Being adopted can be either a rewarding or difficult situation depending on how you frame your perception. Working with adopted children who have struggled with their circumstances has given me a lot of insight into the hard facts of being an adoptee.
1. “I don’t feel like I really belong anywhere.”
Adoptees sometimes feel as though they are not wanted by anyone in their life after experiencing the loss of their birth family. This feeling develops when the child struggles to accept their placement and resist the assimilation into the family. However, this doesn’t happen to everyone who is an adoptee. What I have found as an adoptee therapist is the younger the child is when they are placed with their adoptive family the easier it is for them to accept the new environment.
2. “I don’t look like everyone else.”
My husband and I adopted a child who had a Caucasian mother and African-American father. To us, he is just our son, his skin color didn’t change how we felt for him. However, as he got older, he noticed the difference and struggled at times as he realized he didn’t look like my husband or I. We did everything we could to help him feel as though he belonged with us and offered him as much contact with other ethnic influences. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to make up for the loss of their natural born culture. However, what you can do is offer them as much experience as possible. Eventually, as they develop their personality and accept themselves for who they are, the problem isn’t as big a concern.
3. “I just wanted to know the truth.”
As an adoptive parent, I feared losing my adopted child to their birth parent. What I learned after being totally honest is that it deepened my relationship with my child. Other adoptive parents find this to be the truth as well because their adoptee could see the benefits of adoptions after the information was out. No one wants to be lied to about who they are or where they came from. Adoptees are no different. While not all situations are safe for adoptees to know about while young, they eventually need to know. This gives them the opportunity to fill in the blanks with the real information and not leave them guessing.
4. “It’s not always easy to love your adoptive family.”
Merging different families can be difficult because people can just be different. Being different isn’t always bad but can be difficult when you are a child trying to live in a new home. If a child is placed while an infant the differences are fewer and the assimilation into the family are easier. However, lots of children get adopted when older. Moving into a new culture is extremely hard as you also get used to the new people who are stepping into the parental role. Love doesn’t happen instantly. It takes time to adjust and get to know people. Forcing yourself or the child only makes for a difficult transition that can cause resentment. Just as any relationship happens, love has to grow with adopted children as well. It takes time to cultivate a good relationship.
5. “I was adopted through foster care, and I never felt like I could control anything; that’s why I always took control however I could, usually by getting in trouble.”
Foster/Adopted children don’t get a choice when they are removed from their birth parents. They aren’t asked where they would like to stay. They are told by social workers, judges, and guardian ad litems what will happen next in their life. “I just wanted to protect myself” an adoptee who struggled with behaviors told me once. “They [social workers] kept putting me in [foster] homes with other kids who were mean to me. No one listened to how scared I was, so I ran away.”
In foster/adoptive situations, the ideal method is to match a child to their new home. However, the lack of foster homes and the large number of foster children do not always allow for this to occur. Behavioral issues tend to be the number one thing causing a child to be moved from their foster home and placed elsewhere. Giving an adoptee as many choices as possible within the parameter of acceptable choices help them feel more in control.
If adoption is approached correctly, the adoptee can have a lot of positive experiences. The key to this is listening to them and hearing how they feel. Answer questions as well as you can and with the information that is developmentally appropriate. If you aren’t sure how to approach the information, seek assistance from an experienced adoption therapist who can help your adoptee adjust in a healthy way.