#14 – When your child distances himself

April 29, 2011 at 10:13 am | Posted in Differences -adopted child and biological child, Identity issues | Leave a comment
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Yesterday I was at a meeting and talked with an adoptive mother who was very upset because her now adult son has distanced himself from their  family.  She was heartbroken over this.  All children grow up and grow away.  Intellectually we know this and expect this.

However, there are two differences in adoptive families.  The first is that we as adoptive parents throughout the years have often felt the need to firmly cement our families. After all, in biological families the family by society’s definition is intact.  Adoptive parents may not feel that natural sensation that biological families inherently have.  So, we work harder at it.

The second difference is that as an adoptee matures, he or she often senses many more differences within their family than a biological child experiences.  With this realization comes the thought of “I wonder who I really am”.  As a young person this feeling is harder to express because the child needs the structure and love and safety of a family.  The time may come, though, when he feels strong enough to go out on his own and discover just who he is and just where he belongs.  Sadly, often this is too early in his life, but that’s another story.

So – when an adoptee appears to distance himself from his family, first of all the tearing away can hurt adoptive parents deeply because they dedicated so much effort into cementing the individual parts of their family, but secondly it may be only for the reason that the adoptee wants to discover who he is, what his identity is and where he belongs in the world  – independent of his family.

It is natural and very human for parents to take this very, very personally.  They think, “After all I’ve done for that child, how can he do this to us?”  Actually, he is not doing this to his parents (although they can suffer immensely), he is doing this to himself.  He is searching for something he thinks is missing.  It actually is inside of himself all along, but it can take him years to discover that.  He is the one in charge of developing himself into who he wants to be – not his biological parents and not his adoptive parents.  Parental love should not waiver.  Although very difficult, it helps if parents understand this process, even when he distances himself thinking the answer is somewhere out in life.

Nonetheless, it is heartbreaking for parents when this happens.  I’ve heard many stories about this in adoptive families.  The best tack to take appears to be a ‘wait and see’ mode.  The child (now an adult after all this) usually comes back into the fold realizing he is who he is, and his adoptive family loves him as he is.

This is making a very difficult (often years long) situation sound very simple.  It is not.  There is heartbreak on all sides.  There is struggle on all sides, but there is also growth on all sides.  Some adoptive parents have closed the door in anger and resentment after their child seems to distance himself.  Those who keep the love flowing through an open door are the ones who, more often than not, live to see their child come to the realization of where he belongs.  Parental love brought him up and parental love can bring him home again.

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