How to cope with adoption

Adoption has been described as one of the most selfless acts any parent can do for children who need it.

By Karabo Disetlhe

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Firstly, it takes a selfless person to give their child up for adoption, then it takes an equally selfless person to adopt the child and raise them as their own.

In many cultures adoption is still pretty much a taboo.

Couples who still choose to adopt a child should be commended. But with great power comes great responsibility.

Perhaps you are considering adopting a little bundle of joy.

Believe it or not, the legal bureaucratic tape is not the only hurdle that adoptive parents have to overcome.

Raising an adopted child can present a lot of emotional challenges, both for the child and the parents involved.

Clinical psychologist and lecturer Mochabo Moerane took us through what parents should prepare themselves for, should they opt to adopt.

“Research shows that the nonchalant manner in which adoption has been handled throughout history has led to increased risk of the child having adjustment difficulties when they reach the adolescent stage,” Moerane says.

“To minimise these risks appropriate psycho-social interventions need to be provided by social workers and psychologists, as well as parents alike.

“It is extremely important to know in advance what emotional difficulties come with raising an adopted child, and most parents who choose to adopt are never really aware of them.

Moerane broke down the psycho-social effect of adoption on children to the following:

THE EMOTIONAL LEVEL

Most parents tend to envisage the emotional distress that can come with adopting a toddler or a teenager, some people are not aware that an adopted newborn child can bear emotional scars that can last them a lifetime.

Thembeka (not her real name) says she found out that she was adopted in her late teens, and everything suddenly made sense.

“I grew up in a loving family environment, and for the most part, my parents did the best they could in my upbringing.

“But I always had a vacuum that I could not explain, even before I found out that I was adopted. I always had a sense of wanting people to stay with me, never leave me, and a desperate need to cling on.”

Thembeka says it was only after she went for therapy after finding out about her adoption that her therapist explained the psychological effect that adoption has on a newborn child, and this made sense of her insecurities.

“She [the therapist] told me something that changed my life. She said that through her research, she found out that because I spent my first day on this earth in an orphanage, it had a severe psychological trauma on me.

“The baby that was accustomed to their mother’s voice in the womb was now alone in a foreign place, being passed from one nurse to the other in that orphanage, never having anyone to cuddle them to sleep or cradle them, and as a result, I developed a need for belonging, and grew up with that.”

Moerane agrees with Thembeka’s theory.

“This is something that parents who adopt a child have to look out for, and perhaps take the necessary means to make the child feel loved, always.

“One of the things an adopted child will always need is reassurance that they are loved unconditionally, even before they learn that they are adopted. This will prevent them looking for love in all the wrong places,” he says.

He adds that if a child was old enough when adopted, their emotional impact will be linked to how they appraise their placement experience.

SOCIAL AND GENDER DIFFERENCES

Moerane says adoption can affect one gender more than another, and parents need to be aware of this.

“On a social level, girls are more likely to adjust well to an adoptive environment as compared to boys, who tend to be more vulnerable to many psychological problems, ranging from disruptive disorders and academic related difficulties.”

FAMILY STRUCTURE AND DYNAMICS

Parents must make sure that they treat and raise their children justly and fairly, especially where there is a biological child in the mix.

“The parents must also guard against overcompensating with the adoptive child,” Moerane cautions.

DISCLOSURE

Moerane says full disclosure from an early age is crucial.

“Gone are the days when adoption was kept a dark secret.”

Research indicates children can be told from ages five to seven that they have been adopted because they have an elementary understanding of the implications of being adopted.

Parents are warned not to wait longer and risk the possibility of children getting to know about their status from others.

Moerane adds that a child’s development of a sense of identity can be much easier if they are aware that they were adopted.

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