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Adoptive Parenting

Submitted By: Anna Dasbach, M.A., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist



Parenting is not always easy and many parents seek out help or parenting books and classes to become better parents. For those of us who have adopted, especially internationally, many of the books and resources don't apply.


Our families were formed under different circumstances. In order for us to be families, our children had to suffer a tremendous loss: the loss of their birth mother, birth families, and for those adopted internationally, their birth- culture. Many adoptive parents come to adoption after failed attempts to conceive and thus had to come to terms with the loss of having a biological child. Even if adoption was the parents' first choice, the child did not have a choice and will need to be guided through the process of grieving the losses she/he encountered. 


As adoptive parents we are often told by well meaning friends who have raised biological children, that they can relate or have had similar problems or as one friend recently posed it to me: "So what if there was a different start in life, she's got wonderful parents now and a good life."


And yes, while this statement is very true, it does not negate the impact of my daughter's beginning of life and the specific things I learned to provide her with to support her ability to mitigate the effects of early trauma.


Owing to newly focused research on brain development and the effects of trauma on the developing brain, we can now talk more clearly about the need to take a different approach when raising children who were adopted and thus had to face early separation from their birth mothers. This early loss, even if the child had been adopted at birth, can be experienced as trauma to the newborn. The sudden loss of the familiar heartbeat, voice and smell can be jolting to the feeling of security in the infant.


For infants, as in my daughter's case, who were left on a street corner even for a short time, the early separation is experienced as life threatening. Some adopted children experienced multiple care- takers or faced neglect during the early months or years of their lives that created more trauma and different ways of learning to view their world and their lives.


Due to these traumatic experiences our children might have a harder time dealing with changes and adjusting to new situations. As children grow and begin to understand more of the complexities of being adopted we, as parents, need to provide them with resources and support. Especially children in trans-racial adoptive families, who may look very different from their parents, need help navigating their felt sense of who they are in the world and a culture in which they are a minority while the parents are part of the majority.


How do we support our children in answering questions such as: "Is this your real mom? Why do you look different? Do you speak English?" And as parents how do we respond and model to our children when strangers approach us with questions about our children: "Where did you adopt her from? How much did it cost?"


Can we just be a family and embrace the fact that we created it, not by biology and genetics, but by love and a desire to be together?


For parents who have adopted, there is some extra work and learning that comes along with parenting. We have to help our children grieve the losses of their birth families, find ways to engage with their birth families, either directly, in the case of open adoption, or indirectly by talking to our children about them and why their parents might have been unable to care for them.


In addition, we have to form a bond and create attachment without the biological support of the first nine month in utero, or the months or years that we missed with our children who were either being cared for by birth parents who at some point were no longer able to care for them, or multiple care-providers in foster homes or institutions.


Many children who require special education were adopted, not that all adopted children will be in special education classes, however due to early trauma some children face difficulties in learning and are sometimes diagnosed with ADHD, ADD or Sensory Integration Disorder. All of these difficulties are related to the early brain development that dealt with trauma. Those children who experienced neglect, malnutrition or disruptive attachment due to removal from homes or institutions, sometimes face reactive attachment disorder or RAD. All of these symptoms can be eased for the child if addressed early on and if parents seek out appropriate help.


Fortunately, there are many resources available to adoptive families today. I have found wonderful websites and web groups of parents who support each other and much has been written on the subject of adoption, attachment, and early trauma.


If we as parents begin to educate ourselves and seek out help and support we not only help our children but also serve ourselves in taking care of our needs as parents. My hope is that all parents will be able to fully enjoy their journey of parenting.


Anna Dasbach, M.A., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, offers confidential, small groups for adoptive parents and sees clients: children, adolescents, couples, families and individuals in her private practice in Santa Cruz. She can be reached at 831-566-8077 or through her website:

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