We often talk about the lasting effects of adoption on a birth mother’s life. What her grief process is like and how she copes afterwards. But we don’t really talk about what adoption is like for an adoptee. Adoption affects all those who are involved; but, especially the child being adopted.
In popular culture, particularly in movies and television, adopted children are often portrayed as having difficult lives with lots of emotional issues. But in reality, though issues do present themselves, adopted children live fairly normal lives. Just like every other child, various life factors affect their childhood experiences. However, adoptees do experience unique challenges as compared to their peers. It’s these challenges that define what it means to grow up as an adoptee.
Nature vs. Nurture: Adoption and Identity
A common struggle among adoptees is identity. We form our identities from the very moment we are born, but the bulk of it forms during adolescence. Our identity helps us know what about us is consistent and unique from other people. As we grow up, a number of factors and experiences help mold our perception of ourselves. For adoptees, this formation can be a bit more difficult.
When a child is adopted, to a certain extent, they leave a part of themselves behind. A different life that may have been if things had worked out differently. They are not incomplete in any way. Rather, adoptees have an adoptive identity, a unique understanding of what it means to be adopted, and another identity that relates to their current selves.
Adoptees may struggle with identity for a multitude of reasons, and every adoptee has a unique set of experiences that either help or hurt this process. Identity formation can be a confusing journey. Adolescents already have so many things going on in their lives that are overwhelming — figuring out who they are being one of them. But imagine adding in: a separate set of parents, a different culture, and many unanswered questions. This is the reality for adolescent adoptees.
Confusion of identity can lead to a variety of other issues in an adoptee’s life. A person’s sense of self is crucial to their emotional stability. Being unable to properly form their identity can cause them to feel lost. For instance, problems in school, trouble forming healthy relationships, and overall insecurity. These are just some of the issues we see with adoptees who struggle to reconcile their adoptive identity with their current selves.
Grieving a Loss: Adoption and Trauma
Adoption is beautiful in most ways, but there is an underlying trauma that every adoptee deals with. Being separated from their birth mother at a very vulnerable age causes lasting effects after adoption. As an adoptee grows up, they must confront this loss. A loss of a person who is likely still alive. The feelings of loss and grief that an adoptee experiences are especially unique and can often lead to feelings of misunderstanding, which can lead to having feelings of anger, resentment, or anxiety.
Understanding an adoptee means trying to empathize with the trauma they have experienced. Many adoptees are adopted past infancy, which means they may have early memories of life with their birth parents. These experiences can have a big impact on an adoptees life, particularly if they are negative. But even for those adoptees who are adopted during the first few weeks or months of life, there is unresolved trauma that may not be felt consciously. They will often feel a sense of not belonging, or have fears and anxieties that don’t relate to their childhood with their adoptive parents. For this reason, adoptive parents should be proactive and communicate with their child about their adoption.
That being said, adoptees will often go through periods of their life where these traumas present themselves more often than others. Especially at times of great stress. Just as with identity formation, these issues can spill over into their everyday lives. But that doesn’t mean that they are destined to a hard life.
How Adoptive and Birth Parents Affect Adoptees
We all go through tough times in our life, and we all have issues that affect us throughout our lives. But as we get older, we learn how to deal with those issues. As an adoptive parent, it is your job to provide support for whatever your child may be going through. Allow them to openly express these identity issues, as well as grief. Even though adoptees may be going through unique and personal struggles, they are not alone.
Birth parents and adoptive parents play an important part of an adoptees identity. The age-old debate of nature versus nurture is displayed beautifully with every adoptee. While our nature (an adoptee’s birth parents) can provide us with natural abilities and our outward appearances, the way we’re nurtured (an adoptee’s adoptive parents) provides us with our morals, values and traditions. Two separate, but equal, halves that make one whole. When an adoptee is allowed to explore, grow and learn from their past traumas and come to understand their identity, they will thrive.
Adoption Choices of Nevada
If you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of Nevada. You may visit the website here or contact us by 775-825-4673 (Reno Office) or 702-474-4673 (Las Vegas Office). Our hours are Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm PST.
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Devon Thornton is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. She has recently moved from Orlando, FL to Clarksville, TN, and is pursuing her writing career with Adoption Choices and also writing personal essays in her free time. Devon is an avid reader and a big Harry Potter fan.
When she’s not curled up reading a book, you can find her somewhere on a hike or a camping trip. She loves her cat, Minerva, and considers herself a true animal lover. She hopes one day to publish a book of essays and to maybe meet J.K. Rowling.
Colaner, Colleen W., and Danielle Haliwell. “Who Am I? Adopted Individuals’ Identity Is Based in Adoptive and Birth Family Relationships.” National Communication Association, 12 Dec. 2016, https://www.natcom.org/communication-currents/who-am-i-adopted-individuals’-identity-based-adoptive-and-birth-family.
“Understanding adoption: A developmental approach.” Paediatrics & child health vol. 6,5 (2001): 281-91. doi:10.1093/pch/6.5.281