When I read parenting advice online, it’s hard not run it through my adoptive parent lens. Recently there were several articles posted on how to help your kids understand tragedies in the news. If I had to boil them down into tips that might be more fitting of our community, they would be:
Be prepared for your kids to tell you how they feel-but probably not with their words.
What do we do when our kids are the ones who don’t use their words? Sometimes we are parenting the ones whose feelings come through in their behaviors. Following the news of a shooting spree, for example, causes some kids to act more aggressively themselves. We know that this stems from their anxiety and fears but the behaviors are hard to walk through nonetheless. And other kids cling more firmly to us, their parents. All of the hard work you’ve done around separation anxiety might come rushing back and they’ll need you more and desperately want you by their side. Often it seems like their feelings are big but their actions are even bigger.
As parents of children who’ve already experienced more than their fair share of trauma, we may choose not to have open and honest conversations with them about these terrifying incidents. And it’s not because we don’t want to offer them reassurance about their own safety but because we cannot. We know that the world is uncertain and many adopted children sadly know that all too well. The reality is that we cannot protect them from all harm or even the awareness that people do terrible things sometimes. They must leave the safety of our homes and go off to school where other children will inform them or they’ll catch a conversation on the bus, in the grocery store, when and where you least expect it. The news cycle never stops and it really has become impossible to avoid.
Remember that your child is processing this differently than you are.
As parents, we say too much too often, don’t we? When we let kids take the lead on the conversation or ask the questions, we find that they are not in the space we are. They don’t always know what they don’t know which is a blessing in that we can maintain some semblance of innocence for them as long as possible. And much of the time, they are developmentally just self-concerned and their feelings are all they can possibly handle. Again, it’s a blessing that their orbit remains small enough to allow them to feel safe in their own little worlds.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know.
Here’s where we excel! If your child has asked you questions about their birth parents, you’ve probably said “I don’t know” more times than you can count. Where do they live now? Did they get the letter I sent? Why did they leave me? We admit we don’t know because it’s only right. Our kids have to trust us not to lie to them or even to fabricate a story to appease them.
Do some good together.
This advice applies to all of us raising children in this modern world of new tragedies every other day it seems. We don’t know what’s coming next but “we belong to each other.” And that applies to the families we formed by adoption but also the human family. It helps us and the to know that there are many, many good people doing good work to ensure our safety and to come to the rescue when people are hurt, homeless, hungry and without hope. That’s one of the upsides of social media; you’re just one click away from donating to an organization that’s providing relief to those who need it or a way to volunteer your time to a situation that needs more helping hands. In the wake of hurricanes and shootings, we can remind ourselves and our kids that we have the ability to act.
Diane Tomaz is an adoptive parent of two boys and the Director of Family Support Services at MARE. She loves supporting families through the adoption process and brings a wealth of professional and personal knowledge to the task. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.