I’ve noticed a trend in the last several year–parents afraid to discipline their adopted kids or unable to say “no” for fear of damaging their attachment or ego. At times I wonder if we’ve created a monster by all our emphasis on attachment, but I firmly believe that adopted children, actually all children, desperately need us to say no and set limits. Doing so is not in contradiction to creating attachment–in fact, setting limits supports attachment!
I recently read a book that I absolutely loved: Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years by Katie Naftzger, an adoption therapist and adult adoptee. This book would be the perfect read for all adoptive parents with kids 8+.
I interviewed Ms. Naftzger on a Creating a Family Radio show titled Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years. She was preaching to the choir with me. So much so that I invited her to do this guest blog post.
I just want her to be happy.
If I could make life easier for him, why wouldn’t I do that?
I don’t want him to feel abandoned. How could I say no?
She’s already been through so much!
Do any of these statements sound familiar? For adoptive parents of teens, setting limits is often complicated. Your teen has already been through a lot. At one point in time, their basic needs were probably compromised. Of course, a part of you would want to give them everything they needed and more, but there’s a cost.
Setting limits helps your teen to feel more prepared for young adulthood. It teaches responsibility and helps develop much-needed coping skills. It also helps them to trust you more. They want to know that you’ll do what’s right, even if it means standing up to them.
Here’s a work example:
I was sitting with an adoptive mom and 12 y/o daughter, finishing up our family therapy session. The daughter asked, “Mom, can we go and get a cupcake across the street?”
The mom grimaced. “Oh, sweetie, I don’t know. I don’t want you to be late for gymnastics. There might be a lot of traffic. Plus, you already had ice cream when we got home from school…” Her mom looked around the room and she trailed off.
Her daughter’s voice became shriller. “Mom, we’ll have of time to get there, I promise. I’m not going to be late! Seriously! And, I just had one popsicle after school. Those things are so small! I don’t think that should even count. Come on, Mom, please? Please!”
I said to the mom, quietly, “If the answer is no, just say no.”
At that point, her mom made direct eye contact with her daughter and said, “The answer is no.”
How did the daughter react? She let it go, immediately. And, she was fine. Surprising, isn’t it, given that her daughter was so bent on it just a second ago!
Tips for Setting Limits with Adopted Teens
1. Don’t backtrack or apologize.
Imagine if the mom had said “Oh sweetie, the answer is no…but maybe we can get a cupcake next time we’re here! I’m sorry, sweetie!”
2. Don’t negotiate.
It can be painful for adoptees to feel like they’re begging for something, particularly if they’re struggling with feelings of low self-worth and feelings of abandonment.
3. Don’t send mixed messages.
If the mom had said no but continued to look all around the room, it would have sent mixed messages. Her words would have said no but her body language would have said, I’m not sure.
4. Convey guidelines and consequences ahead of time.
This mom knew her daughter pretty well. She could probably have predicted that her daughter would ask her for a cupcake. The simplest way to go would be to make an overarching decision – always or never.
5. Improve your savvy.
It can be challenging for adoptive parents when their teen gets into stuff that is outside of their experience, such as drugs, alcohol, aggressive behavior, etc. It’s good to learn to think like your teen. When your teen perceives you as naive or oblivious, they tend to lose respect for you. Trust your intuition. If you think something’s going on, it’s usually true. Your aim isn’t to control them. It’s to help them to make informed decisions.
When parenting teens it is important to remember that they don’t have to agree with you. There are certain decisions that are collaborative and others that are solely yours. And, if you’re not sure where to begin, start with the cupcake.
Are you guilty of wanting to please your kids more than discipline your kids?