I have noticed that some individuals are drawn to children that seem to need extra help of some sort. The children sometimes have struggling relationship with their parents or other adults. The children may have a challenging personality. These adults may feel a connection to the child that reminds them of an unmet need from their childhood. Their intentions may be benign, but if not kept in check, there are potential for problems. The non-parent might feel they are better equipped to meet the child’s need even more than the parent. Unfortunately, I do not know a way to measure this but it becomes dangerous when the need they are longing to meet is their own.
Of course, these situations can be placed on a spectrum- small problems to major problems. Not all of these situations cross over the line to some sort of abuse. So, what are we worried about? One thing that is very important to keep in mind is that not everyone who is building a relationship with your child is a potential problem. Mentoring has a very powerful place in a child/youth’s life, as long as it is safe.
Two of my children have had adults in their lives that have crossed the line. Once all was taken care of, one of the realities that I learned was that my child really did want me. They did not want secrets, even though there were fun things that came with secrets. They were so relieved and I watched the stress leave their bodies, when I took control of the situations.
The number rule is to follow your gut. Is it concern or fear? If it is fear, it might be your own ‘stuff’ bubbling up. If it is concern, talk to a trusted balanced person in your life; talk through it. More than likely, clarity will come.
Is your child young? Does your child have attachment struggles? They need you. Do you like your child and spend quantity and quality time with them? Other people can pick up on these subtleties too. If you find out there are secrets being kept, or ‘special’ things between an adult friend and your child, this is a huge warning sign. It is not usually the overt signs that we have a hard time seeing, but the subtle signs.
For me, one of the important lessons in these situations is not just to know what to watch for, but to ask where my relationship with my child is. Does my child experience daily acceptance, enjoyment, and love from a relationship with me?
I can easily live in fear of the lurking ‘Boogey Man/Woman’. I can spend a lot of energy in being angry and resentful at those adults who cross those lines.
The greatest reminder for me is me! Where is my responsibility in all of this? Am I easy for my child to approach? Am I too busy? Is my resentment building up towards a difficult child? These are all great things to be mindful of.
The other point to remember is our children that we have adopted come from a place of brokenness and neediness. They give off signals that, more than likely, they do not recognize. Be sensitive to those you surround yourself with. Be aware of who is around your kids. Do not down-play when they are uncomfortable or really drawn to certain adults. It is always our job to keep them safe and to teach along the way to be aware.
YOU are who and what, your child needs.