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On the last track, we discussed Core Issues for Adoptive Parents. These have included loss, shame, rejection and the acknowledgement technique.
Do you have a client who is confused about how or when to discuss adoption with his or her children? Does he or she wonder how much to tell the children? On the next three tracks, we will discuss the Nine Suggestions of Telling.
On this track, we will discuss The First Four Suggestions of Telling. These will include Initiating the Conversation, the Movie Technique, Using Positive Language, Telling the Truth and Allowing the Child to Express Anger Without Joining In. As you listen, think of your client. How and when does he or she plan to tell the child about the adoption?
While few rules are really written in stone, I have found that nine suggestions, when applied consistently, can enhance communication about adoption. These suggestions can also provide some welcome direction to adoptive parents besieged with well-intentioned advice from family and friends who really do not understand the complexities of adoptive parenting.
#1 - Initiating
As a result, children may avoid conversation about the adoption and the birth family even when they have tough questions or troubling feelings. Adoptive parents must look for opportunities to raise the issue of adoption and ask the child for questions. In this way, the adoptive parents assure the child that his or her feelings are normal or expected, and that they, as parents, do not feel threatened or believe that the child is disloyal.
Rick and Sandy came to me about their adopted daughter, Emma, age 15. Emma had been adopted as an infant. Rick and Sandy had talked to Emma when she was three or four about her adoptive history, but they had not mentioned the adoption or her birth family since that time.
Rick stated, “Sandy and I found out yesterday that Emma has been secretly meeting with a twenty-six-year-old man! Emma is completely out of control!” After covering several other issues, I asked Rick and Sandy how often they had talked about Emma’s adoption issues. Sandy stated, “We don’t talk about adoption ever because Emma doesn't talk about it…I guess we just assumed that her silence meant that she didn’t have any questions or concerns about her adoption…”
I met with Emma, and discovered that she was consumed with fantasies, identity conflicts, and confusion, regarding serious trust issues and her adoptive parents. However, Emma did not feel comfortable discussing her adoption, because she feared Rick and Sandy would be hurt if they knew she wondered about her birth family. I felt Emma’s internal struggle was displayed in part by her interest in a 26-year-old. She felt blocked in addressing her questions directly and honestly.
I stated, “The Movie Technique can introduce the topic of adoption within your household while nurturing Emma’s self-esteem at the same time. If a program or movie with an adoption theme is on TV or in a theater, you might watch the program with Emma. Draw parallels and contrasts between the situations in the program and Emma’s own adoption. You might use this conversation as a springboard for any additional questions that Emma might have.”
#2 - Using Positive Language
#3 - Telling the Truth
#4 - Allowing the Child to Express Anger without Joining In
As you know, many children who are caught up in multiple family systems may find themselves torn by divided loyalties. If members of any of those family systems put other involved families down, the conflict of a child like Emma can be greatly intensified.
Refusal to join the child’s anger can be easy to grasp, but difficult to accomplish. After all, many foster and adoptive parents are angry at birth family members who harmed their children through abuse, neglect, abandonment or emotional maltreatment. When the child expresses anger or outrage, it can be extremely difficult to restrain oneself from sharing that outrage.
Some alternative comments can be helpful to the child. For example, I stated to Rick and Sandy, “You might say, ‘I’m glad that we are able to keep you safe now,’ ‘I can understand why you are so angry,’ or ‘That must have been an awfully hard time for you. Is there anything I can do to help you now?’”
Do you have a Rick or Sandy who is struggling to initiate conversation about adoption with his or her adopted child? Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?
On this track, we have discussed the First Four Suggestions of Telling. These have included Initiating, the “Use a Movie” Technique, Using Positive Language, Telling the Truth and Allowing the Child to Express Anger without Joining In.
On the next track, we will discuss Suggestions Five and Six. These will include Omitting Until Age Twelve and Not Trying to Fix the Pain.
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