Adoption from a Child’s Perspective
The other day I saw a commercial on TV. It showed a couple meeting their young, adopted child for what seemed like the first time. The love in their faces looked much like a couple seeing their baby for the first time. The child ran into their arms and the family went home together – happily ever after, right? This is often what comes to mind when people think of adoption. Unfortunately, it is rarely the reality.
In reality, adoptive parents may feel disconnected from their child, confused by their behavior (lying, stealing, hoarding, self-harm, property destruction, etc.) and overwhelmed by extreme emotional outbursts in response to seemingly benign interactions. As one mother put it “I felt like I was being held hostage by a terrorist in my own home”.
Whether a child is adopted at birth or sometime during their childhood, they are guaranteed to have complex feelings about both their birth and adoptive parents. Toward their birth parents they may feel betrayal, anger, fear, longing, loyalty or any number of other emotions. In fact, they will likely feel multiple contradictory emotions. About their adoptive parents they may feel anxious, hopeful, confused, afraid, mistrustful, etc. It is important for parents to understand that most behaviors boil down to one thing – survival. Based on their past experience, your child is doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
Imagine being a young child, and being forcibly removed from the only family you have ever known. The people who loved and cared for you, even if they hurt you as well. You are taken away from your home, siblings, pets and most if not all of your belongings. Imagine having no control over where you end up. After what is an unimaginably long time spent in the court system, foster system and various foster homes, you are adopted. Adults that you do not know or trust are making decisions that will affect the rest of your life, and few of them are consulting you about it. You are told that these strangers are your new parents. No one wants you to talk about your biological family. You are discouraged from asking questions about them. You are told to move on. To be grateful. Everyone around you acts as if you have been saved. You are expected to live happily ever after.
Of course, this is not always the case. And it is certainly not meant to diminish the need for adoptive parents. It can be a wonderful thing to welcome a child into your home and love them. However, it is a much more complicated process than many people realize. Good intentions are not enough.
Adopted children are often shy and frightened, if not outright aggressive for a long time. They have learned not to trust. After all, at any moment the adult placed in charge of them could change their mind and send them back, as if they were damaged goods. Unfortunately, the fear of this rejection often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It takes an immense amount of patience, consistency and time to gain an adopted child’s trust. And even longer to feel closely bonded with them. Adoptive parents must be ready for this. They need tools and resources, and they need to be supported by their community. Counseling is a great place to start.
Through parent coaching and family therapy sessions, adoptive parents can learn to:
- Disarm your child’s physiological fear (trauma) response
- Forge a strong emotional bond (attachment) between you and your child
- Establish clear and sensitive parental authority
- Teach appropriate social skills
- Support healthy brain chemistry
- Help your child connect with their emotions
Tajah Sahar Schall MA, R-DMT
I provide sensitive, culturally relevant counseling to individuals, couples and families of all sociocultural backgrounds, and I support adolescents and their families through the unique and often difficult time of transition by incorporating movement, nature and rites of passage into the therapeutic process.
3401 Quebec St. Suite 4500
Denver, CO 80207
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