Becoming a parent is one of the most fulfilling and exciting changes that happen in a lifetime. Becoming an adoptive parent just adds one more layer to the change. Parenthood offers unique challenges, and a completely different lifestyle over not having children. Parenthood in an adoptive family adds a few more unique challenges, and yes … even unique joys. Let’s talk about some of these.
Parenting An Adopted Child Guide
We all could use a little help sometimes.
To other people, they may see your child as “not really yours.” But your heart doesn’t differentiate between biology and adoption. Remember that it doesn’t matter what others think, what they say, or how they feel about your family. What matters is how you and your child feel and think about the relationship. So from the time your child enters your family, if you believe s/he is yours, s/he will believe so too. This doesn’t mean ignoring the fact that you’ve adopted your child. Acknowledgement is important (we’ll talk about that later). It just means that your child will feel secure in your family if you really believe s/he is yours and you are his/hers.
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If “adoption” is hush-hush, or a word to avoid, your child will feel embarrassed and ashamed of being adopted. The impact of this will grow over time and embarrassment and shame will infiltrate many aspects of your child’s life. As with everything, your child will take on your feelings. So when it comes to the topic of adoption, talk about it! Listen to your child talk about it. Remember that as time passes, your child’s thoughts and feelings about adoption will likely change. As that happens, keep communication open. This may mean that you will need to begin the topic, or at least be aware if you think there’s some hinting at wanting to talk.
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It’s a hard fact for some of us to accept, but our adopted children wouldn’t be ours if they hadn’t suffered some amount of loss. Sometimes the loss is coupled with trauma. So remember this, as the years go by. There may be irrational behavior - thoughts and feelings that your child can’t even understand. When you remember there’s some pain that may not have been exposed and dealt with, it will help you with your patience. If the behavior escalates you may need to seek professional help for your child and maybe for yourself. Again, there is no shame in needing help for handling abandonment issues, traumatic pasts, or anything else that is confusing. If you don’t have biological children, you may not be able to tell what is normal childhood brattiness and what is behavior related to early trauma. Consider joining online support groups or talking to others who have adopted.
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We all question ourselves - especially during tough times. But if your instinct tells you that your child is acting out because she’s overly tired, then that’s probably right. If there’s a nagging feeling that there’s something going on that could use an outside opinion, seek that opinion. Trust yourself. Being your child’s parent entitles you to a special connection and an understanding that others may not be privy to.
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If you’re in a transracial adoption, or if your child has come from a foreign country, or if your child has special needs, s/he may not feel completely connected to those in your neighborhood, in your church group, the play group, or even in your family. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, or that you don’t love him or her enough. It may just mean that your child needs to see that there are others like them. So look for international adoptee play groups, or a church that is focused on a particular ethnicity. Anything that will bring your child in contact with others like him or her. This will not pull your child away from you, but will help create a feeling of security, thus strengthening family bonds too.
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This may mean watching Disney movies with the intent of finding commonality between the characters and your child. Sometimes it’s easier to get into your child’s mind when they share feelings that they think the character in the movie may have. This can lead to more open discussion about their feelings. Or when you’re reading together, talk about the situations that the book heroes find themselves in. How are those situations like the experiences your child is having in school? Some things may seem like a stretch, but you’ll be surprised at how often getting your child to talk about pretend characters can bring them to talking about themselves.
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Decide early-on, with the birth parents, how your child will refer to them. Will his birth mother be called by her first name, or something else? What about the grandparents? Remember that having more who love her in her life is a good thing, then allow them to be part of your life too. Of course, keeping in mind what is best for your child, at all stages of her life, is paramount. Once parameters have been set regarding the degree of openness you’ll have in the adoption triad, move forward, sure to keep the promises you make. But remember - as your child grows and changes, there may need to be changes made in the triad relationship. So be flexible and always communicate.
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An adopted child in a closed adoption still needs to know he is loved by those who gave him life. Share (age appropriately) the information you have about her birth family. If you have no information, have open talks, throughout her life, about how you imagine her birth mother feels about her. Maybe even encourage him to write letters to his birth parents once a year and keep them in a journal. Who knows? The time may come when there is a reunion and those letters would priceless.
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This is a hard one to remember as adults, but it’s important. Because we can’t really know what our child is feeling (or anyone else, for that matter) it’s important to encourage expression of emotions. Teach them that the emotion isn’t bad, it’s how they act on the emotion that is good or bad. So teaching appropriate responses to how they are feeling is what is important. As you do this, some of those feelings that your child carries (and doesn’t know why) from birth will be easier to work through - because he is acknowledging that he has them rather than being taught to hide them.
Keeping Your Cool When Your Child Is Melting Down
Why Acknowledging The Hard Parts of Adoption Is Important
There will be many (even strangers) who will ask questions about your child when your child is present. It’s an ignorant thing to do, really. But almost never is it done out of malice. So how do you answer questions about your child’s parentage, or her previous abuse, or his ethnicity? Well, that’s a personal thing. But you should absolutely be prepared for this before it happens. Because how you respond (or don’t) will affect your child. Your adopted child will learn that your allegiance is to him or her. They will learn that they are the most important to you. All this because of your cool, calm responses - whatever they may be. This will also help your child to make his/her own responses when peers talk about adoption.
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If you’re in a closed adoption, there is a good chance that the time will come when your child wants to search out his/her beginnings. This may lead to a reunion. So how you approach discussion about your child’s early life throughout the years will have an effect on how they will feel about talking to you about searching. As you keep discussions open, your child will feel confident that s/he will have your support. Confidence in your own standing with your child will help as you seek out this other part of his or her life. Reminding yourself of that standing will help prevent feelings that would create a negative reunion.
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Denalee is an adoptive mother, a motivational speaker, a writer and a lover of life. She and her husband have adventured through the hills and valleys of life to find that the highest highs and the lowest lows are equally fuflilling. Book Denalee to speak to your group, or find Denalee's writings, including her books on her website at DenaleeChapman.com.
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