Adoptive parents might say things such as,

“We’ll always be here for you, no matter what.”

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore. We are your forever family.”

“You can trust us!”

“You can talk to us!”

These statements are variations on a theme in adoptive families. The idea is that if the adoptee hears it enough, at some point, it will start to sink in. It’s meant to be encouraging and stabilizing. And, for the most part, it is! That is, until the teen years. When the teen years hit, those words of encouragement don’t have that same connecting effect. Adoptive parents find that when they are trying to be encouraging and supportive, it can actually make things worse.

Typical scenario:

Let’s say the adopted teen with a learning disability who is struggling with their homework, throws it across the room and says, “This is so stupid! In fact, I’m so stupid!”

At that point, the adoptive parent might say something like, “Sweetie! You’re not stupid. You’re incredibly smart. If you would just apply yourself and put in some more effort then you would do a lot better!”

Adopted teen says, “You were a straight A student, how would you know! You really don’t get it, do you! I can’t do it!”

Adoptive parent says, “That’s because I applied myself! You could be a straight A student if you wanted to!”

Adopted teen storms into their room, homework is strewn all over the living room.

In these interactions, adoptive parents may find themselves disagreeing with their teen in an effort to make them feel better. But, instead, the adopted teen ends up feeling invalidated, misunderstood and even more alone and isolated than they already were.

That response is more appropriate for a younger child, but not for teens. With teens, the role of the parent is to maintain guidelines and expectations in a supportive way, but not try to change their mind or to make life easier for them. And, if possible, to help them to feel a little bit less alone.

How does one do that?

In this situation, less is more. It is better to simply say something like, “I know that it’s been difficult. I need you to go pick up that stuff though.” This way, the adoptive parent is acknowledging the adopted teens pain, but not letting her off the hook, but also not lecturing or abandoning either.

If you’d like to talk more about this, please join us for our parents of adopted teens groups that are starting soon  — one online and one local! We’d love to have you.