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Book Excerpt: The Post-Adoption Blues

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Old August 24th 04, 08:10 PM
Jane Smith
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Default Book Excerpt: The Post-Adoption Blues

The following is an excerpt from the book The Post-Adoption Blues:
Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption by Karen J. Foli, Ph.D.,
and John R. Thompson, M.D.

Your Expectations About the Emotional Needs of Your Child

"My child will like me, attach to me, and learn to love me."

There are many books that address the dynamics of the child's attachment and
bonding, but few have explored how the lack of a child's attachment and
bonding create feelings in the parents. These feelings can manifest
themselves as confusion, anger, rejection, and deep sadness. Many parents
believe that if they love enough, their child will reciprocate that love.
Many times the child learns to respond, but there are also times when
intervention is necessary. Your child comes to you with months, perhaps
years, of learning how not to trust in others. Logically, you understand
this; but if attachment is delayed, it can be nearly impossible for you to
depersonalize this lack of attachment.

Esther confided to her support group how it felt to feel rejected after
years of living with her daughter, Linda. She and her husband had adopted
the child 4 years before, when Linda was 3. Now Esther lives with her anger,
which has created a power struggle between her and her daughter:

It hurts. She turned to me and said, "You're not my mother anymore. I don't
like you." I had just had it with her. I told her, "Fine. You'll give us our
name back. You will not be apart of the family. You reject me, you reject
the family."

Then she tested that on my husband, whom I hadn't said a word to. She
announced at the dinner table that she didn't want me as her mother anymore.
He echoed everything I had said to her: she would give up the last name and
not live here.

We never heard another word about it. But she constantly tells me, "I don't
trust you." I answer her, "I don't trust you either. You haven't earned my

At times, children will attach to one parent more than the other. This
preference for your partner can be painful. You're torn between the relief
that your child has been able to bond to another and feelings of being alone
and confused because that person wasn't you.

"My child will be as happy as I am."

You've waited months, years for this child. The anticipation of finally
welcoming your child home is filled with joy. Her room awaits her. You have
painted, wallpapered, purchased furniture, and changed your life to make
everything ready for this child. But wait. She looks so sad. She's crying.
She's confused. This holiday was supposed to be so happy for the family. Why
is your child sullen and unhappy at Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/her

Perhaps you thought things were going well. Your child had adjusted and her
behavior had improved dramatically. Now, suddenly, she is exploding again,
acting inappropriately in public, and crying for no reason. You're lost and
wondering what is going on.

Anniversary responses to placement or other traumas can trigger unexpressed
sadness in your child. She probably doesn't understand it herself and acts
out the way children do -- through behavior. In some cases, she may have
been placed so many times that she has lost track of those specific events
and focuses on birthdays and holidays, traditional family times, to express
how she feels through her behavior.

Your child may also come into your home with some chronic levels of stress
and depression, feelings that are rooted in years of struggle. Responding to
her past environments, the child has coped by using skills that were
appropriate to that setting; yet behavioral changes (responses to perceived
threats) could not alter her stress, depression, and anxiety (generalized

If your child is older, she comes with a past that is one of the most
significant influences on her present ability to feel and enjoy happiness.
The joy of childhood may have been, at best, interrupted; at worst, that joy
never existed. All human beings have basic needs in order to sustain life:
oxygen, water, and food top the list. But there is also the need to feel
safe. A chronic lack of feeling safe may be at the root of your child's
inability to live a happy life in her new family.

"My child's needs will be the same as those of other children."

There are a multitude of parenting books that teach us about development and
the "normal" milestones of children. As we've discussed, with time you will
understand what needs your child may have. Multiple placements and damaging
caregivers can leave a child with multiple and complex behaviors --
behaviors that overwhelm you, frighten you, and fill you with a sense of

But what about the tea parties? What about throwing the ball in the
backyard? As with any child, adoptees need to be kids. Their play is their
work. That's what they need to do, despite other needs that may exist or

The evaluations by experts, the hours of therapy and tutoring, on top of
just keeping a household running, can make us forget that playing is
important to the child and to you. When you play, the child begins to know
you. You are reminded of why you wanted to parent and of the joy parenting
can bring.

Yet there may have been so many disappointments, so many celebrations gone
wrong. Perhaps your child has accused you of horrible acts. Your resentment
builds upon your anger. The child takes on the persona of a saboteur. A
cycle forms. You become defensive when planning special events, anticipating
that your child may act out. All of your strategies have failed up to this
point. And on top of the anger, you feel helpless to change your behavior or
your child's.

At times, you don't think of your child as a child. You forget that
underneath the hurt and detachment, there is a young soul. You can't get
past your anger to try again. You feel a stalemate has been reached. Yet the
status quo doesn't seem to make anyone very happy. You wonder where is the
happy family you envisioned.

You know your child needs something, but you aren't sure anymore what those
needs are, or where to find help to meet those needs. You know your needs as
a parent aren't being met, either. Where has the laughter, the
lightheartedness, and the solidarity of the family gone?

"My child's story is our family's story."

Photograph albums now include a new face . . . a new child . . . your child.
She is part of you now and is making family history along with other family
members. But her history is different. She will need to make sense of it.
Her peers and the public she is exposed to will ask questions of her and she
will need answers for them.

Reprinted from: The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen
Challenges of Adoption by Karen J. Foli, Ph.D., and John R. Thompson, M.D.
2004 by Karen J. Foli, Ph.D., and John R. Thompson, M.D. (August 2004;
$14.95US/$21.95CAN; 1-57954-866-0) Permission granted by Rodale, Inc.,
Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the
publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

Karen J. Foli, Ph.D., is a registered nurse, medical writer, and the author
of Like Sound through Water: A Mother's Journey through Auditory Processing
Disorder. John R. Thompson, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist
specializing in child and adolescent issues. The married couple resides in
Bloomington, Indiana.

Drawing on their own experience as adoptive parents as well as interviews
with dozens of adoptive families and experts in the field, Drs. Foli and
Thompson offer parents the understanding, support, and concrete solutions
they need to overcome the post-adoption blues -- and open their hearts to
the joy that adoption can bring.

For more information, please visit Karen Foli's Web site, www.KarenFoli.com,
or www.writtenvoices.com.


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