Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dear Virginia, We adopted two children six years ago and, although we've had problems, we love them very much. But recently, the elder child, who is 12, has started behaving badly. Suddenly I find it hard to love him – and wonder if his real parents' genes are starting to show. I even ask myself if there's any point in trying, because my gut feeling is that he's basically bad. I don't want to think like this, but can't help it. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Chrissie

It's easy to say: "Oh well, all children go through an adolescent phase." And it's true that, at around 12 or 13, they often start challenging their parents, behaving aggressively to see how far they can go, making awkward attempts to establish themselves as their own selves, sometimes before they're ready, and starting to question their own identities. If you've experienced an adolescent's tantrums and unspeakable behaviour for the first time, you may be astonished and upset when your little angel turns into a monster.

But Chrissie shouldn't just brush her 12-year-old's behaviour aside with an "all kids are like that at that age." Because all children aren't like that, for a start – some don't slam a single door in their lives. And some, like hers, are adopted, and when they ask themselves "Who am I?" they are faced with a scenario that's a lot more confusing than that which faces the unadopted child.

According to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering ( www.baaf.org.uk) the normal questions of identity can be really compounded for adopted children. They've got two sets of parents, and around 12 is a time when perhaps they're wondering where they fit into each set. If they had suffered abuse or neglect, this may be a testing moment. They want to strike out on their own, or start to strike out, but if they do will they be rejected again? They can feel frustrated and angry. And although you may think you answered their questions fully when they were small, perhaps, now this one is growing up, he needs a more explicit set of answers. Is he secretly longing to get back in touch with his birth parents, but terrified that if he mentions it you will be upset? If he suffered sexual abuse is he suddenly, aware of his burgeoning sexuality, wondering if he's gay?

Both you and your son may be worrying about the same things. He, too, may be worrying that his parents might have been peculiar in some way and wondering if he's turning out like them, and resisting it.

You adopted both your children six years ago, which means that the eldest son was six years old when he came into your family. It's extremely unlikely that he possesses some innately bad gene, but he may have suffered rejection, abuse and, certainly abandonment by his birth parents. By the very nature of being adopted it's clear he didn't have an easy start to life. It's time to start talking to him properly, and more to the adult he's becoming, than to a child. Your local authority has a duty to provide post-adoptive support, so you could get in touch with them or find groups where other adopted children who feel confused can talk about their problems together. It would make your son feel less alone. Try contacting www.bemyparent.org.uk or www.adoptionuk.org .

I suspect you've read too many scare stories in the tabloids about people who've adopted children who suddenly go off the rails. These are rare and some of the cases may be due to the stresses suffered by being an adopted child that aren't properly addressed at the right time. 80 per cent of adoptions are very successful and work well. There's no reason to suspect that, with love, and getting the help available, you might not end up with a lovely young man you're proud to call your own.

Readers say

Get some support

When my children were vile, I too wondered if they had been swapped in the maternity unit. But maybe Chrissie is looking in the wrong place. Has her son suffered some kind of trauma? Is he being bullied? Is he an undetected dyslexic? Maybe something from his past has begun to haunt him. Is there a family friend, respected teacher or relative who could get him to open up about what is bothering him?

Chrissie could go to her GP, social services, a counsellor, a priest, parentline ( www.parentlineplus.org.uk). She should also speak to his school and ask what support they can offer.

N ame and address supplied

Solve the problems together

We have two non-adopted children, now grown up and doing fine. However, during their growing years, there were several periods when they behaved in a way that was virtually intolerable and made it hard even to be civil, much less affectionate towards them.

We made sure they knew that it was their behaviour, not them, that we had ceased to love, and then, as parents do we made a conscious and concerted effort to find out the cause of the problems, solve what could be solved and give them warmth and support while they worked through the rest.

Lesley Black, Strangford, County Down

It's just his hormones

My feeling is that your difficulty with your older child is not about genes but hormones. You have a child whose body and world is profoundly changing. In Holland your boy would be given official status as a "puber".

Check out Harry Enfield's work as the teenager Kevin. His parents are extremely long-suffering. Parents of pubers need to cultivate their reservoirs of patience, tolerance, understanding and kindness.

Don't take your son's attitude and words personally. Uncondit-ional love does not require that you actually like the way you are experiencing your puber and his impact on family life. In time he will mature into a person you once again like having around.

Anne Ward, Glenrothes, Fife

He's suffering

First you need to think less about this child's genetic inheritance and more about the events that will have affected him in his first six years. He probably experienced many separations and losses and possibly trauma and/or neglect. He needs to be helped to make sense of his early life but most importantly needs to know that none of this was his fault.

Before he can be helped, you need to address your own feelings. Are you perhaps comparing him to the birth child you should have had? There are agencies that can help, eg. – Adoption UK or her local social services who will have some sort of adoption support service.

Evelyn Murray (Adoption Agency Manager), Nottingham

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