7 Things Divorcing Adoptive Parents Must Do
Divorce and adoption stir up complex emotions. Most parents feel guilty when they divorce, but adoptive parents often carry a heavier guilt load. They worked like crazy to become parents. They were examined and investigated and found worthy. They made promises of a forever family to themselves, to birth parents, to agencies, to country officials, and to their child. And now they have failed.
Parents worry that their divorce will stir up feeling of abandonment or rejection in their adopted child who may already harbor some of these feelings from being adopted.
It is true, some adopted children do feel a sense of abandonment from being placed for adoption by their first families. For some, adoption feels like being rejected, and it’s possible that their parent’s divorce will exacerbate these feelings. There are, however, things a parent can do to help their adopted children cope with the divorce. Adoption social workers Ann Clearly, with Holt International, and Judy Goldman, with Vista Del Mar, suggest the following.
Divorce and Adoption: 7 Things You Must Do
- Embrace the role of co-parenting. You are divorcing each other as spouses, but you are now entering a new role as co-parents working together as partners in parenting. If your anger at your ex-spouse is getting in the way, go into joint counseling or mediation with the goal of learning how to co-parent.
- Commit to putting the child’s emotional needs above all else for at least one year. That means no dating, no introducing significant others to your child, and no complete revamp of your life.
- Do not talk bad about your ex-spouse to your child. Period. It doesn’t matter what he did or how she wronged you or how much he drives you crazy. Your child is not your confidant. Your ex-spouse is now your new co-parent, and co-parents don’t put down their partner.
- Make the transitions between parents predictable. Each time your child switches houses is stressful; routines and information reduce stress. Let the child know in advance who will be in the house, what’s for dinner, and the next day’s schedule.
- Specifically assure your child that she did nothing to cause the divorce. Adopted children sometimes believe that something they did caused their birth mother to not want “to keep them”, and their parent’s divorce can feed into this sense of blame. Tell them that they are not to blame. If the child was one of the issues you and your spouse fought about, let your child know that you disagreed about many things because you were fundamentally incompatible, and no one disagreement caused the divorce.
- Show your child that you can be happy. Start to enjoy life again. Have fun. Be a role model that happiness can be had even in unhappy times.
- Start making new family memories. You are still a family and you will be forever, even if living in two different houses.
Did you feel intense guilt when you divorced? How did you help your children cope?
We had a terrific Creating a Family Radio show on this topic with two social workers specializing in adoption: Ann Clearly, with Holt International, and Judy Goldman, with Vista Del Mar. You will get a lot out of this show.
First published in 2016; Updated in 2018
Image credit: Xavier Vergés Image credit: avukat büre