Conference addresses joys and struggles of adoption
When a child is adopted, he or she gains and loses more than most biological children do at a young age.
In the past, most adoptions were "closed," meaning there was little to no contact with the biological parents and adoption discussions were few to none. It was believed the best way to welcome an adopted child into a family was for them to blend in and "pass" as a biological member.
Over time, this was no longer thought to be a healthy way to approach adoption. Instead, adoptive families are encouraged to speak frequently and openly about their child's past, even if there is a lack of information available.
"The more you can talk about your family's journey, the more your child can figure out what their individual story is and when or if they want to share it with others," says Jenna Czaplewski, the development and communications specialist for an organization called Wise Up The World About Adoption. "Each child's story is different, important and deserves to be honored."
On Saturday, April 13 Wise Up will offer a parent and child conference that will be held at the Bishop O'Connor Center in Madison.
Kids will learn about the Wise Up program and role play some situations where they might be asked about adoption. They learn that they can determine how much or how little of their story they would like to share at any one given time. They work together with other adopted children and realize in the process they are not alone.
Parents will participate in a workshop detailing what kids understand, think and feel about adoption as they grow. They will also explore the dynamic between non-adopted peers and / or family members.
"We'll talk about fears, common questions, and concerns," says Czaplewski.
Colleen Ellingson is the chief executive officer of the Adoption Resources of Wisconsin and she is presenting at the event.
Ellingson, who was an emergency foster parent for runaway girls, has many years of experience working with birth parents and adoptive parents.
"Every child is different but most children think about adoption at different points in their lives," says Ellingson.
It is very common for adopted kids to think they did something wrong and therefore their birth parents didn't want them. Many kids start to question their adoption around third or fourth grade, but it can often happen earlier. Adopted adults sometimes struggle when they get married and have kids if they have a lack of family history and medical information available to them.
"All children experience some grief and loss issues over the adoption. Both boys, girls, men and women all have questions. How deep the questions are and when they happen varies among the individuals," says Ellingson.
Plus, some adopted children may have had a variety of experiences including time spent in an orphanage, leaving a birth family due to abuse or neglect, multiple moves or the challenges of learning a different language.
Adoptive parents sometimes experience grief, too, because they were unable to have children the way they originally imagined. They also put pressure on themselves to feel resolved through adoption even though it is normal for them to still feel a loss for the chance to have a biological baby while, of course, being happy about adopting a child at the same time.
"Sometimes adoptive parents feel that they need to be perfect. They have been evaluated, asked hundreds of questions and done an enormous amount of paperwork and training. So they sometimes feel that they should get everything right," says Ellingson.
Adoptive parents also sometimes feel isolated and feel they cannot share their struggles with extended family members and friends.
"We encourage adoptive parents to become active in adoptive parent support groups, informal networks of families and attend classes," says Ellingson.
In 2011, there were 226 international adoptions and around 500 adoptions from the foster care system in Wisconsin. There are additional independent and domestic adoptions of which statistics are not available because these were finalized in individual courts throughout the state.
"All children have to learn how to process events that happen to them – and parents help guide their children gently through hardships, hurt feelings and life events. Helping children understand that adoptions happen out of love: there may be a background of tragic circumstances behind this decision, but they become adopted because people cared about them and wanted them to grow up in stable permanent families," says Ellingson.
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