How does parenting an adopted teen differ from parenting teens that come to us through birth? What are some of the unique challenges adopted teens or young adults face? Check out our interview with Katie Naftzger, an LCSW, Korean adoptee, and the author of “Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.”
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Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport and I am the host of this show as well as the director of the nonprofit, creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about parenting adopted teens and young adults. We're going to be talking with Katie Naftzger. She is a licensed clinical social worker. She is a Korean adoptee and she is the author of a terrific book, parenting and the eye of the storm, the adoptive parents guide to navigating the teen years. She has a private psychotherapy practice in Newton, Massachusetts, where she primarily sees adoptees, and families. Currently, Katie facilitates an online group for adoptive parents whose teams are struggling with mental health issues, as well as a group for adopted teens and young adults. Welcome, Katie, welcome back to creating a family.
Thank you so much, Dawn.
So let's say I do love the book parenting in the eye of the storm. It is, I think, a valuable guide for those of us who have are in the process of or who have parented teens. Why is parenting and adopted teen any different from parenting a child who comes to our family by birth.
I think in addition to the usual challenges that teen hood brings, we have the added overlay of the adoption piece and the race piece. And many adoptive parents describe feeling pretty affected by the hardships and the trauma that the child has already faced. And it really affects and changes and can sometimes sort of influence the way that adoptive parents parent. And think also, you know, there's some parallels between adoptive parents and adoptees in terms of the ongoing kind of complexity of that experience. For example, adoptive parents also don't have all of the information that biological parents have, like genetic history, or even genetic overlap in behavioral issues, or I was just like that when I was a kid, or, you know, my brother was the same way. And sometimes there's not that much overlap. And when there's not that much overlap, it can make it all the more difficult to sort of, like catch up and try to figure out what's going on.
And as you point out, are not always but many of our kids have come from a background where they've experienced trauma or, or at the very least, they've experienced loss. And that does change how you parent them and I and you're right that I think that parents may parents, sometimes differently, even if they shouldn't, but but for fear that that they need to parent differently or worry, that that the behaviors that they're seeing are something that they need to worry about. Whereas a child that comes to us through birth, we might be better able to parent through it, because we think that it is and I'm using air quotes here normal.
I think that, you know, sometimes adoptive parents, whether it's conscious or not, might end up wanting to kind of offset some of the previous struggles that they perceive their adoptees having already gone through before joining their family. And so they want to provide like a corrective experience a positive experience of being a child and being loved and not being abandoned and not being kind of left behind or misunderstood. And so they want to, you know, kind of compensate for all of the struggles that the adoptees have had.
Yeah, I do think that can be very much the case. So but are there issues related to adoption that do come to the fork do come to the front, during the teen years?
Well, the teen years are really interesting, because of course, one of the primary parts of becoming a teen is the physiological change of puberty and that kind of thing. And when the adoptee becomes physically equipped to have kids, even though we're assuming that that's not going to happen for a while. But when they become physically equipped, they start to be able to really identify with the birth parent in a different way than they could before. So when they were younger, they might have thought about missing the birth parent, they might have wondered, specific things about the birth parent, like how tall they are, what they look like, or even what happened. But when they become teens, they start to be able to imagine being the birth parent. And that's a pretty marked shift for adoptees. And that's one reason why the adoption experience can become so much more intense at that point.
And are there issues also that what are the developmental issues or the developmental milestones for our teen years, is developing our identity. And so just how is developing your identity complicated by the fact that Two are being raised by non biological parents,
it does seem to be pretty challenging. I think that, you know, for those who are not adopted and not in that kind of sphere, I think we can be sort of surprised that adoptees have so much difficulty specifically adopted teens, envisioning their future and I've had enough adopted teams and even young adults, talk with me about the fact that they can't really see themselves as having a future, even if everyone has told them how much potential they have as a person and how many talents and how much they bring to the table when they're, you know, in their future and everything. They themselves can't really picture it. And I think it's interesting too, because for some trauma can also lead to people having trouble envisioning their future. So it's hard to say necessarily, which one is more in play at any given point. But it is a real thing. Yeah,
I was just gonna, that begs the next question I was thinking about, and in addition to identity issues that are related to not knowing potentially they will open adoption, they may well know, but for many adoptees, even now, they still don't know their birth parents. So that raises identity issues. But also, many children have come from neglect, abuse loss, and how does that how does the neglect abuse or loss impact the transition from childhood to adolescence, and then they and then the transition from adolescence into adulthood?
You know, I think that many of us take for granted that feeling of safety, that sort of assumption that everything is going to be okay, that we can take for granted that we have a family and that they love us and that, you know, we'll be with them forever. And when we come to adoption, when we are adopted teens, we don't necessarily take that for granted. And so I think that's really compounded when there's a kind of clear, palpable abuse history, that there really is a feeling that everything is not going to be okay. That really the expectation is that it's going to go wrong somehow. And it's just a question of how and when,
right, because this has gone as they have that experience, that's what's happening. Right. Before we move off on the identity formation part, I think it'd be helpful to generally speaking, something has gone wrong for a child to be placed for adoption in their birth parents life, something has happened in the birth parents life that is, that has created the opportunity for them making a decision to place a child or for having had the child removed from them, and be placed. And so something and that, and it could be in their in their teen years could also be in their 20s. But generally, it's in that that range of time that we're talking about today. And having knowing that your birth parent, the one who you are genetically connected to struggled if they did, or had mental health issues, if they did, or had substance abuse issues, if that was in playing, or making poor decisions or was violent, had domestic violence issues or whatever. Does that play with it from a team standpoint or a young adult standpoint, as they try to structure who they are, which is the milestone that they're supposed to be doing now, at this age,
it can be pretty haunting, especially for adopted males, it can be pretty haunting to know in their adoption history that maybe their their birth father was violent in some way, or that there was violence in their background relating to their birth father, especially I mean, of course, that could happen with either parent, but adopted males specifically, in my practice, have talked about that fear, especially when they're heading into certain developmental milestones, like marriage, like college, like their future that they do worry and are confused about why this happened and how this happens. And that lack of certainty about why this happened, leads them to really feel scared about what they might be capable of. We can't say definitely that, oh, it's environmental. It was just because of the, you know, their country and because of this specific thing that they went through, then there is a fear that it's genetic. And that fear really haunts them.
Well, I turn out like my birth father, will I turn out like my birth mother, you know, will I hope that that the tension between nature versus nurture?
Yeah. The tension between adoptive parents and birth parents, you know that it's a pretty kind of confusing message when teenagers are also headed into romantic relationships, potentially, right. So that's another big change from the younger years to the teen years and then of course, young adult, that the concept of love has been talked a lot about In the adoption community, but it's confusing, because on one hand, the story says that while your birth mom loved you, and so she gave you up. So you could have a better life, or maybe some variation of that, or at least that's what's been internalized by it. And yet, the other story that is also circulating is we love you will never abandon you. And that's from the adoptive parent. And so it's a very, very complicated message in terms of well, what is love? Exactly? does love mean that you sacrifice yourself? does love mean that you don't sacrifice? You know, do do stay? Does that? Is that what love is? And so, you know, adopted teens in particular, are faced with all of these messages and all of its complexity when they're heading into romantic relationships.
Well, you have very true and romantic relationships can potentially lead to an unwanted or an unplanned pregnancy, another way of circling back to repeating and does that complicate the feelings of of how you enter this relationship and what you do once they're?
Absolutely, I mean, I think what I've seen even more is a fear of settling down a fear of the having biological kids, because there's still so much anguish or so much confusion about who they are as parents who they are as people and feeling like it's hard for them to then become this other role, this maternal or paternal type of role, given that they're trying to still sort everything out.
Yeah. In your book, parenting in the eye of the storm, you talk about adoptive or foster parents taking a what you call a learning stance when working with teens. What do you mean by that? What is a learning stance?
Well, I mean, what I mean is that it's common for us to be able to see our kids issues better than we can see our own sometimes, because we're constantly thinking about them. And we we love and adore them. And we, you know, do a lot of things for them. So sometimes adoptive parents, as all parents can not be as clear about what they might bring to the table in terms of their own attachment style, or in terms of their own blind spots, you know, that they might be so focused on the child or the team, that they lose sight of their part. And so the learning stance is really an invitation for adoptive parents to be just as curious about their own role as they are about the team's role in a situation and your given situation.
Yeah, we often say it's a two way street. We parents bring as much to the table as do our children. And yet, it's much easier to to point to the child as the one who struggles the child who needs therapy, the child or the young adult or the to entertain, rather than saying, Hmm, maybe I need to be working on some things. Maybe I'm reacting in such a way that is not healthy. And maybe I need to own that that's, that's cringe worthy for a parent. Yes, it
is. Yes, it is. And, and I think what's even also uncomfortable is that, you know, it's easy for us as parents or for adoptive parents to not disregard but maybe minimize something that they're saying, maybe because they're saying in a in a like, with their yelling or something, or they're saying it in a way that feels extreme or dramatic. And so we might disregard it or minimize it. And in fact, there probably is some truth to everything that they say, which is maybe upsetting in some ways.
I was gonna say that's disconcerting.
Yeah, yeah, no, I know, maybe not the grandiosity or the kind of the level that is being said, or kind of the depth in which it's being said, but it is easy to kind of disregard them. But yeah, they are speaking a certain truth because what's interesting is that they can see us as well as we can see them. And that's a lot, too, you know, yeah, absolutely.
We are excited to let you know that we have 12 free online courses available for you. These courses are brought to you by the support of the jockey being Family Foundation. We are in the process of uploading new courses into the Free Library of courses. So if you have partaken of the courses in the past, check it out again because there are some new ones up there. You can find them all at Bitly slash JBf support that is bi T dot L y slash J. B F support. I wanted to go back to something you raised the beginning. Our kids often not always, but often come to us. from experiencing early life adversity or and they, and that does impact them. And it impacts. Sometimes it impacts their ability to move in this world, sometimes it impacts the way that they behave or how they are perceived. And although I don't think parents would ever use the word pity, there are very often aware of how their children have been impacted. And it does, it does impact how you parent, or it can. So how does that feeling? How does that interfere with maybe our health the way we should be? A healthy parenting relationship for our teams?
You know, one of the questions I keep in mind is okay, is what's happening going to help the adopted team to feel more empowered, or less empowered? And so I agree that probably most of us would not use the word pity as what we tend to do with our kids. But I would hope not yes. But sometimes adoptive parents can inadvertently make decisions that lead the adoptee to feel less empowered, more disempowered. And that's sometimes a kind of a signal for us that, oh, maybe we need to look at why we're doing this. I mean, I think the other signal is, when adoptive parents might say something like, well, this is just, it's just going to be too much for them. Or it's just I don't want her to have to go through that. You know, and while there's definitely a place for that, you know, we can't help but wonder again about, you know, are we overcompensating somehow?
Yeah. In your practice? Do you see? And you may not see it because your practice is primarily focused on adoptive families. But is there a tendency for adoptive parents to be more in the vernacular, we call it what helicopter parents or they're so invested, they had to work so hard to get these kids that there, it is harder for them to allow their kids to fail? Or allow their kids to make mistakes to allow their kids to do things in ways that they wouldn't have done? Or is that a stereotype I'm working off of? No,
I think that I think there's probably some truth to that. And, you know, we mentioned earlier, not wanting the adoptee to suffer more than they already have, rather than already a foundation of well, let me try to make life a little bit easier given that they've already been through so much. And I think we worried a little bit about their resilience, about their ability to bounce back, you know, to kind of cope and, you know, manage failures and negative feedback and other things that happen in life. And I think the other thing that's interesting, too, is that is in terms of the attunement, that we end up really emphasizing attunement, and I do sometimes wonder whether that's partially related to adoptive parents wanting to close that gap of understanding, given that there are certain things that we're, you know, adoptive parents may not feel like they totally understand what's happening, either because they're not adopted, or because they're not Asian, or they're not whatever. And so they take extra steps to want to be attuned to their child or their teen. And sometimes I talk in my work about maybe even being a little too attuned.
You know, because give an example of what you mean by attunement, like, they
might say, oh, you know, she was like, if like, let's say, an adopted teen doesn't want to go to school, and they say, Oh, well, she's really going through this and that, and she's going through this and that, as opposed to when she needs to go to school.
She may be going through this and that, but she can go through this subnet at school to that school.
Yeah. And so there's more of a focus on understanding them. And while understanding them is definitely important, it's not always what's most important, you know, there, it's also important to help them learn how to deal with kind of limits and parameters and expectations, too.
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. As long as we're talking about parents, I will raise another one. Another potential issue. Some and again, not all, but some adoptive parents went into adoption, out of a feeling of a need to save the child. Call it the savior complex. How does the Savior narrative impact parenting teens when teens are at that stage where we hope they are pulling away from us and some of that pulling away doesn't always look appreciative, quite frankly, it isn't appreciative. That's, that's part of how makes it easier to pull away. Right. It
is part of the the job maybe of the adoptive team to try to kind of believe in themselves more than they believe in their parent in some ways, to trust themselves and to build on that. But yeah, I think that's problematic in a lot of ways. I think one way that it's problematic is that it may To the story about the adoptive parent, you know that the adoptive parent has done this thing that's so wonderful and so difficult, you know. So we find ourselves in situations where adoptive parents are talking about their story not about the story of the child, or like the situation with the child, it's about their story of how they adopted why they adopted and that's, that can sometimes be sort of a red flag or just a signal for you. And as an adoptive parent, if you find yourself telling your story over and over again, you know, instead of focusing on the child,
and how does it win, if we adopt even if it's on the unconscious level, with the idea that we are stepping forth, and but for us, this child would have had a horrible life. When our children are young, they either don't pick up or they don't pick up on it, or they buy into it. But I think in our teen years, I think a lot of teams don't want to buy into that story, and would actively push against that story.
Yeah, so I think we see teams trying to kind of separate themselves from their parent. And that can be pretty challenging, because when I think when an adoptive parent is kind of portraying this frame of look at what they've done for the child, look at what I've done for you, that the adoptive parent can then become invested in keeping the child close. That part of part of the story from the adoptive parents perspective is that we're so close. And unfortunately, what happens for the adoptee, him or herself, is that they feel that they need to be a vehicle for the parent, to support the parents viewpoint of him or herself, that they can't really be their own person and do their own thing,
especially if the parents are coming from that perspective and won't grow past it. Exactly, exactly. Let's talk some about birth parent issues. Because at it is, as our children enter their teen years, and then into their late teen years and early adult years. Many of them either start searching or start thinking about searching. How does that play in from a developmental standpoint from an adopted teen? And how can adoptive parents be most helpful at that stage?
Well, there's such a range of the way that those conversations can go, of course, you know, adoptees talk a lot about how, at times their parents are not open to that. And so that really is a challenge for the adoptive parents to work with and deal with and think about is what what is their hesitation about that? Or are they truly open to that? Do they feel threatened? by that? I think in terms of the search itself, you know, the search is really interesting, because, well, for one, it's something that usually can mostly happen after the child is older. I mean, sometimes things have occurred, like the adoptive parent has searched earlier, or something like that. But generally, once your
teen gets a cell phone, once they get a smartphone, or get onto a computer, then they're going to have it and then that becomes their choice whether they tell their parents or not.
Yes, that becomes their choice. I think with international adoptions, it's a little different because they have to go through the adoption agency, which has become more and more strict, but yes, absolutely.
Non International. And even with international there's you know, there are things that they can do but you're right it's it's harder, but but certainly for regular for non international adoptees parents are kidding themselves. I think if they think that once their child has access, unfettered access, or at least any access really to a computer, that I think many of them have already started the process of just trying to do it assuming they don't have an open adoption, and they can't just call up their birth mom or birth dad.
I mean, it reminds me a little bit of a like a divorced, divorced parents a little bit, you know, where there can be some animosity or some tension, even if the goals might be the same in general, there might be some tension between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. I mean, even if you don't want that even if you surely know that it's best to be on the same page and all that stuff. And so the child can or the teen can sometimes feel like they can't tell the other parent certain things.
Oh, very much so or even tell the other even tell their adoptive parent that they're interested in finding their their birth family. And it may not be birth parents and maybe birth siblings, it could be birth grandparents or Yeah, and sometimes when they reach out, they find difficult situations. And this can happen anywhere from 14 When again when they have access to being able to search on their own, which used to be much harder but Now it is not. So if they find difficult situations, maybe they find I mean, it could be they find that their birth parents had subsequent children that they kept, or had previous had older children that they kept. That could be a situation, they may find out that a birth mom is in jail, they may find out that birth family is very poor. How does all of this affect teens? And young adults, not just teens, but anything from middle teenage to early adulthood? And again, what can parents do?
Yeah, I think it's pretty complicated. I'm just thinking about a few situations where the birth parent came into play somehow. And to be honest, the adoptive parent is not a significant part of the conversation for many, many adoptees and, and I think that that's, there's a lot of pain in that. And I think that adoptees do wish that they could talk more with their adoptive parents about that. So I guess the first step would be for adoptive parents to be open about that, to kind of be welcoming of that and understanding that. The bottom line is that birth parents and adoptive parents are both very much a part of each adoptive identity. You know, and you can,
how do we how do we? How do we let our kids know how not kids? How do we let our young people, our youth and older know that we're open to it? Because so often, I think adoptive parents are afraid to bring it up. Am I going to be putting an idea in their head? Are they ready for this? So how do we how do we get over ourselves?
Yeah, and I think you're right, that sometimes we may think that we're trying to open up a conversation when in fact, it doesn't work, or we really didn't actually do it or somehow,
but Been there done that.
Thought I did tell her that it was okay. But and so I think, you know, one thing might just be to say, yeah, how long do you ever think about searching? Because the thing about the searching is that it's a little bit like other kinds of mental health things that it's there's not necessarily as clear of a beginning and end as we might expect that in a way, searching is something that many adoptees think about a lot all the time, even if they never search.
Yeah, even if they choose not to do it, right. It's something they think about, right?
They think about it, they fantasize about it, they, you know, have different scenarios in their head. And we know that because when I asked him about the scenarios, they can very, very quickly call up scenarios and call them to feelings. It wasn't something that wow, I never thought about that. Let me just quickly think of something that makes sense. And so the search is more like, you know, thinking about that part of their lives thinking about that side of their identity. And, you know, do you do you ever think about meeting them someday? How much? How much do you think about that? Even asking those questions alone will send a clear message that you see it as normal is appropriate to do that, if if it makes sense. And you're
open to the conversation, you're not afraid of it, it's by even if you're, if your teen says rolls their eyes and says, No, Mom, even if they do that, you still sent the message, the purpose of your conversation was to say, well, if it changes, you know, just even if you don't say I'm open, the fact that you bring it up in a way without becoming defensive, tells them that you're okay, if they make that decision. And you're here for them.
And I think if we're really getting sort of ambitious, we also can just talk about how we, as the adoptive parent might have been thinking about that. And so we're not just asking them to get a yes or no answer. You know, we're asking them to talk about this, this part of their relationship with their birth parent. So it's like, yeah, I know, I think about that sometimes, like, would I ever want to search if I were in your situation, or like whether you've ever thought about it before? You know, so we're not we're trying to keep the door open in every way that even if they never want to search, they can still there's still plenty to talk about.
And that we're not afraid of that conversation. All of this conference, what you and I are talking about, it assumes that there's a search that is necessary, but in fact, the vast majority of children adopted now have some degree of openness. Certainly if it's an infant adoption in the US, there is some degree of openness, we can define openness in many ways. But even adoptions from foster care, which is the predominant number of adoptions in the US. There is some form of awareness of birth family. So how is it how do we navigate how to open adoptions? Change When you're when our kids are kids, when our children are young, birth parents and adoptive parents, probably more adoptive parents and birth parents are in charge, and are navigating and are the the overseers of that relationship. But that changes when our kids are teens. So how does it change?
Well, that's that's a really interesting topic. I think that what I've heard from clients and things like that, and families is that if there's any feedback for the parents, it's often that the parents took control of the situation in a way that they adopted didn't want when they were younger. And that they don't necessarily want to have contact in a consistent way, it does feel very erratic, it does feel very sort of unpredictable, where adoptees end up landing on how much or little contact, they might want to have, you know, some have a period where they're in regular correspondence, and then suddenly feel like they don't have anything else to say, or they don't even want to hear from the birth parent. And sometimes it's the other way around, where the birth parent kind of pulls back. And the adoptee isn't sure what's happening.
But it becomes that the the teen, I would assume at some part in the teen to early adult years, that the responsibility for maintaining that relationship, or what that relationship looks like, shifts from the adoptive parent to the adopted person. And of course, the birth parent as well, obviously, as well. And they they have equal say, but the adoptive parents, or maybe I should ask, is the stance of an adoptive parent at that point, to start moving into the background? Not not away, because there may be hard things that come up and you want to be there for your child, but that you're not the one who's navigating it. You're not the one who's orchestrating it?
I would say so. Yeah, I think a lot of it depends on the relationship between the adoptive parent and the adoptee. You know, if there is conflict or distance in that relationship, the adoptive parent can't really be a vehicle on the way or kind of a support and the way that they might want that in a way they have to focus on their relationship, the adoptee adoptive parent relationship before they can really support and get involved with and be kind of a listener to the birth parent adopting relationship.
So working on their relationship with their, with their child, as they do that through therapy, through working on their communication from recognizing their own role. And then if there's a dysfunction in the relationship, recognizing their own role there anything else that they need to do to focus?
I think that adoptive parents put themselves in a really positive position when they can kind of quickly acknowledge, you know, how their decisions regarding the birth parent might have affected the adoptee. It doesn't mean that they were kind of inherently wrong. But if the adoptee has a negative reaction, it is ideal if the adoptive parent can kind of quickly acknowledge that, even if it doesn't mean that they're villains in the way that the adoptee might perceive them in the moment. I think that adoptees are extremely sort of private about their relationship with the birth parent. I mean, it's sort of besides the adoptive parent relationship, it is such a an intimate, stressful, emotionally charged relationship. And so if they often don't talk to anyone about it,
yeah, I can definitely see that. But as a parent, I would want them to know that, even if I can't solve the problem, I would want them to know that I could be a listening ear. Of course. Yeah. Yes, of course. Yeah. Yeah. So I want to send that message for sure. That regardless of what's happening, if you need a non judgmental here, I'll try to be that that type of I'll try to keep my my judgments in check. Please follow or subscribe to the creating a family dot work podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. We have a huge library of archive shows from our 15 plus years of doing this. And once you subscribe, you can scroll through all those archives and choose the topics that are of interest to you to listen to. So please follow or subscribe. Let me ask about for transracial adoptees. So parenting a transracial adoptee we've talked about parenting adoptees in general. But what added complexities do you see when the adopted person is a different race than they are ethnicity than their parents?
Well, certainly there are many, many issues there. I think that The one that comes to mind is in relation to potentially sort of dating and other kinds of relationships that happen during the teen years. Because with that, is this question that most or all teens have is, Am I attractive? Am I attractive to the people that I want to be attracted to me? And what can I do about that? And how do I feel about that. And so it is really common for, let's say, Asian adoptees, or other non white adoptees to take issue with their appearance, especially as it compares to the white standard of beauty, or attractiveness for men, as well. And really struggle with feeling attractive in the way that makes them feel comfortable.
And I think that's particularly the case, if they're being raised in a predominantly white environment.
Absolutely. So many, they'll say Asian adopted, females have talked with me about being the only one. And I think it's easy to lose sight of how lonely that can be, and how much validation we get from our environment. That to be the different one, all the time in your life is just very, very potentially lonely and confusing in terms of the stereotypes that come up as well.
So again, since we're talking about parenting, adopted teens and young adults, what can parents do transracial adoptive parents, what can we do to help our kids?
Well, it's interesting, I think that sometimes support is what adoptive parents can do, even maybe more so than help per se because, in a way, what we want is to empower them to help themselves or to feel to feel like they can make moves in their in their lives, that that can propel them forward. And so it really comes back to listening a little bit. But listening seems so simple. And I think all of us have been in that situation where we've been trying our very best to listen and to be supportive. And somehow the conversations still go south. Because, you know, once an adoptee can feel understood in a conversation and can feel seen in a conversation. They can do a lot
with that. Of course, yeah. And that is an ultimately empowering them is our role. That's regard. I think that as parents of teens, regardless of whether they come to a super thorough adoption, that's our role. That is we want to, we want to launch them. I remember in my, one of my children is Asian, and when she was a teen, we sat down, I knew that she was interested in makeup. And I said, you know, I don't know the best way to make up Asian eyes. And I said, Let's sit down. So we found together quite a few actually, video tutorials for makeup, some much more extreme, but we just watched them all. And then we bought all the products and played with them. And I was thankful which he didn't choose the most extreme. But, you know, as a way of, of acknowledging that I didn't know. So we could go to we didn't live near an Asian strong age committee where they would have Asian beauty parlors. But we were able to find it on YouTube. And so I think that helped her I think it helped her feel like that she was able to enhance, even though I would love for her to think that she didn't need makeup at all. She did not feel that way.
Yeah, yeah. Well done. That's such a wonderful moment with her. And I would guess also, yes, that she felt seeing because when you're doing that, you're also saying I know that we don't look the same.
That was a message I want you to send Exactly, yeah,
I know that our needs are not the same. And I'm not threatened by that. I'm interested in that. I'm not going to take over, but I am I want to have a wide enough circle of interest to be able to include that. And I think you're right that, you know, as much as adoptive parents can be curious and interested in being outside of their comfort zone. Because as we know, all of us have some area of privilege. It's not just about race, you know, it's about anything. And I think of privilege is something that's an unearned benefit of benefits that we didn't do anything to accrue. It's just something that makes life a little bit that sort of paves the way. And so if you're not white, you don't have that white standard of beauty. And so part of the support that they adopted teams are asking from their parents is not to minimize that. You know, because I think that that's sort of the common thread is that adopted teams often feel minimized every every so often, there can be a moment as you're describing Dawn where someone were apparent really embraces, you know, the diversity, the diversity in their family, but more often it's not discussed at all, or it's just not discussed.
And I have heard of adoptive parents, while they wouldn't say it directly, if their teen starts identifying with their birth culture, or their birth, race or ethnicity, and oftentimes identifying it with it strongly and sometimes identifying with only one segment of what they perceive that culture to be, that adoptive parents can feel threatened. It's like, all of a sudden, you know, all these listening to is, is whatever rap and the only sport is interested in is basketball or whatever, whatever the stereotype that their perceptions would be. And from a parent's perspective, they might feel threatened. What would you say to those parents?
I would say it's understandable that they might feel sort of abandoned or rejected. And and it's interesting that that's a parallel for adoptees, you know, exactly. You know, that they end up getting it like, yeah, it's a tough feeling. It's a very, very tough feeling. And so in a way, I guess I would invite adoptive parents to maybe even better understand their adoptee like, what that's like, what it's like when it feels like the adoptee is moving on without them or maybe just doesn't really, that doesn't really connect,
moving to a place they can't reach or fear that they can't reach. Yeah.
Right. And yeah, I think it makes sense that it would, it would sort of stoke the fears of adoptive parents of like, Yeah, this is what's this was my worst fear that I really can't parent this child that it really can kind of get as close as I need to be for this child to be the kind of parent and to have us have the relationship that we need.
Don't you think, though, it's helpful for parents who sit back and realize that this is a healthy developmental step, as much as we want to be so close to our children and have them call us and depend on us, our role really, is to launch them. And to do that they need to separate from us and to separate from us, they need to form their own identity. And it can't be our identity, because that's ours. So yeah, I think that I'd say this, again, I think this is carries, regardless of the child is to birth or adoption, and I think adoption, eds, particularly transracial adoption, can add added complexity there. And I think
that that sort of relates to this issue of trying to be so attuned, so connected, so understanding that I know my child so well, and I really understand everything she's saying and doing and that that sort of reinforces how close we are because I really understand everything, and when in fact, you know, the adoptive team really needs to feel equipped for adulthood. And in order to feel equipped for adulthood, they need to face a little more adversity, they need to practice that feeling of failure, and even that feeling of feeling abandoned. You know, everyone who's an adult usually has felt abandoned at times. And, and it's really a feeling that is part of growing up, unfortunately. And although it is difficult, and it's a feeling that it sort of takes practice to tolerate, you know, and so if if the child has been kind of, in this nurturing, womb like environment, their entire childhood, then they really aren't equipped to kind of set out and do things outside of that. And then they feel even more sort of regressed and incompetent.
Well, that raises the perfect entree into talking about, we've talked about kids who are teens, but what are some of the developmental milestones for all people? And then how does that look for adopted young adults? So what I'm asking is about the transition into adulthood? What are the developmental milestones for that age, that developmental stage? And how does adoption play into that?
I think of a couple of themes. One theme is really guilt that I've been struck by how many let's say college age, adoptees, feel quite a large sense of guilt in how they have disappointed their parents, how they have not been the daughter or son that they should have been, and the sense of obligation that they have, even to their birth parents, even if they don't have a relationship to their birth parents, and their motivation to do the right thing. The right thing, like this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to major in this. I'm supposed to go to college. And in fact, what ends up happening is that they feel lost. Because they're doing these things and making these decisions to try to please their parents or maybe even please their birth parents. And in fact, they're not able to access what they really want separate from the parents in their lives.
Both sets of parents. Any other themes that you see with young adults adopted young adults,
it is just really hard for many, many adopted young adults that I work with, to say no, to not be everything to everyone to allow someone to be disappointed to allow someone to not get their their needs met to say no and have that person not think that they're a good worker or good student, even if it's very clear that that's the best thing for them. They don't want to be perceived in a negative way. And that makes it really hard to make decisions that are good for them, you know, so for example, you know, someone you know, adoptee might not want to call in sick, even though she's very, very sick. But she doesn't want to do that because she doesn't want to be perceived negatively. And so that's kind of an extensive process or even boundaries with their parents with their adoptive parents. That adoptees adopted young adults are really reticent to get into it with them because they feel guilty because they they feel that they can't really justify fighting their adoptive parents because of all that their parents have given them.
yeah, that that even adopted adults will talk about how they still want their adoptive parents to know that they made a good choice, that they that they feel guilt that their adoptive parents didn't sign up for this, their adoptive parents didn't sign up for someone with, you know, someone who has mental health issues, or someone who is so angry all the time, or, you know, that there's a feeling that, you know, they have to earn their keep still, even though that's very much not the case,
that earning their keep. It's exactly what I was you were describing, it's like they still have to, you know, dance for their supper type of thing. You do? Yeah. And what are we as parents? I think there are probably some parents who that would be fine with but I don't think men the majority, most of us, parents of young adults, and then I count myself in that in that category. You know, that's, that's not what I want my children to feel. So, I guess, saying that to our children? Well, I
guess Yeah, I guess saying that, I guess, kind of differentiating between whether we know what you want as their parent and what they want. And just by saying something like that, well, of course, you know, all else being equal, what I want you to xx xx, sure, but really what you want is also important, it's more important, what you want than it is to please me. So I might just put that out there as something for them to chew on. Because sometimes it's automatic pilot.
And we're not talking about it, because we're not even aware of it. But knowing that that is a typical thinking and a typical response. Then again, it goes back to when we were talking about search, bringing it up, because by bringing it up, we are showing that we're open for the conversation, even if it is not, even if the conversation doesn't happen then or even it never happens, we have shown that we are we're not afraid of the conversation. And that we can have the conversation. I think the
other thing that we're doing when we when we might acknowledge our own feeling about something, and then also acknowledge that they're feeling and their experience might be different, suggests a lot of things to I think that it says that we know ourselves, you know, that we can tolerate and maybe even embrace differences, that it's not just about being the same, that we can connect through differences, too. They don't have to be like us in order to be loved by us. You know, and I mean, that comes up with my clients too. You know, and that's why I do sort of talk about well, I can see that you wouldn't want to sit for several hours a day, listening to people's problems, you know, that that I sort of joke about, you know, how different we might be or Oh, wow, wilderness program. That would be I could see how you would really love that. Now I on the other hand, not so much. But, but but I could really see that for you, you know, so so we're really helping to sort of clarify their identity, a little bit to that they have their own voice and their own story.
And then are adopted. Young adults may need us to be more proactive than our children by birth.
Maybe more than we might expect. Yes, yeah. Maybe more than we might expect. I think the other thing that can sometimes happen for young adults is sometimes young adults had sort of Cayden through kind of gone through the motions enough on high school where it was okay. K in high school, and then when they leave for college, they don't have their relationship with their adult For parents as their primary daily relationship, you know, I mean, it's there. There.
Yes. But that is a normal developmental stage that
yes, it is absolutely a normal stage. But they're really left because so much of their energy sometimes has been in that relationship in the adoptive parent adopted relationship. And so when that is kind of lifted, some, at least in terms of the everyday interactions, they're really kind of lost. You're talking to the parent, know, the child, the child, okay, yeah, the child heading into college or their child heading, you know, the young adult because they now really don't. They've really grown so accustomed, maybe unconsciously, to thinking about what's best for the parent or sort of trying to think about what's best for the adoptive parent, that when it really is supposed to be about them. They're lost.
Interesting. Yeah, I can definitely see that. Are you a professional in the field of child welfare, or juvenile justice or other Family and Youth Services? If so, subscribe today to youth services Insider. It is the imprints exclusive section on all the inside news, you need to stay in the know, funding opportunities, major federal and state policy shifts, interviews with key leaders, it's all available to you and their youth services, insider subscribers, sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription today by visiting imprint news.org. And use backslash subscribe. Our podcast listeners get 10% off on their subscription by entering the promo code podcast 10. So we certainly read about and lately, it's been in the news more that adopted teens are more likely to have mental health issues and more likely to commit suicide. How do adoptive parents support to their teens and young adults through their mental health and in to protect them? If they can? I
think, unfortunately, one of the hard parts of this data is that there there are definitely some things that adoptive parents can do that would be the opposite of helping, you know, and then there are a few things that they could do maybe to help and support and some of the common mistakes that I think are missteps that we've all made. And we continue to make, because it's human nature, that and this is a complaint from my clients who get this feedback. And this sort of input from the adults and even their peers, constantly, when they're struggling is for us to try to explain how important they are. Explain how important life is explain how important you know how loved they are. And in reality, that really does not help, unfortunately. And I think we can see that when we're in that conversation because they clearly don't respond. You know, well to that. And sometimes it even makes them feel worse. So when we're thinking about this statistic, and the statistic as it stands is that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide, to attempt suicide, then compared to non adoptees. And in that statistic, I really think a lot about this survival narrative, that one of the unique aspects of adoptees is that they have this narrative where they were put at risk or sort of at risk at a young age. And for many adoptees, that's their first story. And because that's their first story, it makes it extra confusing, because usually people have kind of a positive take for granted, loving, stable story. But adoptees have this very upsetting, traumatic, tragic story or near a tragic story. And so there's this feeling of I could have not survived, and I was at risk. And I feel that that kind of continues to have to be kind of something that they grappled with, whether that's via thinking about suicide itself, as it really you know, because they're, you know, if it's in addition to mental health issues and other kinds of issues, or whether it's just thinking about death, and other things, but I think sometimes we underestimate how central that survival piece is for adopted teens and young adults, even to the point where they will not make changes that are really truly necessary, whether it's breaking up with someone that it's really clearly time to break up with or leaving a job, where it's really clearly time to leave this job, that that they hesitate to make changes because they feel so at risk, that everything can fall apart somehow.
And that contributes to the mental state that would lead one to consider suicide.
Yes, I think that in combination with the challenge for adoptees of of not seeing their future. There's a quote that I had mentioned in the book that this adopted teen said of, if I can't know where I have been, I can't know where I'm going. And there is something about that, that, you know, if you're looking at your past and it's completely in the darkness, it's hard to then forge ahead, because you don't necessarily want to follow the birth parent, because of birth, parents life seems pretty challenging, you know, a lot of times, and you don't necessarily feel like you can follow your adoptive parents, because the adoptive parent has so many different strengths and things like that. So it really feels pretty overwhelming to kind of forge your own path. And it's hard to even picture that you have a path and so that that really is part of suicidality. And, and the way that we, you asked about how what parents can do, and one of the things that parents can do, which is not maybe what you had in mind, which is that you want the adopted teams to have opportunities in the outside world to explore their strengths and weaknesses. So that means volunteering, that means jobs, that means you know, babysitting, that means this and that because the more that you can start to carve out and whittle away at this feeling, and the more that you can do things that allow them to have a more of a vision of themselves, and what they bring to the table, the more that you that they will feel like they have a future.
The more they, the more they will know their strengths and know their weaknesses and know themselves, right.
I mean, I'm right. Like I had a client who when we first started talking about her future, she said she had no idea what she wanted to do. She was taking classes that were not aligned at all with their strengths, because those were the usual classes that people took when they didn't know what they wanted to do. But that doesn't necessarily help economics and things like that, you know, what, like, well, that's always helpful. But for her, it didn't necessarily move her forward. And the place that we tended to start was, okay, well, let's think about the things that you're naturally good at. And let's start to get jobs in those areas, or even just volunteer things or other ways to explore those areas to start to tease out and to have some clarity and what that could look like for you. And that that is really what you can do besides listening.
Thank you so much, Katie Nasik for being with us today to talk about parenting adopted teens and young adults. I truly appreciate your wisdom. Thank you, Don.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai