The “job” of an adolescent is two-fold: discovering who they are while establishing their identity. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But this job is complex, involving identification of their gender and what that encompasses, as well as defining and understanding their beliefs, values and expectations of themselves. This all-important task requires years of time, independence and responsibility.
Often, during this developmental stage, the child is caught in the push-pull of, “Leave me, but don’t leave me.” Add a healthy portion of hormones and you can easily find yourself parenting a moody, sulky, and/or emotional tween/teen. Your relationship can become challenging, even with the child that used be “easy.”
Add adoption as another layer and your adolescent may have additional issues to deal with. Establishing identity can bring up any unresolved issues about their birth parents, who perhaps they haven’t separated from psychologically. The aspects of establishing separation and independence may create feelings of rejection and abandonment, two inherent issues for the child who has been adopted.
Tweens and teens often begin to distance themselves from their parents during the process of discovery and identity formation, because doing so helps them feel more independent. Distancing can give the child who has been adopted some control for it is they who are, in a sense, doing the rejecting to avoid being rejected themselves. Remember, your child has already experienced rejection at least once.
That said tweens and teens who have been adopted may have a lot of trouble expressing just exactly what they are feeling. And understanding what drives them to act the way they do. They may also be thinking a lot about their birth parents and feeling disloyal about those thoughts. What can you do?
Recognize that adoption is part an important aspect of your child’s history. Do not ignore adoption and what it means. Keep bringing it up. Feel like the proverbial “broken record?” Keep playing it.
Keep building your relationship. Find a way to build your child up, instead of focusing on the negative. Try talking to your child the way you talk to others who are not family members. Find some common fun thing to do together—pottery painting and bike riding are a few examples.
Pick and choose your battles. Although it sometimes might feel like it, parenting your adolescent is not a war. Win those you choose and let your child win some, too. Work on compromise.
Avoid the “control” battles at all costs. Your child is already struggling with issues of control and autonomy. Help him establish some control. Find ways to give him choices.
Parents: What other ideas do you have to help your child with his or her “job” of discovering who they are while establishing their identity?