ADOPTION / ATTACHMENT ISSUES
Parenting may be the world’s most difficult job, and sometimes it can feel that even all the love in the world seems not enough to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. In the case of adoption, this tough job can be even more difficult for a variety of reasons that range from emotional to legal, making it important to recognize that adoption is not the same as growing up with one’s biological parents. Adoption encompasses all involved – the child as well as birth parents and adoptive parents, all of whom suffer from issues of loss, rejection, guilt/ shame, grief, identity, intimacy & relationships, and control (mastery)/ gains in their own ways.
The search for identity begins in adolescence and is a life life-long journey. For adopted children, this complex and confusing time may be more problematic as parts of their identity – like family ties to biological parents and relatives – are not there, leading to feelings of abandonment even if adoptive parents have provided a loving home. Abandonment issues could become attachment issues later in life – even in cases when adoption took place at birth, so that as young adults, adoptees have relationship difficulties.
Attachment is described as the mutual bond between an infant and its parent (or primary caregiver). Bonding with a child is not always simple, immediate, or easy, but rather it is a process that builds over time that is influenced by several factors including people’s characteristics, situations, and even health. Some children may exhibit attachment disorder, in which they have difficulty forming lasting relationships, don’t have the ability to be genuinely affectionate with others, and have very deep trust issues.
Attachment issues arise from a variety of causes, many of which are negative experiences that occur in the first three years of life such as abuse or neglect. While adoption is a beautiful thing, separation from birth parents can be a traumatic experience whether the adopted child is aware of it or not and which may have lasting effects. Abandonment and attachment issues can emerge later in life; adoptees who are now young adults may show signs of hesitance towards creating relationships and pull away from being close to others so as to not experience further loss.
Asking questions about identity and ancestry, wanting to connect with their past, or wondering about other adoptive scenarios is common for adolescents and young adults who’ve been adopted. They may or may not choose to seek out information, but it is a decision that is part of the adoptee’s development process.
Parents should become concerned if these normal questions and actions change. Whether an adolescent or young adult, changes in mood and attitude, experimenting with drugs, drastic drop in work performance, withdrawal from family and friends could signal a child is struggling with issues arising from his/her adoption.
Though failing to form attachment isn’t exclusive to adoptive situations, it also is not necessarily a given; however, the complexity of adoption means that adopted children may have more concerns. Treatment for adoption issues need to take into account this complexity.
Parents should have an open line of communications and talk with their child about the impact of adoption. Ask your young adult about their personal relationships – or lack thereof, and whether they’re experiencing anxieties about abandonment and struggling to connect with others personally or professionally. Today parents have access to a wealth of information about adoption from books to online resources or from adoption support groups for children and parents.
Parents or young adult adoptees may also seek out help from therapists who specialize in adoption issues or a therapeutic program such as wilderness therapy, especially ones emphasizing whole-person wellness. Parents should keep in mind that many factors play into parent-child relationships, but with understanding and support, adoption and attachment issues can be overcome over time, and young adults can learn to quell their anxieties, develop trust, and build relationships for happy and healthy lives.