June brings to mind Brides, grads and dads. All are well worth celebrating. This week our blog will focus on graduations in the adoptive family context. Many grads finish school and turn eighteen in the same year. That creates a double whammy of stress. For kids with loss and separation histories, these changes and pressures resonate within the family and can create substantial dissonance.
Many factors impinge on this powder keg. By nature, parents are loathe to see their child hurt. They may find it difficult to let go, to trust that their child can survive and learn from their inevitable mistakes. Part of them may mourn the loss of their central role in their child’s life. Having had to fight so hard to become parents, it became the consuming desire of our hearts and the highlight of our lives. This commitment defined us for so long, we wonder who we will be now that the “active” period of our parenting is complete. We are simultaneously thrilled to be out of a job and in need of a new compass by which to set our sails. Another part of us may fear, suspect or even be convinced that our child is not ready to be the captain of his own ship.
Teens themselves may be plagued with both self-doubt and bravado which makes for a seesaw ride of emotions. They yearn for freedom but still need the security of structure and boundaries. Like all teens, our children share the same ache for independence and separation from parental oversight. At the same they must face the subconscious noise of separation anxiety. They insist on the independence for which they worked and to which they feel fully entitled. And simultaneously fear it. Graduation unfolds against an emotional backdrop that becomes dysregulated by resistance and fear of these changes. Increasingly, they look to peers for acceptance, guidance and connection. This creates potential conflict within themselves and within the family. Child and parent push and pull. Both are eager for the teen to become successfully independent, to fledge the family nest and soar. And both have their own doubts, fears, hesitations and needs.
AQ* (Adoption-attuned awareness) provides a compass to guide decisions and responses. They remember to view behavior as communication and become conscious of any conflicted emotions that may color interactions. Notice when any of your own “stuff” gets triggered by their words or choices. Put on an “emotional flak jacket" that allows you to stay out of reaction and remain supportive of their struggles.
Trauma, grief and loss issues may mean many of our kids’ emotional ages do not match their chronological ages. Hang on to that awareness so that you can remain the stabilizing anchor that keeps them from crashing on the hidden rocks of life. Find ways to support and reinforce competency in your child. Help them and yourself to update your internal views so that it reflects who they have grown to be. Our belief in them inspires their belief in themselves.
What do your children see reflected in your eyes?