Beneath the Mask
by Debbie Riley, M.S., Executive Director
Center for Adoption Support and Education, Inc
Is Your Teen Wearing a Mask?
Would you like to know what is going on in your adopted teen's mind? Do you wonder what they are thinking? How they are really feeling? Do you think that identifying ways to deal with all of those feelings might make it more peaceful at home? Does being adopted complicate the process of adolescence? Wonder if counseling might help your son or daughter plot a course through the rocky path to adulthood?
A Puzzle with a Missing Piece
"Being adopted is like being a puzzle - except there is a missing piece!" writes an adopted teen. "I am thankful I was adopted but.it's so hard to live with the missing piece of the puzzle, it's never complete!" The puzzle as a metaphor for describing how adoption feels to an adoptee is reflected in the countless interviews we have held at The Center for Adoption Support & Education. (C.A.S.E.) with adopted children and teens.
The quest to define one's identity is a challenge for adoptees who must determine who they are without the basic knowledge of where they came from. Helping them to chart this rocky journey is one of the reasons I wrote Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens, the first book of its kind.
I wrote Beneath the Mask because I discovered a void of vital information for both parents and therapists of adopted teens. As I studied the adoption experience of hundreds of teens within my therapy practice, there appeared to be some commonalities among all the adolescents. The impetus behind my decision to organize and record my thoughts and experiences came from the teenagers and parents with whom I have had the privilege and honor to work.
Dr. Meeks, my colleague and a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychiatrist and I, wrote this book with the hope that by sharing our impressions, we can give parents and professionals a framework with which to deepen your own appreciation of the significance of the adoption experience.
Excerpt from "Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens"
Six Hurdles for the Adopted Adolescent
Although not all teens dwell on each of the subjects described below, it is common for teens to grapple with each area as they try to gain understanding of their personal adoption experiences.
- REASON FOR ADOPTION -Children are extremely curious about their adoption story, but they seem to accept most of the answers they are given. Sometimes adoptive parents sweeten the story or omit painful details. But, in adolescence, the tone of questioning changes. Adolescents demand fuller and more factual answers, and often respond with anger. As more critical thinkers, they refine their earlier vague questions into the very personal exploration of the question, "Why did my birthmother and birthfather leave me?"
- MISSING OR DIFFICULT INFORMATION - Adopted children often have to face the reality that there is information they would like to know, but it may be unobtainable. They may say, "I don't know what my birthparents looked like. I don't even have a picture of them." And they may ask questions like: "Why was I abandoned?" or "Do I have any brothers or sisters?" Adolescents want definite information about why and how they came to be relinquished as well as concrete facts about the people who brought them into this world.
- DIFFERENCE - Feeling different from peers is the worse curse of adolescence. Adoptees may have a different appearance than their adoptive family, or may be a different race or cultural background and may feel different from peers who are being raised in biologically related families. Negative feelings about these differences can affect a child's sense of self-worth and security with his adoptive family. Parents may often minimize the power of the outside world's bias, and so they have no idea of the depth of racism their child is experiencing.
- PERMANENCE - Adopted children are at risk for developing maladaptive beliefs about the security of the relationship with their parents. They think, "I've lost one set of parents; I could lose another." This is especially true of those who have experienced multiple moves prior to adoption. Some adopted children go to great lengths to test their parents' commitment, often without awareness of their own motivation. Fear of separation may inhibit the adopted teen's ability to achieve emancipation from parents.
- IDENTITY - A major task of the adolescent is to form an identity. Peers assume increasing importance in this process, but this does not alter the fact that the identity core evolves from the family. It is not surprising that adolescence is a time when heightened desire to search for birthparents surfaces. Adopted adolescents, in their search for self, reactivate in the adoptive parents the powerful realization that the birthparents do exist. Telling your teen about the similarities you see between yourselves can be an invaluable exercise for adoptive parents. Teens are amazed by their parents' perceptions and feel a stronger sense of bonding as a result.
- LOYALTY - All adopted children ponder the existence and character of their birthparents at sometime in their lives, no matter what the adoptive experience. Many experience guilt related to these thoughts and feelings. Fearing the disapproval of their parents, adopted teens may hide their feelings and struggle alone. Teens and parents must realize that thinking about birthparents does not mean they love their parents any less. "I am so afraid to tell my mom that I think about my birth mom," said Amy, a 16-year-old. "In the past when I mention this to her, she acted upset. I love her and don't want to hurt her."
Family dynamics such as relationships with parents and siblings and separation anxiety >>
The classroom and relationships with peers and role models>>
Identity, Heritage and Belonging>>
International adoption and siblings with different adoptive backgrounds>>