If you want to understand your adopted child, look in the mirror

By Love Isn’t Enough guest contributor Jessica Pegis; originally published at O Solo Mama.

It sounds at first like a half-assed backwards way to do anything but Sally Maslansky’s article in the HuffPo, which has now been linked to by a couple of bloggers, says essentially that. In order to understand your adopted child and, more specifically—in order to understand yourself reacting to and relating to your adopted child—you need to understand your own life story.

I wish more people would go there. The tone of Maslansky’s piece is almost casual. Casual about something critical, as though she were saying, “You know, as a therapist, this is something I have known for so long.” No doubt she encounters the same issue when helping people patch their marriages back together. Lack of understanding of self. Failure to examine one’s own inability to relate because of internalized “truths” learned through being parented by one particular set of parents.

But seriously, how many times has someone prodded you to examine your own childhood as a way of mapping your relationship to your adopted child? I’m betting never.

How do we develop the skills necessary to understand our child’s story in order to help them make sense of it for themselves? Well, the place to start is with making sense of our own story first. In fact, one thing that attachment theory informs us about is that the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is the degree to which that child’s parent or caregiver has made sense of his or her own story.

That’s a staggering statement. “. . . the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is the degree to which that child’s parent or caregiver has made sense of his or her own story.”

This also explains something that has been disturbing me greatly. That when adopted children are deemed unmanageable, parents and others may be judging the behaviour based on their own mythologies around parenthood and family or—here’s a loaded word: safety—and not on the reality of that child and what he or she actually needs.

I believe this article invites us to be more child-centred than we ever thought possible, in spite of the fact that it counsels us to look at ourselves first.

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NOTE: If you go to the study cited in this article, you will find that it doesn’t go into detail about what “knowing your story” looks like. I found that a bit maddening because we all know poets and novelists have a handle on this thing but what about the rest of us. However, it does say that when you have a good handle on your own story, you won’t do the following:

  • idealize your attachments (dismissing)
  • tell a story that’s incoherent or inconsistent (dismissing)
  • show angry involvement with your attachments (preoccupied)
  • ramble excessively, providing irrelevant detail (preoccupied)
  • display lack of reasoning when recounting loss (unresolved)

I haven’t quite sorted out in my head how the cognitive/logical dovetails with the emotional, but clearly it does. I mean, they got these people to sit there and actually tell their story–it’s that concrete.

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