The Protracted Identity Years

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Excerpt from Chapter Five

Not every child who is adopted has severe abandonment issues. When the issues are periodic and mild, we count ourselves lucky. When they are serious, their effects can be debilitating for the child and very hard on the family. One of the difficulties is abandonment issues are not necessarily obvious when the child is young. They often do not surface until the child is in his or her late teens. This coincides with the time when teens habitually do not talk to their parents about problems, when they are trying to lead an independent life, and when they see these intrusive feelings as “weird.” They can be ashamed of their feelings and feel disloyal to their adoptive parents. It’s often a situation in which frank and honest discussion cannot easily take place.

This time in our adopted teen’s life can be difficult in that we see them as almost an adult, competently dealing with adult challenges like jobs and money management. What we may not see is their conflicting emotional concerns around intimacy and identity. Where most teens are fairly secure in their identity by age nineteen or so, adopted teens can wrestle with it well beyond this time and may need professional help to examine what lies at the root of their anxieties.  This is the time when we need to provide on-going counseling as it may be a subject that teens will not discuss with us. They need good advice and we need to see they get it.