6 considerations for adoptive parents
Since you're reading this, chances are you're considering adopting, you're already an adoptive parent or you're involved in adoption in some other way. Over the years, the knowledge base has grown around things to look out for when bringing up a child you didn't give birth to yourself.
Parenting in this way is not an easy job, it will at times be painful and difficult but as you're here, you no doubt want the best for your child and the best out of your relationship with them. So read on!
In 2019 I began a research project that asked the question “Levels of well-being in adults adopted as children – what can we learn?”
My research led to these 6 things for adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents to factor in to their adoption parenting.
1 - Adoptive parent(s) with secure attachment style
If parents are insecure, anxious or avoidant, they are likely to make an already traumatised child feel more disconnected.
If you don't know your attachment style (and why would you?) dig deep and ask yourself how you are in your relationships with others. If you rely on others to feel better about yourself, you may need to work on that first. Parenting an adoptee is not going to be an easy ride, as they will have issues of abandonment, loss and fear to navigate. It's vital that your adoptee is not made they need to make you feel better.
Get support or therapy to help you identify the cause of this and work through it.
2 - Adoptive parent(s) who have grieved for, had therapy and overcome an inability to conceive naturally
Parents who would have never considered adoption as an option, often turn to it as a last resort when they have tried and failed to conceive naturally and via IVF.
In these circumstances they are adopting primarily for themselves, even though they can undoubtedly often provide a stable home life for the child.
Research suggests they need to grieve for their own loss before they can “be” what the adopted child needs, otherwise there's a risk of disconnect, detachment and resentment towards the adoptee. All these things would worsen the adoptee's "self concept" (how they understand themselves) which has already been damaged by the separation from biological mother.
3 - Adoptive parent(s) with the ability to mentalise the experience of their adopted child
Essentially, a parent who can put themselves in the “feelings” of the adopted child. The parent needs to accept that a baby or infant will be traumatised, suffer issues of fear, loss and rejection.
Parents need to attempt to empathise with this in order to allow their child to explore/express their feelings
4 - Adoptive parent(s) who are psychologically ready, prepared and willing to work with issues of separation, trauma, loss, identity and contact
As above, but adoptive parents should expect these issues and be prepared to discuss them in an open, supportive environment.
This should continue as the child grows and develops and begins to question their identity.
5 - Adoptive parent(s) who encourage open and supportive discourse about issues of separation, trauma, loss, identity and contact.
This should include the adoptee’s siblings (adopted or otherwise)
Again, the parents should initiate and encourage these conversations.
NORMALISE these conversations, otherwise your adoptee will feel 'bad', 'wrong' or 'disloyal' for their feelings when they already have enough to contend with.
6 - Therapy to be available as standard as adoptees reach adolescence and young adulthood
All adoptees should benefit from adoption competent therapy or support as they mature and question their experiences and identity.
This is not currently (2021) available as standard, but if you have the means do seek out an adoption competent therapist.
See my video on internalising behaviours and early therapeutic support.
What is therapeutic parenting?
It's an approach to parenting that builds trust. When you are parenting (generally, in my view but especially an adoptee) it's vital that your child knows they can trust you not to reject them for 'being' a particular way or 'behaving' in certain ways. (See my videos on how adoptees cope).
Your child has experienced a trauma, not just physical trauma through abuse (although that sadly happens), but through the separation from the biological mother. This represents trauma and loss and your child will likely attempt to deal with this truth in often difficult and (self) destructive ways. The success of your relationship and the extent to which your child will be able to find wellbeing later on will depend on how you manage this.
External resources about therapeutic parenting can be found here.
6 struggles adoptees have
In this video, I talk about 6 main struggles (there are many more) that adoptees face in their lives.
As noted in the list for adoptive parents, the ability to mentalise these experiences is crucial in order to build trust and grown a mutually satisfying relationship.
You can watch the video here (around 10 mins)