Every year as a Spanish teacher, I get the honor of listening to my students talk about people who are meaningful to them as part of our “descriptions and characteristics” unit. As I was grading my students’ projects this year, I noticed that one of my students’ families had adopted three of her siblings and that they were a transracial adoptive family. I’m not sure if I was extra emotional that day, but seeing my student with her adoptive brothers and sisters brought tears to my eyes. As I thought about it more later, I realized that my teariness came from feeling like I had a connection with this student because I too am part of a transracial family. It made me feel a little less alone, like someone else knew what it was like—the joys and the struggles of it all.
Adoption, although more common present day, is still not accepted as “normal” in our society. Although adoption is beautiful in that it provides a home and family for a child who didn’t have one, it is born out of extreme loss. There is a lot of brokenness attached to adoption that often is overlooked and that adoptees are sometimes expected to sweep under the rug. This can leave adoptees feeling lonely, detached, and isolated if adoptive parents do not intentionally seek to give them the help and connection that they need to heal. Adoptees need help in making lasting, meaningful relationships (including relationships with their birth family, if possible) that encourage them to heal from their past and look toward their future. Adoptive parents have the tools to give adoptees helpful and meaningful ways to feel validated on their journey as adoptees, as it is a unique experience.
As an adoptive parent of older children, my experience has often been a lonely one. My husband and I are very different from our peers, most of whom have babies or young children. In order to persevere in parenting and help my children on their journey to healing, I have had to actively and intentionally seek out other people like me. Similarly, our children have experienced loss and grief that have impacted every inch of their brains, bodies, and hearts. Their precious souls are weary from the hurt they have incurred from other people, many times adults. They feel guilty for the pain of their experience, often putting the blame on themselves. Although we will never fully understand the depth of their wound, we can listen to them, open up dialogue with them, provide them with resources and support, and intentionally (maybe even awkwardly) give them the space they need to heal and figure out their identity as adoptees and also as people. This is true for adoptees of any age.
“Adoptee resources” is a term that I would immediately think is for adult adoptees who are now able to process what they have been through because their brains are fully developed. However, it is really important that we provide resources to our adopted children now, giving them the space and ability to grow and heal right where they are, even if that is at a very slow pace. This doesn’t mean that we inundate them with all of the resources available, but it does mean that we are actively seeking out ways to provide our children with resources that promote connection, healing, and that prevents isolation and loneliness. For instance, a teenager may not want to even talk about adoption or the feelings that go with it, but letting her know that we care by at least opening the door of conversation and providing her with tools will go a long way.
Whether you’re an adoptive parent with young adoptees, an adult adoptee, or anyone else working with adoptees, these resources are a great place to start.
Find People Like You or Your Children.
If you are an adoptive parent, become friends with other families who have adopted children. If you are a transracial family, find other families that are similar to yours. If you are an adoptee, find others with similar experiences. This provides adoptees an opportunity to connect with other adoptees and see families that look like them. Ultimately, it normalizes their experience, and it gives them space to feel validated in their journey and experience outside of their adoptive parents.
- Support groups are an amazing resource for adoptees as they provide a safe space to talk and listen to others who have faced and face the same challenges. There are quite a few adult adoptee support groups. It is more difficult to find support groups for children and teenagers who are adoptees (especially for those who have been adopted out of foster care). However, keep in mind that you could always start a support group in your area and advertise on websites like Meetup.
- Check out the American Adoption Congress Website to find support groups available by state.
- Use Meetup or Facebook to find or create a support group for adoptees. Consider inviting a therapist to help adoptees work through their feelings and support them.
- To find virtual support, check out Adult Adoptee Support forum where you can join and talk about multiple topics online. This may even help you meet other adoptees in your area.
- Angela Tucker, an adult adoptee and advocate, has a Virtual Mentorship program for adoptees ages 11 and older. She provides four sessions for $400 (and offers an option if you are unable to afford the price). You should also check out her other services and projects on her website, including a documentary, a web series, and workshops.
- Go to a family Adoption Camp. This promotes family bonding, helps your child heal, builds confidence, and even connects your children to their heritage. Check out Heritage Camps in Colorado. They have many options for adoptive families and base their camps on the adoptive child’s heritage. This is an invaluable experience, connecting your family to others like yours and promoting healthy views of identity and inclusion of culture and heritage.
- Attend a retreat for adult adoptees.
- Heritage Camps also provides camps and retreats for adult adoptees at a discounted rate. They provide fun activities in addition to workshops that would greatly benefit adult adoptees.
- Kindred and Co also has a couple of retreats per year for adoptive parents, adoptees, and/or birth moms. In February, their retreat is for all three members of the adoption triad.
Read and Watch about Others with Similar Experiences.
Although books and movies do not provide human-to-human interaction, stories can connect with adoptees, maybe even in a way that a human cannot. Books and movies are less intimidating, giving adoptees the ability to wholeheartedly feel and relate to a story without having to feel extremely vulnerable or open up about their deep feelings. They create an open dialogue with our kids that allow them to share at their own pace. Books and movies instill confidence that the adoptee narrative is not an isolated one, that families can look different, and that their story matters.
A word of caution: Make sure to preread or prescreen books and movies before your children watch or read them. Be prepared for possible triggers and be wise about whether or not your children should read or watch this movie, and if they do, how you can best prepare them and talk through some of the plot points to best support your child.
- Check out these books for children and these books for young adults.
- Here is a good list of books for adult adoptees.
- Some of my favorite movies that inspire conversation about adoption are the following:
- Shazam (for older children, rated PG-13): A story about a foster child who is rejected by his birth mother when he finally finds her but encounters superpowers that change his life and help him realize the new family he has found.
- Despicable Me 2 and 3: Although Gru is a villain, he embraces and loves his three adoptive daughters in these movies. In the third one, the girls embrace their new mom as well, promoting family differences and learning how to become a family.
- Lion (for older children or adults): Based on the story A Long Way Home, this is the story of Saroo Brierly and his journey to find his birth family.
- Closure: This is Angela Tucker’s documentary about finding and meeting her birth family.
- Check out these other family films that may be useful in opening a dialogue with your child or connecting with other adoptees in a powerful way.
Write about Your Experience
There are several journals and books available that may help adoptees work through some feelings, struggles, and challenges they are facing as adoptees. Check out these journals and workbooks to help you and/or your adopted child work through the experience.
- How Do We Feel About Adoption is a book for those who work with adoptees ages 5-11. It is an excellent tool for parents to help their children work through their feelings about adoption. If anything, it gives children permission to have feelings about their adoption and talk about their feelings.
- Big Life Journal has many resources for children and preteens to work through feelings, change, and identity, though it is not adoption specific.
- The Adopted Teen Workbook is a book written for adopted teens and designed to help them work so many of the challenges that adopted teenagers face: from confronting the past to facing present feelings. There is room for journaling about their experience as well.
- Therapy Redeemed has a faith-based four-part workbook for youth, teens, and adults to work through their adoption story and make sense of it. It just came out this December, and it is only $15 for all four parts!
Find Ways to Honor Your Child’s Birth Family
Adoptees have a biological connection with their birth family that is important to recognize and honor. Their birth family is part of their identity, heritage, and DNA, so it is vital that we honor and connect them with their birth family if it is safe, healthy, and possible.
- Adoption.com’s Reunion Page is an excellent place to start, and you can create a Reunion Profile that may help you connect with your birth family.
- Children’s Home Society of Minnesota provides post-adoption services, including intermediary, search and reunion services for adoptees, specifically from Colombia, Ethiopia, and South Korea.
Seek Out Counseling
- If you have adopted through foster care, your agency or your local Department of Family Services should have post-adoption services available to you, including counseling. It is helpful to find counselors who are trauma-informed or check out this list of TBRI Practitioners, who are familiar with many of the feelings and behaviors that adoptees face.
- Group counseling is similar to a support group, except that there is a therapist present. This may be helpful to both hear others’ experiences and be able to relate to them but also receive professional guidance on how to move forward.
Listen to Others’ Voices: Social Media, Blogs, and Podcasts
In the technological age, it is important that adoptees have access to people like them on social media. While scrolling social media (depending on who they follow), it may be helpful for them to hear the voices and experiences of others who have walked the road before them. There are many adoptees that they can follow on social media that give support and words to their feelings as adoptees.
A word of caution: It is important to recognize that these accounts are usually helpful, but sometimes the weight of constantly thinking about adoptee-related issues can become too much to bear. As an adoptee, make sure you are talking through these posts with someone else and not bearing the weight alone. If your adopted teenager is following these accounts, make sure that you are having intentional and consistent conversations with them, so as to not cause more harm. It may be a resource that is good for a time, or you may find that the content has too many triggers. Do what is good for you and your child.
- Wreckage and Wonder: Torie is a doctoral student studying sociocultural anthropology. She uses her platform on Instagram and on her blog to inform and share about her experience as a transracial adoptee.
- HeyTRA: Hannah is a vlogger who recently started making YouTube videos to share her experience as a transracial adoptee, and she has an Instagram account as well. She often says the truth without fear, and she is one to listen to.
- Dear Adoption provides a place for adoptees to write anonymously to adoption, providing a community for adoptees and a space to feel heard.
- This Podcast Interview with Torie from Wreckage and Wonder (mentioned above) from the Honestly Adoption Podcast. They talk about the ups and downs of transracial adoption and her journey as an adoptee.
- This Red Table Talk episode with Angela Tucker about transracial adoption.
- Adoptees On Podcast: A podcast where adoptees talk through their adoption experiences.
It is essential that we recognize the needs and struggles of adoptees. Adoptive parents, teachers, and friends should help adoptees feel validated, heard, loved, and supported. This list of resources may be overwhelming but just start with one to two small resources that may spark conversation. Think about what may be most helpful for you (if you are an adoptee) or your children (if you are an adoptive parent). Starting small on this journey is far better than not starting at all.
Karly Pancake is a foster and adoptive mom, Spanish teacher, and wife to TJ. They live in Denton, Texas, where they adopted two children through foster care. Her children have changed her life forever in all the best ways. Nothing about her journey to motherhood has been what she expected, but she has certainly loved the adventurous ride. Karly’s a big fan of University of Kentucky Basketball, running, and, of course, pancakes. She is passionate about fostering and adopting older children in the foster care system and has been a foster parent since 2017. She started writing to process adoption and becoming a mother, and she hopes to help others on the adoption and foster care journey through her writing. You can find more of her writing at her blog Foster Truth or on her Instagram WeFosterTruth.