Category

Challenges

Loving your Child

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

This blog post was originally published as a guest blog post on WACAP Now Blog

Those who choose older child adoption face many unique challenges.  Many of the challenges are openly discussed in an attempt to obtain wisdom in how to address them. However, one of the most common challenges is not feeling love for your child, yet it is a topic rarely discussed. Few parents willingly admit they do not feel love for their child; those who do often receive judgment from others.

Admitting you do not feel love for your child is perceived as unacceptable because it runs counter to human nature so why do so many experience it? There are likely a variety of reasons; but consider this: when an infant or young toddler joins your family, you see the sweet smile that melts your heart. You hear the contagious baby giggle. You know how much this treasured baby depends on you for care and comfort. When that cherished baby becomes a preteen, who begins to exude an attitude, you know that sweet, precious baby you remember is tucked behind the challenging exterior. However, when you bring your child home as a preteen (or older), you do not have memories of the sweet, precious baby. You see only the tough exterior and you are not sure what is underneath. Often, it is difficult to look past the exterior to that hurt child hiding deep inside.

How can parents love their child when they lack the gushy loving feelings?

1. Set Realistic Expectations.

    Would you marry a complete stranger and expect to feel immediately emotionally connected to that person? No, of course not. Yet, older child adoption is similar: you are coming to a relationship with a complete stranger who has their own experiences, personality, and likes and dislikes. Yet as their parent, you are expected to feel emotional love for them from the start. It can come, but it often takes time to feel that love. It will take time for your child to feel love for you, too. And they may never feel love for you. You have to accept that loving your child is not about what they do (or don’t do), but who they are as your child.

2. Love is an Action, not a Feeling.

    One dad I interviewed shared, “Love is what you do, what you say, and how you interact with your child.” You can express love to them by meeting their needs. You can show love by giving sincere, authentic praise every day (even if you have to look really hard to find something praise worthy). You can show love through service such as teaching them skills like how to cook, how to sort laundry, how to manage money, etc. You can show affectionate touch by giving hugs, pats on the back, fist bumps, and high fives. Or spend quality time with your child listening to them and doing activities together that your child enjoys.

3. Take Care of Yourself.

    It is hard to help others when you have already given everything within you, and you feel dry. Parched. Out of energy. Done. As parents, it is so easy to get caught up in the needs of our children (or family in general) that we neglect taking care of us. However, you cannot pour from an empty cup; airline attendants tell us to put on our oxygen mask before assisting others. We need to change the narrative that taking time to care for our self is selfish (although too much of a good thing is not good either). Many parents struggle to find enjoyable things that help them feel refreshed. Consider different types of activities that you have tried or want to try; but if you are still unsure of what works for you, consider activities in these categories: reflective (i.e. meditation or positive self-talk), calming (i.e. reading or spending time in nature), physical (i.e. exercise), creative (i.e. hand crafts or coloring), and social (i.e. join a new group or go to a movie). There are many ideas within each category so search the internet for additional ideas. Do not be afraid to try new ideas. Keep track of what works for you as well as what does not. Make sure what you select is beneficial and not detrimental (i.e. over working, over eating, or drinking alcohol in excess). If taking time for yourself seems difficult, start with small increments of time and gradually increase it. Find what works best for you to take care of you.

Setting realistic expectations for yourself (and your child), acting out love by meeting your child’s needs (even when you do not feel like it), and making sure you have energy to give are vital for you and your child. If one day (or week) is really hard or unsuccessful, give yourself grace, recommit to showing love to your child, and purposefully act. It can be hard, but you, your child, and your family are worth the effort.

Ending an Adoption

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

Are you or someone you know needing to find a new home for an adopted child?  Perhaps they are considering disrupting their adoption (or ending their adoption) or “re-homing” their child. Re-homing refers to families finding new homes for their adoptive children often without the help of adoption agencies or some other child welfare organization authorized to ensure the new placement will be a healthy environment for the child (many states have laws against this practice). Yet another term is “second adoption” or “second chance adoption.”  These refer to finding new families to adopt the child after the first adoptive family decides they are unable to parent the child.

Of the families in our study, we had two families who had disrupted prior to talking with us and two who found new families for their children in the midst of the study.  Here is some advice from families who have been there:

  • Disrupting is a decision that should not be taken lightly. You may regret doing it when things settle down.
  • Try therapy before pursuing finding a new family. Look for a therapist who is familiar with adoption. You may have to try a couple before you find the right fit. Keep trying, don’t give up! You will find the best therapist for you and your family. Therapy is not going to bring change in just a few sessions, but it can provide glimmers of light in the darkness.
  • Do NOT find a new family for your child via social media groups or boards. Not only is this not helpful for you or your child, it is illegal in many states.
  • Contact your agency. If your agency cannot or will not help you, contact another agency that places older children to see if they can help you by either reaching out to your agency or potentially help you find a new family. Stay persistent. It may not be quick, but it will be the safest way to place your child in a new home.
  • If you need an immediately break, consider finding respite. Many adoption agencies have families who provide respite by individuals and couples who have been background checked, home study approved, and educated that you could consider.

You want the new environment to truly be better for your child and not another stop on the journey.  Working with an agency means the new family has been assessed by a professional to determine their ability to parent your child. These assessments may mean your child is in a safer environment than one you select yourself. An agency is going to help you find some relief so you can make the best decision for your child and your family after your emotions in the moment have diminished.

Finding a new home for your child should be considered only after all other resources have been exhausted. Find a therapist for yourself who can help you navigate your options and your emotions.

The Need for Struggle

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

Providing children with love and unconditional acceptance is important to helping them develop a positive view of “self”. However, it is equally important to their positive view of self to help them feel competent and capable. Allowing your child to experience what is it like to discover, figure-out, and problem-solve is the first step toward helping your child to feel competent and capable. When you allow your child to struggle with a problem (all while providing encouragement with phrases such as, “You’re determined to figure it out” or “You’ve got a plan for how…” or “You’re not giving up”) you are showing your child that you have faith in his/her capabilities. Your faith in your child’s capabilities also encourages your child to have faith in him/herself.

For most parents, allowing children to struggle is difficult. However, it is necessary for children to truly feel capable. Most parents do too much for their children and as a result their children have learned to depend on their parents to solve their problems, often believing they cannot do it themselves. When you step in to help or rescue your child, you rob your child of the joy of discovery and the opportunity to feel competent. You will never know what your child is capable of, unless you allow him/her to try! It might take a lot of practice in how to return responsibility to your child to do things he/she is capable of figuring out for him/herself. Using phrases like, “That’s something you can do” or “You get to decide” can be helpful. Returning responsibility to your child will help your child learn to no longer depend on you to solve most of his/her problems. To help illustrate the importance of struggle and self-discovery, I would like to share with you “The Story of the Butterfly.”

A man found the cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could not go any farther.

The man felt sympathetic on seeing the butterfly struggle so much. He decided to help it. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

It was never able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it became free from the cocoon. (Author Unknown).

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives in order to fly (i.e., to grow and reach a higher potential). Learning to respond to your child in ways that gives your child credit for his/her ideas, efforts, and accomplishments, without praising him/her (e.g., You figured it out! You did it! rather than “You’re so good.”), will help your child develop a positive view of self as capable and competent. Our book has a section on praise and encouragement, and Kelly will discuss more on the topic in her next blog.