In last week’s blog I talked about trying to accept my teens and tweens need to dress in a uniform. I understand the need for security clothing, just like I understood the need for a security blanket when they were younger; I just don’t always like their chosen uniform. A well meaning newly adoptive mom emailed me to ask if I thought my children’s need to fit in with their peers was related to adoption, and if so, what she could do to prevent this from happening to her beloved child. Her comment reminded me of one of my pet peeves with much of adoption literature today. In our attempt to fully prepare adoptive parents for all the issues they may face, I think we risk creating an atmosphere of paranoia where every little thing portends a significant adoption related problem.
Peter and I attended an adoption support group when our second birth child was two in anticipation of adopting. While at this meeting I listened to the parents discuss the adoption related problems their children faced. One worried over her child’s dislike of being rocked; another was concerned about his child’s thumb sucking, and yet another talked about her child’s non stop motion. I looked at Peter in horror. Here we were with two children from birth that we had obviously screwed up royally because they were exhibiting most of these same “adoption symptoms”.
Our son had never liked to be rocked. In fact, he wasn’t much for cuddling at any time. He favored motion, the faster the better. Up to this point I had not realized it was a problem and thought it boded well for his future in sports, but now realized that he probably had attachment issues. Our daughter was the most orally fixated child I had ever seen. Once she got past a very deep attachment to her thumb (no small fete, I might add), she started biting her nails and sucking on her shirts and hair. Up until this point I just encouraged frequent hand washing and looked for shirts that were hard for her to get into her mouth. I wasn’t sure what this fixation meant, but after the adoption meeting, I knew it probably wasn’t good. I hated to think what it meant that my son preferred to sleep on the floor under his bed or that my daughter hid her clean underwear in the potted plants.
Not all Issues are Related to Adoption
Now all these years and two kids later I still don’t know why my kids do most of the things they do. I’m not even sure I know why I behave like I do most of the time. What I do know is that not all “weird” behavior is pathologic or predictive of future woes. My son has bounced his way through life and started sleeping in a bed when he was 13. (When asked why he moved to the bed, he said beds were more comfortable. Duh!) My daughter continues to bite her fingernails, but her shirts and hair are now dry and she hasn’t substituted cigarettes. And, sad to say, I haven’t been on an underwear hunt in years.
All four of my children –adopted and non-adopted alike–at some point in their life have wanted to dress like their peers in a way that intentionally sets them apart from me. Come to think of it, so did I when I was their age. My mother thought I looked ridiculous, and from the safety of adulthood, I agree. There are many things I love about my body, none of which are enhanced by hip hugger jeans.
Adopted Kids are More Like Kids by Birth Than Not
I’m not trying to discount your fears or offer meaningless platitudes about everything turning out OK in the end. You’ll get enough of that from others. But in all my interviews and consulting with adoptive parents I’ve noticed a tendency in some to assume each “problem” their child is experiencing is related to adoption and an ill omen for the future. I understand the need to try to make sense of our children’s behavior and strongly encourage you to get help soon and often. But in our attempt to be proactive, I think we sometimes miss the point that adopted kids are more like birth kids than different. In my experience, all kids can be pretty strange at times and it usually means nothing in the end. As even Freud supposedly acknowledged, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Image credit: appropos