This week, our ProSquad adoption expert, Judy M. Miller, shares advice with parents and families about helping children who are adopted discover and appreciate their past.
Adoptive parents are very good about painting the rosy picture — how they came to be families, how they love their children. Parents do this to claim their children. They also do this because as an adoptive family they are in the position of having to validate their family to extended family, friends, and strangers.
But parents often come up short when it's time to discuss details of their child's birth history with that child.
The child who has been adopted is entitled to the details of his or her birth history (what you know, not what you surmise). Naturally, a child's parent wants to protect their child from any information, but doing so is dishonest; they are not building a relationship based on trust and respect.
By not being forthcoming, parents can cause their child to become angry because they feel betrayed. Issues with self-esteem can multiply because the child feels they must have been bad to be given up by their birth mother/parents/family.
Your child will most likely begin to dig for more detail of his or her past. It's only natural that he or she does so because this is part of the process of establishing identity.
This information may be the missing puzzle pieces for your child — the information they need to figure out who they are, further the grieving process, and/or have the ability to gain control over how they wish to live their life.
If your child doesn't come right out and ask, it doesn't mean he or she isn't thinking about it. Your child not asking doesn't give you permission to not talk about it.
As far as talking about the details, it's not a matter of if, but when.
How do your share the less than savory or difficult details of your child's circumstances with him or her? Topics like physical and/or emotional abuse, neglect, poverty, drug and/or alcohol abuse, rape, incest, physical and/or mental health issues, and abandonment?
- Be clear that you are open and want to talk.
- Make sure your child understands that you value his/her opinion.
- Control your emotions. Think over what you want to say and how you feel about it. Then address how you feel and work through it before talking to your child, because his/her radar is set on high. Your child is looking for signs that you disapprove of or are uncomfortable with the circumstance about their birth history.
- Make sure your child is emotionally and intellectually mature to understand what information you are sharing, typically somewhere in the tween years. Prior to that use age-appropriate language catered to his/her developmental stage.
- Be honest. Share all information.
- Make repeated attempts to connect if you feel your child is distancing him- or herself from you. Go the indirect route, finding and using resources that support your child. i.e., movies, books, or websites.
- Assure your child that talking about adoption and his/her birth history doesn't make them disloyal to you.
- Help your child with the words to articulate how he/she feels.
- Help your child find connections to his/her past and heritage.
- Work with a therapist trained in adoption issues if you see signs of adoption-related stress.
Every talk you have with your child about adoption is a building block for future talks. Begin early. Make sure you continue to walk with your child as he/she begins to discover what having been adopted means.
My guide, What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween, helps parents assist their children in understanding, examining and resolving adoption-related issues as they happen, and to empower their children to feel self-confident.
Adoption Pro, Judy Miller
Judy M. Miller, MA, author of What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween, is an adoptive parent and adoption advocate living in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She is the Adoption Education Coordinator and Support Specialist for MLJ Adoptions, Inc.
Judy has appeared on MomTV's Adoption Angles and TogiNet'sAdoption ~ Journey to Motherhood. Judy spoke at the Parenting Summit in March 2011 and presented at the Symposium 2011 Opening Adoption: Realities, Possibilities, and Challenges in Richmond, VA and the Crossroads of America Adoption Conference in Indianapolis, IN last fall.
Judy's essays and articles appear in adoption and parenting magazines and in A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families (Adams Media), Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be? (EMK Press), and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom (Chicken Soup for the Soul).