When the Child is a Stranger

Part 1 When the Child is a Stranger

by Tracey Turner-Keyser

We all have certain conceptions of parenting that have been built through our own experiences of family, friends, movies, books, fantasies, etc. But for the parent or parent wannabe who opts to pursue adoption, for whatever reason, there are few of these experiences that prepare you for the multitude of possibilities that come with inviting a stranger into your home as your own child.

While this experience can and is a most wonderful thing – it is different. Different in the way your family is created. Different in the experiences you have or do not have with your child. Different in the experiences everyone brings with them.

Embrace these differences and honor the fact that it will take time to learn each other, time to feel safe with each other, time to care for and love each other. This short article is intended to help inform the parent or parents who may be considering adoption or may be in a situation similar to what we describe below. We certainly recognize that most adoptions work out just fine without professional intervention. Our intention is not to frighten adults who are considering adoption but to educate them so that they can act quickly when they feel that things just aren’t going the way they should.

With this in mind consider the following:

1. Adoptive families take time to build – do not think that ‘family’ exists in a traditional sense without time, trial and error, pain and heartache, love and compassion, empathy, safety, boundaries, caring and nurturing, more time.

2. As the ‘Aware Parent’ be aware that there may be a ‘honeymoon period’ in which everything seemingly points to the statement in #1 as being not applicable to you and your family. This may lull you into a false sense of ‘family’ that eventually may set you up for heartache, disappointment, and a sense that you are a bad parent or have done something terribly wrong.

3. Consider that children in the adoption system are victims of trauma. There is the obvious trauma that some of these children experience in physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment, and possibly drug abuse. But there are other potential traumas; separation of siblings, witnessing domestic violence, encouragement to become a perpetrator of abuse, and the simple fact that they have ended up in the adoption system can be a traumatic event. Additionally, adoption can be a trauma event; being removed once again from one environment and placed into another can be experienced as trauma. Most children in the adoption system have the potential for having experienced multiple trauma events.

4. Early onset trauma (i.e. trauma event(s) experienced in the first 24-36 months of life) can lead to developmental differences in children. This can be best characterized as ‘developing in a survival mode’. Survival mode dictates that certain character traits get reinforced above others. Some of these traits may include hyper vigilance, hoarding, inappropriate affection, aggressiveness, easily startled, heightened sense of entitlement, overly charming until they do not get their way. Additionally, the child may display a decreased sense of empathy, lack of recognition of authority figures, thoughts of revenge, decreased sense of cause and effect thinking, diminished sense of time and future. Victims of trauma will need professional help to deal with these issues.

5. Families dealing with trauma will greatly benefit from proper professional help to guide them through healing and family building.

6. We highly recommend taking the potential adoptive child and the entire adoption family to a trained professional for evaluation and assessment of goodness of fit.

7. Every three months check in with your trained professional on progress and set backs.

The best thing any parent can do for their child(ren), whether you are a biological, adoptive, or foster parent, is to learn how to take care of yourself. A book that has been recommended in this column in the past and is a good adjunct to professional help and in the learning of how to take care of yourself in a more loving way is Don Miquel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements”. Another is anything by Eckhart Tolle.

There is a domino effect that happens when you take care of yourself; your relationships get better, your decisions get better, your outlook gets better, you smile more, you laugh more, you love more.

Remember – the health of any child in any family can only be as healthy as the health of the relationship of the parents who guide and love them.
For more information or comments please contact us,
or call 919-545-9833.
Suggested resources:

Leslie, Katherine. “When a stranger calls you Mom”, Brand New Day Consulting.

ATTACh Organization website

Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, Dr Bessel Van der Kolk, Director