Talking to Adult “Children” of Adoption

You’ve spent years and countless hours raising your child. They have developed into adulthood with beliefs, values, opinions and attitudes. They have developed relationships with peers and interact with others daily in the “real” world. They will always be your “child,” but some days you wonder what they are thinking and how they make decisions about love, work and family.

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Being an adult is all about experimenting with the things you learned and the values you were taught and believe in. Adults focus on family, career and free time. They strive to be independent. They try new things, learn new skills and adjust life goals. The values they have learned help shape their behavior and influence deeper and intimate personal relationships. They often shift from a self-centered outlook to a more familial and worldly one and are more aware of the consequences of their choices and behavior.

Year by year, your relationship with your child will shift to one more as equals. You will share ideas and opinions. You will offer advice and direction. You will support or questions their choices. But, your grown up child will make the final decisions. They don’t have to listen to or please you anymore. This is a tough pill for parents to swallow.

It is important to accept your adult child as an adult. Maintaining an open relationship is critical. We all face challenges and tough decisions. Even if you do not approve of all of their choices, express your concerns with kindness and respect. You can make suggestions and remind them of responsibilities, but always focus on their strengths and accomplishments. Remind them of what they were taught and how to problem solve any situation they face.

Adulthood is mainly a time of growth—personal, emotional, social, familial, career and the development of new hobbies and interests. Adoption’s influence remains only one part of the adult development. Some days it will seem important and others barely recognized.

Having reached their full physical potential, your child now knows how they will look for the rest of the lives. They see the genetic contribution of birth parents and learn to cope with what biology has given them. They are choosing dating and sexual partners. They are creating families and having children of their own. For many, it is the first contact with someone genetically linked to them. Some adoptees are concerned over what genetic predispositions they may be transferring to a child. Now is the time to share any information that you may not have before.

If questions or concerns arise, or you have not told your child all you know about their background and circumstances of their adoption—now is the time for total openness. If starting a family, they need to know if there are any genetic diseases. If there is a familial history of alcohol or drug abuse, they need to know about the risks of such behaviors.

If there is any information you have about their parents or siblings—tell them:

Parent: I think it is time to tell you some things about your birth family that I haven’t told you before.

Adult child: Like what.

Parent: (give the information in an empathetic, but straightforward manner)

Adult child: Why didn’t you tell me this before?

Parent: I knew it was “tough” information and was afraid of how you may react.

Adult child: Wow. I can handle it. Wish I had known this before.

Parent: Why?

Adult child: Because it is who I am./Because I may have done things differently./Because I can’t believe you lied to me.

Parent: I didn’t lie. I withheld information I was afraid to tell you./I thought it would upset you./I just never found the time.

Adult child: You see it as protecting me. I see it as lying. What else didn’t you tell me?

Parent: That’s it. You now know it all.

Adult child: What about you and dad? Anything you “forgot” to tell me?

Parent: No.

Adult child: Guess I have to accept that.

Parent: I’m sorry. I did what I did because I love you./I did what I did because I thought it was the right thing to do./I did my best. Anything I can do to help?

Adult child: I don’t know. I have a lot to think about.

Parent: I’m sorry. If I could do it again, I would have told you. Please know you can ask me anything. I will help you get more information if you need it.

Adult child: Thanks. I will let you know.

Once you have had the conversation, give your adult “child” time to process the new information. Check back in with them in a day or two:

Parent: Hi. I’m just checking in I know I gave you quite a blow the other day. Just want to make sure you’re okay and see if you have any questions.

Adult child: I’m okay.

Parent: I’m here if you want to talk, and I will help you if you want to get more information.

Adult child: would you really do that?

Parent: If that’s what you want.

Adult child: Well…………….I would like to know about my siblings.

Parent: What do you want to know?

Adult child: Everything – their names, ages, where they are, what they’re like – if they look like me. I’m going to try Facebook.

Parent: Interesting idea, but please be careful about making contact.

Adult child: You worry too much.

Parent: They may not know about you. Your mother may not have even told them about you. She may have been embarrassed. She may have hidden the adoption. It may be a shock to just say “Hi, I think I am your brother.”

Adult child: Never thought of that. Let me see if I can find them and then figure out what to do about it.

Parent: I am here to help. We can go back to the people who helped with the adoption and ask. We can hire “a searcher” (someone who does this for a living).

Adult child: That would be great. Thanks.


If you said you would do this—then do it. While there are many people who are expert in “finding” people, you need someone who knows how to do this in adoption situations.

There are also support groups for adult adoptees and adoptive parents that focus on searching for information and reunion with family members. This can be an emotional time for you. Whether nervous about the outcome or frustrated with the time it is taking to get information, having others in the same situation to talk to can be helpful. They also may have suggestions and tips on how to move your search forward.

You have moved your relationship with your “child” into a new realm. As adults, you will experience a new style of communication. Subjects once taboo, are now open for discussion. Adoption may not seem as obvious in your everyday lives, but is there in the background. Agree to discuss it as things arise. Be honest, get more information when you can, and accept what you may never know.

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