Adopting a different approach to families
Hollywood celebrities may make adoption look easy, but for many families, it is a long, emotional and, at times, difficult journey
THERE WAS a time when the traditional family unit of two parents and a couple of biological children was the accepted norm – anything which deviated from this ideal was seen to be somewhat unusual and potentially problematic. Times have changed.
The modern family unit is made up of all sorts of variables and children today don’t seem even marginally concerned that their best friend may not live with two parents, one of each gender, might spend half his time with one and the rest with the other or look and sound completely different from the rest of his siblings.
For many couples, conceiving naturally can be an issue and adoption has becomes an option. It is estimated that up to 400 Irish families a year are adopting children from abroad.
And although celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt make adoption seem effortlessly glamorous, in reality, the process can take longer and the settling-in period can be more difficult than the Hollywood ideal leads us to believe.
Peadar Maxwell is a senior psychologist with a special interest in adoption and early childhood trauma. He has helped many newly formed families ease into their new situations.
“Adoptive families face many teething problems, some which are common with the arrival of a birth child,” he says. “There is disruption to routine, loss of free time and couple intimacy, the normal child-rearing stresses and expenses and also how to integrate the newest family member into an established extended family.
“Other difficulties may include language differences, the child’s sense of loss for their birth family or their previous care setting, the reaction of other children in the family, emotional or developmental delays and the wider community’s lack of understanding of the intricacies of adoption.”
But Maxwell says the key to success is to admit the enormity of the change, make allowances and give everyone time to adapt.
“The most important thing is to say ‘We are new to this, we are doing our best but we will need help and support in this important task,’” he advises.
“Adoptive parents are healing parents. They have all of the responsibilities and tasks that people experience when they welcome a birth child with the added responsibility of adjustment to a new home and culture for them and their child.
“Bonding is what happens when a parent connects with their child and the two begin to enjoy one another,” Maxwell continues.
“A much deeper and important aspect of the child and parent relationship is attachment. This is when the child wants to be held, goes to the parents when distressed and chooses their parents over strangers; this all takes a great amount of time.
“Talking to other adoptive parents can be a huge help, especially if those other parents have a positive outlook and have adoption-specific solutions that have helped their own children.
“There’s a wealth of advice and literature available to adoptive parents. I would suggest sticking to known, accredited sources of information such as regulated bodies and books written by adoption and attachment specialists respected in their field.”
Niamh Holland is a single mother of two young boys. In her mid-40s, she works as a clinical psychologist in Dublin and adopted her first child in 2007.
“Both of my sons, Alan (6) and Matthew (2), are from Russia,” she says. “I started to think about the idea of adopting in 2001 after talking to a few people who had been through the process. And I put my name on the HSE waiting list in 2002.
“This is a very lengthy process with lots of stages and paperwork. I got my first declaration in 2006 after an initial preparation course which consisted of six sessions one morning a fortnight for three months.