(This is an edited repost from my defunct personal blog, which is why it references other posts from four years ago and Lost, for goodness sakes, like the olden days or something.)
Malinda posted about this parenting advice from Brian Stuy:
We have never brought up, unprompted, our daughters’ birth parents. We have discussed adoption, conception and pregnancy, and other corollary issues from time to time, but I have never, without having the subject introduced by a daughter, initiated a conversation by saying, “Do you wish you knew your birth mother?” Or, “Do you want to know more about your abandonment?” I have always indicated a willingness to answer any and all questions (not just about adoption but about anything), so I am confident my kids know that if they ask any question we will try to provide them with a good answer. But the point is, I wait for them to ask. Those that force-feed their children the deep issues of abandonment, birth parents and adoption, risk, I believe, getting the kinds of responses displayed above. In fact, by presenting the reality of birth parents before they are mature enough to handle it, for example, I think we risk diminishing our own position as parents to our children.
I was watching Lost on Tuesday, which is chock full of obvious and less obvious adoption issues and adoption cliches and stereotypes and I was thinking about how deeply ingrained our presumptions are about “real” parents and changelings and lost orphans and false parents. I was thinking about fairy tales and mythology and thinking that our collective unconsciousness already feeds us these ideas. (I am typing this to avoid spoilers.) It doesn’t matter if they are “true” or not — they are part of our belief system.
So unlike Brian, I think that even if we never ever ever breathe an unasked for word about our kids’ birth parents that our collective unconsciousness is already, in some ways, defining our own position as parents to our children. And our kids need to figure that out for themselves, which I think means we should be more explicit in welcoming that discussion. Not because we need to sway them but because we need to hear them out (or at least say to them, “I am bringing this up because I will hear you out”) so that they know whatever direction they choose, whatever belief feels like home to them, we will love them and accept them and never ever leave them. Even if they feel more attached to their birth countries, families and origins than they do to us. They may reject the “blood is thicker than water” belief system or they may not. But they will wonder about it.
Brian also says:
They might ask at that point if they were born of their adoptive parents, and that would be a good time to answer, “No, you were born to a woman in China.” That is the type of answer I would give. But many use this opportunity to go ahead and answer questions not asked and not even thought of: “No, you were born to a woman in China. She is your birth mother, and she wasn’t able to keep you, so she left you at the gate of the orphanage.” This is the type of over-feeding that overwhelms most kids, and creates, I believe, unnecessarily emotional issues.
There’s a third response, “No, you were born to a woman in China. What do you think about that?” or “How do you feel about that?” or “I know that might be confusing. Do you have some questions about that?”
I mean, culturally? We romanticize birth ties. I’m not willing to say that this romance is more true or less true. I’m not willing to say that it’s a cultural bias we need to question or reject or welcome with open arms. I think it’s one that’s interesting to explore and for any adopted child, it is an absolutely vital exploration because it is a conflict she is living and she will need to make sense of it in whatever way she needs to.
This is why we need to bring it up. We don’t say, “Hey, my lovely child, do you feel so much more tied to your birth mom than you do to me? Since she’s your real mother and all?” Instead we can say, “How did you feel when so-and-so was talking about this thing that might relate to adoption?” If I was Brian Stuy in a closed adoption from China, I’d surely say, “Sometimes I wonder about your birth mom. Do you wonder?” Because I would wonder. And if I’m wondering, it’s not such a far stretch to think that the child herself wonders.
I do not think that birth ties are any more magical and true than love ties but I do believe that birth ties are rich with meaning. I do think that in a culture that romanticizes our genetic origins that those genetic origins have an important weight.
For example, gender has tremendous cultural weight, agreed? We can say that gender is a social construct but it does not negate the weight of it. We can say it is a figment of our collective imagination and we can choose NOT to believe that gender matters. Individually, we can do that. But culturally, gender still has weight and our questions and struggle with the cultural construct of gender is practiced against the beliefs that we are questioning. Which is to say, no matter how much we choose to believe that gender does not matter for ourselves, it does matter. Our personal practice of gender exists in contrast to the larger cultural construct. In other words, Lady Gaga owes as big a debt to Phyllis Schlafly as she does to Madonna.
I was interviewed for an article that appears in Brain Child Magazine this month.
Neither the introverted or extroverted personality is better than the other—they’re simply different, points out Dawn Friedman, a family therapist based in Worthington, Ohio.
Friedman knows of what she speaks. Her household includes a smart, funny 16-year-old introvert named Noah, who displayed a few innie quirks from the get-go: “He liked preschool,” says Friedman, “but after the meager two and a half hours, he was done. He wouldn’t talk on the way home, and he’d be a little fragile for the rest of the day.”
…But as a parent and therapist, Friedman recognizes that introversion comes with real challenges. “The world is built for extroverts. Very often introverts are taught to fight their introversion—to suck it up and go glad hand people, try to be popular, have lots of friends—and that’s not the introverted way,” she says. “So when I get a child in my office who is clearly struggling in part because of her introversion, a big part of our work together is psychoeducation about introversion. Most of them are so relieved to find out that they’re perfectly wonderful, healthy people who just don’t happen to fit the currently popular mode.”
from Quiet Riot: Celebrating Introverted Kids in an Extroverted World | Brain, Child Magazine
A culture that expects people to have lots of friends, enjoy social activity, work well with others, etc. can be hard for an introvert. I work to help my clients — and their support people — understand self-care for introverts. It can be difficult to know when a teen’s withdrawal is worrisome and when it’s a healthy way to nurture herself after a wrung out extroverted day and these are things we talk about. Is the child who shuts himself up in his room after school depressed? Or just recharging? Is the teenager wearing headphones 24/7 struggling with anxiety or being self-protective when she’s overwhelmed?
When parents — and teachers — understand what normal, healthy introversion looks like, they can feel more confident about supporting those introverted kids who need some alone time to be the best they can be.
I’ll be giving a free talk in on Kids and Anxiety this fall and we’ll talk about some of this then. Mark your calendar if you’d like to be there. I’m also available to speak to your group if you’d like me to come to you. Just let me know.
I know many adoptees, and although this is not true across the board adoptees will never be pigeonholed, i’ve found that more often than not, when you look beyond the surface, the adoptees whom a casual observer may most likely label as an “angry adoptee” or see as being the most critical of different aspects of adoption, are often the very ones who have the closest and healthiest relationships with their adoptive parents. It seems counter-intuitive, but I see it over and over again.
When an adoptee makes a critical statement about adoption or adoption practices it doesn’t automatically mean that they are “angry” or have a bad relationship with their parents. Often, the opposite is true, and all it really means is that they’ve been paying attention.
via blog.adoptionmosaic.org » Angry in a Whole New Light.
There’s a myth that goes around adoptive parent circles, which says that if you are a good adoptive parent your child will never grieve, never be angry about his/her adoption and never “need” to meet their birth family. Many of us know that it’s a myth and yet it persists. And it presupposes that adopted people should not be angry or that we should not want to raise children who have their own opinions, thoughts and feelings about their experiences.
You can’t look at any child who isn’t expressing negative emotion and assume that means the child isn’t feeling negative emotion, not when it comes to big ticket items like adoption or divorce or moving or deployed parents, etc. It may be that child is very private. It may be that child doesn’t want to disrupt things for other family members (issues of loyalty, guilt or responsibility can make talking about our feelings that much more difficult). It may be that the complexity of those big ticket items make it too hard to talk about.
In other words, giving your child safe space to say, “I miss my birth mom” does not MAKE her miss her birth mom; it lets her know that you are strong enough to be there for her while she struggles with any and all of her feelings.
This isn’t to say that “angry” is the only way or the most healthy way for an adopted person to feel. Adopted people are not a monolithic population and so there are adopted people who are happy about adoption and adopted people w ho are angry about adoption and adopted people who are grieving their adoption and very often those people are many of those things all at the same time or they will change their feelings as their experiences change. Just like those of us who are not adopted, we all have a right to make meaning of our experiences with room for ambivalence and room for growth and room for change.
We adoptive parents, we do not get to define the adoption experience for our children and we do not get to take their emotions and decide it says something about us (making their feelings all about us).
Being critical of adoption — being critical of our participation as adoptive parents — is the right of any adopted person. We get to have our experience of adoption; they get to have theirs.
When they are very young children and then bigger children and then teens, our job is to help them make sense of their stories and give them room to eventually tell their own narrative. Our job is not to control that narrative and it is not to limit their authorship of their own story because, as I said, giving your child space to be critical does not create the criticism.
I just finished a kid’s book titled Return of the Twelves. It’s about a set of wooden soldiers once owned by Branwell Bronte and his sisters. The soldiers are alive and the little boy who finds them watches over them as one of their Genii (plural for genius).
When you’re a child small things are so appealing; this is why the sandtray is the most popular (and powerful) toy in my whole office. You can make a whole world in there and most of the kids take intense pride in how “real” they can make it look. The setting up — place each thing exactly where it ought to go next to the exact thing it should stand besides — is very nearly more fun than playing with it afterwards. Do you remember doing that? Setting your toys up and then gazing at them with satisfaction? Most of the kids who come to my office like to take pictures of their set up sandtray on their parents’ phone so they can take it home and share it with other family members. I usually take pictures, too, and make them part of my case notes.
Anyway, reading Return of the Twelve made me think about the other books like that and I came up with an incomplete list.
Which others do you remember?
Perhaps the hardest thing about parenting a difficult child is the way that the day-to-day struggles undermines your confidence. It’s hard to feel good about yourself or your child when you wake up feeling helpless and dreading the day together. As the old saying goes, “You are only as happy as your unhappiest child”; when one child is struggling, the whole family follows.
With this in mind, I decided to create a psychoeducational support group for parents who are having a hard time with their kids.
The group will be gently structured to give us learning opportunities will still allowing parents to bring their concerns to each meeting.
Do you have a difficult child?
The group might be right for you if you answer yes to any of the following:
- Your child has a diagnosis, IEP, 504 or none of the above;
- Your child has been labeled “spirited” or “high needs”;
- Your child explodes with anger or withdraws and feels impossible to reach;
- You feel trapped in a rut and want to create change in your relationships;
- Your marriage or partnership is suffering;
- You want new tools and the space to reject what doesn’t work;
- You feel that your less difficult children are getting short shrift in the family;
- You feel isolated, judged or even condemned by others who don’t understand your struggle;You want to be acknowledged as the person who knows your child best but still want direction and support.
The group, Parenting Challenging Children, starts on Thursday, September 4th and meets from 7:15pm to 8:30pm in the group office at Building Family Counseling, 6660 North High Street (suite 1G for groups). The group is $100/month, which ends up being $20 to $25 per session depending on how many weeks there are in the month. This is an open group, which means enrollment will be ongoing although we’ll cap the group at about 12. You can register for the group by going here and you can either pay online or in person at your first meeting.
It doesn’t matter how old your child is or what your struggle looks like, I hope to see you there if you are struggling.
If you have questions, give me a call at 614/301-8030.