Unlike a child one has given birth to an adopted child comes with additional trepidations that few parents are prepared for or even aware of.
An adopted child comes to the family with latent memories of grief, a fear of attachment, and a feeling of inarticulate loss. The first years often appear to be normal lulling the parents into a false sense of security. Then when the child reaches the age of approximately six years a more complex pattern of self-exploration begins. This is when the child notices that he doesn’t resemble his family while his peers look like theirs. This is also when the “who is my real mommy question” arises. Profound emotions that recall the separation of the first mother rise to the surface causing discomfort for the adopted child. Emotions such as grief, shame, anger, and a feeling of isolation can be experienced together, without any distinction among them. Children have limited ability to cope with uncomfortable emotions and will employ one of two options. They can act out and misbehave or they can repress their feelings and become compliant. This is the period when many problematic behaviors begin and the parents are often confused and bewildered by their child’s behaviors.
Further complicating the adoptive family system is a memory process that is common among adoptees but little known by therapists, social workers, parents, and the adoptees themselves. There is a disconnection in adoptees between their emotions and their ability to identify them. This is the core issue in adoption and it is the foundation of most of the problems that occur in adoptive parenting.
Infants only a few days old can record long term memories. “Infants do not think but they do process emotions and long term memories are stored as affective schemas” (Geansbauer, 2002). An infant separated from its first mother will record a memory of that event. Memories of this nature are called preverbal memory representations and they have a unique quality that must be understood by adoptive parents. “Infant memories are recalled in adulthood the same way they were recorded at the time they occurred. It is difficult possibly impossible for children to map newly acquired verbal skills on to existing preverbal memory representations” (Richardson, R., & Hayne, H. 2007). An older adoptee who recalls an emotional memory will experience it the same way it was felt as an infant. Adoptees can have troubling memories that they cannot identify in words. This means that they cannot understand what they are feeling and without a vocabulary they cannot even ask for help. This leads to a cognitive /emotional disconnection. “Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language”(Simcock, Hayne, 2002).
An adopted child will learn from his family that he is wanted, loved, belongs with them, and that they will never leave him. His emotional memories will trigger fears that are exactly the opposite. An adopted child can know he belongs but feel isolated. He can know that he will never be abandoned but feel that he will. He can know that he is whole but feel that a part of him is missing. He can know that he is loved but feel that he is not. This incongruence between thoughts and feelings becomes the foundation of poor attachment, problem behaviors, power struggles, poor academic performance, and attachment regulating behaviors parents can’t understand. The struggle to bring thoughts and feelings into coherence can be a lifelong task for adopted children. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Enlightened parents can create a nurturing healing environment within the family if they are aware of this process and are proficient in how to deal with it. pathwaysinadoptions.com – Robert Hafetz
While it’s not possible to agree completely with this quote, and it is expressed with some clunkiness in places, it is written by an adoptee who became a therapist and may we see more of them as time progresses! Naturally your Blogger takes issue with the quote “Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language” (Simcock, Hayne 2002) Children may not translate their preverbal memories into language but it is not a failure on the part of the adoptee and certainly should not be seen as one. The ‘troubling memories’ are often part of PTSD of the particular kind suffered by adoptees and as yet not widely recognised as such.
Adopted children don’t come with ‘additional trepidations’ like some sort of extra baggage. The trepidations belong quite definitely with the adopters, with the adults in the scenario needing to acknowledge them, take responsibility for them and deal with them effectively. We far too often see this sort of burden placed on adoptees, quite wrongly and I would have expected a Therapist to know better, to be better thought out and to choose words more carefully. It may seem a small point, but it is in these things that we still see the lurking trolls of stigma, blame and the myth-making of adoption. In eradicating those things, we all need to be vigilant, to chose our words carefully and to question our beliefs and examine our principles from time to time.
And we also have this gem – He can know that he will never be abandoned but feel that he will, a total nonsense of a statement. Part of the difficulty of life and living for all humans, not just adoptees, is that we can never know what life has in store for us. We can never know with complete certainty what will last, what will change, who we will abandon and who will abandon us. If we had a crystal ball of reliability how easy life would be! We wouldn’t have to take risks, to find ourselves in situations where we give all for love, leap into the unknown of experience or wonder about our future, whether we can meet our challenges, our goals, ambitions and dreams. Love and loving are some of our biggest challenges, our most scary moments and where we stand to lose the most and gain the most. No wonder some of us are too frightened to love, to trust and to open ourselves to the opportunities, the life enhancing and soul empowering possibilities.
You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life
That’s the power of love
That’s the power of love
First time you feel it, it might make you sad
Next time you feel it it might make you mad
But you’ll be glad baby when you’ve found
That’s the power makes the world go’round