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On the last track, we discussed the First Four Suggestions of Telling Children about Adoption. These included Initiating the Conversation, the "Movie" Technique, Using Positive Language, Telling the Truth and Allowing the Child to Express Anger Without Joining In.
Do you have a client who has some difficult information to tell his or her adopted child regarding the adoption? How do you respond?
On this track, we will continue the Nine Suggestions of Telling about the adoption by discussing Suggestions Five and Six. These will include Omitting Until Age Twelve and Not Trying to Fix the Pain. As you listen, think of your client. How does he or she plan to tell his or her child about the adoption?
#1 - Omitting Until Age 12
Dara came to me about her adopted daughter Ruby, age 7. Dara stated, "Ruby's birth mother was a prostitute and involved with drugs! I don't think I should tell her that, but I don't want her to feel I'm withholding information from her later on. What is the right age to tell her?" I stated, "You probably know Ruby's developmental level better than anyone, and the things she will or won't understand. For example, if Ruby does not understand human sexuality, you may not want to explain prostitution to her just yet. You might want to disclose information about Ruby's history in increments, as you feel she can understand it."
I explained to Dara that if, for whatever reason, the full story had not yet been told to Ruby during her childhood, Dara might want to tell it before adolescence.
I stated to Dara, "Most teens believe very few of the things they hear from adults. It's almost as though it is part of the job description of the adolescent to challenge whatever messages come from adults, particularly from their own parents. Therefore, I advise adoptive parents to share information before their child enters the argumentative, stormy stage of adolescence. Paradoxically, children around the age of eleven or twelve will understand and accept information that an older youth might not. Children between ages 8 and 10 have more time to work and re-work material and come to a positive sense of self before they begin to emotionally leave the family nest. Children under the age of twelve may process new, different and negative information more easily, with less potential for internalizing self blame or shame for the actions and choices of others."
#2 - Not Trying to "Fix" the Pain
I explained to Dara, "Listening ears, soft shoulders, and understanding attitudes are often very helpful. Sometimes in a parent's eagerness to take pain away from children, the parent instead takes away the validity of the child's feelings." I continued, "When in pain, Ruby may not necessarily want explanations or logical thoughts about what has happened; she might just want someone who understands and empathizes, 'I know this hurts.'"
In a later session, Dara related to me that Ruby said a storyteller had visited her class who talked about the importance of naming characters and feelings. Ruby stated to Dara, "I don't think my birth mother really loved me. She didn't give me a name. I wanted her to give me a name." Dara did her best to listen and support, stating, "I can't imagine how hard it must have been for you to realize that right in the midst of your class."
Dara did her best to listen and support, not to give reasons why the birth mother might have avoided naming Ruby. Dara also did not try to make Ruby's pain evaporate by ignoring it or redirecting attention from it. Often the best remedy for emotional pain is the support that comes from awareness that another understands and accepts someone's feelings.
Do you have a Dara who is not sure when to tell his or her child about difficult facts in the adoption story? Might playing this track in one of your sessions be beneficial?
On this track, we have discussed Suggestions Five and Six. These have included Omitting Until Age Twelve and Not Trying to Fix the Pain.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Palacios, J., Adroher, S., Brodzinsky, D. M., Grotevant, H. D., Johnson, D. E., Juffer, F., Martínez-Mora, L., Muhamedrahimov, R. J., Selwyn, J., Simmonds, J., & Tarren-Sweeney, M. (2019). Adoption in the service of child protection: An international interdisciplinary perspective. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 25(2), 57–72.
Von Korff, L., & Grotevant, H. D. (2011). Contact in adoption and adoptive identity formation: The mediating role of family conversation. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 393–401.
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