Dear and Brad and Angie and Madge:
I think it’s great you have chosen to adopt children who needed homes.
But I want to make sure you know what you are getting into, so you can do it right.
Here are some pointers on adoption.
First of all – please do not fall for the myths. An adopted child doesn’t come from “heaven” or a baby store – he is someone else’s child. That birth parent – usually due to terrible circumstances – has done the unthinkable, and abandoned his child to someone else’s care.
That is a tragedy. In an ideal world, no child would ever have to be taken from his parents.
Your adopted child will feel this separation at a cellular level – even if he was removed from his parents at birth. He will live with the pain of that trauma his entire life. He will want to understand what happened, and he will have fantasies about his birth parents, and feelings about them, including anger at them for what they’ve done, and fear about what it might say about him, and his ability to find the love he needs. This is normal and natural and unavoidable. It is your child’s right to have these thoughts and feelings.
Your job isn’t to erase your child’s trauma. It is to help him process it, and to support him through a recovery into a new life with you.
Please don’t ever utter that old line about adopted children being special because they are chosen. That’s nonsense – and it minimizes the reality of an adopted child’s pain. Adopted children are special because their parents gave them up. They are wounded, traumatized children who need extra care because of what they’ve been through.
As you process your child’s trauma with him, please do your best to be honest and open. Never, ever lie to him. If you can include his birth parents in his life, please do. He has a right to know the truth, and to try to maintain whatever relationship he can with the parents who brought him into this world and share his genetic material. If you feel threatened by the presence of his birth parents, please recognize that this is your problem, not your child’s. Deal with it on your own.
Be aware that adopted children often display two responses to their situation: hyper-compliance and testing behavior.
The hyper-compliant child realizes he’s not with his “real” family, so he plays along, but he doesn’t trust it. He’s on his best behavior because he doesn’t want to receive another shock, and another dislocation. He tries to be everything you want him to be – no trouble at all. Along the way, he may neglect his own needs in his attempts to please you.
The testing child is also distrustful. If his own birth parents disowned him, why should he trust you? So he tests you. If you claim to love him just as much as your birth children, then how will you react when he smashes a toy, or refuses to obey you? He wants to know if your love is real – if it is the truly unconditional love he needs so badly. He may attempt to drive you away in the process of testing your love. There could be some tough times ahead as you struggle to enforce boundaries in a way that communicates love and safety.
Raising a child is never easy. With an adopted child, you’ll have a slightly different task – one laden with unique challenges.
If you do it right, you’ll bring joy to the life of a child who needs you. And a special joy to your own life as well.
The People’s Therapist.