Groups for Adopted Kids?
by Ellen Singer LCSW-C, Adoption Program Specialist
Center for Adoption Support and Education, Inc
"I've told my son his adoption story. He doesn't ask a lot of questions and seems quite happy and well adjusted. I'm concerned that if I bring up the subject, I'll put ideas in his head and he'll have bad feelings. Groups for adopted kids? Won't focusing so much on adoption emphasize that he is different? What if another kid says something he hasn't ever thought about?"
Adoptive parents today usually have some understanding that they need to help their children with issues related to adoption. This can be a daunting task for many adoptive parents. In Children's Adjustment to Adoption, David and Anne Brodzinsky note, "Parental anxiety is usually tied to their uncertainty about how the child will react.and whether parent-child ties will be weakened."
When adult adoptees share their experiences growing up, they often say that their parents did not foster a family atmosphere conducive to communication about adoption. They usually were told they were adopted, but their parents never discussed adoption after that. Consequently, adoptees grew up with the feeling that their parents would be uncomfortable or hurt if they asked questions. The parents, in turn, assumed that their children had no issues, since they didn't ask questions. Some adoptees say that in looking back, their feelings were too confusing to articulate.
In our work at C.A.S.E. with hundreds of adopted children and adolescents, the kids confirm the same discomfort in raising the subject of adoption with their parents. They fear hurting, angering, or appearing disloyal to them. These feelings sometimes exist even when parents are trying very hard to keep the lines of communication open about adoption. In addition, many kids have trouble putting their feelings into words.
David Kirk's landmark research, Shared Fate, discusses a continuum of parental attitudes and behaviors related to adoption from "rejection of difference" to "acknowledgement of difference." The Search Institute Study on adoption conducted in 1994 refers to his work in a way that Kirk felt misrepresented his ideas. In a critique of this study, he writes, "In the Shared Fate theory, when adoptive parents acknowledge to themselves that their social position as parents differs from that of people who have produced offspring, they tend to be sensitive to the child's untutored attempts at understanding the complicated facts of adoption. Such empathy helps the parents to be open to their child's groping for answers. That's what communication means in my work - it does not mean forcing the subject down the child's throat.the parents' readiness to listen to their child enhances the child's trust in them."
It is with this spirit of empathy that parents are encouraged to create opportunities for children to explore their feelings about adoption. When parents take responsibility for raising the subject of adoption, they communicate a willingness to listen if and when the child has something to share. Holly van Gulden's "pebbles technique" demonstrates this beautifully. She advises parents to periodically throw out statements (not questions) about adoption. ("I wonder which side of your birth family had athletic talent.") A child is free to respond or not as his own pace and time, if at all.
In addition to communication at home, while parents remain the child's most valuable resource, parents need to know that they do not have to be the only resource for their child. They demonstrate support for the children's needs when they find other places where their children can talk about adoption, whether it is with a private, knowledgeable counselor or in a group of other adopted children. In groups, children have the opportunity to explore adoption freely without fear of hurting anyone, saying the wrong thing, or appearing disloyal. As opposed to putting thoughts in their heads, other children validate what they are feeling, normalizing their feelings and making them feel less alone, less different. Listening to others helps them to identify and articulate their own concerns.
In sum, when parents feel comfortable with both the positive and challenging aspects of adoption, they will support their children an d help them to think:
- "It's OK to talk about adoption."
- "My thoughts and feelings are normal."
- "My folks can help me understand what's bothering me."
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>>