Posts in category Resources

National Counsel for Adoption Article

National Counsel for Adoption Article

ADOPTION ADVOCATE NO. 93

POSTED MAR 01, 2016

Post-Adoption Services: Acknowledging and Dealing with Loss

BY: NANCY RANDALL, PSY.D. AND KIM SHEPARDSON WATSON, LCSW

 

DOWNLOAD PDF

The word “adoption” often conjures up joyful images of families coming together, created out of an abundance of love. Adoptive parents are ecstatic welcoming their new child or children into the family; relatives and friends celebrate with them, offering support and encouragement. Some imagine that life for the newly adopted child will now unfold in typical “fairy tale” fashion, since the happy ending – a loving family – has been found.

But what about the other side of adoption – the side that can often involve complicated feelings of loss and grief and, sometimes, lifelong unanswered questions? Losses are inherent in adoption. An adopted child has, by definition, first lost the parents who conceived and perhaps for a time raised and cared for them. Even in adoptions within the birth family, or those in which the birth parents are actively involved, there has still been a loss – a disruption of the parental relationship with the birth mother and father.

The obvious loss for birth parents and birth relatives is the loss of the daily relationship with the child, the right to parent and make decisions for them. The hopes and dreams a birth parent has for their child may still exist, but the ability to steer them toward those dreams belongs to another parent or parents. The adoptive parents, who see their own dreams coming true with the adoption of their child, may also feel a sense of loss over a wished-for biological child, which they do not verbalize for fear of appearing ungrateful or making their adopted child feel like a “second choice.”

So what is the “real” adoption experience – sadness or joy, loss or connection? In truth, it is all of these at once. Complicated emotions weave in and out of the lives of all impacted by adoption – adoptees, adoptive families, and birth families.

Seven Core Issues

To better understand the adoptive experience and how loss impacts it, we can look to the work of Silverstein and Kaplan (1982), who identified seven core issues in adoption: Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy, and Mastery/Control. Looking at these issues from the standpoint of the adoptee – though others involved in adoption can experience the same issues – we see how each of these may have a profound impact on the child, with certain issues taking center stage while others fall back to await their turn. It makes sense to look at Loss as the center of the other six, which all contribute to and are affected by the initial and overriding sense of loss.

Loss

Sometimes a child’s loss of their birth parents is dismissed, considered unimportant for those adopted as infants soon after birth. But research has shown that babies can recognize their mother’s voice even prior to birth. The experience of this loss of the birth mother cannot be eliminated, no matter how early babies meet or are adopted by their adoptive parents.

An adopted child has lost not only their birth parents, but likely other family members as well. Even if there is an open adoption agreement, contact may be limited to birth parents, excluding grandparents or other relatives the child loved or was loved by. One of the hardest losses is the loss of siblings. Sibling relationships are often our longest-term relationships in life, and many adoptees yearn for connection with their siblings, even those they never knew.

For the children who go on to be moved from place to place, whether through different relatives’ homes or foster care placements, each new loss builds upon the previous one, with an accumulating weight of increased trauma.

Rejection

Feelings of rejection can be felt by some adoptees, as they struggle to make sense of their relinquishment. Regardless of whatever logical explanations they have been given, some can still feel abandoned. After all, they see other families who have made other choices in which children were not placed. If poverty was an issue, they might ask, why couldn’t the parents find a way to make it work and parent their child, like so many other families do? Children who were unable to live with the birth parents because of addiction issues might feel their parents chose the addiction over them. The feeling of rejection can become especially difficult if there are other birth children still living in the home; the adoptee can’t help but question, “Why me? Why wasn’t I worth keeping?”

Guilt/Shame

It’s common for adopted children to wonder whether their placement or relinquishment was their fault. Even children adopted as infants often wonder if there was something they did “wrong” as a baby that made their parents not want them.

Secrecy in adoption once played heavily into these feelings. The message often sent to adopted children was that there was something so shameful about them or their background, they were better off never knowing of or discussing it. Even children understand that secrets are often about things that are considered shameful, things people don’t want to admit out loud. Changes in adoption practices have decreased the level of secrecy, as more adoptions remain open to some degree or become open after having been closed. But if adoption is not openly and frequently discussed in the adoptive family, adopted children can still be made to feel as though their adoption is something to be embarrassed of.

Grief

The loss inherent in adoption needs to be recognized and grieved. Parents and others surrounding adopted children often try to downplay the feelings of loss, wanting to spare the child emotional pain. When this is the reaction children receive about their loss and grief, they try to hold it in instead.

We know that grief will always come out in one way or another. Children can only benefit from understanding the basic stages of grief, and being provided with an emotionally safe environment in which to express it. Adopted children are sometimes told they should be grateful for their new life, but this is an unfair burden to place on them – to expect only joy and gratitude without recognition of the sadness and loss.

Identity

All young people, adopted or not, have to figure out their identities. It is common today for people to seek a connection with their past through genealogy – whole industries have sprouted up to help with this search, which is ultimately about identity and the importance of one’s history. Even television has gotten into the act, helping celebrities go through the search to discover their distant roots. Is it any wonder, then, that children and adolescents struggle so hard to understand who they are?

Adopted children experience all the same stressors and confusion as their non-adopted peers, but they also have to try and mesh their identity within their adoptive family with that of their birth family. Children who have lived in multiple placements often have more trouble figuring out where they fit in, where they belong in the world. Those who have little information about their history or background may feel that a whole part of their identity has been lost. If adopted internationally or transracially, they have also lost important parts of their culture and history, and this can make it even more difficult to determine their identities.

Intimacy

Developing emotional intimacy requires trust and an ability to open oneself up and be vulnerable. This can be a challenge for anyone. But for adopted children – who may have felt rejected, possibly multiple times, and who may not see themselves as deserving of love and intimacy – it can feel like too much of a risk. Avoidance of intimacy then becomes a way to provide some self-protection.

Developing intimacy and connections with trusted adults and peers is a key task of childhood, and the inability to achieve this goal inhibits development and growth into adulthood. Intimacy as an adult also brings up issues related to sexuality, family, and childbirth, all things that can stir up strong feelings in adoptees about their own birth parents, history, and birth.

Mastery/Control

We all strive to feel a sense of control over our lives. This is a classic struggle for teens and young adults, who feel a new and strong drive to be in control of their choices and options while still dealing with ambivalence over giving up the safety of childhood. For an adopted person, this struggle takes place against a backdrop of complete lack of control over one of the most important decisions in their life – joining their adoptive family. Power struggles can become a way to feel some sense of control and to achieve mastery over their own choices in life.

How Loss Can Impact Adopted Children

Over the years we have come to a better understanding of how these losses in adoption can impact children.

In infant adoption, there is more of an emphasis on involving the adoptive family early on when possible, even during pregnancy, to help build the attachment between them and the baby. The adoptive parents may be present for the birth, and take the child home from the hospital at discharge. While this can’t completely negate the loss for the child, it is an improvement on past practices of placing the child in temporary foster care for a period of time while finalizing legal steps.

Today, children living in foster homes who become eligible for adoption are often adopted by their foster parents, with whom they have an existing relationship, rather than having to go through yet another move and establish new relationships, experiencing yet another loss on their way to adoption. There is an increased emphasis on keeping children within their extended family when possible, allowing for guardianship, kinship care, or adoption by a relative. This allows the child to maintain family ties, even though there is still a change in relationships and a loss related to the parental roles.

Adoptive parents often make efforts to become knowledgeable about and inclusive of their adopted child’s heritage or culture, to try to reduce the sense of disconnection with their own identity. Open adoption has become increasingly common. For those who were adopted through a closed process, searches can successfully reunite them with their birth families. Even international adoptees are increasingly finding ways to search for birth families and reestablish lost connections.

Families may need help in identifying triggers for loss, and anticipating the losses inherent in transitions. Just being able to acknowledge these feelings without guilt or shame can be healing for many children. Issues of loss may come up at unexpected times, including those times most seen as joyous occasions – high school or college graduation, weddings, births, and religious ceremonies are all examples of times when adoptees may feel a stronger sense of loss at the absence of the birth family. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can bring up feelings of wanting to celebrate the parents who raised you, while still missing the parents, known or unknown, who are not there. Family reunions can be painful for the adopted child who listens as everyone else discusses where someone’s chin or eyes or crooked smile came from.

Divorce can be particularly painful for adopted children, who have already lost parents once and are facing a loss of full-time parents again. Close friends moving away can trigger painful feelings of loss and abandonment. Moving off to college is a big step toward independence for many, but it can also trigger feelings of loss for adopted children, who fear losing their relationship with their family. These feelings can be overwhelming for adopted youth, even more so because adopted people may fear hurting their adoptive parents and feel a need to keep their feelings to themselves.

Even minor events can hold a different meaning for adopted children. Family portraits and photo albums may highlight physical differences. School projects offer any number of challenges, and much has been written about alternatives to the “family tree project” or the baby photo guessing game, which don’t always work well for children in adoptive families.

Acknowledging and Addressing the Losses in Adoption

Years ago, adoption was hardly talked about. Adoptive parents were often matched with babies who looked like them, with the expectation that the children would “pass” as biological children. Many adopted children were not even told they had been adopted, sometimes finding out because of an offhand comment by a relative or learning the truth only after their adoptive parents died. Even if they always knew they were adopted, adoptees were isolated and often didn’t know anyone else dealing with the same issues. But today adoption is far more common, and people are more open about it. Many families have some experience with adoption either because of relatives or friends, even if they have not adopted themselves. Support groups and meet-ups can help adopted children connect with others who have similar life experiences.

Adoption is sometimes referred to as the “solution,” and children are told their adoptive family is their “forever family.” But it isn’t always permanent, despite the best of intentions and expectations. This is particularly true with children who come into an adoptive home with significant trauma from past abandonments, disruptions, and other traumas. Reducing disruptions requires a better job of preparing both children and families for the transition, and providing the support and therapeutic interventions needed for a successful adoption.

Despite our best efforts to lessen some of the painful aspects of adoption while still acknowledging that they exist, some adoptees will always feel these losses. Sometimes there is a need for therapy that can help children work through these issues, accept and mourn their losses, and find ways to grow through their experiences.

Adoption-competent therapists may use a loss box to help children identify and cope with their losses. A loss box is a therapeutic project providing a small box, decorated by the child to reflect their own thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Within the therapy session, specific losses are identified, discussed, and mourned; the child can draw or write about the loss, and then place it in the box. The act becomes symbolic of the child’s decision to recognize and mourn, but then to let go of the loss and put it in a secure place.

Another technique for dealing with difficult feelings is to use masks. Similar to techniques discussed by Debbie Riley of C.A.S.E. (2006), masks can provide a unique medium for adoptees to explore their feelings and self-image. The symbolism of the mask brings to the forefront the ways that the adoptee masks their inner feelings and self-image, while providing a different image to the outside world. In our therapeutic practice, we often have the child decorate each side of the mask separately – one side showing the public side of their face, and the other side revealing the internal, private side. The results can be startling when seen together.

Not all of the work takes place within the therapy office, of course. One of the most valuable things that a therapist can do in working with an adopted child is to work with the family as a unit, building and strengthening the connections between members and fostering stronger attachments. Families need help understanding how important it is to talk about these losses, and how they may trigger feelings and reactions in the adoptive parents as well.

Eliminating secrecy in adoption is not just about identifying the birth family; it is about acknowledging the pain, the questions, and the ambivalence, along with the joy. It is normal for an adoptive mother to feel sad when her child spends Mother’s Day focused on the loss of the birth mother. But denying these feelings on both sides only allows the pain and sense of disconnection to grow – buried, perhaps, but getting stronger. Families need to learn to recognize and accept these feelings, to avoid allowing them to result in loyalty conflicts that separate, rather than unite.

Adoptive parents can help their children to find ways to honor and celebrate the birth family, even in closed adoptions. Even if the birth parents are not involved or not present, talking about them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, setting an extra place at the dinner table on Thanksgiving to say thanks for the birth family, or including the birth family in one’s thoughts and prayers and conversations are all ways to acknowledge their continued presence in the lives of the adoptive family as a whole.

Conclusion

Loss is inherent in adoption, but it is not the whole of adoption. Feelings of loss or sadness will ebb and flow for all those whose lives are touched by adoption, interspersed with feelings of great joy and celebration. Those touched by adoption will be better able to deal with it when they are prepared and provided with the supports, services, and understanding that can help them move through the natural transitions and emotions intrinsic to this complex, life-impacting, and lifelong experience.

 


References

Riley, D. & Meeks, J. 2006. Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens. Burtonsville, MD: Case Publications.

Silverstein, D. & Kaplan, S. 1982. Lifelong Issues In Adoption. Retrieved fromhttp://www.adopting.org/silveroze/html/lifelong_issues_in_adoption.html

Madison Minutes in your Mailbox.

Madison Minutes in your Mailbox.

 

 

Do you receive the monthly Madison Minutes? Our newsletter provides updates on the programs, activities, and events going on at MAA. We also try to provide current information on all things adoption. To receive the Madison Minutes in your mailbox please click here and fill out the form. There is also a backlog of Madison Minutes available to you on our website.

 

Support for the Beginning of the Journey

Support for the Beginning of the Journey

 

IMG_20150809_074740

I get to see it. The process. Every year I sit with families who have not yet brought a child home, but are trying. They are filling out the papers, scheduling the visits, running to the appointments, searching for a notary (again)….right?!

They have hopes.

They have plans.

They have fears.

They have needs.

As they prepare and process and work diligently to adopt these adopting families have a great need for support.  I think I may know someone who can help.  I mean really help.

Despite the growing number of adoptive families many of us who choose to adopt do so without being surrounded by other folks with adoptive experience. Yes, there is the online community, true ,and this can be very helpful. But there is nothing like sitting across the table from another person and being able to hear their story and ask the questions of your heart.  An experienced adoptive family can naturally build confidence and give wisdom to a family setting out.  Every family will become seasoned as they journey through adoption past the process and into the parenting. But, how wonderful to have an experienced family help point the beginner to issues that they may not have yet thought about.  Beautiful issues that must be talked about such as race, ethics, and healing from trauma.

Many first time adoptive parents are a wonderful  bundle of nerves and hopes, excitement and energy. They are alive with great anticipating about “their child” and they have set out to do a wonderful and life changing act.  A little table time spent with a seasoned adoptive family can help propel those emotions into prepared wisdom for the journey to come.  And, it may help them to not feel so alone.

Alone. This is a word that I hear often from families who are in the process.  The feel alone because their extended family does not understand or maybe even not share the excitement. They feel alone because they go to the government offices and physical appointments so eager and ready to bring this child home, but the secretary behind the desk doesn’t share that excitement. For her, it is a day at work. For the adoptive parent it is a day closer to child in arms.  I remember it myself, the begging for an earlier appointment at the physicians. Yes, yes, they are busy but if we could just get our physicals accomplished quickly then we could finish our homestudy and move on…move closer… to a real living breathing flesh that needs our arms and love and….oh, yes I understand we have to wait and the next appointment is not for a month. Alone.

The process itself is so uncertain. “When will the call come…for referral…for travel…for court…for HOME……”  Very few folks who have not adopted understand the weight of this wait.  Nor should they.  Those of us with experience, though, look how we can encourage here and point to what will come and help teach how this wait can be used for good.  We can help just by being present, simply by nodding out heads with a shared understanding. Those who have not carried their child outside their body and had no control over months and years of their life often can not understand the hardship of this waiting.  I remember laying in bed wondering if he was hungry, and if she was being held, and so wishing I could communicate love to them across the miles. I remember the tears and the hopes.

A new family, in the process, has many needs.   And one of them is you and your stories, wisdom, and experience.

Yes, and thank you for sharing your experience online. Its fantastic.  Many a night I have burned the oil reading and HAVE BEEN HELPED or ENCOURAGED so I do not want to discredit those blogs and online communities as they serve a purpose.  If you can, however, get to know a family that is starting out. Make a connection and sit down together. May the bonds of adoption bring you new friends that you can encourage, support, and help uplift during their process. Because only you can nod your head knowingly as they share. You “get-it” and more than that your experience can help to widen their eyes and make them better prepared to welcome that child home.

You are needed to help those starting out know that they are not alone. And beyond that I believe with all my heart that our stories of the process, and the sharing of every day life as an adoptive family can make those starting out better prepared, more thoughtful, and bring them even deeper into an understanding of the difficult yet remarkably beautiful journey they are on for the sake of loving a child.

And, if your the beginner reading this and you feel alone ~ don’t. Don’t keep living that way, because there is a wealth of knowledge, understanding,  wisdom and humor available to you in the form of an experienced adoptive family!  Make a call. Send an email.

My table is open to you.  And, I would bet most other adoptive families would say the same.

Raising a Child with Abuse in their Past…

Raising a Child with Abuse in their Past…

Our director posted this article on the MAA facebook page as she was touched by it and felt that this writer and mother hit the nail on the head.  At MAA all of our families work through training with their social worker to understand that spanking a child who has a history of abuse, neglect, trauma, and institutionalization can bring on more trauma…more hurt…more distance.  I think Dana, the author of this post,  did a lovely job of raising this issue in a grace filled and honest manner:

Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child,

     I want to plead with you not to spank.
     I realize you’ve parented your biological children well. As you’ve taught and trained them to love and follow Jesus, spanking has been one of the tools in your toolbox. You’ve seen it bear fruit in their lives.
     But when you adopt your new child, it’s going to take a long time to build trust.
     Think about it. You didn’t spank your bio kids when they were infants. In fact, by the time you got to the point of using corporal punishment, even just a swat on the bottom, you had consistently been meeting their needs for many, many months.
   “Yes, I’ll feed you.”
     “Yes, I’ll change your diaper.”
      “Yes, I’ll comfort you.”
      Before you ever said, “No,” you said, “Yes,” about a gazillion times.
  They knew you. They loved you. They trusted you.
You will not have that same love and trust in the beginning with your newly adopted older child……

A Fantastic Article!

A Fantastic Article!

reat share!

“Here’s what I wish you would do.”
THEMIGHTY.COM

 

MAA families and friends, I am so happy to share this blog post.  I read it and my heart melted.  In reading this I felt as though the writer and I had sat down and talked this through. She wrote my heart on this.

It is called,”To the Embarrassed Parent of the Child Pointing at my Daughter”. 

A beautiful read for all of us.

Acrobats of China Adoption Reunion

Acrobats of China Adoption Reunion

Incredible! Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus

Yakov Smirnoff Theatre

470 State Highway 248

Branson, MO 65616

417-336-8888

pengyou@acrobatsofchina.com

ANNOUNCING:

THE FIRST ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL ADOPTED CHILD REUNION IN BRANSON MISSOURI

The Incredible! Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus has been hosting an Adopted Chinese Child Reunion for more than 10 years in both Branson, Missouri and Pidgeon Forge, Tennessee.  This year, in recognition of the loving generosity of American families who have opened their home, arms and hearts to children from all over the world we have expanded our reunion to all families with internationally adopted children.

 The International Adopted Child Reunion activities will be held at the Yakov Smirnoff Theatre in Branson, Missouri on July 18, 2015, beginning with activities for the whole family including international games, crafts and demonstrations.  Lunch will be provided at the theatre and there will be more activities after lunch, culminating with the Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus Show at 3:00.

 We have reserved a block of rooms at the Branson Towers Hotel.  The rate of $65  per night plus tax, for 2 adults and up to 3 children per room will be available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 17 -19, 2015.  For room reservations call Misty Mulkey at the Branson Towers at 417-336-4500.  Be sure to say you are with the International Adopted Child Reunion.

 To register your family or for more information please email Brandi Chen at pengyou@acrobatsofchina.com

 

 

Free APP for Speech Therapy

Free APP for Speech Therapy

There are many resources out there to assist your family in supporting and encouraging your child that needs speech therapy and speech assistance. Little by little my family, also on a speech journey, are discovering what has been useful and what maybe we didnt need to spend our time or resources on.

I like free, especially when it works! My children do not get a lot of screen time, but occasionally they really enjoy sitting down and playing a game on my phone. We downloaded a free speech application called “Articulation Speech Therapy” by KidsAppBaba.

Here is a little about it:

1. Its free. 🙂

2. You can choose any letter articuluation or blend, and determine if its an initial, medial or final sound.

3. Your child can actually say the sounds given into the phone after hearing them pronounced and the program (which is fairly sensitive) will let them know if they did it correctly or need to try again.

4. Its very simple, little to no bells and whistles, but several of my children really enjoy it and get good speech articulation practice.

I believe it is available for all types of phones/pads/etc.

Its just one nice resource out there to help our precious cleft kids and other chilren with speech challenges to grow in confidence and ability!

Radio Program: Foreign Adoptions Lowest in Thirty Years

Radio Program: Foreign Adoptions Lowest in Thirty Years

From Take Two:,  Last year the number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents dropped to the lowest level since 1982, according to figures recently released by the State Department.

For comparison’s sake, in 2004, foreign adoptions reached an all time high of 22,884. Last year, the grand total was just 6,441.

Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption, joined Take Two to discuss the drop in international adoptions.

You can listen to this radio segment here!

Resource: I Love You Rituals

Resource: I Love You Rituals

Here is a book recommendation for you!

I Love You Rituals by Becky Bailey is not specifically written for adoptive families, but can serve as a wonderful resource for attachment activities that are natural and easy to start doing in your home and with your family. This can be of great help early on after your children have arrived home. Attachment activities can help build strong bonds between parents and children as well as siblings and grandparents.

It is available in bookstores and also on Amazon!

Grant Resource!

Grant Resource!

The Sparrow Fund is a wonderful organization that supports and encourages adopting and adoptive families in a variety , of ways. Their website and blog are nothing short of encouraging.,  Recently, while reading through some of the information on their website I realized that they offer to qualifying families grants that can help to cover the cost of medical assessments PRE-ADOPTION. This is fantastic!

As a homestudy case worker and adoptive parent I always recommend that my clients, especially those considering children with any sort of special need, have the child’s file reviewed by a medical professional that understands both adoption and institutional life.,  The main, reason is to help honestly prepare parents for the child’s possible needs so that they can truly assess what the days to come may look like and help prepare parents., The Sparrow Fund website states, “We believe that the family is responsible to be as well prepared as possible for the major life change that adoption brings. One of the most significant ways you can prepare yourselves is to bring in medical professionals to work with you to understand what it means to bring a child out of an institution or foster home and transition him or her into a permanent home.”

Sparrow Fund understands, just like many adoptive parents have already thought, that paying for a medical review of your child’s file can be difficult in the face of a costly adoption. This is why the offer grants to qualifying families.

This is a unique and much needed grant program. Thank you Sparrow Fund for encouraging and supporting adoptive families!,  Here is a link to the Sparrow Fund page for Medical Review grants.