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The author of the book: Patty Cogen
Edition: Harvard Common Press
Date of issue: May 7th 2008
ISBN: 1558323260
ISBN 13: 9781558323261
Language: English
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.48 MB
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Parenting the Internationally Adopted Child: From your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years
by Patty Cogen, copyright 2008

Books on how to parent adopted children often have the same weaknesses as general parenting books. They are personal works that detail an individual, or parenting team, or counseling team, approach to the hard labor of raising children. As such, they are limited by the the personality and experience of the practitioners. Additionally, works by therapists particularly seem to suffer from a "expert" condescension that is difficult to transcend.

Taking this caution in mind, Patty Cogen's book is a solid addition to the material available on adoption parenting. Her approach is narrative in nature and a strength is the outline and encouragement for parents to engage their children in telling their adoption story throughout their growing up years. She recommends parents address the trauma of adoption by continually guiding the child to integrate their experience into their own identity. This is a style that is comfortable to me personally, and fits well within our pedagogical framework.

Practical tips such as "The Three Photo Story" (pg. 75) and "The Four Questions" (pg. 77, and returned to at each developmental stage) are helpful in revealing a path upon which parents can walk (repeatedly) with their child as the child's thinking develops on the road to adulthood. Her terms "Parent Juice" and "Magic Circle," while somewhat juvenile for parents and older children, are well explained so they can be incorporated, even if you don't use her nomenclature. I also liked the attachment games she outlined such as Parent on a Leash (pg. 100), Mirror Faces/ Bodies, Pop Cheeks (pg. 106), Funny Sounds/ Funny Faces (pg. 106), The Bean Bag Game (pg. 112), Facial Exploring (pg. 114), and using the "If you are Happy and You Know It Song" for exploring emotions (pg. 117). There were many other ideas, but some were rather obvious (Ring around the Rosey, Duck-Duck-Goose, Peekaboo, etc.) or just didn't appeal to me personally (such as the Goodbye Song).

I liked the 'based in research' feel of the opening section, but some of her assertions seemed a little too convenient (how would you test that?) and she did not uniformly provide references. While some researchers and their protocol or technique are mentioned specifically, nonetheless there are many assertions, where the reader is prevented from further research (through lack of citations) and must trust her interpretation of the data.

Like most therapists working with children, she advocates juice boxes and eye contact and teaching through play and play through teaching, though I just could not get the hang of the Suck-Swallow- Breathe routine that she seems to find essential.

I particularly liked her idea of "family age" as both a way of understanding the length of time during which your child has been exposed to your parenting and family culture, and a way of contrasting an adoptive child with a biological sibling.

Two huge weaknesses of the book were distracting to me throughout the reading. Cogen has chosen the ubiquitous "composite of many individuals" approach by creating 5 children and their family settings. I suppose this would be expected given her narrative bent. While she does a fairly good job maintaining the individual nature of each profile, the reader cannot escape the omniscient narration of the therapist herself. When the families do something "good", we know this is simply the therapist using a schemata to promote her ideas, and when the families do something "wrong" or get stuck and consult her, the therapist is once again aggrandized. All of the families find her help essential to their triumphant parenting, and the stories wrap up so very neatly - a fact she even takes pains to confess in the later chapters on teens. This is a LONG book, at 416 pages, so I suppose SOMETHING was needed, but these superfluous stories also add to the length. If they were designed to sweeten the medicine, it didn't work for me; I still found the book LONG and I found the scenarios rather annoying. In addition, I imagine that if I consult the book for future reference, the yada yada will be a stumbling block to locating the information desired. Also, it should be noted that a limitation of Cogen's scope as a therapist is a focus exclusively on her client. Therefore, she doesn't engage sibling relationships (either bio or adopted) or birth order, and her adults are inexperienced parents (though she does make some weak attempts to present one or two as more adept).

The second weakness of the book is a complete lack of examination of the WEAKNESSES of the narrative approach. Throughout the book, I kept thinking about "False Memory Syndrome/ Therapy". Cogen advocates "telling children their story" and not making up details, but ASSUMING details based on their behavior. This theme emerges in Chapter 7, "Providing a Framework for Fragmented Memories" and continues throughout the book. While she does say, "We constantly hear our children's ideas and feelings, and we need to attend to and trust their responses to our suggestions. A blank look means you are off track. A smile or nod means you have hit he nail on the head" (pg. 75). While this outline is consistent for ALL communication with children, warning lights flash in my head regarding the way this is applied to the backstory of adopted children. "For example, when meeting your child for the first time, or during the subsequent hours and days, you can comment, 'It's easier to sleep (or keep busy) than to look at a strange, new face. I bet when you have that stunned look on your face, you are wondering where all your familiar caregivers and other children went" (page 75).

My first concern is that it seems easy to jump to projecting false stories, emotions, and integration on a child *so that the adult can feel more comfortable that they are providing guidance*. For example, if a parents suggests a child was traumatized in a certain way in an orphanage and the child responds, I'm not sure it is part of that child's life narrative. Are they reacting to the horror that *happened* to them? Or the horror that it *could have happened* to them? Or the horror that this *does happen to children* somewhere in the world? Also, children have a narrow perspective. A child might interpret regularly missed meals as abuse, when the reality may be the orphanage had frequent problems with financial support or food supply (due to war, famine or politics) and the child was simply unaware of these obstacles, but nonetheless *applied* the emotional response to himself (I did something bad on the days we didn't have food). I think children need to integrate their experience at their own pace. There is an amount of mystery to that process that we will not be able to overcome. Cogen never examines this tricky balance, and that makes me concerned *she is unaware it is there*. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may simply avoid these dangers of the narrative approach because it comes naturally to her, but this is a severe deficit in teaching others these methods.

Another concern I have about pitfalls of the narrative approach was highlighted by Cogen's endorsement of Sherry Eldridge's book "Twenty Thing Adoptive Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew." You can read my review of this book elsewhere on Goodreads but suffice it to say, I do not view it highly. I think Eldridge's cultivation of adoption victim hood is a frightening example of where this guided narrative can lead to bad outcomes. There are all sorts of biological kids that struggle with identity, addiction, and outright rebellion. Parents need to get at the heart of these matters and it is all to convenient (for both parents and therapists) to blame adoption trauma. This thread continues throughout the book as Cogen explains behavior after behavior that we already encountered *with our biological child* and that I have discussed with other parents of biological children. There are also numerous stories of people who overcame difficult starts, and either used these challenges for motivation to triumphant achievement or prevented these challenges from defining their identity. Cogen's empathy can go too far (as well as her advocacy to avoid 'high expectations of adopted kids'). I'm not saying we should weigh our kids down with unrealistic expectations, but embracing victim hood is also too far on the other side of the bell curve. We want to raise victorious children, who are challenged to connect to others in healthy ways, and to embrace a life of purpose and value that goes beyond where they started.

In conclusion, while I prefer the narrative approach and found valuable ideas in Cogen's work, a discussion of the pitfalls of the style, and how to avoid them, would give clarity and credibility to Cogen's ideas of how to guide an adopted child to success as an adult.

For more on adoption, I recommend:
The Connected Child, Purvis, 2007
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Parenting the Hurt Child, Keck & Kupecky, 2002
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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