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Being critical of birth parent behavior, not birth parents

blondeboy-insideI wanted to pull something out that Catana said in her comments to my last post because I thought it was really important:

When the teen years begin the issue becomes more difficult because, in addition to everything else, they wonder what their parent’s sexual behavior was and whether they will ultimately end up like them – unmarried and pregnant, and/or irresponsible adults. Teens need a confidante, typically not the adoptive family.

Catana is an adult adoptee so her words should hold extra resonance for those of us raising adopted children.

I think this is a piece that can be very difficult for adoptive parents to understand, especially those adoptive parents who have real reason to feel angry or critical about their children’s birth parents actions (such as in the case of foster-to-adopt when terrible abuse or neglect is what led the child into the system).

It is absolutely understandable that adoptive parents would feel very angry and resentful towards those birth parents who were abusive and neglectful but it is not appropriate to express that anger and resentment to the child without caveats. It is hugely important that adoptive parents make it clear that their criticism is directed to the birth parents behavior and not to the birth parents themselves.

This can get tricky.

An adoptive parent should never say, “Your birth mom was just an evil person. Your birth dad was always a loser.”

An adoptive parent can say, “I feel so angry that your birth mom hurt you; I wish she’d known how to be a better mom. I am so sad that your birth dad didn’t know how to be a good parent; he’s missing out on a really great kid.”

Again, I’m not saying that it’s inappropriate to be angry and resentful about the behavior; it can be therapeutically important for the adoptive parents to express negative emotions for all that their children have gone through or are going through. But at the same time, it’s vital that adoptive parents remember that even if their children have been deeply hurt by their biological parents, they are still of them.

It’s the same thing we talk about when we talk about divorced parents not bad-mouthing their child’s other parent (even when that other parent deserves it). We need to keep our feelings our feelings and if we can’t do that, we need to talk to an understanding professional who can give you space to get it all out and then put it back together in the best way possible for our children.

Many adopted children certainly will wonder if they will make the same mistakes or struggle with the same demons. And in fact, they might. They need to know that you will love and cherish them anyway and — most importantly — that you will do everything you can to support them no matter what happens. They need to know that even if mental illness or addiction or what-have-you is in their biological heritage that this doesn’t need to dictate the trajectory of their lives.

I don’t want to chastise adoptive parents who are struggling or make them feel guilty for their ugly feelings towards birth parents who have harmed their children but I do want to encourage them to figure out a way to rise above it for the sake of their kids. To be able to do this for your child you need to be able to do it for yourself. If you’re holding onto fears that your child will head down the same path or you find yourself obsessed with anger towards your child’s birth parents, get some help from an understanding (and adoption competent) professional to figure it out.

1 Comment

  1. You are so right, Dawn, regarding adoptive parents not bad-mouthing their adoptees pre-adoption history. Somehow, however, subliminal messages seep into the child’s understanding. Because of that I say that when it comes to therapy for the adoptee, no parents should be present during the sessions. When it comes to identity issues, what parents (well meaning ones, and not so) want to create for their adoptees is often not what adoptees want for themselves. It is very hard to be truthful with those who have done so much for one; one does not wish to make them unhappy. And talking with patents about being adopted becomes increasingly difficult as the child grows older. I so appreciate your focus on this issue.

    Reply

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