Now that the adoption agency I founded here in North Carolina is 16 years old, and now that my two adopted sons are teenagers, I’ve learned a bit about what adoptees (adopted children) want over time from me as an adoptive mother. Every adoption situation is different, but there are some common threads:
Adoptees want to hear their birth story:
Birthdays and holidays like Christmas and Easter can be hard for adoptees. That is why we encourage adoptive parents in open adoptions to send photographs and update them three times a year at a minimum – the child’s birthday, and Christmas and Easter. We get the most inquiries from birthmothers who have placed their children on the child’s birthday and around the holidays.
And if you are adopted, hearing the story about the first time you as an adoptive mother saw you and held you is very important. Share these details. Share photographs from the hospital if you were lucky enough to be there and also share photographs from placement day (or “Gotcha day!” as they’re sometimes called).
Adoptees want to be reassured that you will never abandon them:
For adoptees, I think there is often the question of why didn’t she keep me? It’s especially important with adopted children that their adopted parents remind them frequently that adoption is forever. I tell my sons that “I will always be there for you” and when one of them acts out or makes a mistake, I let them know that there is nothing they can do that will stop me from loving them. It’s my mantra, and no matter how they act out, I repeat it.
Adoptees deserve to know why they were placed for adoption:
It’s important for adopted parents to share what they know about what was behind the birthparents’ decision to place them for adoption rather than raise the child. Whether she was an unwed teenager or a woman struggling with addictions, domestic violence or poverty, information about why there was an adoption helps adoptees cope with the reality that they couldn’t be raised in their birth family.
When the facts behind placement are especially dire – rape and incest, abuse by a birthparent, etc. the facts can be shared at a later time in development when the child can understand. In the meantime, if the adopted parents met the birthmother, telling the child about shared physical characteristics you observed is a link that helps an adoptee feel connected.
Adoptees need to know that they were not a mistake:
No one is a mistake. But I think for adopted children it can look and feel that way. Little do they know that many pregnancies are not planned, whether there is an adoption or not. But when you are an adoptee, it’s important to state the obvious often and without reserve – “I am so glad you were born! You have made me so happy! And I will always love you!”
When I told my son this recently, he challenged me. “But I was a mistake!” he yelled.
I hesitated and then recovered. “Not to your dad and me,” I said. “God made you just for us.”