As families prepare to support an adopted child, trauma-informed education and considering other perspectives are vital. The reality is that adopted children eventually grow up to be adults and will have their own experiences to share. So, how can adoptive families best raise and support their child? It is important to listen to adopted children as they grow and as adults to create an emotionally safe place to discuss their feelings and questions. I was able to talk with several adoptees who are now adults. (Keep in mind that adoptees can have a variety of upbringings, adoption types and cultural backgrounds that shape their experiences.)
Growing Up Adopted
Many adopted children do grow up feeling loved and included by their families. Ann expressed feeling “very loved and cherished” growing up. Blake – who grew up in a semi-open adoption – shared, “It was like any other childhood that someone would have. I just knew that my adoptive parents weren’t my biological parents.”
As adoption has become less secretive and more open, children knowing they are adopted from an early age has become more of the norm – and that’s a good thing!
“I was told [I was adopted] so young that I don’t remember not knowing,” Ann says. Many of the others said the same. Adoption has always been a part of their normal so that it never was a shock to find out. Having an open adoption helped Kaylee to feel excited, and it normalized adoption relationships in her life. “Because my birth mom was always a constant in my life, I grew up excited about getting to know her and her family better. I loved getting to know myself better by seeing things that we had in common like how I look, or my preferences. I would always be extremely excited to have visits with them and would look forward to these visits all year.”
However, Kristen Yates, a transracial adoptee in a closed adoption and founder of Paloma Es Salud, shared that it wasn’t until third grade when she and her family began to talk about being adopted. “I was told by a classmate that I shouldn’t be with white people, and I began to question my parents on why my skin color was different than theirs. The adoption talks started then and continued for many years.”
While Kristen found out later in life, being adopted didn’t affect her emotionally at first. “It didn’t really affect me until I turned 12 or 13.”
She continues, “Once I really understood that my mom relinquished her rights to be with me, it killed me inside. I felt abandoned and alone all the time, even with family all around me. I felt like an outsider, an outcast and forgotten.”
Struggles as an Adopted Child
Processing and understanding adoption more deeply in the teenage years is a common thread amongst many adopted children. Knowing these struggles may arise, families can prepare to support their child’s questions, explorations and mental health.
One commonly expressed struggle growing up was feeling unwanted and having difficulty accepting love. Blake shared, “I always knew deep down I was accepted in my family, but at times, my mind didn’t accept that.” Rachel Kramer, who grew up in a closed adoption, expressed a similar feeling, “As much as my parents love me, I couldn’t fathom or recognize their unconditional love.” She later stated that working through the trauma of feeling abandoned was deeply healing. Along with that, her parents always celebrating her adoption day in a special way. It helped her realize that she is loved by both families.
Another common struggle mentioned was feeling guilty about wanting to explore their birth family more. “I felt like I was betraying my family. My parents were always open and never felt I betrayed them when I would ask,” Rachel stated. Even in fully open adoptions like Kaylee’s – where her birth family was integrated into her life – she felt the tension between loving and wanting to be with both families. “I was and still am very conscious of my adoptive family’s feelings and never want to cross a line. I feared that wanting to spend time with my birth family would make them feel that I loved one more than the other.”
Growing up in a closed adoption, Kristen struggled with not knowing more about her cultural background. “[I struggled with] knowing that I had family somewhere in the world, and I didn’t know them. I could pass my birth mother on the street and wouldn’t know it was her; I feared that I’d truly never know my birth family’s cultures, so how could I know myself?” While open adoption and answers aren’t always possible, parents can be supportive of their child’s curiosity and processing of grief. It’s important in all adoption types to allow space for feelings about birth families since, as Kristen says, “you can miss someone you’ve never met before.”
Her advice is to “start the conversations early. If they have no interest then leave it be, but always create an opportunity for them to ask questions.”
Advice for Families With An Adopted Child
While every adoptee I interviewed had wonderful advice, Kristen summed up the message beautifully: “Stay on your knees in prayer. Pray against the spirit of abandonment, an orphan spirit, and ask the Lord for wisdom concerning both. Remain teachable, humble and patient. There are many layers to the trauma of an adoptee, and it’s part of your responsibility to create a safe place for children to process these hard emotions. When you don’t have the answers, find safe and trusted people to build community with so that everyone can have strong, out-of-the-house relationships as well (such as youth pastors, family friends, aunts or counselors).”
“You’ve been entrusted with a beautiful gift and God asks that you steward this precious relationship with His unconditional agape love.”Kristen, Adoptee
© 2022 Leah Outten. All rights reserved. Used with permission.