In a perfect world, an adopted child would join their new family, transition seamlessly, and life would continue in a peaceful and calm manner. (Heck, in a perfect world, children would never lose their first families, but that’s another topic.) We all know that we don’t live in a perfect world and our adopted children come to us with past histories which involve trauma and loss. While some children are quite resilient and rise above these hard beginnings seemingly without any difficulties, this is not the case for every adopted child. And some children have a much more difficult time of it than others. If you are the parent of a child who has had difficulties, you know what a difficult and lonely road it can be.
For me, having someone who understood what we were facing and was willing to hold my hand and listen to me cry was invaluable to successfully navigating these difficulties. Perhaps that is why I feel so compelled to reach out to other adoptive parents with overtures of support. When you are in the middle of unexpected battles, is it so encouraging to know you are not alone. More often than not, these effort have been met with thankfulness that someone cared and understood and friendships were made. Every now and then, though, I have encountered someone who was not only unwelcoming to my overtures, but seemed outright hostile to them.
As much as we want to, we cannot force our help and support on someone. This is especially true if that person has yet to really work through what has happened to their family; to fully accept that trauma has had a significant impact on their child and that time is not going to fix things. I’ve been in that place and know that you have to come to the realization yourself that things aren’t getting better. Plus, being a bit reactionary by nature, I would be more likely to work harder at convincing myself that things were fine, if I felt that someone else was telling me otherwise.
So if you can’t force someone to accept your offer of support, what can you do?
1. Share your own story. By sharing your own struggles and keeping the emphasis on your feelings and your struggles, you could open a door to someone else admitting theirs. While things have improved markedly in the past few years, there is still the pervading thought that adoption should always have a fairy tale ending. If a person is secretly struggling with a child, there is a very good chance that they are also struggling with a lot of guilt as well. Hearing other people’s struggles can help alleviate some of that guilt because your story can help normalize them. Plus, it can make you a sympathetic person, one who could understand and be trusted with hard things when someone is finally willing to admit things are hard.
2. Don’t give up. Even if someone is resistant to accepting help and support, that doesn’t mean that you should completely write them off. Be a friend, dropping the adoption discussion for a while if that seems too touchy. Everyone can use a friend and you can still be there for someone even if they cannot discuss some of the hard stuff in their life.
3. Pray for them. If you are of a faith that prays, then this is best thing you can do. If you have a child affected by trauma, you have a pretty good idea of what this person needs.
4. Share some non-adoption-related resources. If you can share things as long as they are not adoption-related, these books could be very helpful. There are quite a few parenting resources out there that are compatible with helping to heal a child who has experienced trauma. A few titles to start with. Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment by Daniel Hughes, Jonathan Baylin, and Daniel Siegal, explains what is happening in our brains when we connect with our children and how to connect better. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson, discusses emotional intelligence. The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross Greene. Many, if not all, children who have difficulties due to trauma are explosive and inflexible and easily frustrated. This book was a game-changer for us, as it gave us new ways to think about what we were seeing in our son and new ways to address his behavior. It is actually the first book I recommend to any parent when I hear they are continually butting heads with their child.
5. Know when your advances just aren’t welcome. Sometimes no matter what you do, someone may not want your help, support, or even friendship. Don’t burn any bridges, but give yourself permission to back off. You’ve done what you could and that person knows you have offered. You can continue to be friendly, but you don’t need to force the relationship. You can still pray for that person, though, maybe adding that the right person who can help will come into their lives.
As much as we want to help others when we are more than aware of how difficult the road in adoption can be, we are not always in a position to. We need to mindful of where the other person is in their journey and not compound their difficulties with help that cannot be accepted. What we can do is be open and honest as well as available for when the opportunity presents itself and also be humble enough to realize that providing help may never be our privilege.