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After Adoption: What if my child is Normal?

Older Child Adoption Adoption Process

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  Written by Martha Osborne on 09 Feb 2015

It's not the question most parents ask when entering the adoption arena. Today's adoptive parenting classes and educational requirements focus a great deal on preparing families for every eventuality. Even within the thousands of pages on the RainbowKids website, we tend to center our articles on preparing parents for post-institutionalized issues.

But what if your child appears developmentally and physically within normal range for a child their age? Fine. Without any real issues'?

The truth is that's pretty common. You just don't hear about it much. After many years, my husband and I now have five children through adoption, and three adult children through birth. Our last child was adopted at the age of 9 years, more than five years ago. When adoptive parents tell you that they really do not know which of their children are adopted and which are not, it is true.

Of our eight children, here are a few personality traits and behaviors that they decide..which are normal? Which traits belong to the adopted children, and which to the birth children?

  • hyperactivity
  • shyness
  • gregariousness
  • artistic
  • loving and very affectionate
  • pouty
  • self-centeredness
  • very high intelligence
  • depression
  • strong leadership personality
  • thrifty
  • low-self esteem
  • desire to help others
  • religious

*Answers at end of article

Every single child in our family came with his or her own set of needs, talents, and interests  whether they were born to us or adopted. Each one came with a personality that was defined at birth and could not be altered.

Our job is and has always been to love, cherish and impart a value system to our children. To give our children an environment of encouragement and self-expression. Beyond that, there is definitely a great deal of hard-wiring that cannot be altered, and must either be accepted or fruitlessly fought against. We have chosen to accept that which we cannot change and pray that our children make good choices.

Figuring out the difference: what is personality and what is a post-institutionalized, or inborn or a conditioned trait is the challenge for parents who adopt from overseas....or give birth.

Some stuff is easy.  Food hoarding, the inability to make choices, those are institutionalization behaviors that are easy to spot and with patience and compassion, can be worked through and resolved.

Other issues are harder: The Monkey Baby Syndrome, is one that can knock any family-balance out of whack.  It is a commonly seen attachment issue that exhausts even the hardiest of parents. A child who at first wants nothing to do with you for days, weeks or months, suddenly attaches to your body with all of their limbs. This behavior is, despite the shock to adoptive parents, NORMAL . The trust has kicked in and the child is finally saying, 'I accept you, please don't reject me, I need you'. This anxiety-filled behavior can last far longer than a parents patience, which means that building the support network prior to traveling to adopt is very important!

But what about the family that has prepared themselves with books, educational seminars, required learning by the adoption agency and then suddenly finds themselves with an 8-year-old who is completely at home in his new environment? Where are the tantrums? Where is the acting out and anger? What about the language issues? When can we stop holding our breath?

For our family, we experienced this first hand. We adopted two 9-year-olds, years apart. Our first was from an institution where she was well cared for with stong attachments to a caretaker and to sister-like friends. She attended school and had the strong internal belief that one day her family would come. When we did, her only question was, "What took you so long?" She defied all the books and after six months we had to do a strong exhale and realize she just wasn't going to go through the anger/grief cycle in the way that so many children do. She is now an adult,  with a solid identity, centered personality and a deep dedication to family.

In complete contrast, our 2nd adopted 9-year old came from more trauma-inducing beginnings, resulting in low-self esteem and a greater challenge in making attachments. She was the textbook older child adoption. It took consistent attachment parenting to assimilate her into our family and into a non-institutionalized way of thinking and acting. A decade later, she is a kind, thoughtful young woman with a positive outlook and a bright future.

Orphanage behavior or Personality? When or how can a parent know the difference?

Despite using 9-year-olds as examples, it must be emphasized that Normal has a very, very, broad definition. At any age over 6 months, every child (even my oldest daughter) must be allowed to experience the grief of giving up all that they know, and be given time to adapt to their new environment.

No parent should ever consider a child unattached or incapable of attachment, before 6 months at home.

Many parents today are posting on blogs or social media about their unattached and raging' child after only a few weeks home. That child is Normal . That child is healthy. They are angry at losses out of their control. They are afraid to attach again. They need acceptance and patience from their new parents, who may be feeling rejected.

Some (and in fact many) children grieve silently. They let go in small increments, while simultaneously embracing their new life. My first older child did this. Others must grieve first. They must work through the sadness and anger, in their own way.

Despite differences, all adoptive parents would do well to follow the Six Month Rule.

The basics of the Six Month Rule are:

  • It takes a minimum of 6 months before a parent can feel their own range of emotions start to stabilize. A parent may feel an extreme high at the time of adoption and the polar opposite within weeks.
  • It takes a minimum of 6 months before siblings within the family accept the new child 100%. Degrees of acceptance lead up to that time, but it really does take a full 6 months minimum before kids really accept that this child is staying forever.
  • It takes a minimum 6 months for language, environment, and expectations (basically culture) to be assimilated by a new child. In that time grief is also being worked through, as well as the new families expectations of gratitude, love and affection.

Normal is a relative term. But there are patterns, processes that present themselves in many, if not most, adoptions of post-institutionalized children. These patterns are seen within the family, not just within the child being adopted.

The truth is this: by birth or adoption, a child will need time to find their place in the family, to shine in their own special light. Given that time, acceptance and love, the vast majority of children will assimilate and succeed. For many children, appearing Normal to a family really is about how flexible the family is, and how educated and prepared they are to help a child adapt to his or her new life and environment. After that, it's just about time and patience.

*Answers: All of these traits can be seen throughout the entire eight children in our family. Each child is an individual and we work to help them become the best that they can personally be....and then we must let go.

**Note: This article was written with the permission of my (now) adult children mentioned within.  



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