October Issue

Special Focus: Adoption – Part IV

Over the last three months we’ve explored the various aspects of adoption, from its procedures to the legal implications. In this concluding issue, we take a look at the psychological implications of adoption on the child and how and when to tell your child that she’s adopted.

While adopting, we give a lot of thought to what our families will say or the neighbours. We wonder how we will adjust to this child – will we be able to love her as much as a biological child or will we have to fight a tendency to return her to the adoption center every time life as a parent got tough. We do of course spend time wondering just how we’ll tell her that she’s adopted but how much time is spent in looking at the adoption from her point of view? She is a child carrying terrible scars of being unwanted and abandoned and then, often at an age when children avoid strangers, she is pitch forked into a home full of strangers that she is supposed to love! This is a time for great patience and love and you have to remember that not only is she very afraid of being abandoned again, but that she has also been very hurt and is now wary of being hurt again by trusting or loving completely.

Most of us take our roots for granted. We have a past, a heritage of family history and traditions and the security of knowing exactly who our parents are. In short, we belong – effortlessly. But imagine instead, that your past is a complete mystery and your parents are unrelated by blood. However secure you may be, there will be times when you may feel insecure and unsure of being loved. This happens to all of us, especially when we’ve failed at something or have done something we are ashamed of and we’re afraid that others will stop loving us out of disgust for our actions. How much worse this would be for a person who doesn’t have the security of being related through blood and genes with the rest of the family?

So faced by so much psychological and emotional baggage, what can you do to improve the situation?

First of all, throw the books on child rearing and all the theories out of the window. These children start out with a handicap and it’s not fair or feasible to compare their needs and milestones with those of biological children. Initially at least, a tantrum may need different handling or certain greater indulgences may have to be made in order to win trust. So don’t go by what everyone else says – follow your own instincts and keep in touch with the adoption center for advice and help.

But don’t carry on the special treatment for too long! After you have established a degree of love and trust, its essential to make sure that you don’t make the mistake of treating your child ‘differently’ in any way. Secure children have secure limits and if in the attempt to make up to your child for the circumstances, you behave over indulgently or don’t set proper limits, the only message that you send is that you don’t love her enough. Scold, discipline and get it out of your head that this child is different – she’s just a child.

Prepare your child for the truth early on. You don’t want her to find out from some one else and neither do you want it to come as a bolt from the blue. While there is no one right answer to the dilemma of how to tell or when to tell, experts agree that tell you should. Try these methods to ease the trauma a little –

  • Start telling your child stories of adopted children. These can range from stories you make up that revolve round an adopted child or you can resort to historical and mythological characters such as Lord Krishna. Just remember that these stories should be woven in naturally, as bedtime tales and no excess emphasis should be put on the adoption element.
  • From the very first day, tell your child often that you love her. Stress her special features and praise her achievements. This will help her through the trauma of learning that she’s adopted.
  • Take her on regular visits to the adoption center and keep in social touch with other adoptive parents. Your child will not then feel so different or left out.
  • When your child is two or two and a half, start telling her about how you were looking for a child to love and chose her to be your own special miracle. Tell her conversationally, not as a big disclosure. She won’t fully understand but gradually as she hears the tale over and over again, it will seep into her subconscious and will never be a shock. In fact it will be a natural part of her life.
  • Stress that yours is a family of choice – you and your spouse chose each other and together you chose her and she chose to love you and stay with you.
  • Prepare to answer questions early. Take the help of qualified social workers and professionals to help you choose the age appropriate answers.
  • Don’t make the biological parents the villains. Your stress is on your family unit and nothing else.
  • Make it clear that being adopted is a very small part of the overall reality of your child’s life. For this it is essential that you yourself be clear in your thinking because everyone else, including the child, will take their cue from you.

Adoption is a fact of life like biological birth. The important thing is having a complete family not the means taken to ensure that completion. The best ties in life are not always biological in nature and love truly recognizes no boundaries in order to bloom.