In case you didn't know, how my family has become my family is usually on my mind. Additionally, I do a lot of talking with other families who are in a state of "becoming", and we are constantly working toward what will promote unity and neutralize conflict.
While this is still a work in progress, I hope you will read and consider this. Please comment with any epiphanies you have had that I could add to this list.
The Adoptive Parent’s responsibility
Provide a safe, loving atmosphere that meets all needs of the child
Make the child a welcome addition to the family, not the center of the family.
Recognize that your child has no concept of family and certainly does not know your family. They do not know how to give or receive love and have a skewed perception of what real love is.
Be proactive, not reactive in your parenting.
Be intentional about building relationship and do not place any responsibility of building said relationship upon the child
The adoptive child’s expectation
I am never going to worry again because all of my dreams are going to come true now that I have a family.
If my family loves me, they will give me everything I want.
I will never have to work, or go to school, or do anything unpleasant ever again because now my life is going to be perfect.
Conflict within our new families begins for many reasons. I believe they can all be traced back to some aspect of this list. The child’s contribution to conflict is easy to identify. Nothing on their list of expectations has any connection to reality on any level. How could it? They know what they don’t have. With all the egocentricity of a child, they theorize that all of life’s problems will be solved when I get everything I want without any personal responsibility. Life happens to me, so good life will happen to me with these new parents. Relationship, responsibility, and reciprocity are not factors in any child’s thoughts. This line of thinking is difficult enough without factoring in any institutional delay or health diagnoses. Factoring in those two elements can compound the problem exponentially.
What creates more difficulty is when the parent does not have a clear understanding of what it takes to separate personal feelings and expectations from the reality of helping their child navigate through not just the concrete transition of the actual physical changes brought about by the adoption, but also helping their child navigate through the more abstract transition from orphan to family. An orphan is a singular unit existing alone without the benefit of love, caring, or support from any avenue outside of him or herself; literally the child is an island, isolated and alone. Family on the other hand is a network of natural help, assistance, support, and love. A family naturally acts and reacts in concert with each member to create unity and security. This is a relationship that naturally develops over time starting at conception. When an orphan is plucked from their isolation and transplanted into the network of family, they cannot naturally and immediately adjust. It is impossible. It is an assault on every aspect of who they have been as a person and is completely foreign to them. For most, it is overwhelming. They will struggle and fight against this new sensation until they learn to understand it and can begin to appreciate it. Please understand, this will take A LOT OF TIME. “Behaviors” in a formerly orphaned/institutionalized child clearly expose the disparity between who the child was and who the child is becoming.
If a parent now places his or her own personal expectations and emotional needs upon a child who is already in such a state of distress, even more pressure is placed upon the child. It is unrealistic and unjust to put such a vulnerable child in this position. The child, who is already on overload, is going to act out against such expectations with even more distressing behaviors.
You the parent must be in control of yourself and your emotions so that you can navigate through turmoil without having your confidence shaken by how their behaviors are making you feel. You cannot have your feelings dictating how you react to your child. Your child is out of control and desperately needs you to be in control. If your emotions cause you to lash out at a child who cannot contain himself/herself because you took their behavior personally, how can you possibly create a sense of security for your child? You yourself are not secure. This cannot be. You must be the sure foundation. Only then can your child begin to trust that there is someone stronger taking care of things. They fight to make sure it is true. If they can beat you, how can they trust you to protect and care for them?
How do we become proactive rather than reactive parents? We must learn who our children are. We must learn the signs and triggers that cause them distress, and then we must do everything in our power to create an environment where these situations happen as seldom as possible. We must not become angry when our children melt down because the situation has become too great for them. We must be responsible to neutralize any flair up without blaming the child for the situation. You KNOW what is going to be a problem for your child. It is up to YOU to take care of it. While I state that the child is not to be the center of the family, in this circumstance, the child’s needs do need to dictate what you will and won’t be doing for some time to come. This does not mean that the family revolves around the child’s happiness and all aspects of family life bows down to the great and mighty child. I am sure you know families who operate this way. This is not the same thing. You are working toward healing for a broken child. You are working toward integrating them into your family. This takes time and specific attention. The bottom line is we must recognize and accept who our children are RIGHT NOW as we work toward developing them into who they are to become without our own anger and resentment creating additional problems. Our children did not create their own situations they are victims of circumstance. It is our calling to facilitate healing.