Many wonder, “How does adoption affect children?” While it is true that children are resilient, there is not a child who will not experience a typical identity journey due to their adoption experience. Whether adopted as a newborn, toddler, or later in childhood, each child will come to a point where the journey to sort out emotions and identity. This journey will largely be due to the adoption story and may bring up questions and territory not yet explored. With this, it is important to recognize that no two children are the same. This journey can look very different for each child, even those with similar stories. It is important to remain open and let the child navigate these feelings in his or her own time.
The effect of adoption on each child will largely hinge on when they were adopted. For both older and younger children at an age of understanding, adoption may be seen as relief after being in foster care or a negative situation for years. These children may also feel a sense of anger at their birth parents or possess feelings of abandonment. Even so, some may feel a sense of anger at their adoptive parents as they may have held out hope of reuniting with their birth parents. There may also be children who seem to handle the idea of adoption well, but have many questions that need age appropriate answers.
Journey with your children and remember the journey is theirs to navigate.
For children adopted as infants, the journey may look different and come at a different time in life. While it is certainly not advisable that children be kept from the truth of adoption, this does occur and can lead to a more difficult journey than necessary. Children that discover late in the life that they were adopted may experience an intense identity crisis. They have now found out that their entire genetic understanding and inheritance is false. Children who have always known about their adoption may also experience an identity crisis on some level; however, an open adoption can ease some of this. Some children may still feel different from their family, a direct result of their adoption story. This may be especially true in transracial adoption.
Processing Adoption Quickly
Regardless at what age adoption occurred, there will be children who process adoption quickly and without much difficulty. Jenna Nance, a 32-year-old adoptee, was adopted from South Korea at five months of age. She has expressed to me her frustration that others seem to expect her to go through this grand identity crisis, when in reality she never felt that as her own experience. She has felt different at times, but never felt that she did not know who she was or felt a need to search for information on her birth family.
As Jenna graciously shared, “There seems to be this continuous assumption that if a child is adopted, then they are going to go through some huge identity crisis at some point of their life and always be wondering, “‘What if they were not adopted; what would their life be like? For me, personally, I have never gone through an identity crisis due to being adopted. The only identity crisis I had was more of just not feeling like I fit in when I was in high school, and wanting to be someone I wasn’t, due to attending a school that was not too culturally diverse. It was pointed out to me, repeatedly, that I did not fall into what was “normal.” It was others pointing out my differences, constantly, that made me wish I was more like everyone else.”
No matter the journey your child goes through, it is vital to know every reaction to adoption is valid. Adoptees are allowed to feel whatever feelings they need to in order to deal with their adoption. Their story is exactly that: their story. While you are a part of that story, they are the one who will need to sort out the loss that comes with every adoption. For some it may seem like an incredibly arduous journey. For others it may seem that they did not give their identity a second thought. It is important to express that both of these journeys are absolutely acceptable. There is no need to try to make children feel something that they don’t feel it necessary to feel.
It is also helpful to align your children with resources such as support groups and counseling if necessary. Journey with your children and remember the journey is theirs to navigate.