Adoption is a lifelong developmental process that effects the lives of the adoptive family, birth family and adopted child. Adoption can lead to joy but also pain. Children who are raised with their birth family are at an advantage because they are able to answer many of the self-identifying questions of where they came from and what makes them who they are as a person. Questions and grieving are a part of this process and is important to address early.
Adopted children often have mixed feelings about who they are. They may wonder:
- Who are my birth parents?
- Did my birth parents love me?
- Did I do something wrong?
- Why didn't my parents keep me?
- Was I a bad child?
- If I was good would you have kept me?
- Is it okay for me to love my birth parent(s) and worry about them?
- What do my birth parents look like?
- Who do I look like?
- Where did these feet come from?
- How come I have red hair and no one else in the family does?
- How come my siblings seem to grasp things quickly and I can barely get my homework done?
- If you can choose to have me then you can choose to get rid of me.
- Who do I really belong too?
- Who am I?
These questions and feelings are part of the child's lifelong developmental process. Adoptive parents need to address these issues with their children.
Talking to Your Child About Adoption
You may have mixed feelings about telling your child they were adopted. Some families choose not to tell their child, while others go to the extreme of letting them know on a continual basis. Research indicates that the best solution is a combination of the two extremes.
Children who are adopted, even infants and young children, have an intrinsic sense that there is something different about them. From infancy on, they experience feelings of grief and loss over parents they did or did not know. Your child needs to know that they were adopted, but not make it a central focus. Children need to know that they are loved unconditionally, and you aren't going to leave them. They need their feelings validated and to know that it is okay to grieve the loss of the unknown.
Because adoption is a lifelong developmental process, adoption issues never completely go away. For example, the adult adoptee preparing to start a family may experience pangs of uncertainty about an unknown medical history. It is because of this that adoptees should know that they were adopted in a thoughtful and planned manner. What a five-year-old needs to know about adoption is different from a 12-year-old.
The following book provides an eye-opening look at developmental stages from infancy to late adulthood:
- Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, By David M. Brodzinsky Ph.D., Marshall D. Schechter M.D., Robin Marantz Henig