spent part of his life with the birth family, you might say: “What was life like for you with your birth mother/birth father? Whenever you want to share your memories with us, we are always ready to listen.”
- Validate the fact that your family has been touched by adoption and has special challenges. The definition of the word “validation” sheds a lot of light on what your child needs: “to substantiate, confirm, to make valid, authenticate, to give official approval to.” One adoptive mother of five says that adoption is a daily topic for her and her children, for adoption impacts their daily lives and is not just a one-time event.
- Create a non-judgmental, safe environment in which your child feels free to express any emotion, thought, or question. Learn to say to your child, “It’s all right to feel as you do. Tell me more about it.”
- Celebrate the differences between your adopted child and your biological family: “Your creativity brings such an added dimension to our family. How blessed we are to have you!”
- Be sensitive to your child’s possible unspoken need for a tangible connection to his biological past. One birth mother I know gave her daughter a silver bank on adoption day—a reminder that she will never be forgotten. On every anniversary of their daughter’s adoption, the adoptive parents put a $1 bill in the bank, telling their daughter that the money is a reminder of the gift of life the birth mother gave to them.
- As your child grows older, respect his need to consider searching for or reconnecting with his birth family someday. Verbalize your support. Even if your child joined your family because of abuse or neglect in his birth home, he may need to reconnect in some way with his first family in order to resolve past trauma. Trust your child’s instincts about what he needs while providing safety and security regardless of the outcome of his journey into his past.
Just FYI, there is a FREE workbook that accompanies the Twenty Things book. It will appear soon on this site as a free download for those that choose to follow the blog.