Adoption is a long process, and you can easily get lost in the endless paperwork and regulations and others offering parenting advice. It's best if you educate yourself on your state's laws and policies.
"You adopted a teenager? Are you nuts?" I have been asked that question many times. What would they say if they only knew we have adopted several times? Common knowledge says that parenting adolescents is hard enough, but people assume it is even more difficult if those teens are adopted.
Teenagers often get a bad rap. They get categorized;;they get treated like thieves and liars. But the truth is, not all teens are rebellious, angry, lazy and shifty. In fact, most of the young people you will find in today's foster care system WANT a home. They want a family, and dinner at 6 p.m., a part-time job, trips to the mall with a mom, and fishing trips with a dad. They want to be part of a real family with chores, and homework, and Christmas dinner.
Don't get me wrong. Adopting a teen is not all roses and rainbows. There will be issues you will face with raising teenagers. There will be times when your teen is screaming at you. There will be times when you want to scream back. There will be issues with curfews and clothing. There will be problems with back talking and cleaning their rooms. In many ways an adopted youth will be just like any other normal teen.
The addition challenge with adopted teens is the likelihood of them having issues in addition to those of a non-adopted child due to their special experiences growing up. But with a little help, they will be right as rain, ready to face the world as competent, accomplished young adults. Here are some issues that might come up with your adopted teenager and how to deal with them. Of course, these suggestions must be used in conjunction with counseling and may not work with everyone.
- Abandonment. Adopted teens believe that everyone is going to leave them, so they keep you at arm's length to reduce the emotional pain. We know of a teen whose mother worked on and off with the social services, trying to keep her son. She tried rehab, church, everything. But in the end, she woke up one morning, packed a suitcase of his clothing, drove to the DHS office (Department of Human Services), stood in line for the reception window and waited. When her turn at the window came, she simply said, "I don't want this kid anymore," set down his suitcase and left. He was 13. That kind of abandonment stays with children for a very long time. How do you deal with that? This one is easy--don't leave them. Be where you say you are going to be. Pick them up when you are supposed to. Have dinner ready on time. Do what you are supposed to do. Keep your promises. No matter what.
- Anger issues. Sometimes it's at the birth parent. Sometimes it's because of the reason they were removed. We had a child once who was angry that she was removed from her home (due to drugs). No one in the house was doing drugs, but because of the size of their property, a cousin was able to build and run a meth lab at the back of the property where it couldn't be seen. He was caught, and arrested. The teen girl was removed from her home (along with 4 cousins). While in the system, her grandmother died (the grandmother had adopted her at age 2). Her only living relative died while she was bouncing around in foster homes. She became available for adoption after her grandmother died. So essentially, she was adopted because of someone else's mistakes. She was angry. Very angry. Counseling was a big help, and our constant reminder that God was in control of it all. She made it and is a happy, well-adjusted member of society.
- Feelings of worthlessness. Adopted teens may feel like they are damaged in some way or their parents would have loved them enough to stop hitting them, or doing drugs, or whatever the reason they were removed for. If only they were better, taller, smarter, stronger, better-looking, ate less, ate more, did more housework.....the list is endless. How do you help these kids deal with feelings of worthlessness? This one takes a little longer to do, but it is doable. First, you have to tell them daily that they are smart, pretty, a good worker, etc.--whatever they are doing at the time, tell them they are valuable. They are not going to believe you at first. Taking a compliment may be hard for them. After all, they feel unworthy of any praise. But keep at it.
Then you have to prove it. Give them hugs and say, "I love you." When you are talking on the phone to friends, tell them how well the teen did this or that. Praise them in front of the neighbors. At church. At school..... everywhere. Don't focus on what they did wrong today...only what they did right. Put their artwork on the fridge. Display their schoolwork on the front door. Show how proud you are of them, all the time.
Memories. We talk about old Aunt Gerty's rooster, or Granny's feather bed, or the time we vacationed in Colorado. We laugh and reminisce. And it is important to share those stories and family happenings with your kids so that they can learn more about who their new family is. But, until they have built memories with your family, they will share whatever memories they have, bad and good. Listen to them. Laugh with them. Remember their stories. Then go out and create new memories with them.
I sincerely hope this article has helped you. If you're serious about learning how to deal with troubled teens, then picking up a few individual courses in human services may help you gain fresh perspective on what they're going through. In any case, adopting teens is a challenging experience, but one that will reward you for the rest of your life.
The perfect normal person is rare in our civilization.
Speaking about adoption issues, how to adopt, and older children/teen adoptions.
Available for seminars, conferences, forums and groups.