After placement of an older child in an adoptive family, the family will typically experience some variance of the five different stages of adjustment before they meld into a fully integrated family. The five stages that families commonly go through are termed:
- reality testing
During each of these phases the child and the family experience a different set of emotions from each other, as well as some of the same. For example the honeymoon phase arouses feelings of happiness in both the child and the family but also grief in the child because of the loss of his or her birth parents. Each phase also has a set of tasks associated with it. In the honeymoon phase, both child and family are getting acquainted but the family is also tasked with welcoming the child. Honeymoon phases are also because the child is unsure of what to expect and anticipate in the home, so in part that anxiety a child may be feeling will impact how much of themselves they let the family see.
These four phases before integration can vary in length, be revisited or sometimes skipped altogether. We were meeting with one family recently and they talked about learning about these stages in one of our education classes. They commented that they were caught by surprise when their wonderful child all of a sudden started testing them. Then they remembered what they had learned. As their child started breaking some of the house rules, they responded with maintaining the rules but also reassuring him that they loved him and he wasn’t going anywhere.
The next phase, disillusionment, is the toughest phase, just as the name implies. This is when parents ask “What have we gotten ourselves into?” and when the child may get depressed, be angry, act out, or refuse to obey. This is the stage that the experts say that the family and child just need to endure, again remembering the child may still not be trusting that they can remain a part of the family.
The fourth stage, coping, may feel similar to the reality testing stage but both child and family understand each other more and know how to deal with one another. In fact the child is really starting to believe his family when they say he isn’t going anywhere and that they are one family. It is at this point that the experts say that families will see a marked change in the child’s behavior, with the child finally able to demonstrate trust and love his family.
The last stage, integration, is what all the hard work was for, when no one can imagine not being together. That is not to say that everything will be wonderful and that there won’t be any limit testing or power struggles, after all those are aspects of typical development. But now they can see that they have raised a wonderful kid who feels safe and loved and can act like every other crazy teenager in this world.
To learn more about these phases in coming together as a family visit our website at SierraFF.org.