I often feel that storm analogies are an appropriate way to describe our family life. With two violent children rampaging about we lurch from one cyclone to the next. How much more so must this be the case when you find yourself parenting adopted teenagers with all the added hormones, identity issues and social pressures that this involves?
So to find out what we are in for in another few years, and to better understand my friends who are already in this stage of parenting, I read Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.
What does it cover?
The author is both an adoptee and a therapist, which makes for a helpful combination. The book is written from the perspective of the American adoption system, i.e. mainly young people who were internationally adopted as babies. It therefore covers issues of transracial and cross-cultural adoption and the implications of those on an adopted teenager’s identity. This is outside of my personal experience but still interesting and helpful to read about.
But most of the book is not about those things, and much of it applies to the British context too. Subjects such as negotiating about behaviour and consequences, communication around life story work, helping the teenager to envision their future (including forging their sense of identity), and the issue of ‘responding’ rather than rescuing’. I found this last one especially interesting. There’s a chapter devoted to mental health for adopted teenagers which covers sucidial ideation and when to introduce a therapist. There’s also a (very short) chapter on self-care. I was pleased that this was included even if I did wish it was longer.
The Rescuing Dynamic
This topic is a key part of the first half of the book – the idea of ‘adopter as rescuer’ and how to acknowledge this and adjust it in your collective consciousness so that it becomes more about equipping and empowering teenagers to be responsible for their decisions and actions.
‘There are other ways in which the adoption narrative may reinforce the rescuing dynamic. You became an adoptive parent after your teen’s birth parents couldn’t. You picked up where they left off. That’s how the narrative goes. You were the one who didn’t abandon them and will stick by them from now on. And, although you probably didn’t rescue them in a literal sense, it is an aspect of your role. The opposite of rescuing is abandoning. You may also feel caught in this paradigm. To make decisions that may threaten your role as the good one may not feel like a worthwhile risk to take.’
‘In the rescuing dynamic, everyone ends up feeling disempowered to some degree. Adopted teens often perceive their role as the victim of someone or something. This means that the blame and responsibility is on another and that they lack a sense of agency in the matter. But you might also feel like a victim of your adopted teens’ entitlement and demands. It may feel like a lose-lose situation. If you give in, you feel like you’re enabling it, but if you say no, you’ve instigated an emotionally charged confrontation.’
To be honest, though we are trying to do in an age-appropriate way for our children already (they are 8 and 7), we feel a very long way from achieving it. It’s unclear how much leeway the author has allowed for emotional immaturity and other factors, such as FASD. Perhaps this is because I’m not in the target demographic yet.
Though (a) I’m not the parent of teenagers yet, and (b) the British adoption context is a bit different from the one on which the book was written, I found the book both interesting and helpful, and would recommend it to British readers. It is likely to be especially helpful to those who have adopted a child from a different racial and/or cultural background than their own, as this topic is repeated throughout.
The book is more about understanding and relating to your child than it is about behaviour and parenting techniques. The ‘storm’ of the title tends to be mainly in the mind of the teenager rather than in family life. It certainly doesn’t address violence, stealing, or other more ‘extreme’ behaviours as I had expected it might. Again, this may be part of the nature of American adoptive culture being different from that in the UK.
In summary, it’s well worth a read as long as you approach it without any preconceptions of it solving all known ills. If your storm is more of the outwardly violent kind, you may need something else to help batten down the hatches.
Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
£11.99 (Kindle £11.39)
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