Galaxy of Adoption

Growing into Your Role as a Parent

Adopting a child can be an exciting and meaningful experience. Building relationships in adoptive families is different than parenting in biological families. This is because children and youth have experienced loss of their birth families and require adoptive parents to be empathetic and adaptable. It may mean that sometimes children and youth need time to adjust to their adoptive family and all that their adoptive family may have to offer. It may mean adoptive parents need to adapt their hopes and expectations about adoption, including how they parent.

Adoptive parents have found it to be helpful to learn about and apply therapeutic parenting. Taking the time to reflect and learn can also be very helpful in growing into your role as an adoptive parent.

The Adoption Council of Ontario offers parents who have a child placed with them for adoption through a children’s aid society access to Pathways 2 Permanence training, which is a specialized series of classes for adoptive caregivers who are parenting children who have experienced trauma and loss as part of their history. Learn more about Pathways to Permanence.

Adopt4life is an association for adoptive parents that has established a community network of adoptive parents that provides resources, education, expertise and peer support to adoptive families who are experiencing or have experienced challenges after adoption placements.

Prospective adoptive parents have told us that the time to prepare and then wait for a child or youth to be placed in their home can feel lonely. Here is one prospective adoptive parent’s reflection on waiting.

Cornerstones for Therapeutic Parenting: Attachment, Attunement and Acceptance

Attachment, attunement and acceptance are the cornerstones of building a relationship with a child or youth in adoption and the base concepts of therapeutic parenting in adoption.

Attachment

Adopted children and youth need to feel safe and connected to another person in order to respond well to instructions, expectations and other requests that are part of family life and build relationships with themselves, others and in the world.

For Attachment… Attachment helps us understand our experience in relationships and as a result how we approach relationships. When parents understand their experience in attachment it can help them understand their child or youth’s experience … and understand why and how they might be different. Once we understand differences, we are much better prepared to learn and understand what is needed to “bridge” the differences.

Have you ever thought about what your attachment experience was like?

The chart about attachment experiences and the explanation could help you understand it for yourself.

Attunement

Adopted children and youth need to feel listened to and understood, even when their thoughts, feelings and experiences might be different than what you expect or hard to understand. When a child or youth feels that someone hears what they are saying and knows how to properly understand how they feel, it is at the core of building safe and connected relationships.

For Attunement… An attuned approach means that a family listens to each other and works to understand each other before responding or problem solving or taking action. This approach might be different from parenting approaches you are familiar with or the way you were parented.

Acceptance

An early experience of loss can cause confusion and uncertainty. If loss occur many times with multiple caregivers and different homes these feelings can increase. Children and youth are often confused about the “story” of their lives, why it is all happening and may even feel something is wrong with them. These kinds of confusions affect a child or youth’s ability to feel strong and solid about who they are. When their identify is fragile, children and youth need to experience the basics of love and acceptance for who they are, not what they do or able to accomplish or achieve. This is the difference between unconditional acceptance and conditional acceptance.

For Acceptance… Acceptance begins with understanding what being open hearted means.

Open heartedness means thinking about what is important to a child or youth, including their connections with their birth families, and accepting it. This is important because many adopted children and youth have mixed feelings about their history and birth families and this impacts how they feel about themselves. Adoptive parents who are able to identify their own feelings and talk about them are modeling what being open hearted means and can help children learn to be open hearted too. This is really important for them in learning how to accept all of themselves and feel good about who they are.

Unconditional acceptance means that a parent is able to accept and love all of who a child or youth is. That does not mean agreeing with or excusing some ways that a child or youth might behave. It does mean being able to not be judgemental or give messages that there is something wrong with a child or youth. Children and youth who have loss or trauma in their history cannot always tell the difference between hearing “What you are doing right now is wrong” and “You as a person are wrong”. Unconditional acceptance shows the child or youth that they are loved and accepted regardless of what they do.

Are there people in your life that you accept and love unconditionally?

Learning and applying the cornerstones requires the combination of learning with your mind and being open with your heart.

Resources and Supports to Learn More:

Adoption is a lifelong journey for all members of the adoption Galaxy. It may help to learn about, the significance of sibling relationships, therapeutic parenting, being open-hearted and the impact of adverse childhood experiences. You can find information about these and other topics on how adoption impacts everyone’s journey through the ACO’s training and education section of website. It is a great way to start.

Adoptive parents have told us that meeting with other adoptive parents can help them create a community of people who understand their experience. You may want to do this by contacting Adopt4Life.

Further Reading:

Where can I learn more about attachment?

  • Parenting from the Inside Out
    by Daniel J. Siegel & Mary Harzell
  • Attachment Focused Parenting
    by Daniel A. Hughes
  • Hold on to your Kids
    by Dr. Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufield
  • Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents
    by Deborah Gray
  • Becoming a Family: Promoting Healthy Attachments with Your Adopted Child
    by Lark Eshleman
  • Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love
    by Robert Karen
  • The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family
    by Karyn Purvis, David Cross and Wendy Lyons Sunshine
  • The Invisible String
    by Patricia Karst

Where can I learn more about attunement?

  • Attachment Focused Parenting
    by Daniel A. Hughes
  • Hold on to your Kids
    by Dr. Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufield
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
    by Daniel Goleman
  • Wounded Children, Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families
    by Jayne Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley and Timothy Callahan, PsyD
  • I Love You Rituals
    by Rebecca Anne (Becky) Bailey
  • Playful Parenting
    by Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD

Books to read with your child:

  • If I Were the Wind
    by Lezlie Evans
  • You Are My I Love You
    by Maryann Cusimano
  • The Invisible String
    by Patrice Karst
  • I Love You, Stinky Face
    by Lisa McCourt

Where can I learn more about acceptance?

Videos / CDs

  • The Hope-Filled Parent: Meditations for foster and adoptive parents of children who have been harmed
    by Michael Trout