I've been thinking about this for quite a while now -- we all know that it is perfectly normal for adopted kids to think about their birth parents. They have a very natural curiosity about them, they may build elaborate fantasies around them. They need to incorporate their lives before us into their identies and lives now. Some of their thoughts of their birth parents involve the big WHY question -- why couldn't you keep me? They have to come to terms with this felt rejection as they develop self-esteem. All quite normal for adopted kids. But is there ever a point when children think TOO MUCH about their birth parents?
Two things have me thinking about this -- Zoe's note to her birth mother on Mother's Day where she says she thinks of her every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week. . . . and ends, "I can never stop thinking about you." Yes, that's surely an exaggeration, but feelings and thoughts of her birth mother were really triggered this Mother's Day, and it holds a kernal of truth, too. And the second thing is this comment to another post: "My 7 1/2 yr old daughter is obsessed lately with her birthmother and the possibility of finding her. . . . Its amazing but is becoming dispruptive. Ive had to tell her lets put it on the shelf and we will bring it out at night and talk about it when I put you to bed."
So how to tell when normal thoughts of birth parents crosses a line? In thinking about it, I've come up with three factors, which are really not independent, but quite related: frequency, intensity, & disruptiveness.
How often does the child think about her birth parents? I'm not sure that's ever quantifiable -- the only thing we know is how often she talks about her birth parents (or how often her behavior cues us in to the fact that she's thinking about her birth parents). I've found with my kids that it comes in peaks and valleys, with high frequency at some times, little interest at other times. When the periods of high frequency last longer and longer, that might be a problem.
There's a difference between passing thoughts about birth parents, or pleasant thoughts of birth parents. But when those thoughts bring on intense feelings of grief, that, too, is worrisome. Of course, loss of birth family causes grief, but a growing intensity of grief might indicate a problem. No one should expect an adoptee to "just get over" the grief, but when she's "stuck" there, and can't move forward, maybe it's time for extra attention to the issue.
Disruptiveness of thoughts of birth parents is really the external manifestation of frequency and intensity of those thoughts, I think. If the thoughts are disturbing relationships and play and learning and sleep, Houston, we have a problem!
So what do you do when/if you think your child is thinking TOO MUCH about birth parents? You don't want to shut down the thoughts, you want to maintain open communication on the issues so you'll know what she's thinking rather than driving the thoughts underground. I like the "lets put it on the shelf and talk about it at bedtime" approach, but it is a delicate balance . . . .
And at what point do you decide your child needs extra help -- talking to the school counselor, finding an adoption-qualified therapist?
So is this all pretty funny coming from me, such a passionate advocate for talking openly with your children about hard issues in adoption? I'm not calling for an end to the talking, just asking for insight on how to deal with the Genie who comes out of the bottle 5 times normal size! Please share your experiences, I really want to know.