Birth Parents and their immediate families
With the option of a termination available in up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, it is generally only in the most unfortunate of circumstances that the natural parents of a child feel obliged to give it up for adoption. Most commonly this is because they are not in a financial position to offer proper care for the child but other reasons include a lack of parenting skills, perhaps in a very young mother not supported by parents or a carer, poor physical or mental health of one or both of the parents or, sadly, the poor physical or mental health of the child itself. Irrespective of the circumstances, parents handing their child over to a legal guardian pending adoption are likely to feel many of the symptoms of bereavement, in particular anger, loss and guilt and many are also likely to experience low self esteem and a lack of confidence in their social relationships. Almost perversely some remain anxious over the child’s future whereas rights to maintain contact and obtain information about its development are extremely limited and tightly controlled by the adoption agency.
Non-judgmental counselling prior to and following the completion of the adoption process may help parents come to terms with the circumstances that have brought about the need for the adoption and enable them to move their lives forward. Grandparents disappointed and all too frequently depressed by being deprived of a relationship with a wanted and loved grandchild will also benefit from loss counselling focused on the specific events surrounding the adoption.
Couples, and, other than in exceptional circumstances, it is usually couples, wishing to adopt a child are required to submit to extensive scrutiny of their personal lives by adoption agencies and the authority acting as legal guardians for the child. Apart from the bureaucratic processes involving form filling and provision of documentary evidence, applicants will be interviewed about their relationships and their attitudes by psychologists and social workers, references from current and previous employers will be taken up and background checks will be made with the police, health and other authorities. Not infrequently such probing enquiries uncover painful memories for one or both of the prospective adoptive parents and can put them under great stress.
Counselling is not intended to guide couples on their responses to the questions put to them. However, therapeutic support during the adoption process may be of considerable value as it will explore any inner anxieties they may have about bringing up an adopted child, about being judged or about the process itself and help them.
Whilst an adopted child must by law be provided with certain information on their history by their teen years, in cases where birth parents were not deemed “safe”, adoptive parents are at a loss as to what information should be disclosed. It is in the adoptive parents’ discretion as to whether to allow contact between the birth parents and the adoptee if the request is initiated by the former. Accordingly, there are anxieties about what, when and how to present the history to the child and the fear that it will result in a distancing of their relationship, particularly if the child decides that he or she wishes to contact the birth parents. In such cases the adoption agency will offer support and will arrange for an initial meeting for the child with one or both of the birth parents.
Despite the intensive vetting of the adoptive parents and the consideration given to matching them with the adoptee, tensions between them are bound to arise during the child’s upbringing. Even “normal” parent/child differences or sibling rivalries tend to become accentuated by the fact of adoption, more especially when the child’s history is made known (see “The Adoptee” below). Adoptive parents understand full well that their manner of nurturing is critical to the adopted child’s repair process but, no matter how caring and empathetic, there may be times when they feel that they are not appreciated and not valued by the adoptee.
Counselling can be a very practical way of supporting adoptive parents through what can be a traumatic and draining period and where they are worried about the consequences of taking a particular course of action.
Regardless of the love given by adoptive parents, as the adopted child grows up he or she may gradually become aware of the fact that the persons they call “Mum” and “Dad” are not their birth parents. In some cases, such as mixed race adoptions or where there are obvious differences in physical features between parents, siblings and the adoptee, awareness is likely to come at a very early age. In most other instances the adoptive parents disclose the child’s history as soon as they feel he or she is able to understand, as indeed, for adoptions taking place after 1996, they are required to do by law. There are of course cases where disclosure has not been made by the adoptive parents and by a chance event or by its own investigations the adoptee discovers his or her background during their teens or in adulthood.
Howsoever and whenever the adoptee finds out that they have been adopted, the information usually generates some emotional reaction and anguish. Whilst most are content to accept that they are part of a family that wants them, at the very least they are curious to know more about their origins. The wish to trace birth parents and siblings, a right they can exercise at 18 years of age, can itself occasionally bring them into conflict with their adoptive parents. At the extreme the adoptee may harbour anger, not only to the birth parents who they may consider “abandoned” them, but to the adoptive parents and other family members because they think will always be judged for being “different”. All too frequently, this resentment leads to uncooperative and anti-social behaviour.
In such circumstances counselling represents an effective means of helping the adoptee to manage anger, to recognise that no blame attaches to them for the situation in which they were born, to establish relationships with birth parents and siblings if they feel they are ready to cement relationships with their adoptive family.
In 2009 I undertook a long course covering all aspects of Adoption, and all the issues arising.
Organised by Abbeygate Counselling and Training Services on behalf of Barnardos Adoption Services London East and South East.
ADOPTION ISSUES The Triangle process: About the Adopter – the Adoptee – and the Birth parent or parents.
REASONS FOR COUNSELLING: Few examples outlined:
- Future parents seeking counselling would feel disruption in the process in which they started with such expectations and zest.
- To explore the adoption story, from the beginning, and the middle phases of their life together, and the family dynamics and relationships.
- They might wish to seek help to mend/restore/communicate their fear/anxieties.
- How the adoption has impacted on the extended family.
- How it has impacted on the siblings, either adopted too, and their birth children.
- An inability to understand about the different phases of growth of their children such as: Early childhood, and teen age year’s adolescence.
- Their own marital issues, and or disaccord
- Changes occurring as for example on the extended family support, in the case of family bereavement.
Feelings you might be experiencing.
- Low self esteem /self worth
- Feeling of Loss
- Rejection by the birth children/defensiveness/unreal feelings ‘can it be happening to me’
- If pregnant, we are going to have a baby of our own! How are we going to cope/how is my adopted child/children going to bond/ they might express at
- different level or stage.
- Sense of failure
- A sense that you were doing right but feeling inadequate/deskilled
- Unable to cope with the intrusive format of their adoption process
- Loss of identity outside the home
- Overwhelming feeling of loss affecting each member of the triangle
- Stresses affecting everyday issues or unable to put into perspective the overwhelming process/issues.
- In addition: Factors that may affect an adoptive placement
- In all the circumstances and many more not explored in this website counselling represents an effective and safe means of helping a member of the triangle to manage their feelings , to recognize that there is no blame or judgment attached to the circumstances, and to be able with time to explore their inner feelings, trauma which are so difficult and at times impossible to explore with their family members, friends.