Q: We adopted our son at birth and have raised him in a loving home. Now that he's a teenager, he's obsessed with the fact that he's adopted. When he gets angry, he yells, "You aren't my real parents!" We are devastated because we love him so much and want him to know that this is his real family. It's so complicated because he doesn't know his birth parents. How can we help him?
Jim: Our team that oversees Focus on the Family's Orphan Care Initiative has written extensively about the challenges adoptive parents face. They recommend that parents do not become hurt, discouraged or threatened when their kids express a desire for contact with their birth parents. You mentioned that your son "doesn't know his birth parents," but is there any information you might be able to give him in that regard?
This will, of course, depend greatly upon your own situation and the circumstances of the adoption. But in general, the adoption should not be an off-limits topic with your son. Allow him to ask questions. Again, our adoption team advises parents that being open, honest and forthcoming is one of the most helpful things they can do for their adopted kids. It does not negate the fact that he is your son and a member of your family.
If you'd like additional help navigating these waters, please call our counseling team for a free consultation. Also, consider two excellent books on this subject: "Handbook on Thriving as an Adoptive Family: Real-Life Solutions to Common Challenges" by David and Renee Sanford, and "Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory" by Susan TeBos and Carissa Woodwyk.
Q: Our teenage daughter is out of control. She's disrespectful to us and is causing problems in school. She's never been like this before. It's so out of character for her. We try to talk to her and she just says there's nothing wrong. We're at our breaking point and feel so helpless. Is it time for counseling?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: We often hear from weary parents who have reached the end of their rope with a strong-willed adolescent. You're not alone.
When it comes to her behavior, it's critical that you lay out your expectations in advance and make sure that your daughter understands them. The consequences for rebellious or disobedient behavior should also be spelled out beforehand, and the implementation of those consequences should be prompt and consistent. Your daughter will likely challenge these standards at every opportunity, but it's crucial to keep your cool in the face of defiance. Don't give her an opportunity to seize control of the situation.
Also, keep in mind that teens of all temperaments are in the process of trying to form an identity. This can often play itself out in behavior calculated to define "self" in opposition to the values, beliefs, wishes and instructions of the parents. This is another reason why consistent guidelines are so important. They should be divided into at least three different categories: non-negotiable rules, negotiable rules, and rules that can be discarded as your daughter matures and demonstrates a growing ability to regulate her own behavior.
Is it time for counseling? That's a tough determination to make from afar, but you might start by calling Focus on the Family for a free consultation with one of our licensed marriage and family therapists.
Finally, don't lose hope! We hear from many parents who are ready to give up on their volatile teens, only to see them reach a more mature equilibrium after high school.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.