The Dysfunctional Adoptive Family
In the United States, the plague of dysfunction within adoptive families is a common behavioral category including the mental state of "adoption denial" by the adoptive parents that ignores the adoption and pretends that the family is a normal biological family.
The common pretense of the "elephant in the room" where the adoptive parents pretend that no favoritism or disregard exists toward their biological and adopted children and the discussion of the obvious cruel parental behavior reflecting obvious recurring events is never allowed or tolerated.
The parent's routine behavior of indifference, intolerance, over and lacking affection, isolation, physical and mental neglect of the adopted child is accepted as normal coping mechanisms and blamed as the cause of the parent's stress is due to the excessive needs of the adopted child is blamed, and is not acceptable to the family as a whole.
The biological children resent the adopted child's intrusion into their family, a common and known fact in adopting families with biological children. The biological siblings take upon themselves the constant policing, punishing and protecting the parents from the adopted child's intrusive existence within the adoptive family. Which leads to more ostracizing, neglect and cruelty forcing the adopted child to withdraw to physical and emotional isolation, which becomes the norm of the adopted child's strange behavior within the biological family's unity.
Perceptions and historical context
- Lack of empathy, understanding, and sensitivity towards certain family members, while expressing extreme empathy towards one or more members (or even pets) who have real or perceived "special needs". In other words, one family member continuously receives far more than he or she deserves, while another is marginalized.
- Denial (refusal to acknowledge abusive behavior, possibly believing that the situation is normal or even beneficial; also known as the "elephant in the room.")
- Inadequate or missing boundaries for self (e.g. tolerating inappropriate treatment from others, failing to express what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment, tolerance of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.)
- Disrespect of others' boundaries (e.g. physical contact that other person dislikes; breaking important promises without just cause; purposefully violating a boundary another person has expressed)
- Extremes in conflict (either too much fighting or insufficient peaceful arguing between family members)
- Unequal or unfair treatment of one or more family members due to their birth order, gender, age, family role (mother, etc.), abilities, race, cast, as in adopted children. (may include frequent appeasement of one member at the expense of others, or an uneven/inconsistent enforcement of rules)
- Abnormally high levels of jealousy or other controlling behaviors.
- Conflict influenced by marital status:
- Between separated or divorced parents, usually related to, or arising from their breakup
- Conflict between parents who remain married, often for the "perceived" sake of the children, but whose separation or divorce would in fact remove a detrimental influence on those children (must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as a breakup may harm children)
- Parents who wish to divorce, but cannot due to financial, societal (including religious), or legal reasons
- Children afraid to talk (within or outside the family) about what is happening at home, or are otherwise fearful of their parents.
- Abnormal sexual behavior such as adultery, promiscuity, or incest.
- Lack of time spent together, especially in recreational activities and social events ("We never do anything as a family")
- Family members (including children) who disown each other, or refuse to be seen together in public (either unilaterally or bilaterally)
- Families with older parents or immigrant parents who cannot cope with changing times or a different culture
- A parent of the same sex never intercedes in father–daughter/mother–son relations on behalf of the child
- Children who have no contact with the extended family of their mother or father due to disharmony, disagreement, fighting, prejudice, etc.
- In a family with one rebellious child, the other children have to "walk on egg shells" to avoid the wrath of their parents.
- Going beyond mere disagreement, an intense schism between family members regarding religion or ideology (e.g. a family member encouraging or having an abortion while others object on religious grounds; parents who support their country being at war, while children do not.)
Unhealthy parenting signs
- Unrealistic expectations
- Conditional love
- Disrespect especially contempt for the adopted child
- Emotional Intolerance (family members not allowed to express the "wrong" emotions)
- Social dysfunction or isolation (for example, parents unwilling to reach out to other families—especially those with children of the same gender and approximate age, or do nothing to help their "friendless" child)
- Stifled speech (children not allowed to dissent or question authority)
- Denial of an "inner life" (children are not allowed to develop their own value systems)
- Being under- or over-protective
- Apathy "I don't care!"
- Belittling "You can't do anything right!"
- Shame "Shame on you!" "You were born Illegitimate"
- Bitterness (regardless of what is said, using a bitter tone of voice)
- Hypocrisy "Do as I say, not as I do"
- Unforgiving "Saying sorry doesn't help anything!"
- Judgemental statements or demonization "You are a liar!"
- Either little or excessive criticism (experts say 80–90% praise, and 10–20% constructive criticism is the most healthy)
- Giving "mixed messages" by having a dual system of values (i.e. one set for the outside world, another when in private, or teaching divergent values to each child)
- The absentee parent (seldom available for their child due to work overload, alcohol/drug abuse, gambling or other addictions)
- Unfulfilled projects, activities, and promises affecting children"We'll do it later"
- Giving to one child what rightly belongs to another
- Gender prejudice (treats one gender of children fairly; the other unfairly)
- Discussion and exposure to sexuality: either too much, too soon or too little, too late
- Faulty discipline (i.e. punishment by "surprise") based more on emotions or family politics than established rules
- Having an unpredictable emotional state due substance abuse, personality disorder(s), or stress
- Parents always (or never) take their children's side when others report acts of misbehavior, or teachers report problems at school
- Scapegoating (knowingly or recklessly blaming one child for the misdeeds of another)
- "Tunnel vision" diagnosis of children's problems (for example, a parent may think their child is either lazy or has learning disabled after he falls behind in school despite recent absence due to illness)
- Older siblings given either no or excessive authority over younger siblings with respect to their age difference and level of maturity
- Frequent withholding of consent ("blessing") for culturally common, lawful, and age-appropriate activities a child wants to take part in
- The "know-it-all" (has no need to obtain child's side of the story when accusing, or listen to child's opinions on matters which greatly impact them)
- Regularly forcing children to attend activities for which they are extremely over- or under-qualified (e.g. using a preschool to babysit a typical nine-year-old boy, taking a young child to poker games, etc.)
- Either being a miser ("scrooge") in totality or selectively allowing children's needs to go unmet (e.g. father will not buy a bicycle for his son because he wants to save money for retirement or "something important")
- Disagreements about nature and nurture (parents, often non-biological, blame common problems on the adopted child's heredity, when faulty parenting may be the actual cause)
Dysfunctional parenting styles
"Children as pawns"
List of other dysfunctional parenting styles
- "Using" (destructively narcissistic parents who rule by fear and conditional love)
- Abusing (parents who use physical violence, or emotionally, or sexually abuse their children)
- Perfectionist (fixating on order, prestige, power, and/or perfect appearances, while preventing their child from failing at anything)
- Dogmatic or cult-like (harsh and inflexible discipline, with children not allowed, within reason, to dissent, question authority, or develop their own value system)
- Inequitable parenting (going to extremes for one child while continually ignoring the needs of another)
- Deprivation (control or neglect by withholding love, support, necessities, sympathy, praise, attention, encouragement, supervision, or otherwise putting their children's well-being at risk)
- Abuse among siblings (parents fail to intervene when a sibling physically or sexually abuses another sibling)
- Abandonment (a parent who willfully separates from their children, not wishing any further contact, and in some cases without locating alternative, long-term parenting arrangements, leaving them as orphans, adopted children)
- Appeasement (parents who reward bad behavior—even by their own standards—and inevitability punish another child's good behavior in order to maintain the peace and avoid temper tantrums "Peace at any price")
- Loyalty manipulation (giving unearned rewards and lavish attention trying to ensure a favored, yet rebellious child will be the one most loyal and well-behaved, while subtly ignoring the wants and needs of their most loyal child currently)
- "Helicopter parenting" (parents who micro manage their children's lives and/or relationships among siblings—especially minor conflicts)
- "The deceivers" (well-regarded parents in the community, likely to be involved in some charitable/non-profit works, who abuse or mistreat one or more of their children)
- "Public Image Manager" (sometimes related to above, children warned to not disclose what fights, abuse, or damage happens at home, or face severe punishment "Don't tell anyone what goes on in this family")
- "The paranoid parent" (a parent having persistent and irrational fear accompanied by anger and false accusations that their child is up to no good or others are plotting harm)
- "No friends allowed" (parents discourage, prohibit, or interfere with their child from making friends of the same age and gender)
- Role reversal (parents who expect their minor children to take care of them instead)
- "Not your business" (children continuously told that a particular brother or sister who is often causing problems is none of their concern)
- Ultra-egalitarianism (either a much younger child is permitted to do whatever an older child may, or an older child must wait years until a younger child is mature enough)
- "The guard dog" (a parent who blindly attacks family members perceived as causing the slightest upset to their esteemed spouse, partner, or child)
- "My baby forever" (a parent who will not allow one or more of their young children to grow up and begin taking care of themselves as in adopted children)
- "The cheerleader" (one parent "cheers on" the other parent who is simultaneously abusing their child)
- "Along for the ride" (a reluctant de facto, step, foster or adoptive parent who does not truly care about their non-biological child, but must co-exist in the same home for the sake of their spouse or partner) Cinderella Effect
- "The politician" (a parent who repeatedly makes or agrees to children's promises while having little to no intention of keeping them)
- "It's taboo" (parents rebuff any questions children may have about sexuality, pregnancy, romance, puberty, certain areas of human anatomy, nudity, etc.)
- Identified Patient (one child, usually selected by the mother, who is forced into going to therapy while the family's overall dysfunction is kept hidden)
- Munchausen Syndrome (a much more extreme situation than above, where the child is intentionally made ill by a parent seeking attention from physicians and other professionals)
- The isolated family member (either a parent or child up against the rest of the otherwise united family)
- Parent vs. parent (frequent fights amongst adults, whether married, divorced, or separated, conducted away from the children)
- The polarized family (a parent and one or more children on each side of the conflict)
- Parents vs. kids (generation gap, culture shock dysfunction)
- The balkanized family (named after the three-way war in the Balkans where alliances shift back and forth)
- Free-for-all (a family that fights in a free-for-all style, though may become polarized when range of possible choices is limited)
The six basic roles
- The Good Child (also known as the Hero): a child who assumes the parental role.
- The Problem Child or Rebel (also known as the Scapegoat): the child who is blamed for most problems related to the family's dysfunction, despite often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.
- The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
- The Lost Child: the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden.
- The Mascot: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
- The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members' faults to get whatever he or she wants. Often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.
Effects on children
- Lack the ability to be playful, or childlike, and may "grow up too fast"; conversely they may grow up too slowly, or be in a mixed mode (e.g. well-behaved, but unable to care for themselves)
- Have moderate to severe mental health issues, including possible depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
- Become addicted to smoking, alcohol, and/or drugs, especially if parents or friends have done the same
- Bully or harass others, or be an easy victim thereof (possibly taking a dual role in different settings)
- Be in denial regarding the severity of the family's situation
- Have mixed feelings of love-hate towards certain family members
- Become a sex offender, possibly including pedophilia.
- Have difficulty forming healthy relationships within their peer groups (usually due to shyness or a personality disorder)
- Spend an inordinate amount of time alone watching television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, listening to music, and other activities which lack in-person social interaction
- Feel angry, anxious, depressed, isolated from others, or unlovable
- Have a speech disorder (related to emotional abuse)
- Distrust others or even have paranoia
- Become a Juvenile delinquent and turn to a life of crime (with or without dropping out of school), and possibly become a gang member as well
- Struggle academically at school or academic performance declines unexpectedly
- Have low self-esteem or a poor self image with difficulty expressing emotions
- Rebel against parental authority, or conversely, uphold their family's values in the face of peer pressure, or even try to take an impossible "middle ground" that pleases no one
- Think only of themselves to make up the difference of their childhoods (as they are still learning the balance of self-love.
- Have little self discipline when parents are not around, such as compulsive spending, procrastination too close to deadlines, etc. (unfamiliar and seemingly lax real-world consequences vs. familiar parental consequences)
- Find an (often abusive) spouse or partner at a younger age, and/or run away from home
- Become pregnant and/or a parent of illegitimate children
- Be at risk of becoming poor or homeless, even if the family is already wealthy or middle-class
- Have auto-destructive or potentially self-damaging behaviors
- Join a cult to find the acceptance they never had at home, or at a minimum, have differing philosophical/religious beliefs from what they were previously taught
- Strive (as young adults) to live far away from particular family members or the family as a whole, possibly spending much more time with extended family.
- Perpetuate dysfunctional behaviors in other relationships (especially their own children)