Grief and Loss are two of the Seven Core Issues in Adoption that we discuss in Permanency and Adoption Competency training. A lot of our children’s behaviors can be a result of unresolved grief and loss. We find it hard to address grief and loss because it will result in our children experiencing painful feelings all over again. By not addressing it, are we really stopping the pain? NO, we are just avoiding it. Our children feel grief and loss, and they are unable to describe how they feel, and may act out instead.
As stated in the Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency by Sharon Kaplain Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon, “Loss begins the journey. It is crisis and/or trauma that creates the circumstances that lead to the necessity of adoption and permanency. Adoption and permanency losses are too often left un-named, un-acknowledged, and un-grieved.” These struggles with loss and grief can come out in forms of poor behavior or choices from our children. So how do can we help?
Jae Ran Kim gives some suggestions on how to help our children grieve these losses in an article “Ambiguous Loss Haunts Foster and Adopted Children”. The suggestions are:
• Help your child identify what they have lost. Some examples include birthparents, extended family members, old friends, an old neighborhood, their home, people who share their name, their home country, their native language, etc.
• Give voice to the ambiguity. Acknowledge and validate your child if they express feelings of loss. Show that you understand and sympathize.
• Redefine the parameters of what constitutes family. Family has some ambiguous boundaries, and can include a close family friend.
• Give your child permission to grieve the loss of birth parents without guilt. Express times, places and ways your child can express their grief. Some examples can be talking, journaling, drawing or venting feelings through exercise.
• Create a “loss box.” Debbie Riley, a therapist and author who works with adopted teens, guides clients as they decorate a box into which they can put items that represent things they have lost. By creating the box, youth participate in a ritual that acknowledges their loss, and construct a controlled vehicle for revisiting their losses in the future.
• Include birth parents and other birth family members in pictorial representations of the adoptive family tree. One option would be to depict an orchard where trees grow side by side. The birth family, former foster families, or other significant people in their life can be other trees in the same family orchard.
• Be conscious of how certain events, such as birthdays, holidays, adoption day, etc –may trigger intense feelings of loss. Add or alter family rituals to respect the child’s feelings. An example may be on birthdays add an extra candle to the cake in memory of the birth family or say something like “I bet your birth mom and dad are thinking about you today.”
• Keep your expectations reasonable. Let your child know feelings related to these losses will come and go at different times in his/her life. Be a safe person to whom they can express those feelings.
• Model normal, healthy responses to loss. If you or your parenting partner suffers a loss, share your feelings openly. Let your children see you mourn, so they can learn how you express sadness and anger about loss.
Behaviors when struggling with loss can become more apparent when children approach adolescence. Missing pieces of their history make developing a healthy identity a challenge. We can assist them by helping them to understand they are their own person with their own set of strengths and gifts. Working through and grieving their losses give them a better chance at creating a healthy relationship with you and with everyone they meet.
Challenge yourself today to help your child grieve their losses. The feelings are there anyway so help them learn how to handle and grieve their losses in a healthy way.
This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator and adoptive mom superstar, Sherie Madewell-Buesgens, LBSW.