The idea that your child wants to live with their birth parents is a common fear for many adoptive parents. There are many reasons why some adoptive parents hold this fear, however, there are few who experience this issue. However, it can happen. When a child grows older, there are multiple reasons why they may choose to go live with their birth parents. This may be especially true in foster to adopt or adoption from foster care situations. It may be even truer when the child has lived with their birth parents for a time before being adopted.
I used to be in a career where I worked with teenagers regularly. One issue that I often faced was a teenager wanting to go live with a different biological parent. Nine times out of 10, the reasoning behind this was because the child was upset at the parent they lived with for one reason or another. They didn’t want to follow rules or they had gotten in a fight. It was some sort of change in their environment that caused them to be upset. Many times this feeling was short-lived though intense at the time.
In this time of anger, the child would do whatever first came to mind to drop a bomb on their parents. They would say some of the most hurtful things to their parents in order to get the biggest reaction. For a child who has been adopted, their birth parents might very well be a source of contention. This is very relatable to a situation where a child wants to go live with their birth parents. Many times this could be because of something in their world or everyday schedule that has changed. It may simply be due to a rebellious stage or a want to satisfy some sort of mystery about their biological parent. If the proclamation is about rebellion, it is likely that it is more about getting attention than an actual desire to go live with their birth parents. However, it is very plausible that your child could feel a real strong desire to live with their birth parents.
Regardless of the reasoning, it is important to tread lightly. There is a big gray area and a fine line between dealing with the issue and pushing the child away. It will take a lot of understanding and communication in order to get to the bottom of the issue. A lot will also depend on the age of the child and the situation under which they have chosen to go live with their birth parents. It is important to consider all factors that might come into play and to address each of these situations accordingly. Parent the child you have and give the child the benefit of the doubt before reacting too harshly.
The age of your child when they state that they want to live with their birth parents will affect how you should react considerably. If your child is younger, they may be simply saying this because they know it will get attention. When I was about 8 years old, I got in trouble for something menial. My mom grounded me to my room. I remember being so angry at her. I wanted to say anything that would hurt her the way I felt hurt by her at that moment. I stomped down the stairs and stood defiantly in the doorway. It was there that I screamed at her, “I don’t love you anymore!” I turned, slammed the door, and stomped back to my room, sure I had paid her back. Did I really not love my mom anymore? Of course not. I was angry at her for not giving me what I wanted, and I was 8. My world revolved around me.
If your child is under the age of 18, you simply have to be the parent in this situation. You can definitely communicate with your child and express that you understand how they feel. You can even talk through the reasons why your child feels that they want to go live with their birth parents. However, as their parent, this is one of those times where you simply make the decision for them that their home is with you. You certainly have the option to allow your child more visitation with their birth parents if that is an option. For a child who lived with their birth parents for a time before adoption, an ongoing relationship with their birth family should be maintained when possible and safe for the child.
When children need to find a way to lash out, they may go for the jugular. It’s not likely to feel good to hear your child say that they do not want to live with you anymore. Therefore, it makes sense that they might use this against you. It is all about perspective and context. If your child is proclaiming that they want to go live with their birth parents after a huge fight with you, take it for what it likely is in that moment: a way to get attention. If your child is coming to you calmly under normal circumstances to discuss living with their birth parents, it is much more likely to be a well-thought-out intention. Hear your child out and let them express the reasons which they want to go live with their birth parents. If they are 18 or over, this may be a reality that you will have to accept for a time. If they are under the age of 18, it is still important to listen to your child and let them know you are someone they can talk to about anything.
Listen and Tread Lightly
If it’s a child who knows that they would like to go live with their birth parents as a foster child who was adopted, there is a lot of consideration to take in this case. Do not dismiss a child’s want to be with their birth parents. Especially in a foster-to-adopt situation, it is imperative that we do not try to erase the past of our child. Their birth parents may have been a huge part of their life for quite some time depending on their age. It is only normal for them to miss them and want to be with them even when they cannot. This does not mean that you should allow them to go live with their birth parents. This simply means that you take the time to understand where your child is coming from and allow them to express their feelings. Keep communication healthy and allow your child to know that they are safe to talk to you about their feelings without hurting your feelings or experiencing repercussion.
It is again important that you remember to tread lightly. It is not shameful nor malicious for your child to desire things to be the way they used to. Even in dangerous situations, it is completely normal for your child to still have a love for their birth family. This is a part of who they are. Dismissing that could be incredibly hard on your child and only add to the trauma. It is important to remember that this child has undergone trauma. There’s no getting around it. They have experienced extreme loss in such a short time. In this case, there would be a lot of communication that would need to happen in counseling if necessary. Let your child express their feelings, and let them know that you understand and affirm that it is okay that they feel that way. Don’t dismiss their feelings or invalidate them. You can discuss why living with their birth parents is not possible at this time, but let them know that it’s okay for them to talk about their birth family and to speak openly.
If you have an open adoption, it might be beneficial for you to sit down with the child’s birth parents and talk to them about the situation. If you have a good relationship, this may help you to sort it out. It is first important to talk to your child about why they feel they should go live with their birth parents and what has spurred this desire. You may be able to work with the birth parents as a team to speak with your child about their feelings. This may not necessarily be a great idea unless you have a good relationship with your child’s birth parents. Your child’s birth parents may be able to speak with your child about why they chose adoption and why they have chosen for their child to live with you and be adopted by you. Regardless, it is important to flush out with your child why they feel the way they do and what emotions have brought them to this point.
If your child is over the age of 18, there is little that you can do about the decision to go live with their birth parents. You can definitely communicate with your child about why they have made this decision and support them in any way that you can, depending on the circumstances. They may simply be at an age where they would like to get to know their birth parents more. I know personally that 18 can be a very hard age, and it is an age of discovery and identity.
When I was 18, my first plan was to get out of my small town. I felt a need to find myself and discover the world. I did not think about my family at the time or any pain I might cause my parents who were used to seeing me every day. At 18, your world is very much “the world” in your eyes. It takes maturity and growth to see how much your actions affect others. Give your child the room to mature and grow while still coming alongside them as their parent and confidant.
The greatest asset you will have during this time is communication. Ensuring that you keep communication open with your child will make all of the difference. This communication not only needs to be ongoing, but healthy. This does not mean excusing disrespect, but it does mean letting your child know that you still love them regardless. The act of going to live with their birth parents is not disrespectful, but if it is done as a way to hurt you or as an act of rebellion, it may certainly be in those situations. Keeping communication always an option will give your child the invitation to come to you when they need to and know that they always have a home with you.
It is very normal for your child to want to know more about a very large part of themselves. A child’s birth family is a huge part of the person they are and the person that they will become. Let your child know that you are there for them and support them in their quest for identity. If going to live with their birth parents is a dangerous or tumultuous situation, you can definitely raise your concerns with your child. Try to do so in a way that does seem controlling and also let your child know that you understand their desire. It is also important to remember that if your child is 18, going to live with their birth parents may not be a bad situation. It may be beneficial for them to spend some time with their family and aid them in getting to know more about their roots. There is no reason in this situation to push your child away due to pride or insecurity. Support your child and be in their corner, knowing this is not about you or a lack of love on their part. The biggest thing to remember is not to minimize their feelings or invalidate their decisions. It may take talking things through for them to see a different perspective.
Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on www.facebook.com/halfemptymom/.