Question: Some kids in my adoption community have history, sometimes unhappy, harsh, and/or abusive history before they joined their families. The kids sometimes talk about their history with their adoptive mothers who attend a support group I host.
Is that enough? Or is it better that these children work with a therapist? If these children talk at a young age and their mothers comfort them, will their teen year be better? Or will they still have tough teenage years?
One of the moms shared with me a recording of a conversation she had with her 7 year-old son. You can hear the regression to baby sound when he talks about his first parents.
leader of an adoptive parent support group in the Middle East
Zilla, we know from your | previous | questions that you are devoted to bringing openness (defined as dealing with What Is) to adoptive parents in your part of the world. Having lived near there once upon a time, I suspect that you may face even more mindset barriers than we do in this neck of the woods.
To explore the questions you ask about therapy for the adopted child, I turn to my writing coach and adoptee-whisperer Anne Heffron. Anne is an adoptee-in-healing and a storytelling doula. We are fortunate to have her always-enlightening take on matters of adoption. On matter of humanity, really.
(⇑⇑⇑ I encourage readers to click on all 3 above links to Anne’s contributions to the arena of adoptee healing.⇑⇑⇑)
Love is Not Enough for All Wounds
If a child were in a fire, no matter how much the parents loved that child or knew how to bathe wounds, the child would still need to go to the doctor because such deep burns require care from someone trained in that particular kind of trauma.
The same is true, I believe, about kids who were relinquished by their birth parents. No matter how much the new parents talk about the situation or love the child, the fact is that child’s brain was affected by the parental loss in ways the new parents most likely don’t know enough about to deal with as efficiently and as effectively as possible.
Why treat burns with band-aids when you can get the real deal by going for professional help? Why risk additional trauma?
Therapy for the Adopted Child
An adopted child has special needs that a parent — one who has not been adopted him or herself and who has not had years of training about how early separation from the mother affects the child’s brain — can not meet. No matter how badly the mother wishes she could.
It’s not about the parents’ wishes for a happily ever after. It’s about the child’s needs to heal all that came before and since. As we know, this is an ongoing effort, not a one-time patch.
Anne Heffron was born in Manhattan in 1964 to a college student. Fifty-one years later Anne returned to Manhattan to find the roots of Her story, now the memoir You Don’t Look Adopted, begins with her birth instead of “The day we got you.” Keep up with her at AnneHeffron.com.
My 2 cents
Anne addresses the important notion that some wounds need beyond-layman’s expertise for optimal healing. I wish to address one other reason adoptive parents should consider seeking therapy for a child who has experienced trauma and/or loss.
Some healing just can’t come from the adoptive mom, no matter how much love and trust there is between her and her child.
Some of the complicated feelings of love and rage, of attachment and abandonment, of need and rejection for a birth mother can be aimed at the one who took her place. This means that the one who took her place is not someone who can easily sort out these complex emotions.
A guide is necessary, someone who understands this dynamic well and who is emotionally removed from it.
Not just any therapist will do. Both Anne and I implore you to find an adoption-competent therapist.
- My Kid Has No Adoption Issues. That a Problem? Isn’t it possible that my kid is OK with being adopted?
- Adoption Therapy: The foreword to a highly acclaimed book (you’ll want to read the whole anthology).
- Adoption Isn’t a One-Time Event. Agencies are starting to understand that.
About this Open Adoption Advice Column
- I am not a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
- Readers, please weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. Remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor. We we aim to bring light rather than heat. People do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.
- Send in your own open adoption question for consideration.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.