Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew
By Sherrie Eldridge
Keep in mind that my knowledge and research is based mainly on adult adoptees who were damaged by the closed-adoption system. Nonetheless, I believe that their experiences teach us that the majority of adopted children need validation of their wound and loss. A parent might whisper to her adopted infant, "You must miss your birth mommy. We are sad too that you had to lose her." "It really hurts, doesn't it?" is a phrase that can be used by parents in every phase of the adoptee's life, for it demonstrates empathy and compassion.
A second thing adoptees need is education about adoption and its emotional and relational repercussions. As the leader of a support group for adoptees I see this need being met on a weekly basis, as adult adoptees learn more about the common emotional threads that unite us all. Shame falls away as self-disclosure grows. You can give your adopted child an early start on this kind of self-knowledge.
Adoptees need to learn to accept their wound as part of their life history-an unchangeable fact over which they have no control, but which need not cripple them in the future. This is one of the challenges of being adopted which, if accepted, can bring tremendous growth and maturity. Dr. Connie Dawson, adoptee, attachment therapist, and adoption educator, says, "When someone told me that I have suffered an irreparable wound, a burden lifted from my shoulders. In all my therapy, no one had ever told me that I couldn't wrap this one up neat and tidy ... couldn't fix it. Oh yes, I could lay gangplanks over the deepest parts so I wouldn't be swallowed up in its recesses. I could cauterize the edges to heal the rawness. But I couldn't fix it, if fixing means I take care of it and it goes away. It doesn't go away, neither does it have to be the ball and chain around my ankle. It doesn't have to make me feel I should apologize for who I am. It only means I'll take care of my own. And I will accept that this wound will continue to instruct me the rest of my life."
Another thing adoptees need is for their adoptive parents to put aside their own false guilt Parents who feel guilty are incapable of dropping their defenses and entering into their child's unresolved pain around the losses that neither parent nor child could prevent.
It is natural for adoptive parents to struggle with guilt when they hear about their child's wounds. Parents tend to search for the ways they could have prevented their child's trauma, often using the phrase "If only..."
If only I had been there at the birth of my child.
If only I had known the birth mother earlier and been able to nurture her.
If only I had known more about adoption issues and how to handle them.
Any explanation, even at the cost of suffering guilt, may help adoptive parents cope with the desperate sense of helplessness they feel over their child's suffering. Cynthia Monahon, in Children and Trauma, says, "If a parent can find some way in which the trauma was her own fault, it becomes possible to believe that further trauma can be avoided. Guilt offers a kind of power, however illusory, over helplessness." Erroneous thinking like this is the beginning of false guilt and will interfere with the parent-child attachment if not recognized and dealt with.
The most important thing adoptees need is the freedom to express their conflicting emotions without fear of judgment. This is the final step toward healing, the one that brings release and freedom Psychologist and author Dr. Arthur Janov says in The New Primal Scream, "As children, we need to express our real feelings to our parents. We hurt if our parents are indifferent. If they force back our resentment and our rage, we hurt. We can no longer be ourselves and be natural. Our nature, therefore, is warped, and that causes pain. If you don't let an arm move naturally, if you bind it with tape, it is going to hurt. If you don't let emotions move naturally, you get the same result. The need to express feelings is just as physiological as hunger."
Adoptees need a safe place to share their feelings about adoption, both positive and negative, and to feel protected and loved unconditionally regardless of what comes out of their mouths. As a parent, you can learn how to create this safe environment within your home so that your child is free to express grief and conflicting emotions about being adopted.
As you practice listening to and responding to your child's pre-adoption loss, you will rid yourself of the barriers of defensiveness, guilt, and overprotectiveness that can keep you from being part of your child's healing. You will be ready to hear the second thing she wants you to know.