Building families through adoption forges strong, loving bonds. It also realigns the life trajectories of entire families and fractures biological ties. Regardless of the degree of openness, adoption generates complicated tangles of atypical* relationships (* in the sense that these relationships do not exist within families built solely through biological ties.)
Raising children, most of us learn, is a team sport. Parenting is too important and too challenging to tackle without proper support resources. Adoption delivers experiences, needs and challenges to which our bio counterparts have no match. This impedes their ability to comprehend what we face and to offer appropriate solutions. How can we help our children handle the task of braiding together their dual heritage and all that task entails? Adoptive families eventually learn that the parenting templates which guided our own childhoods do not suit the needs of our adoptive families. It's the equivalent of tossing a life ring when only a life boat will adequately serve.
So where do adoptive families find shoulders upon which we can lean? Family, friends and professionals who have little or no understanding of adoption realities often offer advice that misaligns with our needs as an adoptive family. As the saying goes, a bad marriage is worse than no marriage; so too, poor advice that is not Adoption-attuned* is worse than no advice at all. this is true whether the advice is well-intended or whether it comes from family, friend of professional. A commitment to Adoption-attunement must guide everyone. In the absence of that mindset, any suggestions are apt to create more harm than good.
How does this look in action? Imagine your ten-year-old child formerly comfortable with his adoption, is just beginning to understand the deep losses which adoption created. His teacher reports that he's struggling to stay focused at school. Your friends suggest you "Impose consequences for his choices: limit TV time, make him do extra homework or miss out on some weekend activity." The teacher agrees that you should drop the hammer and put pressure on him to buckle down. Your parents also think "Johnny" is being lazy.
When you listen to all this advice, an internal voice whispers a warning that warns you not to listen because their suggestions will further stress your child when he is already feeling vulnerable. Your intuition tells you that such an approach will shift Johnny's attention from both his schoolwork and his "adoption work" to build resentment and anger towards you and the perceived unfairness of your punishing him. Still, you feel you must do something. But what? How will you respond?
Adoption-attunement guides you to a solution. First, you make a concerted effort to reinforce your relationship connection. Second, drop "seeds" that might trigger adoption-related conversations. Even if Johnny doesn't react, you've reminded him that adoption is a welcome and safe topic. Model an approach he might follow. In either direct conversation with him or, in a conversation with your partner that he will overhear--mention that you are working through a relationship at work. Without betraying the privacy of those involved, allude to some of the strategies you use. (That's a great model of both loyalty and respect for others.)
Talk about the complicated feelings that the circumstance raises and how you are addressing them. Emphasize that you are confident you will solve the problem. Even if your specific techniques do not resonate with your child, he will hear that it is possible to have conflict, ambivalence and emotional messiness and still work it out. That is a great life lesson for him to learn.
Most kids will stonewall when directly confronted with questions like, "Why did you do that" or, "What the heck is going on?" Try empathy. Focus on reassuring him that you believe he can overcome the situation. Say something like, "School has always been important to you. I'm guessing something must be bugging you. Remember I'm willing to help you work it out." Although it is counter-intuitive, try to follow this with an invitation to share some fun together. Fun is the building material of relationship. It strengthens the connection. When kids feel connected, they feel safer sharing their "hard stuff" and they care about aligning with the values parents espouse.
Perhaps I'm being presumptuous but I believe for adoptive families, Adoption-attunement merits a place in the pyramid of needs. This attunement is primal, constant and evolving. Like the basic need for food and water, the need for adoption-attunement is life-long, life-giving and vital.
We, at GIFT Family Services” believe strongly in adoption-attuned parenting. If you would like more information regarding this topic, feel free to contact one of our GIFT members. Adoption-attuned support is just a phone call away.