Friday, February 23, 2007

Question from Another Parent

We have 5 daughters we have adopted through foster care and taken
guardianship of another. We are no strangers to the ups and downs and
have (mostly) come to terms with the difficulties. What we just can't
seem to get right is helping our children transition to adulthood.

Our oldest daughter who we got at age 14 and adopted at 18 is married
and doing quite well in another state. A few months after graduating
high school she was skipping her college classes, skipping work and
really not doing much of anything. We gave her some options and set
some guidelines which she completely ignored, no fight, no discussion,
just ignored. We told her she could not stay in our home unless she
was willing to work, go to school, or both. Without a word she moved
out with her boyfriend. After that it was a series of moves until she
found her husband. He is actually a great guy, and we are so grateful,
but he takes total care of her. I wouldn't call our relationship
strained, but it is distant. She seems to surround herself with people
who require little of her and that is not us. Although I'm sure she
feels like we've pulled away, we feel like we've always been here, but
that she just doesn't always need us the way we are. Even phone
conversations are difficult. She is quiet until we get her talking
about what she wants to talk about. She rarely even remembers things
we tell her about the rest of the family. I don't want to give you the
impression that she's mean. She's actually very sweet and all things
considering is living quite a productive life.

We had guardianship of another daughter. She left shortly after high
school graduation in a huff (we're still not sure why). She joined the
army, came home for a strange, unannounced Christmas visit, went AWOL
and we didn't hear from her until we were contacted by a mental
institution a couple of years later. She had had a breakdown and was
not the same girl we knew.

Now our 20 year old daughter is a junior at a university 3 hours away.
She's actually doing really well, but has moved 5 times, still doesn't
have a group of really good friends and seems to sabotage relationships
with boys. Now, we're finding each visit home to be less and less
enjoyable. There's a tension that's hard to explain and very very very
subtle manipulations. She's always loved to be the victim but now
she's a master at this. When there are problems, there is no
discussion, she just shuts down. She leaves mad, we're mad and things
are uncomfortable until I reach out and then we can never address the
problems or we'll just start the process over again. There will come a
time, on her terms where she will address the issues. She has all the
right and seemingly sincere conclusions and answers but seems
completely unable to really work those answers in real life.

Now, my husband and I know that we are far from innocent in all of
this. We are demanding, protective and involved. I'm sure many times
our children feel that nothing is good enough. We are also on constant
alert trying to protect ourselves from manipulation and that's probably
a tough wall for our kids to break through sometimes.

So we're looking for resources to help ease the problems adulthood
brings. We have this feeling that we raise our children only to lose
them. If this is part of their learning curve and their journey, we
can handle that. What I find difficult is that we could very well be a
big part of the reason they cut and run.

Thanks for your time!



Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Kate, an adoptive parent, responds

I sympathize with Christie & her husband. I have gone through similar situations with my adopted kids as adults, and have talked to many other foster & adoptive parents with similar experiences. I can't offer any solutions, just possible explanations:
1. Some behavior & personality characteristics are inherited from birthparents, despite the way the child is raised. A tendency toward being addicted to drama & excitement; mental illness; anger control issues; promiscuity; drug/alcohol dependence; and a preference for making money the "easy" way (illegal means, stripping, gambling rather than settling down to hard but respectable work) can contribute to a parent losing his/her child to foster care...and that child may inherit some of the same tendencies even if the fost/adopt parents provide a very different example. If all five of your adopted kids turn out "badly," and all were raised by you, it may not be anything YOU did could be genetics, or the people who raised them for the first 5, 10, or 14 years of their lives.
2. Just because someone turns out differently from the way you'd hope and expect, it doesn't necessarily mean they have turned out "badly." Of course, we want our kids to graduate from college, have long-lasting stable relationships, abide by the law, and stay in touch with us, their parents! But perhaps your definition of "success" is based on YOUR backgrounds & values, not those of your kids. For example, perhaps your dependent, un-liberated daughter is exactly what her macho husband wants and prefers. Your daughter being treated in a psychiatric hospital is doing far better than her birthmom, whose mental illness went untreated when she was a prostitute on the streets. A daughter in college --- even if she ultimately drops out --- is far from a failure if everyone else in her birthfamily was a high school dropout. I know it can be embarrassing and heartbreaking when your adopted children fail to live up to your ideals --- but compare them to their birthparents, and what might have happened had they remained in that environment. You HAVE made a difference even if you couldn't change things 100%. Don't hold your kids --- or yourselves --- to unreasonably high standards.
3. Don't assume too much responsibility for your adult children. If your adult child makes a poor choice & winds up in jail, this is not your fault. If your adult child makes great investment choices & becomes a millionaire, you are not entitled to a share of the profits! People quit jobs, get divorced, and don't always call or visit as much as their aging parents would like...this is part of life and not evidence that the parents have done something wrong! Many birthchildren behave this way; it's not unique to adoption. Are your own parents alive? How often do you visit them? Do you always do everything they say, or were they ever disappointed in you? Do you blame them for your mistakes? If not, then why blame yourselves for the mistakes of your own children?

7:00 PM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Deborah Hage remarks:

This is not about you! This is about the child! To internalize this to br somehwow about you or your parenting is to allow the child to join you in blaming you and thereby avoid lookiing at the source of their relationship issues....which resides insides themself.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Think Tank Moderator said...

Dr. Todd Ochs adds:

Never forget who they were before you knew them. They underwent traumas and disruptions that interfere(d) with their ability to make and maintain relationships. The stability they gained in their adoptive family enabled them to survive, emotionally. This parent's involvement gave these children a chance at a future.

One could argue that all foster children need intensive psychological intervention. Love is NOT enogh.

7:01 PM  

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