Are you an adoptive parent or considering adoption? Has your child reached adolescence or coming close to it? Here are some insights about parenting adolescents who have been adopted.

Loss is always part of adoption.
Regardless of circumstance or age, be it minutes or years old, the child who joins their family through adoption has suffered profound loss. The initial loss is separation from the child’s birth mother, and that loss expands outward to encompass birth family, culture or origin, and birth history.

Loss is the “hub” of inherent issues in adoption
Loss must be considered, understood, and honored by parents so that they can support their child as they navigate from childhood into adulthood. Loss accumulates, one layer stacking upon another. The hub can be quite deep.

Varying degrees of grief, guilt and shame, rejection, identity, intimacy, and control are often experienced throughout the adopted person’s lifetime. These feelings tie into loss and extend from it, like the spokes of a wheel. These feelings are known as the inherent issues in the adoption “landscape.” Inherent issues affect many who have been adopted, as well as the majority of birth parents and adoptive parents. For the purposes of this article, though, I only address the issues as they pertain to a person who has been adopted.

Inherent issues ebb and flow life-long.
Feelings tied to having been adopted typically begin to make themselves known with the onset of adolescence, just when the hormones begin to fluctuate in preparation for puberty. Children also begin to understand much more about adoption and how it has and will forever impact them.

Often, adoptive parents find themselves dealing with puberty and one or more adoption issues. As any parent who has raised a child can share, no one ever feels quite ready to parent a teenager. And parenting the child who has been adopted requires even more preparation — knowing the child’s history (and historical framework if adopted internationally) and how that can affect them, understanding the core issues and how to use them as tools in parenting, and having a level of true empathy for the child.

There might be more going on than the core issues.
Depending on circumstances, the child may also have suffered neglect, exposure to drugs and /or alcohol, and experienced or witnessed sexual, emotional or physical abuse. These hard truths are difficult for parents to share, however, they are necessary to discuss with their child. This information is part of the child’s story and it is important for parents to share and discuss all of a child’s birth history and related facts with them prior to adolescence, in age-appropriate language.

Yes, any “hard truths” are difficult to share because parents have so much emotion invested in the adoption journey and love their children so deeply. But not sharing difficult truths leaves children unprepared and open to injury by others and questioning why their parents, who love them and have their best interests at heart, did not tell them The Truth(s).

Education about loss in adoption empowers parents to help their children. Loss, neglect, abuse, attachment, and a whole range of other topics are now examined and discussed during adoption preparation education with “waiting” parents. Adoption preparation education was not available when my husband and I adopted. We were unprepared.

We began to educate ourselves when seeking therapy for our daughter. Great concern over her obvious distress mingled with profound joy when our daughter joined us in her infancy. The enormity of what adoption meant — forever uprooting and separating my daughter from the rich, ancient culture she was born into — became crystal clear in that instant. Though resilient as humans are, she grieved for some time while she adjusted to parents, family, and a society that didn’t look, sound, feel, or smell like what she was familiar with. She did attach, but sadness and grief stayed. Her psychosocial development stalled.

Our love was not enough. Our love was only a huge bandage that kept the wound from becoming infected further. This bandage did not and could not address the underlying cause of the wound and, therefore, was why it was not healing. Part of our education was about loss and how it affects the child who has been adopted — feelings of grief, guilt and shame, rejection, identity, intimacy, and control. In understanding what she was facing we were able to better support her needs and help her resolve and eventually talk about what she felt.

Points to ponder

• Education promotes understanding. Understanding encourages empathy, which in turn provides patience. These tools are necessary to effectively parent the child who has been adopted.
• If seeking therapy for your child, address your own first. Think of airplane cabin decompression: Put your oxygen mask on before your child’s. If you don’t, you can’t help your child.
• Work with a therapist well versed in adoption and adoption issues. Therapists unfamiliar about adoption and inherent issues in adoption will be ineffective.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
Sunday, April 3 — Northern Regional Adventure Party, Jordan’s Furniture Reading, 50 Walker’s Brook Dr., Reading. 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
Monday, April 11 — Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Mass. Department of Children and Families, Police Station, 1492 Washington Street, Canton. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP to 508-894-3830.
Wednesday, April 13 — Central Region Adoption Info Meetings — ADLU Worcester, 13 Sudbury St., Worcester. 6 p.m.-7 p.m. 508-929-2413.
Wednesday, April 13 — Northern Region Adoption Info Meetings — ADLU Lawrence, Jordan’s Furniture Reading: IMAX Conference Room - 50 Walker’s Brook Dr., Reading. 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 20 — Boston Region Adoption Info Meeting, DCF Boston, 451 Blue Hill Avenue, Dorchester. 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 617-989-9209.
Thursday, April 21— Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Morton Hospital, 88 Washington Street, Taunton, Margaret Stone Conference Room, first floor. 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP: 508-894-3830.
Ongoing — Federation for Children with Special Needs Parent Trainings. Free and open to the public, these trainings cover a range of topics: Effective Communication and the IEP, Basic Rights in Special Education, Understanding My Child’s Learning Style, and more. Visit fcsn.org/ptic/workshops/schedule for a schedule and descriptions.

Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For parents of children in elementary or middle school, this monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or info@adoptionassociates.org.

Ongoing — Group for Adopted Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For adopted children ages 14-19, this group focuses on identity development, self-esteem improvement, confidence building and communication skills. Participants will use conversation to reflect upon the experience of adoption and belonging. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or info@adoptionassociates.org.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents of Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. This monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma on children ages 14-19; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or info@adoptionassociates.org.
Ongoing — The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers an after-hours telephone hotline that provides emergency assistance to foster kinship and pre-adoptive families when the DCF offices are closed. The helpline is available 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. The number is 800-486-3730.

If your group or organization is holding an adoption information or support group and would like to have information posted for readers of baystateparent, please email editor@baystateparent.com.

April’s Child
Meet Joseph
Joseph is an adorable, loving 4-year-old boy of Caucasian and Hispanic descent who is legally free for adoption. He loves playing with balls, Play-Doh, Legos, and going on the swings and slide at preschool and daycare.

Diagnosed with autism and ADHD, Joseph is rather high-functioning and a referral has been made for services. He has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at his preschool. Joseph interacts well with limits, structure, and a consistent routine. Joseph has bonded well with his foster mother and often looks for adult approval.

Joseph’s social worker is looking for a one- or two-parent family with some familiarity with autism. Due to his history of impulsive behaviors, it is recommended he be in a home with no other children or older children. There is an open adoption agreement in place for two visits a year with his birth mother.

If you would like more information about Joseph, please call The Department of Children and Families (DCF) Adoption Supervisor Rukaiyah Saforo at (508) 929-2095. DCF hosts monthly informational meetings about the adoption process. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 13 from 6 – 7 p.m. The DCF Adoption Development & Licensing Unit’s Office is located at 13 Sudbury St. in Worcester. Please call (508) 929-2143 to register and for specifics about parking.