Ready or Not? Parenting an Adoptee Tween, by Rachel Garlinghouse

I feel like in the proverbial blink-of-an-eye, my “baby” went from a cuddly, cooing infant to a tweenager. 

Though the earlier stages could be demanding—with the potty training and tantrums—I had experience. Throughout my teen years and young adult life, I’d been a babysitter, day care employee, children’s ministry leader, camp counselor, and nanny. Kids were my life. 

I’d potty trained other people’s children. I had put bandages on boo boos and read bedtime stories. I’d watched a little girl learn to walk and a little boy lose his first tooth. I’d watched one child, and I’d watched multiple children, including a children with special needs.   

I had experience. And not just experience, but passion. I believed in the value of raising children.   

It should come as no surprise that the younger years of parenting, though chaotic and demanding, weren’t exceedingly difficult for me.

Yes, having three children under the age of five was overwhelming at times—especially on sick days or sleepless nights—but I enjoyed the kids’ simple pleasures, like picking dandelions or splashing in the swimming pool.

There is a distinct difference between helping raise other people’s kids and being the sole mama of your own child.

When the tween years hit, they hit. Abruptly. Of course, this season was coming, but I lacked experience. The mood swings, the teetering between childhood and teenage-hood maturity, changing bodies.   

There are so many joys, like being able to watch a movie together (one that isn’t animated), or talking over cups of milky lattes. Watching a tween roller skate with friends or “parent” a younger sibling. Oh, and all the sudden, they can scramble eggs, reach the glass on the top shelf, and microwave a cup of tea!

The tween years are bizarre, too. One minute, a tween can spend an hour dressing up a doll, and in the next, begs for cell phone to text friends. One minute, the tween is skipping along, and the next moment, there’s a tantrum that can revel that of a two-year-old who wants a snack. 

When the tween is an adoptee, it’s even more interesting and challenging. Parents have to get back to the basics of attachment and connective parenting. Parents have to grow more empathetic and consistent to counter the tween who is tampering with rebellion. Parents walk a fine line between discipline and grace, kindness and firmness.   

While I’m a proponent of education, nothing can quite teach you the way experience does. In the case of my family, with four children, someone’s gotta go first.   

The tween years can be confusing for parents and children. What are the right choices? Timing is everything. What should the priorities be? I have found that these tumultuous and unpredictable moments have encouraged me to refer back to what I know.

Adoptee tweens need empathy. Adoptee tweens need consistency. Adoptee tweens need space. Adoptee tweens need closeness. Adoptee tweens need opportunities for independence. Adoptee tweens need guidance. 

Raising tweens is like a tug-of-war match, but a loving one. Back and forth. Back and forth. 

When the tween is an adoptee, adoption issues surface in new ways, sometimes quite fiercely. They want to know the truth (and they have the right to know the truth). They are dealing with big questions and big emotions.   

We, the parents, have the honor to help our children navigate. It is not easy. It is not clear cut, but it is our job.   

I’m in a season where I have the opportunity to rise and bring my family with me. I get to help meet my tween’s needs while I learn about a new season in life that I will enter into again with three more children. I have the privilege of hearing my tween call me “mom,” even though sometimes it’s an angry or frustrated “MOM!” and other times, it’s whispered in a moment of remorse or right before bedtime prayers.   

There are hard days and good days. There is peace and uncertainty. There is joy and there is struggle. 

This is parenting. This is our new season. This is adoption.

Like a game of hide-and-go-seek, the tween years cry out, “Ready or not? Here I come!”


Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of six books, including the newly released The Hopeful Mom’s Guide to Adoption: The Wit and Wisdom You Need for the Journey. Rachel is a mother of four, Christian, cheese-fry and dance-party fan, Black Lives Matter advocate, type 1 diabetic, and breast cancer survivor. Learn more about her family’s adventures and connect at her blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar.


Connect with Rachel

IG: @whitesugarbrownsugar
Facebook: @whitesugarbrownsugar
Twitter: @whitebrownsugar

2 thoughts on “Ready or Not? Parenting an Adoptee Tween, by Rachel Garlinghouse

  1. This article is so timely for our family! As a single mama of three transracial adoptees, the tweens are a struggle! My 11 (almost 12) yr old has been struggling for a couple of years. My almost 10 yr old has joined. My three girls (lil sis is almost 8) are bio sibs. I’ve always told them as much information as I can, with compassion.

    Simply saying bio mom struggles with drugs, and loves them, but can’t parent them, isn’t enough. Contact simply isn’t safe.

    1. Hi Amber, thank you for sharing a part of your story with us. I’m so happy that Rachel’s blog post resonated with you and was a timely bit of support and insight. Sharing our journeys really does help, doesn’t it? To know we’re not alone is such a huge comfort. Sharing with compassion is essential. Keep doing that! It matters. xoxo

Leave a Reply