November: National Adoption Month! As a family currently parenting 4 teenagers and a tween, it would be easy to just pass this month's responsibilities off to families with younger kids. Moms and dads that give presentations to their child's 2 nd grade classroom, or proudly dress their child up in costumes native to their first-country. I remember how proud our girls were about their special month! Today my 8 th grader would die of mortification if I so much as set foot in her homeroom.
Times have changed in our family. But one thing does remain constant:
The need to address issues of adoption, family, race, and self-esteem are at an all-time premium level. The messages I am sending about these issues are now filtered by their own every-day experiences and the constant mind-twisting media messages they hear and see everywhere.
Being the mom of many teens is very much like walking through a mine-field. Every word I say may be met with sighs or groans of "here we go again," and behavior that seems strangely similar to that which they displayed at the ages of 2 or 3 years. And yet, these crazy, emotional, funny, and dramatic almost-adults are each indescribably precious to their father and I, at least most of the time.
National Adoption Month is an excellent time to touch base with your teen or tween on several issues. Although your child may not be discussing issues of race, adoption, belonging, identity, and personal-acceptance, her mind is most certainly tackling thoughts and situations surrounding each of these concerns. Without a doubt, this is a time of growth for both child and parents. During National Adoption Month, parents of children valiantly going through adolescence do have the power to encourage and support their child. The following suggestions include those that generally apply to adoptees, and others that are specific to children in trans-racial families.
Examine your own feelings about birthparents
Reflected in the voice, face, and features of your child are echoes of her first-parents. Yes, I know the term can be inflammatory, as is any hard truth. At this stage, more than any other, your child is in the process of "becoming". Your support during this time is priceless. As she pulls away from you, consider giving her the gift of identity. Even if you have no information on birthparents at all, your acknowledgement and acceptance of her search for self, including positive comments about how her birthparents may have had her beauty, talents and special abilities will go far in helping her build a positive self-image.
Find new ways to address prejudice and racism: both positive and negative.
We are all human. We all have biases-both positive and negative. Unfortunately, our children must bear the brunt of society's assumptions. Racial slurs, while not dead, are not as common today as in generations past. Today's children deal with subtle racism and prejudice: the assumption that all Hispanic boys are good at soccer, Asians are super intelligent but hopelessly nerdy, or that African-American children need more support in the classroom. These stereotypes hurt our children. How demeaning it must be when people assume an A/A must love rap music. Imagine the hurt when an Asian child asks for help with math and is chided with the words of her teacher, "Oh, I'm surprised you need help, I just thought you'd pick this up pretty fast."
While not wanting to encourage our children to believe all slights are racially based, silence isn't always golden, either. Silence equals complicit agreement when racism rears its ugly head. This month, consider how to encourage your son or daughter to challenge racial and gender stereotypes. You just might be raising the next President (that is, if we can get the law change to allow US Citizens born outside of the US to become president. But that's another article).
Talk about History:
National Adoption Month is a wonderful time to revisit your child's adoption story. But before sharing that certain piece of difficult information (his parents were alcoholics, she was left in a remote place and lucky to have been found), ask yourself this question : "Will this information help my child grow as a person and encourage her to feel positively about herself?" Think about it very carefully, because adolescents don't always process the information the way you might think.
You may say , "Your parents were alcoholics who were unable to care for you."
She may hear , "I come from horrible people. I am flawed."
The time for sharing difficult information may best come after a child has cemented their own identity. However, if you have shared this private information with your family/friends, it would be best for her to compassionately hear her personal history from you.
Frame and hang at least one special photo taken within the last year.
Prominently showcasing a framed recent photo is the easiest way to say to a teen, "I'm proud of you. You're cherished."
November will always be a month of promoting permanent families for children in crisis. It can also be the opportunity to open the door to a more mature discussion of the issues closest to your teen's heart.