The majority of humans arrive in the world pre-wired to work towards, along with independence and a sense of identity, control. The child who has been adopted has had, in a very real sense, their life’s course altered due to the fact that they were adopted. They have been forced to give up control and, although they likely not did participate in the decision that led to having been adopted, they live with that choice forever. Many seem to resolve this issue and move forward. Others become emotionally stuck and may view themselves as “victims.”
One of the major hallmarks of adolescence is the struggle of control between parents and children. (Remember when you went through it with your parents?) Parents often exert control out of love, protectiveness and fear (recall what you were experimenting with or thinking about when you were on the bumpy ride through adolescence). For adoptive parents this need to control may be magnified if their child’s birth parents had a history of substance or alcohol abuse (although this can be true for biological parents who have similar histories). The other extreme is that parents can feel powerless and become lax.
Tweens and teens crave more independence. The child who has been adopted may view his parents’ efforts as another all-out effort to control him, reminding him consciously or unconsciously of how he was controlled prior to and during the adoption process—his birth mother/parents made the decision to relinquish him and you made the decision to adopt him. He had no say-so. He was helpless to do anything about the decision that irrevocably altered his life.
What can you do to help yourself and your child with the issue of control?
Find the middle ground. Your child is trying to learn how to control himself and his decisions. You are trying to keep him safe. Seek to understand what you are afraid of.
Keep up the conversation. Remember those pebbles? Ask your child how they feel about having been adopted, about not being on the decision(s). Listen and don’t judge. You want to encourage your child to talk. Be supportive. If your child is sad, comfort him. And if he becomes angry with you, try to not to take it personally because what he feels is about him and what happened to him.
Give your child choices. Giving your child an age-appropriate choice can help him practice and learn responsibility and healthy regulation and provides him with a voice and control. Providing choices can further enhance the relationship between you and your child—underscoring trust, bonding, security, and respect.
Make an agreement.Discuss and decide on ahead of time what options you and your child agree on and what the privileges and consequences will be regarding the choices he makes. Doing this will help him learn, understand and appreciate cause and effect. Write it down/type it out and sign it together. Post the agreement in a place that is visible to you. You can include expectations such as language, curfew, homework, school work, chores, and circle of friends.
Parents: Control: some words and phrases that immediately jump to mind are choice, regulation, mastery, and being in charge of. Consider the opposite of control: lack of power over, a lack of choice, feeling powerless, anger, fear, and helplessness. I realize there are more terms and phrases. Perhaps you might write them down and then consider how the issue of control impacts your child.
What do you think? How can you help your child feel in control?