On Becoming An Empowered Adoptive Parent
Adoptive parents wrestle with the task of feeling empowered, as all parents do.
How can we define “feeling empowered?” It is the experience of having a voice that is valuable, impactful (and powerful in larger and smaller ways). Also, included in this experience is the ability to be able to successfully use that power in helpful ways. If someone is wielding power over their parents in destructive and damaging ways, this is not empowerment, it’s entitlement, that is hiding the experience of feeling disempowered. And, the same goes for parents, too.
Some indications for me that parents are feeling disempowered. First, just to underscore that many adoptive parents feel empowered and competent, but the parents I usually see are often struggling with feeling disempowered in the face of their current struggles.
Face your fears. When you’re making parenting decisions because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t, that’s a sign that things need to change. Fear-based decisions never end well, even if you were able to thwart the problem of the moment. There are a few things that can help – reenforcement, support and information and input.
It’s hard to feel empowered alone. For anyone who has been outside of the majority, in some way, feeling empowered is more difficult. This should go without saying, that this is not a judgment or a stigma, but a fact that the majority of families in this country are non-adopted. It can be isolating to try to talk with friends who haven’t adopted about your concerns. Sometimes friends can unwittingly minimize the adoption issues in play, saying something like, “Oh, my son did the same thing! It’s just a phase. He’ll get over it.” Other times, friends can make everything about adoption and aren’t able to incorporate the developmental stages that are usual and expected. It means that you need to go to greater lengths to get the support, the information and the guidance that you need, and that takes effort, and in some cases, giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
You are a wealth of knowledge, lessons and wisdom. As an adoptive parent, there can be a tendency to focus on all that you don’t know, not what you do. Yes, it’s true, in most cases, at least, that you haven’t lived the adoption experience, you haven’t experienced life as a nonwhite person, and you haven’t experienced abandonment at the level that your child has. And, while true, it is also true that you bring so much to the table, the family table. Your childhood, your traumas, your losses, your experiences of family, your life is so rich and complex. Your child wants to know that they can talk to you, but they don’t want to hear about all of the experiences that you haven’t had, they want to know that you’re listening, not judging and not just trying to make it better, because as you’ve learned, there are certain pains that only time can lessen, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. You are enough, though.
(Reminder: Parent groups start tomorrow. See listings for further details. It’s not too late to join us!)