Adoption Therapy Q & A

Psychological Separation and the Adopted Adolescent

Dear Dr. Katz
My adopted teenage daughter, age 13, and I have a very close relationship. Lately she has told me that she feels sad and upset that she wasn't born to me. How do I respond when she tells me that?
- Also Sad

Dear Also Sad
Adolescence is a time of change when kids rapidly mature and become capable of greater psychological separation from their parents. This can be frightening to them and in reaction call forth a wish for greater reassuring closeness. With adopted teenagers there already exists an earlier experience of profound separation from the biological mother and family which leaves a vulnerability to later separation experiences. Parental communication that increases closeness with your child helps reduce the fear and pain associated with the primary separation. Your daughter is seeking greater emotional closeness with you with her communication which you can give her by reflecting her feelings with your own feelings. By telling her you also feel sad and wish you had given birth to her it puts you "on the same page" and "in the same boat" which can further your closeness and be comforting.
- Dr. Katz

Separation Anxiety in Adopted Childen

Dear Dr. Katz
At my cousin's birthday party for his adopted one year old daughter, everyone was "oohing & ahing" over how cute she was. I felt very upset when I overheard my five year old (who is also adopted) ask our friend "if mommy was going to get rid of me" in reaction to the baby's getting everyone's attention. What is that about?
- Very Upset

Dear Very Upset
When children are born and experience the separation from their mother it is a frightening experience which they can gradually recover from. When this separation is followed by another one, especially one of a more permanent nature as in the adoption experience, it can leave in its wake a long lasting emotional "scar" of insecurity which may fade over time but not disappear from the unconscious mind. At the birthday party, your child experienced a loss of love and separation when everyone gave the baby their entire attention; this reminder of her own previous loss (by adoption) aroused in your daughter consciously or unconsciously the old but not totally gone fear that she could lose her mother yet again.
- Dr. Katz

Adoptive Roots and Cultural Trips

Dear Dr. Katz
Last year I took my adopted daughter on a trip to China to enrich her cultural roots and she had a panic attack on the trip over. I am concerned about taking her on another trip. Could you offer me some feedback?
- Concerned

Dear Concerned
It's possible that your adopted daughter felt frightened that you were travelling to China to return her to the orphanage that you took her from. This feeling can emanate from her unconscious memories which she may be unable to consciously recall. Your child had already been sent away by her birth family, her first adopted family [the orphanage] and those memory traces may help confuse the past with the present. Those old memories of previous rejection in China, buried in her mind and receiving fresh stimulation by your current trip could also revive the emotions of terror associated with those early separation/rejection experiences. Many adopted children carry experiences involving feelings of terror in their unconscious psyche. For future trips, give your daughter the reassurance that it's just for sightseeing and that she'll be returning with you.
- Dr. Katz

Post Adoption Blues and Post Partum Depression

Dear Dr. Katz
The most wonderful thing in my life happened when I brought my new adopted baby daughter into my life from China and I am happier than I can ever remember being yet for some reason that I don't understand I am feeling less happy with myself than I have been in a long time. All of my unhappiness is now coming from within unlike before when it was coming from the outside. I feel so angry at my daughter and ashamed of my feelings because they seem so selfish and petty in comparison with the miracle of having her.
- Ingrate

Dear Ingrate
Some parents experience post adoption blues or post partum depression which can be a reaction to feeling guilty about their emotions of anger, and indifference toward their child or feelings of emptiness. Bringing a child forth into the family is an enormous, physically consuming and emotionally exhausting undertaking which engages and focuses our resources and time regardless of the particular path taken to reaching that goal. Accomplishing that is a momentousA event but the achievement of parenthood rewards us with responsibilities which place a great demand which continues on for a lifetime. A long sprint turns into a very much longer marathon. From having to give your all with focused effort you shift to the need to pace, organize and maintain yourself over the long haul. The growing awareness of your own needs for rest, privacy and the other aspects of individuality are not wrong or bad but essential to being able to preserve yourself as a healthy mother. It is remarkable how quickly the wish for union with a newly arrived child is joined by the need to also separate which your "selfish" needs represent. Your awareness is a good thing and you need to follow it with good judgment about ways to satisfy those needs while fulfilling your parental responsibilities. You may want to read my chapter "Mothers and Daughters-The Tie That Binds" in The Mother-Daughter Relationship G. Fenchel (ed.) Aronson Press which sheds more light on the dynamics of this relationship. At The Center for Marital & Family Counseling and Adoption Therapy we help parents to understand and adjust to parenthood. Becoming a parent re-stimulates our early lessons in parenthood which we daily experienced and learned when we were children. As children we learned how a parents thinks, feels and acts toward a child - we learn to be parents and when we become parents we consciously and unconsciously draw on our primary knowledge to guide our behavior as a parent. Your continual state of anger at your child may reflect your own daily exposure as a child to a parent who was always angry and that you know unconsciously follow that example of how a parent is supposed to be. At The Center for Marital & Family Counseling, Dr. Katz will help you to understand and recognize these primal lessons and change them to more effective models
- Dr. Katz

Effective Couples Communication

Dear Dr. Katz
I am a social worker who is treating an adoptive mother in psychotherapy. She and her "significant other" get into terrible arguments which neither can stand. They are unable to talk without provoking each other to explode. She wants him to go into his own psychotherapy in order to keep the family together. He refuses and doesn't want to be labeled "sick". My client is satisfied with her own treatment and doesn't want any additional treatment. She needs her individual treatment and he probably does as well. What can I do to help them?
- Frustrated

Dear Frustrated
Clearly the most important objective is to keep the family intact. Bringing children into a family increases the stress on the parents and this stress can be increased whe the addition of children comes about through adoption or the blending of families through remarriage. Marriage Counseling, Couples Counseling and Individual Counseling or some combination of these approaches can help the parents manage their stress and improve the communication which is a key factor for success. When one spouse doesn't participate then working with the other adult can still help the couple as well as the person receiving the direct support. Society still shows signs of labeling people who receive psychological help in a degrading way but "repackaging" the help with a new label that doesn't carry stigma such as coaching, stress management, motivational training, skills training, communication sessions can help reduce the resistance. The immediate need is their being able to talk to each other in a way that neither of them feels hurt or threatened by the other or by internalized societal pressures. Sometimes a spouse may increase the resistance by telling her mate that he is sick or needs help rather than explaining that we could use help in communicating. For that to take place they seem to require the presence of an objective third party who is trained to help them communicate yet doesn't carry the threatening title of therapist. At the Center for Marital & Family Therapy and Adoption Counseling our focus is on enhancing effective communication, helping people to speak and listen constructively . Good communication is at the heart of successful relationships. Being able to engage in non-destructive dialogue helps maintain a relationship. The ability to communicate with love and understanding helps it thrive. Studies show that adopted children, children in step families and all children do best in families with good communication. This couple has communication problems and would benefit from a facilitator who helps them to communicate well regardless of whatever other help the individuals may be receiving from others
- Dr. Katz

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