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The Adopted Teen’s Quest for Identity

Adoption is obviously a better alternative to a child languishing “in the system” – living in foster care or an orphanage. That’s why I have worked many years with national and international adoption organizations whose goal is to match needy kids with great parents. As I’ve experienced these adoptions first hand, I firmly believe that God has His hand in every case. After all, God is the ultimate authority on adoption. I think He provides specific parents with specific children for specific reasons. It may be hard to believe, but God may have given you a child knowing that as a teen they would struggle, and that He would need you for such a time as this.

And, because I believe God maneuvers children into families, I also believe that God is prepared to help these new parents know what to do should their adopted child spin out of control in the teen years. Not all adopted kids go through this struggle, and usually not if they were adopted earlier in life, but many of the older kids do.  God is a great example of how to restore an adopted child going through this struggle. His example of nurturing, understanding, love, patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness and grace is the best pattern for helping them through their time of difficulty.

The drive for an adopted teen to uncover their history intensifies during the teen years, and they will do almost anything to get their questions answered. I’ve seen kids pull all kinds of stunts, including tracking down their birth parents through the Internet, contacting them unexpectedly, and even setting up a time to meet without ever telling their adoptive parents about it. I’ve witnessed them pay for cell phone numbers, contact attorneys to get help, and send photos to their birth parents — uninvited.

Adopted children face unique circumstances, and it is not unusual for them to struggle with issues surrounding their identity in the teen years. For their parents, the most difficult part is trying not to take their sudden confusion personally. This tussle isn’t about teenage rebellion as much as a struggle to answer questions about their history — who they are, why their birth parents gave them up, and what it means for their future. It isn’t that the teen no longer loves the adoptive parents and are no longer appreciative of all their new family has done for them. It’s that they are in confusion over how they got to where they are.

If you are an adoptive parent, your role is to continue to parent them with the same kind of love you’ve always held. Remember God’s example of nurturing, understanding, love, patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness and grace. Don’t respond negatively because your feelings are hurt. Don’t say you’re giving up as their parent. And don’t try to “fix” the problem with giving the teenager more “things.” All of this only adds to an adopted teen’s mixed up sense of self and can lead to even more instability.

These kids need both time and stability to work through their issues. It is often a stage that they can work through and come out on the other side even more appreciative of their adoptive parents.  In the meantime, they need their parents to remain steady and calm while they turn their world upside down in a quest to understand their history.  And they may need professional help sorting it all out when the truth is finally made known. While not always true, your teen may discover that the circumstances of their adoption are not what they expected, and the history they uncover has potential to cause even more hurt. So, be watchful and take care to get your adopted teenager the kind of professional help they may need at this time in their life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 


The Answers Adopted Teens Seek

When an adopted child enters the adolescent years and their thinking transfers from concrete to abstract, they might begin asking that unanswerable question, “Why did my mother give me up?” At a time that most kids are trying to “find themselves” and form a concept and understanding of who they are and who they are not, the adoption card in their deck of options is one that is a mystery and a source of confusion for most (confusion is not a problem, but how they display that confusion might present a problem).

The hard part of all of this is that this transition of thinking happens around the 7th or 8th grade year when life is tough for any young teen. Having to deal with these pretty tough and deep issues at a time they’re having to transition into early adolescence would be a heavy overload for anyone. Thus the identity issues come to the surface.

What I have found through the years is that it is very easy to explain away the answer to the question with comments of “Your mother did what was right,” or, “She loved you enough to give you up,” or “Your mother wasn’t in a good place, and felt like you should be,” or, “Your mother wasn’t able to provide what she wanted you to have,” or, “Your mother was a mess, and didn’t want you to be.”

“Yeah, I know and understand, but she still gave me away, and left.”

Whatever the answer, and I don’t think any of the above are wrong, a parent must understand that there is a bigger question that looms with a child. I have heard many kids say to any or all of the above answers, “Yeah I know and understand… but she still gave me away, and left.” It is a lingering question of loss that I wonder, if it is ever answered for some. It is my experience that most adopted kids take about 10 to 15 years of abstract thinking to begin to process what this adoption thing is all about. This means that most don’t resolve the issue for themselves until they get into their mid-twenties.

Simply give an answer of, “You know, I don’t know.”

If this is true, then parents, during those teen years, must be content to allow loss to be a part of their child’s life.  In God’s timing, issues will be dealt with. Not all of them have to be resolved in a child’s teen years, no matter how much we want them to have all the answers. Additionally, at times, more trouble can be caused by the tendency to answer every question a child poses, than to simply give an answer of, “You know, I don’t know.” Oddly, helping your child learn through your example that you don’t know all the answers to life will give them license to be able to live with some unknowns in theirs.

Adoption is riddled with acts of love by all involved. And once understood by the adopted child, they will understand the world of Scripture that uses the word “adoption” to describe the beautiful relationship between God and those that choose to be a part of His family… the One who desires to adopt us into His family. As pure and undefiled as this act is, the act of adoption can still have difficulties and struggles.

If you are an adoptive parent, your role is to continue to parent them with the same kind of love you’ve always held. Remember God’s example of nurturing, understanding, love, patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness and grace. Don’t respond negatively because your feelings are hurt. Don’t say you’re giving up as their parent. And don’t try to “fix” the problem with giving the teenager more “things.” All of this only adds to an adopted teen’s mixed up sense of self and can lead to even more instability.

These kids need both time and stability to work through their issues. It is often a stage that they can work through and come out on the other side even more appreciative of their adoptive parents. In the meantime, they need their parents to remain steady and calm while they turn their world upside down in a quest to understand their history. And they may need professional help sorting it all out when the truth is finally made known.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.