I really enjoy working with parents and families– and some of my favorite clients to work with are adoptive families. I’ve had the privilege of working with quite a few families that have either participated in a domestic infant adoption, adoption from the foster care system, or an international adoption. Most adoption agencies are doing a good job of preparing families for some of the hurdles they might encounter and helping them have realistic expectations of their adoption experience. But as kids encounter different developmental stages (even many years after their adoption), it’s possible for them to re-experience their trauma with grief and loss, regression in their relationships, and questioning about their adoption and birth family. This is especially true as kids reach their teen years.
One of the developmental tasks of adolescence is identity development, so it makes sense that you might encounter this bump in the road with your adopted preteen or teen. Even if you have contact with their birth family through an open adoption or you’ve given them all the information you have, they might be left with the deep questions of “Who am I? What does all of this mean about me?” Often the teen also feels a sense of guilt for questioning their life circumstances because they are sincerely grateful to their adopted family and are afraid it would hurt their adoptive parents’ if they truly knew their deepest feelings. This struggle might manifest itself in the teen withdrawing or avoiding, or acting out with behavior problems.
Here are a few tips for helping your child:
- Reassure her that all of her emotions and questions are okay, and she won’t hurt your feelings by talking to you about them.
- Keep the conversation open by occasionally talking about your child’s birth family and adoption experience. Many families find ways to embrace this part of their child’s history by displaying pictures of the birth family or celebrating traditions from the birth culture.
When I work with adopted teens, I often find that they are relieved to have a counselor help them normalize their experiences and find ways to communicate with their parents about their feelings. If I can help you and your family at any point on your adoption adventure, I would love to meet with you for a consultation.