The teenage years get a bad rap – and they certainly can be difficult. But they can also be wonderful, at least in my brief time raising a teenager.
Our family was created by three adoption processes when our children were newborns. Now they’re 6, 12, and 15. That’s one teenager and one less than six months from becoming one! And, let me let you in on a little secret, I like having big kids. They’re fun and funny. I enjoy being with them and making memories. Of course, they have hormones and social awkwardness too. (Read our adoption stories in my book, “Peace in the Process: How Adoption Built My Faith & My Family.”)
Sometimes fitting can be difficult for any teenager. Along with the struggles of growing up and developing cognitive skills that will help any child become a successful adult, teenagers also have to tackle major physical and psychological changes and challenges.
When children’s story includes adoption, there can be another layer of challenge for their sense of belonging. Whether your child has been adopted from birth, like ours, or later in childhood but has grown up in your family, or was adopted as an older child, you may have to tackle some unique challenges.
Dealing with any challenges as a family helps secure the child’s sense of belonging in the nuclear family before going out into the world.
The teenage years don’t have to mean parents and their older kids are opponents. Open communication helps families work together and stay on the same page, even when that page has to change as we navigate life. The stereotype is most teenagers don’t like talking to their parents, but fostering open communication in the early years helps those lines remain open when those toddlers grow into teenagers. I’m thankful my kids talk to me – and I remind myself of this blessing when there are so, so many words!
One way to make yourself as the parent more approachable to teenagers is to open up to them. In the vulnerability equation, someone has to go first. It’s okay for the first step to be by the parent. Tell them how you feel, be honest about your own struggles, and share stories from your own life.
Another way to become more approachable to your children is to spend free time with them. Share a regular activity with them to take the pressure of being together. Nobody likes being lectured or interrogated, but people, including teenagers, may be happy to talk when they’re doing something they enjoy.
Privacy is okay because our teenagers are people too, but parents still need to have access to phone and email messages. Allowing teens to cultivate relationships outside the home with friends is important, but so are boundaries. A private journal is a good privacy option, but a therapist can help your teenagers to talk through their life with another, trusted person.
Language and Cultural Barriers
Some adopted children and teenagers have different cultural heritages. This could lead to attachment and belonging issues, but it can also be celebrated. Even teenagers who haven’t been adopted can have identity struggles, but cultural barriers from adoption can certainly compound this. Find ways to connect with them by eating food, listening to music, and visiting places related to their story.
If the child or teenager speaks a different language, then a newcomer book can help them to learn English. This doesn’t just make it easier for you to communicate, but it also allows them to fit in – both in and out of your family. Of course, you may want to learn their language too to help bridge that communication gap.
Whatever the issue, just work through it together. Don’t be afraid to find trusted people to come alongside you as you navigate life – with a teenager and whatever other season you may find yourself.
There are so many good adoption resources out there. Empowered to Connect, Jockey Being Family, and The Center for Adoption Support & Education are full of information. Find more free resources on my website.