Let me preface this by saying I am not a parent of an adopted teen, or a parent in general. I, however, was at one point a teen, and I am adopted. This guide is based off personal experience from myself, my adoptee friends, adoptive parents, and even a couple blogs I found written by adoptive parents.
Just like any advice given from/to parents when it comes to raising kids, there isn’t one right answer, or one strategy that works for every single parent out there. Everyone’s stories are different, and luckily, every human is different, but that means that there will never be a uniform answer as to how to do things “right” when it comes to parenting. That said, here are my two cents:
1. Don’t assume that any issues your adopted teen is facing is strictly stemming from being adopted.
But you also can’t assume that every issue is just from being an adolescent and dealing with the tough, complicated things almost every teen goes through. This first point isn’t very helpful since it will be pretty difficult to tell what a teenage issue is stemming from, especially if they aren’t big into communicating their feelings, or if they aren’t able to figure it out for themselves where the issue is coming from. The key is to be open-minded. Either way, there is no quick fix for issues related to adolescence or adoption, so be available to comfort them, if they want it, but not be too pushy.
2. Your child loves you, and considers you their “real” parent.
If your adopted teen does go through some rough phases and your relationship with them seems to be imploding, especially through high school, and it is very evident that these phases are stemming from them being adopted and having identity issues, that does not mean they don’t love you or do not consider you to be their “real” parent. You are. You most likely raised them from an early age, but even if you adopted them when they were older in age, you are still their real parent. It may not feel like it all the time, especially with the way many teens tend to rebel against their parents or treat them poorly, or if you don’t feel like you have been connecting with them. No matter what they say to you out of hurt, frustration, or anger, they know you’re their real parent too. And they will always think of you that way.
3. Counseling of some sort may be beneficial when your adoptee is younger.
This is some advice I received from multiple adoptive parents I know. It is so easy for a child to act completely “normal” or unaffected by the fact that they are adopted, but there is a good chance they’re not quite emotionally mature enough to understand everything that comes with that. Although many adoptees, especially who are different races or ethnicities from their adoptive families, notice that there is a clear difference between them and their families, quite often, the emotional aspect and questions of “why” and wanting to know their cultural background don’t come until when they’re older. Counseling at a young age may be able to prepare them for differences that they are going to encounter and equip them to not only handle them, but also work through them in a healthy way.
4. Treating your child completely “normal” without putting emphasis on counseling or getting them prepared for something for the future, may work better for you than having your adopted child go to counseling.
I just wanted to play devil’s advocate from my previous point, based off of my own experience and also from things I’ve heard from adoptee friends.
Having your child get counseling when they don’t see anything is wrong may put the idea into their head that they are going to be eventually dealing with something really hard. In addition, it may point out the fact that they are different than others, when there is already so much in society that does that for them. There is also the chance that your child is not in a place where they want to communicate and they are stubborn or refuse to talk about an issue they don’t even realize is present, and that may come back as resentment towards the parent, if they felt forced into that situation.
5. Days of celebration will not be the same for every adoptee.
I read in a blog that an adoptive parent noticed that her daughter seemed to struggle more around the time of her (the daughter’s) birthday. While not every adopted child will go through this, I think it is safe to say that there are some adoptees who will start to seem a bit more sad, depressed, anxious, or negative in general around their birthdays. There will be some adoptees who had to be given that day as their day of birth by a doctor or someone else who just guessed, when in reality, they will never know when it actually was because they knew absolutely nothing about their history. There are others who will think more about their birth mothers around that day, and wonder if they remember them being born and if they think about them, which may ultimately lead to the thought of them being given up.
I know for myself and many that I know, we take great pride in our “gotcha day” (The day someone is officially adopted or, in my case, the day I was picked up from the airport after arriving from South Korea.) It is a reminder of the celebration that adoption should always be, and reminds us, and everyone who is a part of our lives, that joy and goodness has come out of that decision for parents who (for the most part) selflessly made the decision to take us in to be a part of their families.
6. It all comes down to empathy.
In my opinion, the very best thing any parent of an adoptee, especially of a teen, can remember is that empathy goes a long way. We don’t want people to feel sorry for us, ever. If our parents have not been adopted themselves, there is no way they will ever fully understand what we feel or go through. But as long as they try, especially while we are trying to deal with the other crap that comes from being a teen in general, it will only strengthen their relationships. Being empathetic, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the best way to ever learn how to help them. It is not about someone just thinking they know what is best based off of their own experience, but more so trying to do what is best for an individual person, based off of that person’s specific and individual needs.