To prepare for National Adoption Month, last week we discussed the importance of parenting with a "High AQ"--parenting with adoption attunement. To recap, we stipulated that love is the beginning of adoptive family success. We also asserted that love is not “enough” to heal a child’s losses in adoption. Adopted parents need to understand attachment, bonding, trauma and how these factors must shape parenting strategies with an adoption spin.
Modeling healthy boundaries-Boundaries—between the poles of “Don’t fence me in!” and “Don’t walk all over me!” lays much ground. Boundaries create a framework of perceived safety, define the edges of personal space from the space of others. This creates a structure that provides stability for all. Everyone needs to be skilled at setting holding and honoring healthy boundaries. Proficiency takes time and practice. Many adults struggle their entire lives to master boundary setting. Thus, it is essential for kids to be exposed to many examples of healthy boundaries in action. This allows them to learn by intention instead of by accident.
Parents act as the primary models. As kids watch, they will distill their own templates, beliefs and, assumptions about boundaries. Kids are notorious for drawing broad conclusions from tiny bits of evidence. This often leads to inaccurate conclusions. To ensure that kids have the information they need, hold specific conversations that address boundary-setting. Share your thought process so they can learn the process step-by-step. Demonstrate by example how to set and hold boundaries in various settings. Always assert them with confidence and calm. Teach them that it is okay to require others to respect their personal boundaries
Educating family, friends and teachers on adoption- Adoption education—why is it necessary? The process of adoption is complicated and lengthy. Along the way, prospective adopters replace adoption stereotypes with sound adoption knowledge. It is up to you to bring family and friends up to speed. Provide them the information they need to understand and nurture adoption. One excellent book that adopters can use to educate family is “Adoption is a Family Affair,” by adoption expert Patricia Irwin Johnston. Read our review People will ask intrusive questions, make ignorant comments, and feel free to disparage birthparents. Often this will occur in front of the children! It is essential to speak up.
School can present challenges to adopted children: learning difficulties, processing disorders, trauma-based behaviors, or awkward assignments (“family tree,” baby pictures, tracing genetic traits, etc.) It is always better to educate teachers and schools so they can be part of the team that supports your child. Without understanding the elements of the issue, they cannot design appropriate responses. Each person you educate helps to make the world a more adoption-supportive place.
Remembering that a child’s story belongs to him
It is NOT for parents to share. Frequently, in an effort to create empathy, parents share information that is better kept private. Refrain from mentioning, drug abuse alcoholism, abuse etc. It will color the way people look at your children. Whether with pity or prejudice, this creates a barrier in relationships. Share general concepts about the issues adoptees must confront. Friends and family can support without specifically knowing any tragic/sordid details.
They are not obligated to share it with others. Help kids learn to treat the pieces of their story as private—not shameful—but private. Information, once shared, cannot be retrieved. Friendships can change on a dime leaving kids vulnerable to bullying and teasing about the facts they previously shared.
Recognizing that adoption is a family experience-When adoption occurs, it creates an adoptive FAMILY. Everyone is reshaped and changed by it. Parents must learn how to best nurture their child. They become thoroughly educated on adoptive parenting and recognize that it is equal to, different from but not inferior to parenting one’s birth children. It means accepting the reality that our children have a history that began before they joined the family and will continue to be part of them forever.
Encouraging playfulness and good humor as a family value- It is well-known that laughter heals. In families, joy and playfulness are the essential glue that knits parents and children together and creates the bonds of connectivity. Without this warmth, caring and fun, relationships deteriorate and become more like strangers sharing the same space instead of family members loving and supporting one another. Kids absorb the values, habits and guidance of those whom they respect and by whom they feel nurtured and respected. If the only dynamic is discipline-based, confrontational, and negative, kids will check out. Remember to separate children’s behavior from who they are. They always deserve love; they do not need to earn it. Privileges are for learning. Love is unconditional.
Integrating a child’s birth heritage Once a child joins a family, his heritage is grafted to the entire family. It is not something that pertains only to him; the entire family honors and lives it. Beyond an occasional ethnic meal, trip to an exotic restaurant or occasional reading of a cultural fairy tale, families must immerse themselves as deeply as if it were their own natal heritage.
Transracial families must actively develop friendships and expose kids to mentors that share their race. Parents must foster a spirit of curiosity and learning around race. Recognize that a transracially adopted child’s experience as he journeys through the world will differ from yours. Moreover, because of the reality of white privilege, it will vary when you are with him and when he is on his own. Validate his experiences. Help him develop skills and tools to successfully navigate his challenges. Have conversations that empower. Don’t simply fan angry feelings. Avoid the fantasy of “color blindness.” Instead, foster color appreciation. Treating race as if it were irrelevant sends the hurtful message that it lacks value.
Parents and children must walk in one another’s worlds and share the experience of being the minority. Teach kids how to handle or prejudice. Explain your coping strategies. Be straightforward about the challenges. Acknowledge the reality of discrimination and work together to prepare them to face a world that notices the skin we are in.
Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding.
Read Adoption-attuned book reviews
by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog,
"Writing to Connect"