Teens Dealing with Adoption

Navigating the waters of a transracial family.

Dreena Melea Tischler April 29, 2014
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My new job gives me the opportunity to educate people about adoption. Most folks don’t know much at all about the process, particularly about how adoption plays out in the teen years. Both our older girls have birth siblings they’ve never met. Pepper has 5 half siblings (four living), and Sunshine has one half sibling. Pepper has met the youngest of her group, the only girl.

I know we say it all the time, but it bears repeating: Grief is a natural part of adoption. At different ages in the adopted person’s life, they grieve anew. Being adopted is hard on both my teens.

In Pepper’s case, the loss of her birth mother several years ago threw her for a loop. That was the impetus for reaching out to her sister. At times of transition, the grief becomes more intense; she is a senior this year, and I am certain that her high-school graduation will have some bittersweet notes for her.

Sunshine (15) has had a tumultuous relationship with her birth mother, and at this time, does not want contact from her. What she perceives as rejection from her birth mother has been extremely painful to her. At 13, the last time she saw her, her birth mother was very critical of her hair, her mannerisms, and us. At that age, Sunshine was looking for someone to tell her she was beautiful and amazing; it has all been very painful. (Please note: I do not actually know what her birth mother said to her, but like most young teens, all she was able to hear at that stage was the criticism.)

All of these “normal” adoption/teen issues are exacerbated by the interracial nature of our family. My husband and I are white, while Pepper is biracial (African American and white) and Sunshine is African American. When we adopted each of them, we knew their ethnic and cultural identities did not matter to us; we didn’t need or want carbon copies of ourselves. We were willing to learn about their cultures and work with them to build relationships to their cultural backgrounds.

That said, had we realized how very challenging this would be for them, we might not have marched into this arena so boldly. There are things we’ve done well and things we’ve done terribly, but we’ve never given up. It is harder than one might think, and I hope we have learned along the way. However, at the time each was born, there were no African American families on the roles of our agency, so these babies were going to a white family. Would another family have handled these issues better? There is no way to know, but I hope and pray we are doing all we can. (Incidentally, our younger kids are white and African American with a Hispanic cultural background).

I say all this not to scare anyone, but to encourage you. Most teens have “issues.” If you are adopted, that tends to be a focus for the issues. If you are adopted by another racial or ethnic group, that can be a factor, too. All these things can be worked through with love, which sometimes looks like open-heartedness or open-mindedness.

I’d love to hear how other families are supporting their teens through these struggles.

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Dreena Melea Tischler


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