Put yourself in the shoes of an adopted child for one moment. Imagine how confusing it must be when friends talk about their families (Mum, Dad, siblings). Then an adoptive child talks about theirs.
Theirs can involve a birth mother, some foster parents, a forever mum and maybe even some siblings that they don’t live with.
That is hard to process, with an adult brain, but a small child must be wondering who fulfils which role and they might also be thinking – who else is coming next and possibly what did I do wrong to have had this happen to me!
This is the truth of an adopted child’s identity.
All the hard times, loss and complicated life experiences don’t disappear as they settle into their forever home. They are always there and their life story will always be a big part of who they are.
Some people may wonder why they should speak about the trauma that the little one has experienced? Why talk about a family that is no longer there?
Research says that if we ignore it then it can cause more problems, from shame to anger to fantasising about what could have been. Experienced psychiatrist, Bessel Van Der Kolk, who wrote The Body Keeps the Score, explains that the trauma is already there and needs to be processed.
Growing up is hard enough, our children go through developmental stages where they learn about who they are, their place in the world and how important they are.
Adopted children have the extra layer of wondering, for example: why was I rejected? Why am I not with my birth family? Why do I have these big feelings that I don’t understand? Why is it hard for me to trust new people?
These are big questions for small brains and needs to be supported and this is why an adopted child’s support network is so important.
As they start to understand that they are safe, loved and important they need trusted and consistent adults to always be there for them and to love them as they are, no matter what.
Let’s be honest, sometimes they don’t always feel lovable as they push you away, try to be in control, are defiant or aggressive. My daughter and I have a phrase we use in our trickier moments, where I say “I am sticking with you” and she replies “like glue”.
Helping family and friends to understand the impact of trauma on an adopted child, helps them to help the child. Building a strong relationship with school ensures strategies are put in place to help the child feel safe and to be able to learn. Helping other children to understand is really important and also helps teach empathy.
As an adoptive parent, you also need to embrace your child’s identity and their background. The birth family is their first family and will always have a place in their lives.
It’s about digging deep and accepting that the children will have a curiosity about them and want to talk about them.
It’s about keeping in touch with foster families, to show the little ones that they are still there and they still care, and that good adults exist in the world.
It’s about keeping in touch with adoption agencies and seeking as much support as you need every step of the way, and being bold (and sometimes pushy) to get that support.
I believe support should be forthcoming for our children, but I have also learnt that you have to fight for it. You have to be the warrior they need to get the support required.
I have also learnt that parenting is HARD and it’s important to ask for help for me, whilst also investing heavily in self-care.
With this in mind I am so grateful for my mindfulness toolkit. I find the 8-attitudes help me in acknowledging and accepting what is, which isn’t always easy.
Both my daughter and I now have toolkits like breath, mantra, movement and touch to help us manage our big feelings whenever they rise to the surface!
She’s a Mindfulness Warrior, age 6!
If you want to know more about how mindfulness and compassion can support you then please get in touch.
Click here to learn more about adoption and support National Adoption Week. #YouCanAdopt.