You’ve decided to adopt a child. Chances are, your adoption journey has already been a long one, even if you and your child just met! Many factors can influence your decision to adopt, whether you and your partner are experiencing infertility issues, you were once a foster parent, or you felt a calling to give a child a new life experience.
Once you decided to adopt a child, you began the long and sometimes difficult adoption process. You needed to decide what agency to work with, what child would be a good fit for your family, and opened yourself to any number of adoption workers to ensure you would be a good fit for the child. That should have been the hardest part, right?
Sometimes the legal and financial process of adopting a child is the longest and most difficult. However, sometimes it is not. Sometimes, you bring a child into your home and the new relationship is not what you expected. To work through these additional emotional and mental difficulties, you must first understand them. The following issues most commonly impact the adoption adjustment process and may be creating strain on the relationships within your family.
For adoptees, even after adoption is finalized, they continue to struggle with the idea that they were “given up” or abandoned, and that it may happen again. Additionally, adoptees struggle with having an incomplete family history (medical information, cultural issues) during many times in their life. Adoptive parents, on the other hand, struggle with issues of loss in other ways. If they struggled with infertility, they may mourn the loss of having a biological child. When stressors arise with their adopted child, they may struggle with the loss of the “ideal family.”
Children who have been adopted also understand that, in order to be adopted, they first were “given up.” Adoptees may struggle with ideas of self-esteem, wondering what it is about them that caused their biological family to place them for adoption. Adoptive parents may struggle with rejection when their relationship with their adoptive child is strained. Adoptive parents may also begin to reject each other in this situation.
Adoptees may feel shame or guilt that they were placed for adoption. They may believe “I must have done something wrong” in order for this event to occur. Adoptive parents may experience guilt of “taking a child” from his or her biological family. They may also experience guilt when their adoptive child experiences some hardships (emotionally, socially).
Adoptees may grieve the loss of their biological family, especially if they have little information or no contact with them. These feelings can lead to depression, anger, and acting out. Adoptive parents may grieve the loss of their “ideal family” if they experienced infertility or the relationship with their adopted child is not how they envisioned.
Adopted children struggle with forming their own identity throughout different periods in their lives. Again, because they may have little information regarding their own medical and cultural histories, the desire to understand more of their backgrounds may be rekindled when they are about to have a child of their own. Adopted children also work to find ways to connect with their adoptive families by taking the new family’s last name, stating that they share a favorite food with adoptive mom, or stating they are proud of a family tradition they are now a part of. Adoptive parents may also struggle to connect with their adoptive child and may overcompensate for this by pretending their child’s life “before adoption” did not exist.
Adoptees may struggle with the idea of becoming too close with their adoptive family. This may be linked to their fear of rejection, fear of loss, and feeling a lack of control within those relationships. Adoptive parents may fear intimacy due to their own ideas of unresolved loss due to infertility or a struggle in the adoptive adjustment process.
Adopted children may feel anger, frustration, or sadness at their lack of control in the adoption process. This may cause them to feel as though they have little control in any aspect of their lives or that “what I say doesn’t matter.” Adoptive parents may also feel a lack of control over the same issue. Whether a previous adoption fell through or took much longer than expected, adoptive parents may feel helpless during the adoption and adjustment process.
Did you notice that each of these issues not only impact the adoptee, but also the adoptive parent? Please remember building a relationship with your adoptive child is an adjustment process for everyone in your family. If you or your child seems to be struggling with any of these issues, please seek help from a mental health professional to assist you and your family with this adjustment process.
Adapted from: The Seven Core Issues in Adoption, Silverstein and Kaplan (1982)