Children who are adopted deal with many questions throughout their lives, whether adopted at birth or later in childhood. Part of knowing who you are and creating your identity is being able to know where you came from and about your biological family. We all have a story to tell about our lives and it is important for each of us to know it.
Making sense of one’s life story is a healing process that needs to occur throughout adoption. A child needs help making sense of his story by repetitively allowing the experience to become integrated into his system where he is able to tell his story with ease. Even when a child knows her story, it is important to revisit it often so that she can fill in the tiny details.Think about it - many of the main questions that are asked on school, medical and mental health questionnaires relate to pregnancy, delivery, milestones and early childhood development. If a child cannot talk about where he comes from or how he entered the world, he may struggle with where he belongs.
Children also struggle with self-worth, shame and control as it relates to identity. Some adopted children will settle into families by testing limits and trying to figure out if they will be abandoned again. Sometimes this is a short period, a couple of months to a year or two; sometimes it is ongoing in varying degrees. Other children adjust themselves hoping that if they go along, they will keep their place in the adoptive family and create a “false self.” Either way, parents cannot take away this struggle, but can create a safe environment, facilitate open communication at various childhood stages and validate feelings of adoption.
Adopted children will typically deny thoughts of their biological families, as they do not want to hurt and/or anger their adoptive parents, even if they know they have their support. Children, adolescents and even adults who are adopted need continued reassurance that their adopted parents can handle and support their desire to know everything about their birth parents and family.
Every human’s goal in life is to make lifelong connections that ground us in security, love and belonging. Adopted children are striving to find a connection of acceptance and belonging as well. If a child is unable to fill in the gaps because of her adoption, interactions with cultural and/or ethnic backgrounds that relate to adopted children are encouraged.
Adoption is a lifelong process that is often triggered by holidays, especially Mother’s Day. Help your child by truly understanding his story, recognize her triggers and feelings, and learn to respond instead of react.