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Understand Your Adopted Child

What adoptive parents need to know to better understand their adopted child:

Understand your adopted child has experienced some very real trauma and loss.

It is not a make believe story or a phase. Understand your adopted child will have to deal with their adoption for the rest of their lives. Some adoptees will spend the majority of their life attempting to fill the hole in their heart from the loss of their birth mother and family. If left unaddressed, this loss may create tension in the family, troubled relationships, abuse, and more. Take the necessary steps to help your child heal. Understand the root and patterns of their behaviors and don’t take it personal. Note that the trauma of relinquishment by their birth mom may never go away, even after reunion. There may always be some feelings of not being wanted or good enough.

Understand your adopted child may want to search for their biological family.  

Understand your adopted child’s desire to search has nothing to do with not loving their adoptive parents. I plead with adoptive parents to stop taking it so personal. Let this moment of search, reunion, and discovery be about your child. This is not to say that they do not need you, for when they begin to search they will need you more than ever. Be open. Be honest. Be respectful of your child’s boundaries. (Yes, your child has the right to have personal boundaries even if they live under your roof.) This is a very sensitive and emotional time in your child’s life. Empathize with them. This is about your child—every moment of it. Do not make a situation bigger than it is. I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT MAKE THIS ABOUT YOU. Do not make your child feel uncomfortable when they approach you about searching for their biological family. Do not hide information from them. Do not lie. Do not make them choose between loving you or their birth mother. Your child needs your support just as they had your support at their first recital, basketball game, or graduation. Creating an open dialogue where your child can come to you confidently about their biological family will create a stronger bond between you and your child. It will also make the outcome of the reunion more peaceful for your child no matter what happens. Remember, you are their mother or father. They want to turn to you for comfort and a hug of reassurance that everything will be okay in time. Your child simply needs you to be there and love them unconditionally, just has you have been since you made the wonderful decision to become parents.

Understand your adopted child does not want to be told they are special, chosen, or lucky.

And some of us do not want to celebrate “Gotcha Day.” That is something adoptive parents have made us believe that should be celebrated and honored. Adoptees simply want to fit in. Understand your adopted child does not want to be reminded that they were adopted everyday or every year. Many adoptees would rather forget that it even took place. Adoptees want to feel like they are born into the family just as their siblings who are not adopted. Using those words remind us that we are different. When you remind your child they are lucky or special, it hurts adoptees because some of us know that there are hundreds of thousands of children that are not so lucky. That is nothing to celebrate or feel good about. When adoptees hear they were ‘chosen,’ it can cause anxiety to measure up. It is natural for a child to want to please their parents. However, this can become dangerous if your child fails to live up to the standards they have created in their mind to please and honor their adoptive parents. Similarly, adoptees shouldn’t be expected to feel grateful to have been adopted, though many adoptees are thankful for having a permanent home and someone to call mom and dad. The point is, adoptees do not want to be reminded they are different. Simply let your child be your child. Just as much as you want your child to be your own, treat them that way. Listen to their feelings and observe their body language. It will speak louder than words can ever express.

As an adoptee in reunion with my birth family and as an adoptee advocate, these are my thoughts. I frequently hear these subjects brought up during adoptee discussions, forums, and conferences. To learn more about what adoptees wish their adoptive parents knew, read the 15 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Adoptive Parents. Take some time to read through the comments from other adoptees. This is the key to having a successful adoption. Get to know your child on a deeper level. Understand what it means to be and feel adopted. The feeling never goes away; however, with your understanding and compassion your adopted child is able to form a better relationship with you.