Q: When adopting older kids, how can parents balance the competing goals of creating attachment at the same time as honoring their teens need for independence?
A: With patience and empathy. This can be one of the scariest times for an adoptee. The unspoken fear of total abandonment is ever-present at this stage of adolescence. Teens have a natural, biological urge to separate and distance, yet there is also the need for continued bonding. This paradox can feel confusing, disturbing and awkward for the adolescent and creates quite a dilemma for both child and parent. Which is why parents need to not take their child’s distancing, erratic and/or sometimes rejecting behaviors personally.
Answer provided by Sean Delehant, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with CASE
Image Credit: Elham Sandhetya
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Let’s not forget that from the child’s perspective, it doesn’t look so much like “never fully bonding” as it is being capable of “ever fully recovering” from the trauma of abandonment. This is the two way street we’re on as adoptive parent/adopted child. The more we can understand that for this child, his destiny was situationally forever disrupted, but that we were destined to stand in the gap for them…then the best is ALWAYS yet to come!
Sean, the “unspoken fear of total abandonment” is not just with teens. I have a now 13-14 Special Needs, (mild autism, delays, health issues) that has had RAD -Reactive Attachment Disorder from day one when we got him home (age 4) from life long in an orphanage in Guatemala.
Even wIth years of weekly therapy on so many levels, his RAD sits at his core. Living in a “push me = pull me” world, in some cases (in our case), – only the knowledge that I haven’t done anything wrong as his mom – which is far beyond the patience and hope of a “connected someday,” keeps me hanging on.
I wish more adoptive parents were given blunt info that their child, teen or not – may or may not ever “totally bond” with them; and they need to be OK with it. Because that’s what being a parent is. Adopting old children (4 yrs and older) will bring many rewards in spite of the challenges…so, in my opinion, adopting a child – is Always worth the work…( and pain).
Linda, thank you for sharing your family’s story. We so appreciate that you are willing to speak of the hard and the good. And you are so great at capturing the full scope of it. Thank you!