What is Adoption?
Imagine being a child and wondering why your parents look different than you. He or she begins to ask questions like why they have brown eyes and there are blue. The child might ponder on why their brothers and sisters have certain qualities that they themselves doesn’t have. The parents might be skeptical to explain to the child why they are so different. Do you know what the real meaning of adoption is?
Adoption is a process where by a person assumes parenting from the biological or legal parent or parents of another person, usually a child. Legal adoptions permanently transfer all rights and responsibilities from the biological parent or parents together with filiation. The negative and positive impact of a child who finds out a parent raising them is not their biological parent. Adoption is not as easy as some people think. For everyone involved, some people see it as a beautiful thing. Others see it as no more than harmful.
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Truthfully, adoption is somewhat of a gray area, with both positive and negative for all involved. For each side of the triad, there are some great pros and cons. The joy of helping families to be whole, helping mothers in need when they do not feel strong enough to raise a child and giving a lost child a home are some of the pros of adoption. However sometimes adoption can be a long process, the person may not be financially stable or the child may be mentally challenged. With weighing the pros and cons, the aftermath and impact should be most important in the child’s life. What happens in the child’s future life as they become an adult?
Adopted child syndrome usually used to describe a condition that is a result of various psychological and emotional hardships an adopted child undergoes. It is associated with characteristics such as attachment disorders, lying, stealing, inability to accept authority, and violent behavior. Though ACS is not accepted in the community of psychologists, there are research works that talk about it. Social worker Jean Paton, who was herself an adoptee, was the first to study ACS in 1953. Some may feel a sense of abandonment or rejection from their birth family.
I find that’s particularly the case when the child doesn’t truly feel accepted by all the members of the adoptive family. Some children may have issues with self-esteem or identity development. Those are often, but not always related to the children who don’t look anything like their adoptive families. If proper steps aren’t taken, those kids can grow up feeling self-conscious and out of place. For most adoptees there is huge sense of guilt associated with any thought of search and reunion with birth family.
To them it feels like a betrayal to the parents that raised them. Such feelings can negatively affect the adoptee’s feeling about themselves, their adoptive parents, and their birth parents. If an adopted child has experienced early life trauma, there will be lingering effects from those experiences as well. Trauma can include abuse, neglect, separation from first family, and time spent living in foster care or an orphanage.
There is no parental handbook to ensure the psychological and emotional health of your child. There are steps you can take minimize some of the effects of adoption. One thing you can do is make sure that your child knows he or she is adopted from day one. Even if the child is too young to understand what it means, it’s important that they not find out later.
That could lead to anger, resentment, and shame. Always be as honest about their birth story as age-appropriateness allows. It’s important that you not keep secrets. Treat the child as if they are biologically yours while respecting and encouraging their heritage and culture. Finally, understand that the desire an adoptee may have to learn about or meet their birth family is a completely normal thing. Your child deserves your support throughout and search and reunion. Additionally, research the impact that early life trauma has on brain development, emotional development, and behavior, and learn parenting techniques that can help mitigate it. Children cannot be expressive enough to share their trauma with their foster parents. It is important for the parents to look out for any behavioral issues.
According to a study, adopted children are more likely to contract mental health problems than other children. As children grow up, they develop a positive sense of their identity, a sense of psychosocial well-being. They gradually develop a self-concept (how they see themselves) and self-esteem (how much they like what they see). Ultimately, they learn to be comfortable with themselves. Adoption may make normal childhood issues of attachment, loss and self-image, even more complex. Adopted children must come to terms with and integrate both their birth and adoptive families. Children who were adopted as infants are affected by the adoption throughout their lives.
Children adopted later in life come to understand adoption during a different developmental stage. The first couple of years are about building positive feelings connected with the word adoption. Make it a household word from the beginning. Your child should hear the word “adoption” even before they know what it means. We never want them to have a memory of “”the day they were told they were adopted.”” Parents don’t wait until children understand the words “”I love you”” to start telling them, and the same goes for their child’s adoption story. Lonely children develop a feeling of being abandoned by their mother.
In the book Being adopted: The lifelong search for self, researchers David M Brodzinsky, Marshall D Schechter, and Robin Marantz Henig say that children, if adopted within six months of their birth, would grow similar to a natural child. However, psychotherapist Nancy Verrier in her book The Primal Wound says that a child develops a bond with its mother from the womb itself. Start practicing how you talk about their adoption and the story of how you became a family, so when they are old enough to have a conversation with you about it, they sense your comfort in discussing it and the pride you have in their story.
When those questions arise (and they will), if you are uncomfortable or avoid answering them, you send the message that the subject of adoption is taboo and not a welcome topic of conversation. We never want children to misinterpret your discomfort, wondering if there is something wrong or bad with being adopted. Those who have experienced trauma or neglect may remember such experiences, which further complicates their self-image.
Transracial, cross-cultural and special needs issues may also affect a child’s adoption experience. All adopted children grieve the loss of their biological family, their heritage and their culture to some extent. Adoptive parents can facilitate and assist this natural grieving process by being comfortable with using adoption language (, birth parents and birth family) and discussing adoption issues. The present statement reviews how children gain an understanding of adoption as they grow from infancy through adolescence. Specific issues relevant to transracial adoptions are beyond the scope of this statement and will not be addressed.
During infancy and early childhood, a child attaches to and bonds with the primary care-giver. Prenatal issues, such as the length of gestation, the mother’s use of drugs or alcohol, and genetic vulnerabilities, may, ultimately, affect a child’s ability to adjust. The temperament of everyone involved also plays a role. As a child approaches preschool age, he or she develops magical thinking, that is, the world of fantasy is used to explain that which he or she cannot comprehend.
Think about how you would answer the question, “Did I grow in your belly?” Children need to understand that they came into the world the same way as everyone else (otherwise children might develop fears about being aliens). However, there are different ways families are created. It is important to say that you love your child just as much as if they had grown in your belly. During preschool years, the goal is to build a foundation of positive self-esteem as it relates to adoption.
Young children need concrete information, and if they cannot see and touch it, it may not be real to them. Direct contact with their birthmother makes adoption concrete and real. You can always tell a child that their birthmother made this decision out of love, but eventually, they will wonder, “”If she loves me so much, how come she doesn’t want to know me? “The child does not understand reproduction, and must first understand that he or she had a birth mother and was born the same way as other children. Even though a child as young as three years of age may repeat his or her adoption story, the child does not comprehend it.
The child must first grasp the concept of time and space, which usually occurs at age four to five years, to see that some events occurred in the past, even though he or she does not remember them. The child must understand that places and people exist outside of his or her immediate environment. Telling a child his or her adoption story at this early age may help parents to become comfortable with the language of adoption and the child’s birth story. Children need to know that they were adopted. Parents’ openness and degree of comfort create an environment that is conducive to a child asking questions about his or her adoption.
Operational thinking, causality and logical planning begin to emerge in the school-aged child. The child is trying to understand and to master the world in which he or she lives. The child is a problem solver. He or she realizes that most other children are living with at least one other biological relative. It is the first time that the child sees himself or herself as being different from other children. The child may struggle with the meaning of being adopted, and may experience feelings of loss and sadness. He or she begins to see the flip side of the adoption story and may wonder what was wrong with him or her; why did the birth mother place him or her up for adoption?
The child may feel abandoned and angry. It is normal to see aggression, angry behavior, withdrawal or sadness and self-image problems among adopted children at this age. The child attempts to reformulate the parts of his or her story that are hard to understand and to compensate for emotions that are painful. As a result, daydreaming is very common among adopted children who are working through complex identity issues. Talk about the circumstances surrounding their birthmother’s decision.
Ask their birthmother what she is comfortable sharing as her reasons and work together to ensure that your messages are in sync. Don’t overuse the example of financial problems. Most families have financial concerns at some point, so when you talk about not being able to afford something, you don’t want your child to worry about being placed for adoption with a different family. It is okay to talk about lack of financial stability as a factor, but also focus on other circumstances that led to their birthmother choosing adoption.
Control may be an issue. A child may believe that he or she has had no control over losing one family and being placed with another. The child may need to have reassurance about day to day activities or may require repeated explanations about simple changes in the family’s routine. Transitions may be particularly difficult. The child may have an outright fear of abandonment, difficulty falling asleep and, even, kidnapping nightmares.
At this stage, they are also becoming aware of loss and realize that they are not biologically related to you. For some children, this might make them sad. Allow them to have these feelings, it is not a reflection of their lack of love for you, or a secret desire to live with their birthmother. They are grieving the fact that they are not biologically related to you, and that is okay. Allow your home to be a place where they feel safe having a range of feelings about their adoption over the years. Reinforce the fact that you could not love them any more than you already do. Even if they had grown inside you, the love is the same.
It is helpful to explain that the birth mother made a loving choice by placing the child up for adoption, that she had a plan for his or her future. The child may need to hear this statement repeatedly. There is some similarity between the symptoms of grief and symptoms associated with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; care givers must be wary not to label a child with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder when, in fact, the child’s behavior is consistent with a normal grieving process. A parent’s patience and understanding are crucial at this point of an adopted child’s life. Parents may be pro-active by educating school personnel about the natural grieving issues related to adoption that their child is experiencing.
The adolescent’s primary developmental task is to establish an identity while actively seeking independence and separation from family. The adopted adolescent needs to make sense of both sets of parents, and this may cause a sense of divided loyalties and conflict. In early adolescence, the loss of childhood itself is a significant issue. The adopted adolescent has already experienced loss, making the transition to adolescence even more complicated. This period of development may be difficult and confusing.
Adolescents may experience shame and loss of self-esteem, particularly because society’s image of birth parents is often negative. Adopted adolescents will want to know details about their genetic history and how they are unique. They will reflect on themselves and their adoptive family to determine similarities and differences. They will attempt to ascertain where they belong and where they came from. All adolescents may have a natural reticence about talking to their parents, and adopted adolescents may not share questions about their origins with their parents.
They may keep their reflections to themselves. Adopted adolescents’ search for information about themselves is very normal, and parents should not see this as a threat. Instead, parents’ willingness to accept their child’s dual heritage of biology and environment will help their child to accept that reality.
The effects of not telling them could be extremely severe. It is very common for those who were adopted to feel rejected and abandoned by their birth parents. This is accompanied by feelings of grief and loss. There is no set time or age when these feeling surface but, sooner or later, they do. Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self-esteem.
There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have given me away.”” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family. Guilt accompanies loss and grief because the adopted individual believes that they are being disloyal to the people who adopted, loved and raised them. They do not want to hurt or betray their adoptive mother or father. Feelings of guilt and fears of being disloyal were what prevented the girl in case “C” from asking the obvious question, “why am I in your wedding pictures if I was not born yet?”
According to the great psychologist, Eric Erikson, adolescence involves a search for self-identity. While this search is difficult for most teenagers, it presents special problems for adoptee. Assuming they never met their natural parents and family and have no idea of their genetic background, they are left with a gigantic gap in their search to answer the age old question, “”Who am I.”” Of course, the more information available to young people, the less of a gap there is in the information they need to formulate a real sense of themselves. In all of the cases above, a huge gap existed in this information.
Except for the Asian young woman, all were denied any information, mostly because the adoptive families, either wittingly or unwittingly, did not provide necessary facts. Why do a few adoptive parents hide the truth? There are cases where the adopting family lives in a state of fear that, somehow and someday, they will lose their child.
This fear of loss, often irrational, is a powerful motivation to keep the adopted child as close as possible. The truth is that, adopted children who search for their natural parents, have no reason for shifting their loyalties and feelings. They set out on the search because there is a deep-seated need for most of us to know as much as possible about our history, both racial, cultural, personal and genetic.
Triad adoption: In this situation, the birth mother and adoptive parents legally agree to have the birth mother involved in the development of the child. This may take the form of monthly visits all the way to weekly and even daily visits, according to what feels acceptable to all parties. People adopting children from other cultures or racial groups agree to raise the child with knowledge and experience in the background of the adopted child.
I know of cases where adoptive parents see to it that their child is raised knowing and practicing both the language, customs and religious rituals of their birth parent. Enlightened adoption agencies now keep all records on file of the children put up for adoption and make those records readily available when and if the adopted person wants to learn of their background. They will even arrange meetings with the birth parents.
Missing genetic information is important for obvious medical reasons. It is important for everyone to have knowledge of the medical history because it can provide clues to genetic diseases. For example, in case D, the patient entered psychotherapy unaware that he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. His family was unaware of this as well. If more had been known about the birth parents, it might have been possible to predict his childhood problems at home and at school. It was only after entering psychotherapy that he was evaluated and diagnosed with ADHD and appropriately treated for this.
The information was relieving to both him and his adoptive parents because everyone now knew that he was never “”bad”” or “”dumb”” but afflicted with this disorder of the brain. Many adults who were adopted struggle with fears that they will be disloyal to their adoptive parents if they search for their natural parents. In my experience, the only real exception to this is when adoptive parents make the very deliberate and conscious effort to inform and encourage their child to do a search and to let them know how important that is. Unfortunately, as illustrated in cases A and C, there are people who discourage such a search and even lie to their adopted child about their origins. In the end, lies and distortions never succeed and often result in feelings of anger at the adoptive parent, sometimes causing a breach in the relationship.
Today, adoption is common place and no longer carries with it the dark features of shame that colored it dating back to the 19th century and earlier. This is a positive change in making it possible for everyone to feel more open and assured about the adoption process. There are many support groups for those who were adopted and need help in coping with their feelings, fears and frustrations. An Internet search can lead you to these types of groups. Psychotherapy is extremely helpful in reducing guilt, anxiety, depression and fear about being adopted. It can also remove some of the internal stumbling blocks to doing a search, if you wish.
Children’s interest in adoption varies throughout the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. As children progress from one stage to another, they gain new cognitive abilities and psychosocial structures. They look at adoption differently and, often, have more concerns or questions. Their questions may diminish until a new cognitive and psychosocial level is reached. Parents can facilitate this developmental process by being knowledgeable and supportive, and by continuing to retell their child his or her adoption story.
The grief that their child experiences is real and should not be denied or avoided. Support from knowledgeable health care providers is invaluable in helping adoptive parents and their child. Although this statement has addressed common issues that relate to a child’s perception of adoption, a psychological or psychiatric referral is indicated if the child suffers from depression, or has symptoms that affect his or her day-to-day functioning. Pediatricians and other professionals who care for children should provide anticipatory guidance by counselling parents of adopted children about relevant issues that concern their child’s understanding of his or her adoption.