Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Adoptive Families Are Often Misunderstood

We've been fostering and adopting (mostly adopting) parents for nearly twelve years now. In those twelve years we have learned many things and faced significant challenges. It is the most interesting and challenging journey I have ever engaged. For me the biggest challenge and source of frustration, however, have come from well-meaning professionals who really don't understand. Lest you think I am painting with too broad a brush, let me be quick to say that I have also met my share of competent, informed and accessible professionals who have helped us and our children. Too often, however, those with the greatest opportunity to leverage change in the lives of our children assume that we who are the parents are the source of the problem.

I am reminded this morning of how that stereotype is reinforced in the professional community. I received in the mail a flyer advertising a professional training led by an individual with excellent academic credentials (he is an Ed.D. and evidently an accomplished author as well as trainer and psychologist). Here's how the session is advertised:

"Overindulged Children and Conduct Disorder: Treating Overindulgent Families"

While I haven't been through this training (and therefore can't make any particular criticisms) I am concerned, both as an adoptive parent and as a professional in the people helping world, that his assertions only reinforce the stereotype that it is parents who cause their children's psychological disorders.

The flyer says: "Overindulgence of children has become a serious issue leading children and teens to conduct disorder symptoms." "Bright and loving parents, with intense cognitive distortions, confuse love with overindulgence. Their overindulgences stop them from mentoring their children, leading children to develop ... a life without boundaries, balance and conscience. The complications of overindulging children include symptoms of conduct disorder, acute self-centeredness, intense detachment, leading to anger and resentment fueling misbehavior, excessive dependency, 'it's-all-about-me entitlement, manipulation, loss of self-esteem, missing social skills and impulsiveness."

Hmmm. I have no reason to doubt this speaker's assertion that we have social difficulties with parents who overindulge their children. But I am concerned with the strength of the link this author places between postulated overindulgence and conduct disorder symptoms. I am especially concerned because the symptoms described above could fit any number of our children, and I doubt that we would classified "overindulgent."

As parents we have clear boundaries and expectations, we do not "buy" our children's love, we are not filled with "cognitive distortions," we are not abusing our children (a reason he gives for some parent' overindulgences). The professional stepping into this seminar is likely to step out believing that many adoptive families are overindulgent and this is the reason why their children act the way they do.

Perhaps I am too jaded by my experience of the past twelve years, but I find seminars such as these dangerous and unhelpful to those of us caring for children whose early years of neglect or abuse are not represented in the course content (the content is also included on the flyer, and there is nothing I see that allows for biological bases or for special situations like those of adoptive parents). I wonder if those majority of clients mental health professionals see are from families where overindulgence is an issue, or if it is something else? (How likely, for example, are "overindulgent" parents to have their children in therapy, versus parents like us whose children are there because of deep, long-held issues that did not originate from their years with us?)

Unless the professional is savvy enough to remove his or her own cognitive distortions about adoptive family life, this kind of training is not helpful for those who find ourselves in situations that may appear to be the result of "overindulgence," but are in fact the result of earlier years of abuse or neglect.


Torina said...

Hi Bart, I wonder about these trainings too. I received a flier in the mail the other day (maybe you have gotten this one too) to find out what kind of parent/dog I am. It said how we could find out what type of dog we are most like in our parenting methods and how we could go from a "Hot Tamale" to a "Cool Cucumber". I may have to attend just to find out whether I am a Border Collie or a Yorkshire Terrier mom. Who knows, maybe I will surprisingly be a golden retriever ;)


Bart said...

Hi, Torina ... I've been to a training like the one you mention (might even be the same one). I discovered that I am a golden retriever. The presenter I heard was good and seemed to take into account the parenting experience of adoptive parents (although, for the life of me, I can't think of his name right now).


Paula said...

The presenter you are talking about is Paul Buckley. I've heard him several times. While initially I thought his presentation was good, upon deeper questioning from people in the audience about how to handle very difficult children, he lost my respect because he had no answers.

I think many of these trainings are decent for the 'average' family but they are definitely not a 'one size fits all.' I'm sure we could blow their socks off with stories of what we deal with on a daily basis. Our worlds are just way beyond the realm of 'normal' for most families.

You never know though~ sometimes you can come away with one or two gems that apply and it makes it all worth while.

Kathleenb said...

unfortunately, this guy is training the school counselors, social workers, and case managers we all have to deal with, and he has all those nifty credentials after his name that must mean something... so all of them are going to be more likely to label all of us as overindulgent parents when our kids present issues.

Yeah, come check out the alarms on my doors and windows, see how rarely my kids get to go anywhere w/o parental supervision, and take a look at their bank accounts (empty bcz they're paying off destruction or thefts) and let's talk about how overindulgent we are.