It is common for tweens and teens to sometimes suffer from an identity crisis, which may trigger adoptees to want to learn even more about their biological roots. Here’s some ideas on how you can help them through this difficult time as they discover the special person they truly are becoming.
Talk Openly About Everything
A teenager’s job is to figure out his or her place in the world, who he or she is, and how to become more independent.
The process of growing and maturation can start as early as 10 or 11 and may continue well into adulthood. Physically, your child is changing rapidly. Their body and build are so different now that many may perceive them as adults.
She might begin to attract the attention of boys. He might begin to attract the attention of girls.
Teens develop a stronger ability to be introspective and analytical. Your job is to help them by talking openly about everything that arises, especially adoption related topics.
For example, when your child comes to you with problems that manifest in anger, you must remain calm, help your child understand that emotion. It’s possible that he or she doesn’t. The underlying idea of anger is that some kind of injustice has been done. As painful as this may seem, some teens and tweens do feel this way at times about being adopted and it is important to have them feel they are being heard when they express their sadness or anger. During this stage, their feelings, however, may not correspond to reality. Even though as parents you know that their adoption was an act of love, it is important to validate their feelings.
As a teen, your child may show an increased interest in their birthparents. This doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it is just a part of the important phase of self-exploration. Be honest about what you know about the child’s birth parents. They need to hear it from you first, before they discover something from another source. If they do, they will feel you betrayed them by hiding something about their past and this only makes future communication with them more difficult.
Even for families who openly discuss adoption since their child’s birth, your tween’s adoption related questions might peak again and a very common question you may hear your child as is why they were placed for adoption. It’s entirely possible that you do not know the reasons. Share the information that you have and if your child feels unsatisfied, decide if assisting them in contacting and asking their birthparents would be helpful. Be honest about that fact and that you are uncertain about what they will discover. Your child will appreciate your honesty, love, and trust you even more.
A teen may be grappling with the thought that there was something wrong with them or that they personally were the reason their birthparents choose adoption. Assure them that they are not at fault; that the decision to make an adoption plan was not a punishment but an act of love.
It is also common for many tweens and teens to feel a sort of “genealogical bewilderment” in which they feel that they have lost something. Usually it’s a feeling that they have lost their history and birth parents as well as a special part of themselves. Your child may be unintentionally insensitive or negative.
This is likely a very difficult issue for you to deal with and seeking help can often be a good option. Remember not to try to talk them out of their feelings but to acknowledge their internal struggle.
This may also open to door to an open, honest, and frank discussion about sex and its implications in regards to pregnancy and adoption.
Love and Let Go
At some point, your child will probably want to “leave the nest” and discover who they are as an individual. Part of this process may include a search for his or her biological parents. Your child’s need to search is not because you were lacking as a parent. It is a natural desire for an adoptee to want to seek out their roots.
You must learn to love and let go. This doesn’t mean you’re losing your child. It means that your child is growing into an adult, and he or she will be seen by society as such. Your child is an independent individual. They will always love you, but they will also become their own person. You must respect that, regardless of the road it takes them down. Showing support for your child’s desire to search for his or her birthparents will be a welcomed encouragement and may release your child of any guilt they may have for searching.
Maintain Boundaries, But Be Respectful
Maintaining boundaries is difficult for some parents, especially during the tween and teen years. We often see our children as children and not as the adults they are becoming.
Maintain “house rules” and boundaries for your child, but also realize that he or she needs more privacy to learn how to meet and solve the natural challenges of being a teenager. They need to do this on their own.
Be respectful of your child’s space without giving up basic parental responsibilities of safety and security of your child. Always be ready to defer to your teenager’s need to make his or her own decisions about how to handle feelings and life choices which will have long-term (positive or negative) consequences.
This is the best way to avoid a power struggle over things like clothing choices, music, slang, hair styles, and choice of friends.
Sometimes, providing a range of choices works well, especially if you doubt your child’s judgment in certain areas or fear for their basic safety. For example, you may give them a choice of clothing stores to shop at without imposing strict rules on what they buy.
You may specify that they do not invite boys or girls over who are more than 3 grade levels above or below them (which could also become a legal issue if it’s a sexual relationship and depending on the age difference) without placing strict rules on specific people they are friends with.
This way, by setting “soft boundaries,” you create the freedom that your teen needs. You are effectively transferring authority over to your teen, while still maintaining control over your own home (as you should).
As your child gets older, there will come a time when they want complete autonomy. This is when you must have a talk about moving out. If you can help them financially, do so. If not, be honest about your financial situation and explain to them that autonomy means establishing their own residence. Staying at home means abiding by some rules, even if they are minimal.
When tweens and teens feel judged, especially when they feel unfairly judged, they may shut down intellectually and emotionally. This makes communication difficult or impossible.
Position yourself as an ally, not the enemy. At the same time, be objective about the situation your adolescent child is facing. You are not a friend. You are your child’s parent. You should be on their side without sugar-coating the situation or placating them if they become belligerent.
They may be looking for answers about their birth parents. They may not understand why they were placed for adoption many years ago. They may not understand why they haven’t met, or spoken with, their birth parents before now. They may be confused about what to do.
Your job is to become a fountain of information for the tween or teen. Don’t dish out punishments or make assumptions. You should ask questions, but be patient and willing to wait for your child to approach you with questions.
Be compassionate. When your child is emotionally stressed, realize that he or she may have frequent outbursts, say things that you don’t expect, and perhaps some of those things are hurtful. Responding in kind will only make things worse.
Instead, you should diffuse the situation by saying something like, “I thought about what you’ve said to me. I’ve never had to experience what you’re going through right now. How does this make you feel?”
This reframes any potential argument into an opportunity for both you and your child to learn and grow. Your child will be learning about his or her birth parents, and may want to make contact with them.
If your child is actually of legal age (18 in most states), your job would be to facilitate the meeting, or at least help the child in the search.
If your child does become increasingly negative, and uses divisive language that implies or directly states that you are not the “real parent,” it’s time to reframe the discussion to focus on the fact that you are the parent, that this is an inclusive family structure, and that it is normal.
At the end of the day, your child wants to feel a connection with you. Staying close to him or her, and making it clear that you love them regardless of the choice they make, is important. At the same time, you should make it clear that it’s time to learn, grow, and be independent as an individual, because that is what your child is.