Communicating about Adoption

For some families, communicating about adoption and all of its facets is just normal, and while it may be difficult conversation at times because it brings up all sorts of thoughts and emotions, it is seen as a normal and needed thing to happen.  For other families, communication about adoption is okay on a surface level only, as long as you don’t get into those yucky thoughts and feelings.  Then, for other families, communicating about adoption is a big problem that must be avoided.  The later always breaks my heart, especially after having worked with adoptees who really needed their families to be more open to communication about the hard stuff.  A few things that I have learned working with families over the years include the following things: The first thing is telling a child at age three or after that they were adopted is too late and will be much harder than if you had always talked about it with them.  The second thing is that telling your kids the adoption story when they were little and then stopping the communication about their adoption as they began to age may result in the child believing they were not told until later, and thus causing negative emotions in the child and confusion in the parents.  Thirdly, not telling the child at all that they were adopted will backfire on parents, because they will find out somehow and then experience betrayal and other very negative emotions.  So, my conclusion has been that communication with your child about their adoption story should start from day one and be a continuous, while age appropriate, conversation with no secrets. The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) recognizes three family communication styles: Blind, Balanced, and Blaming.  Let’s explore those a little more, and you can decide what communication style your family has.

Blind communication style is exactly what it sounds like, going along blind to the adoption story.  In this communication style, there are no differences between the adoptive parents and the adopted child.  Often talking about adoption is brushed aside, and it can even be met with resistance or anger. For anyone who has been following my blogs, you will know that one of my favorite therapy lines is “speak the unspeakable”, and it applies to adoption stories as well.  When parents shy away from topics that the children are curious about it sends a message that there is something bad about that concern or something wrong with you for feeling that way.  There are many reasons why families have a blind communication style, which can include the parents shame around adoption or infertility or something else that is connected to the adoption, fears about how the child will feel about themselves if they know certain information, and anger that gets stirred up from other experiences that have not been dealt with.  This is one good reason why families of adoption should have an adoption competent therapist on their side, and especially if this is their communication style.  A therapist can help families become more educated about how children actually process the information and how that impacts their sense of self, as well as, helping families to deal with the reasons they become avoidant when communication about the adoption story.  I will say that my experience has been that less of my families have had this communication style, but I have worked with a handful of families who absolutely refused to talk about the adoption to their children.  What a shame.

Balanced communication style also implies what it sounds like, a balanced approach to communication with your child about their adoption story.  In this communication style, parents openly acknowledge the adoption of their child and the issues related to it.  Families with a balanced communication style do recognize that some things related to the adoption will be hard to talk about, and they are willing to communication the hard stuff anyway.  One other unique aspect of a balanced communication style is that they have an openness about birth family and, when appropriate, birth family searching.  I realize that later aspect of a balanced communication style can be really scary for a family who has already experienced forms of rejection and losses in life.  However, it can be done and done well in a way that not only supports the child but that actually brings them closer to you as the adoptive parent.  Again, I understand how scary it can be to talk about birth families, especially when the story is anything but happy, but leaving the child with unanswered questions will only create fractures in their own identity and worth.  I have seen how talking about the birth families openly can actually help adoptees have a more positive self-esteem when it is done in a way that demonstrates Godly love and respect for the birth family.  If you feel that a balanced communication style is just too difficult for your family, I urge you to seek support from a therapist who can help you with this process. If you have not had a balanced communication style, it is not too late, and your adopted child will both thank you and grow closer with you in the process of changing communication styles.

Blaming is another negative communication style but can be seen in some adoptive families.  In this communication style the parents often have a narrow view and perceptions.  Something the parents often express is an exaggeration of the importance of the adoption on the child’s status.  Also, shortcomings may be blamed on the adoption itself.  Conversely, when the adopted child meets the approval of the parents, this isn’t the case, and the communication then approves of the child as a claim to the family.  You can imagine the negative impact this communication style has on an adoptee, and it isn’t hard to see how growing up (or developing) in an environment with this communication style can cause a ton of damage to the identity of the adoptee.  Like all other communication styles mentioned, there are reasons that families employ blaming.  Sometimes the family has so much hurt or guilt or disappointment from unmet expectations that they are totally unaware that this is their communication style.  I would encourage you, as a family, to really think about your communication style and be honest about how you may use blaming.  If you feel that a blaming communication style is utilized by your family, please seek out professional help to repair and heal as a family.  You and your adopted child, and probably everyone else in your family or small circle too, will be very grateful if you work on changing this.

Communication styles are something that I work with many individuals on, and it is no different with adoptive families.  Communication styles help everyone in the family have a clear understanding, know where they stand as an individual, and most importantly, give the adoptee the gifts of truth, respect, and compassion.  When families have a balanced communication style, they help the adoptee to know that the parents are willing to sit with them in the hard stuff because they care that much about the child.  However, having a balanced communication style can be challenging for many families, but with the right support, it can happen.  If you know that your family doesn’t have a balanced communication style and you feel that you need professional support to move towards a more balanced communication style, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or even to C.A.S.E to find an adoption competent therapist in your home state. Information in this blog was taken by C.A.S.E. TAC Manual.

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