Parenting an adopted child
Parenting in general can be challenging and parenting adopted children adds another layer of complexity and adoption is a unique experience with a life long impact. It is important for adoptive parents to understand the impact adoption has on them and their child throughout their life time. Usually adoptive parents are caught in the paradox of helping their child understand what it means to be adopted while knowing that in the process, the child may feel rejected, sad and hurt. Their minds are entangled with questions like Should I tell my child that s/he is adopted? Should I keep it a life-long secret? Would it be fair for me to take actions to discipline the child? How do I build a bond with the child? Is my child’s behavior because of her birth parents? And many more similar questions.
Today’s article talks about the various common challenges adoptive parents face as they nurture a child from a different set of parents. I have tried to bring about some tested solutions towards handling these challenges but as you all are aware, adoption is a very sensitive area where each individual case is different and needs to be handled in a specific manner.
Thoughts and Outlook
Your thoughts play a very important role in how you perceive and feel about the child.
“I didn’t give you the gift of life, but in my heart I know. The love I feel is deep and real, as if it had been so. For us to have each other is like a dream come true! No! I didn’t give you the gift of life, life gave the gift of you”
Beautiful lines shared by a mother as she started nurturing her child from another mother. Generally adoptive parents start getting influenced by the comments people make like, “God Bless you!” “You really have a kind heart!” “You have given life to a poor soul” and start feeling great about themselves. I won’t say this line of thinking is wrong but definitely offensive. I would like to remind the adoptive parents about few very specific things. First of all, you adopted a child because you wanted a family and completely in your best interest and second you rescued no one, you were the one who was saved. Never think of your child as your adopted child. Adoption is just a means by which the child gets into your family, once s/he is in your family it is your child. This outlook will help you develop a strong bond with the child.
Discussing adoption with your child
Adoptive parents must determine what and when they will tell their children about their adoption. Parents are generally advised to introduce the word "adoption" as early as possible so that it becomes a comfortable part of a child's vocabulary and to tell a child. In my opinion talking about adoption should be a continuous process and the child should be sensitized about this at different stages of life rather than disclosing just once either too early in life where they are not able to understand the concept or talking about it very late in life effecting the child’s self-esteem.
Any child at the age of 4-5 years would be curious to know “Where do I come from?” Answering this question would help you talk about birth of a child and adoption as well. If your child doesn't ask, you can raise the topic yourself; find out what your child thinks and what he wants to know. It is better to respond to questions than to inundate a child with information. A few sentences which you can use while talking to your toddler about adoption are:
- He was born the same way as everybody else in the world.
- He grew inside another woman, but that woman wasn't ready or able to be a mother to any baby at that time.
- You wanted to be a parent very much.
- You adopted him and he will be your child forever.
Don't forget to include that the moment of his birth, just as the moment of his adoption, was an awesome event. In that, he will hear your joy and excitement over welcoming him into the world and your family. It is important to mention the adoption story couple of times to the child as kids take time to understand. Please don’t expect your child to get the concept after one or two discussions. As the child reaches to middle childhood, you may observe the child develops lot of questions about the birth parents and his existence, it is better to handle and answer those questions in a matured way and support the child in coping up with the pain if at all he/she goes through one rather than hiding from the child and keeping it all by yourself. Children cope with these feelings in a variety of ways:
- Some are open and talk about their feelings.
- Some are defensive and use denial to cope.
- Some are angry and disruptive.
- Some think that adoption is no big deal.
It is important to keep an open dialogue with your child, both so you can understand how s/he has put this complicated picture together, and to offer alternative views that address his misconceptions. Pre-adolescence and adolescence are the years when children assert their independence and distance themselves from parents in an effort to form their own identity -- whether adopted or not. If information is lacking, the task of identity formation becomes more complicated. Parents can assist their adolescents through this process by understanding their need for information, helping them get it, and giving them the freedom to explore. While a natural part of the individuation process, this exploration is usually where conflict arises in families. The most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open.
Sometimes adopters are so thrilled they've finally adopted a child that when the child misbehaves later on -- as children invariably do -- they let the behavior go because they are unwilling to discipline their child. But if any parent, adoptive or nonadoptive, lets a child rule the household, that parent is in for big trouble. Other adopters don't feel a sense of entitlement to be a full and complete parent to the child. It is important for you to realize that when it comes to discipline or behavioral management of your child there is hardly any difference between normal parenting and adoptive parenting. Adoption is just the means by which a child comes into your family. Many parts of the adoption process bear no resemblance to giving birth to a child. But the one thing that should be precisely the same is this: Our children are our children forever.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)