Loss and Grief.
How did being adopted impact my children?
I have thought about this question more than I’d like to admit and frankly, the answer can be frightening as well as freeing. Eerily, however, once I began researching the issues related to being adopted I found striking similarities with regard to the impacts adoption has on all our children so I’m compelled to share what I’ve learned.
One of the greatest impacts of the adoption process is the feelings associated with the loss and grief. I said in my post last week …
“As a society, we often make the assumption that adoption is happy. A child without a parent now has a parent. Parents without children now have a child/children. Ta da, everyone is happily sharing their lives with each other, enough said. Sadly, it’s not that simple. Even as adoptive parents that understand this loss, we still sometimes assume that a child will now be complete in our care. That is certainly the delusion that I had convinced myself of. I was super mom!
But one thing is very clear — no matter the age, a child experiences loss: their birthparents; their caregivers; their clothes; their bedding; familiar smells, tastes and sounds; the way they do things; their ability to feel comfortable with their lives, language and routines. Loss and the grief related to that loss is pervasive in adoption.
Theresa Anderson, a family counselor specializing in issues of adoption, attachment and grief says, “Grief is THE core issue that adopted children deal with . . . grief and terror. Think about international adoption … You can’t take a child from home, put them into an airplane, cross the world, surround them with 1000’s of people at the airport, have them met by strange people, smells, textures, foods, and voices, and not expect them to be traumatized.”
We watch our children grieve in so many ways: anger, sadness, hyperactivity, changes in appetite, food hoarding, inappropriate emotional response, headaches, difficulty making decisions, regressive behaviors, and even clinginess. But we don’t see it as grief. We often see it as misbehavior.
When children feel overwhelmed, they often distance themselves emotionally or physically. They hide their sadness by being perfect, controlling or mad. Just because a child has been through counseling, has great parental support, family and friends that love him or her, a stable environment, etc., does not mean that the grief brought about by loss and trauma is over. It will be revisited time and time again.”
So the big question is, how do we help our children deal with these intense emotions?
The most important thing we can do as adoptive parents is being present for our children while they grieve. Listen, patiently, without judgment. And remember it is NOT about us! This is about them and they need us to listen and sit with their emotions. Allow your child the space to vent; cry; express their anger, frustration, joy, sadness – whatever it is they are feeling. Love them right where they are!
We also need to be honest about our feelings – fears, sadness, joy, etc, as well. But we need to be honest without implication. Meaning, don’t make your child feel responsible for your feelings. Those are your feelings! They have their feelings and we have ours. Finding a way to remember this will make all the difference in the world when we have conversations with our children. No guilt, no internalizing, just compassion, strength and sensitivity – all great attributes when helping our children process their emotions whether they are adopted or not!
Each of us already knows this but sometimes just hearing it (or reading it) brings it into the present so we can use these tools more effectively. It’s not magic. Think about this in terms of the support you need from family and friends. If we feel slighted when someone takes our story and turns it into their own, then so will our child. If we feel judged when speaking with a trusted confidant who tells us how to behave rather than leaning in to support us with love and kindness, then so will our child. If we are made to feel guilty or ashamed of having deep emotions, then so will our child. It’s really just the Golden Rule – treat others the way we want to be treated. Hopefully, that’s with love, kindness, compassion, respect, and understanding!
Remember, we cannot stop our child from experiencing these losses and the feelings associated with them, but we can be compassionate, empathetic (we have experienced losses in our lives as well) listeners and their greatest cheerleaders! The feelings will reemerge throughout our children’s lives and if we can be there to support them, without judgment., it will deepen our connections and build trust.
A great resource for me while on this journey has been the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E). In their Fact Sheet Series No. 2 entitled, Children and Adoption The School Age Years (6-11),they give some great advice and resources. Click on the link to access the article as well as the resources within.
Also, if you want to refer to the original post in this series or send the link to others in your circle, you can find it here: How Does Adoption Impact Our Children. I’d love to hear about your experiences as well so feel free to leave a comment on the post!
And as always, I do this because I am the mother of two adopted children myself. I have all the same thoughts, concerns, issues, and needs that most of you have.
We’re all in this love story together!!
If you need support, feel free to set up an appointment to chat with me at calendly.com/bambi.
All my best to each of you,
Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a Certified Professional Coach, and the Founder and CEO of Motherland Travel. Motherland Travel began by designing Heritage Journeys for families with internationally adopted children. The emphasis of those Heritage Journeys has always been on deepening family connections, building self-esteem and cultivating pride in a family’s multi-cultural heritage. Motherland Travel also uses the philosophies of transformative Travel for designing family trips with purpose – building rich connections, with each other and the world! Read more about her here >> http://motherlandtravel.com/