The Loss around adoption needs to be grieved.
This loss is real and needs validation, expression and acknowledgement or every member of the family will suffer.
"I was given up for adoption when I was 3 weeks old and now
that I am 18, I really want to know why I was given up and what my parents are like and it's really hard to talk to people
about it cause no one understands." High School Senior
"The loss for the adoptee is unlike other losses we have come to expect in a lifetime,
such as death and divorce. Adoption is more pervasive, less socially recognized, and more profound." - Dr. David
M. Brodzinsky and Dr. Marshall D. Schechter in Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self.
Often adopted children appear to be just
"fine" however research has shown that many adoptees have built walls around themselves to keep others from getting
too close. They may hide behind perfectionism, achievement and even self-sufficiency. They often resist what they need and
want most of all. Many adoptees deny their feelings or thoughts about their birth parents out of fear that they adoptive parents
will feel rejected or unappreciated. Maybe on the child's birthday the child may be very quiet and if asked what he/she is
thinking about the child may say nothing at all, when in fact he was thinking about his birth parents. Many adoptees act out
their grief through their behavior which at times can be quite challenging for the family. Some adoptive parents, after years
of struggle may even conclude that they are not cut out to be parents after all leaving the adoptee to once again feel rejected
and to be too much to handle.
Why don't adoptees talk about their grief? They are petrified of rejection. They worry that if someone knew how needy
or hurting they were inside they may be rejected all over again. This is true even in the best adoptive homes and families.
Add the fear of rejection with the fear of hurting their adoptive parents' feelings and often this grief goes underground.
Adopted children, teens and adults can learn how to emotionally connect with others and form intimate and trusting relationships.
However it helps to understand the obstacles and challenges that the adoptee has to navigate through.
These are some hurdles for the adopted adolescent:
Reason for the Adoption: Children need to know their adoption story. They
need to learn that they were not in any way the cause or the reason for their parents' relinquishing them. Some questions
that teens wonder: Why did they give me away? Was there something wrong with me? Did they give me away because they
did drugs or abused me? What does that say about me? Why couldn't they work things out and taken care of me?
Even with shows today like Teen Moms and Secret Life of the American Teenager, they are reminded that many young and struggling
parents figure out a way to make it work to keep their baby, so why couldn't their parents do the same as they see on TV?
This may lead to further issues of feeling rejected and unlovable.
Missing or Difficult Information:
is important as adoptees learn about and deal with their stories, that adults help them with the difficult information. Sometimes
a parent was abusive or neglectful or addicted or even died. Sometimes a parent had a mental illness or was in prison.
Sometimes adopted children don't or can't find out the information because it is unobtainable. Many children want to know
what their birth parents looked like. Many want to know if their birth mother and birth father cared about one another or
were they an accident? It is vital that adoptive parents share this important information with their adopted teens or else
they risk having the teen find out anyway and feeling angry, betrayed and imagining even worse scenarios than the truth. By
the time a child is an adolescent they should know all of the pieces around their adoption that can be shared. This
may be a time to seek the guidance of a therapist or counselor familiar with adoption issues and grief.
Many Adopted Teens Struggle with Feeling Different:
The worst thing that an adolescent can experience is feeling different from
their peers. At no other time in life do people want to fit in, be part of a group as they do in the adolescent years. Being
adopted creates many feelings of being different. Often an adopted child may look differently than their adopted parents as
they may be a different race or culture. The feelings that arise around these differences need to be addressed or it
can affect a child's sense of self worth and security within the adoptive family in a negative way.
The Special Needs of Adopted Children:
- Need to be assured often that the child is welcome and worthy.
- Need to be validated for having a dual heritage,
both biological and adoptive.
- The need to be
taught that adoption is wonderful and also painful, and can present lifelong challenges for everyone involved. The need
to know their adoption story first and then the birth story and about the birth family next. Children need to be prepared
for some hurtful things that other children may say about adoption and about the child being an adoptee.
- Children need to be validated that adoption involves loss and grief. Children
need to be assured that the birth parent's decision to let them go was not about the child but about the parents. Children
need permission to express all of their feelings around the adoption. Children need to deal with their feelings of rejection
and to learn that absence doesn't mean abandonment.
- Adopted children need parents who are able to meet their own emotional needs so that the children can grow up with
healthy role models. They also need parents who are able to face the special needs that adopted children and teens have. Children
need to hear their parents openly discuss their own feelings around the adoption.
- It is crucial for adoptees to be able to grieve their losses so that they can learn to receive and give love to others
which often begins with their adopted parents.
grief for these children include feelings of sorrow, ache, sadness, anguish, despair, and yearning. Often adoptive parents
avoid thinking about the adopted child's grief as the pain is too great to bear to think that these children may feel these
overwhelming feelings. However the only way to healing is through he pain of grief. Once the grief is explored the child can
then, and only then learn to look at the adoption differently and to see that through the adoption he or she learned many
of the most important things in life including love,appreciation and acceptance.
Grief is a normal and natural response to a loss. Adoption involves a lot of loss. There
is loss for the birth parents, of their biological offspring, the dream of what could have been and a real part of themselves.
The adoptive parents may experience the loss of not giving birth to a biological child or to this child, the child whose face
will never really resemble their own. The loss for the adopted child is the the loss of the birth parents, the earliest experience
of belonging and acceptance. To pretend that adoption isn't about loss is to deny the true grief that affects everyone involved.
The Adopted Adolescent:
- One third of adolescents referred for psychotherapy are adopted.
- Yet, only 2% of the population is adopted.
- Adolescence is the peak period for psychiatric referrals in the life of the adopted person.
- Adopted younger children and adults enter psychotherapy at a rate much more
similar to the general population. (Brodzinsky, Smith and Brodzinsky, 1998).
School problems and runaway behavior, common reasons for adolescent referral, are more common in the adopted population
than in any other part of the youth population. This is true even if adoptees are compared with high-risk populations, such
as single-parent families. (Howard and Smith, 2003). However the overall adjustment of adopted adolescents is good.
The emotional health of the adopted adolescents was found to be statistically better than a comparison group of adolescents
from single parent families and comparable to the adjustment pattern of adolescents born into intact families (Brodzinsky,
Smith, Brodzinsky, 1998).
There were only 3 exceptions:
- Adopted adolescents ran away from home more frequently
than the control group adolescents.
- Adopted adolescents
had a greater incidence of academic and school problems
- Adopted adolescents were less likely to attend college.
There are 3 types of adopted families according to many professionals who work in with adoptive families:
- Blind: These parents communicate that adoption has been simply wonderful for their family.
"I can't imagine that any of the problems we are having have anything to do with adoption." "There are no differences",
"We are so much alike that most people have no idea that Sarah is adopted. In fact her relatives often comment how much
she looks like her dad." These families often avoid discussion about adoption or birth parents or may even be angry
if the adolescent brings up the topic.
The adoptive parents acknowledge the differences adoption brings and can openly discuss and honestly the compatibility issues
inherent in adoption. "We know that John struggles with his racial identity. We try so hard to support him and strive
to be a multiracial family. We know that there are times that he can't talk about this with us." In these families, open
discussion of fantasies about birth parents, wishes to search for these parents and even the limitations of the perceived
compatibility between child and parents can be openly explored without any sense of danger to the basic bond between family
- Blaming: These parents
have a narrow range of perceived compatibility. They often exaggerate the importance of the adtoptive status of their child,
especially when problems arise or the teen doesn't live up to their wishes and expectations. Any shortcomings are explained
on the basis of the adoption, rarely their own mistakes or flaws as parents. If the teen does things in sync with their expectations
they say," he is my husband's son, made the honor roll again." In contrast, if he doesn't please them, "Your
father was an incredible athlete. I don't understand why you are not interested in sports. You keep wanting to be in those
ridiculous plays at school." or even " He must have inherited his laziness from his birth father."
Books about Adoption:
J. 2007. We Are Adopted. (This is a story about a very excited little girl who is about to have a new
brother, an adopted baby brother!. A few years ago she too had been adopted. Young adopted children will learn that their
adoptive parents wanted them very much, and love them very dearly). Includes guidelines for parents about talking to their
children about adoption.
Schoettle, M, 2000 (C.A.S.E.) W.I.S.E. UP Powerbook (This
is a wonderful resource for children about adoption. It discusses such issues as how to answer other's questions about being
adopted, feelings about adoption, how to teach other kids about adoption and more).
Livingston,C. (1990) Why Was
I Adopted? (ages 7-12)
Krementz,J. (1982) How it Feels to Be Adopted (nineteen
boys and girls share what it is like to be adopted, from 8-16 years old and from every social background, confide their
feelings about this crucial fact of their lives. A moving and sensitive book that allows adoptive children and teens
to speak for themselves about their hopes, dreams and fears and especially about their sense of belonging.
Eldridge, S, 1999. Twenty Things ADOPTED
Kids Wish Their ADOPTIVE Parents Knew (A wonderful resource that explains many issues that adoptees and adoptive families
face. This information is enormously beneficial to parents as well as educators).
Riley, D, 2006. (C.A.S.E.)
Beneath the MASK: Understanding Adopted Teens: Case Studies and Treatment Considerations for Therapists and Parents.
Parents will learn the 6 most common adoption stuck-spots, the complexities of adoption, the adopted teens quest for identity
and how therapy may help the adoptive family learn and grow together. Therapist and clinicians will discover: a broad knowledge
base on adoption, a step by step assessment process, many case studies, clinical intervention strategies, treatment resources
and therapy tools and writing and art therapy samples.
Brodzinsky,D., Schechter, M., Marantz Henig, R., Being Adopted: The
Lifelong Search for Self (1992). This book provides a unique understanding of the adoption experience.
- Center for Family Connections
(CFC) 1-800-KINNECT www.kinnect.org
- North America Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) 1-651-644-9848 www.nacac.org