There are some common problems of adoption.

For millions of children and families, adoption has proven to be a great blessing. Adoption brings families together that otherwise might not have had the opportunity. And so for that, we are truly grateful for the much-needed institution of adoption. It’s not perfect, but it is essential and can be a major blessing for those involved.

As we think about the positives of adoption, and there are many, we should also consider some of the common problems that typically arise in adoption situations. Some of these common problems can have profound and lifelong consequences for the child being adopted and the family he or she is being adopted in to.

Understanding these problems allows adoptive parents to better prepare for the new child they are about to bring into their family and home. It gives them a bit of a heads up on some of the issues they can expect to encounter before, and after, the adoption process.

So with that in mind, here are 8 Common Problems of Adoption:

1. Separation from the Birth Family

Perhaps this first problem seems obvious, but nevertheless, it should certainly not be underestimated. There is one thing that all adoptees share—for one reason or another, they have been separated from their birth family. This could be due to the death of parents or because of abandonment, addiction, mental illness, or abuse. Birth parents may choose to place their son or daughter for adoption because they don’t feel like they are in a healthy enough place to raise a child. There are countless reasons why an adoptee may not be able to be parented by her or his birth family.

Whatever the reason, adoptive parents must take this separation very seriously. Adoption is not a magic wand that suddenly erases the past and makes everything better. Children and teenagers who were adopted are often completely separated from their birth parents, and this could be hard for them for many years to come. Some adoptees will struggle with those feelings for the rest of their lives.

2. Preadoption Terminations

Another one of the problems of adoption is preadoption terminations. As potential adoptive parents prepare to adopt, there are no guarantees that they will be successful. Things can (and often do) go wrong very quickly. Birth parents can change their mind about adoption (this is not necessarily a bad thing)—agencies can decide a family is no longer right for the adoption they are pursuing—a country can suddenly announce they are closing international adoption indefinitely—children of a certain age can decide they no longer want to be adopted by a specific family. There are a number of reasons why an adoption process can be terminated before it sees completion.

Just when you think the upcoming adoption of the child is going smoothly, it’s not uncommon for huge, unexpected snags to occur in the process. These snags can delay the adoption for a short or long period of time (sometimes even permanently). This is something that prospective adoptive parents should be aware of and, to the degree that they are able, should prepare for both mentally as well as emotionally. For prospective parents, going through the termination of a potential adoption is excruciating and can take a long time to recover from. (Trust me—I know).

3. Difficulties of Attachment

In a perfect world, children grow up in a safe and loving home with their biological parents. But, as we know, this is far from a perfect world. Children are losing their birth parents for one reason or another and are being asked to attach to a new set of parents. This can be exceedingly difficult for them and can take months, if not years. In some cases, an adoptee may never truly be able to 100 percent attach to his or her adopted parents.

The job of the parent is to consistently provide a safe, loving, nurturing, and appropriate family and home environment for their child who was adopted. The likelihood of the child attaching to the parent is far greater if they are able to consistently provide these things to the child over a long (long) period of time. Attachment typically cannot be forced, and it cannot be rushed. Whether you are talking about a young child or a teenager, their ability to (and willingness to) attach to a set of adoptive parents is very closely connected to their past, their interpretation of loss, and the trauma they experienced prior to arriving in the adoptive home. Parents must be patient and allow the attachment process to take however long is necessary.

4. Resilience of Trauma

Many children and teenagers who have been adopted have shown tremendous resilience in the face of adversity—and most of them have experienced much adversity. The problem though is that, in most cases, their trauma is also very resilient and is not going to disappear without a fight. Most, and some would argue all, children and teenagers who have been adopted have experienced trauma in their past as a result of any combination of abuse, neglect, abandonment, significant loss, or prolonged grief. Even if everything else in their past life was near perfect, they could still have the trauma of being separated from their birth parents.

Trauma is resilient. If left unattended, it will remain and fester and grow and seek to destroy the life of the person who has been traumatized. That’s why it is so important that adoptive parents partner with mental health professionals who have experience with trauma-related therapy and care. These children who were adopted need parents and therapists who seek to understand their trauma and help them cope with it. The trauma may never go away completely, but over time, with the right supports, an individual who was adopted can learn to live with her or his trauma in a healthy way.

5. Conflicting Upbringings

This one can get a bit tricky. Depending on when children or teenagers are adopted, they may have experienced an upbringing that is contrary to that of their new adoptive family. For example, a child may have grown up hearing, experiencing, and embracing various beliefs about politics, religion, culture, society, family, education, etc. The adoptive family may have beliefs and practices that are fundamentally contrary to what the child or teenager had experienced with a biological family. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but adoptive parents do need to be careful with how they handle this. This is one of many common problems in adoption, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

6. Quest for Identity

At some point, most people ask themselves identity-based questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Often these questions begin in the teenage years when a teenager may start to question his or her relationships among friends and family. This quest for identity can be tough for anyone, but it is often particularly difficult for teenagers who were adopted as they wonder why their biological parents placed them. They might question their individual worth and moral value. These are tough, profound questions that may take them years to come to terms with.

It becomes the responsibility of the adoptive parents to help their child recognize his great worth—to help him understand his value in the family and to walk alongside him as he struggles with figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. This is not an easy journey for anyone, nor is it a quick one, but with intentional parenting, professional therapeutic support, and solid pastoral guidance (to those families who embrace a faith-based mentality), a child who was adopted can come to positive and healthy conclusions as it relates to identity. Adoptive parents get to play a huge role in those conclusions provided they are willing to be patient and supportive during the identifying journey of their child.

7. Perceptions of Others

While adoption can be such a tremendous blessing to children and families, there are still those who question the validity of adoption—those who don’t understand its purpose. People may question the type of adoption someone selects. “Why are you adopting from that country when there are plenty of kids right here?” Others may question the race of the child being adopted “Shouldn’t she be adopted by parents of the same color?” Still, others may question the impact on the adoptive family. “Why would you bring another child into your house when you already have kids of your own?”

Some hurtful individuals embrace unfair stereotypes of children who were adopted and may treat them poorly as a result. Others may accuse parents of only adopting for the money (for context, adoption from foster care usually includes a subsidy until the child turns 18). Some individuals may even think that parents are adopting just to get attention.

It’s a shame that there are people who maintain these cynical beliefs about adoption, about adoptees, and about adoptive parents. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation. Adoptive parents may need to prepare themselves and their families for some very rude comments and some highly intrusive questions from people who have a negative perception of the problems of adoption.

All that said, I think most people probably have a positive view of adoption and are grateful for all the amazing parents who have taken (or are in the process of taking) the steps to adopt a child or teenager in need.

8. Disrupted Adoptions

Adoption is forever, right? That’s what we tell the kids, right? “Welcome to your forever family.” More times than not, adoption is forever, but unfortunately, disrupted adoptions are more of a common problem than you may realize. 

A disrupted adoption is an adoption that gets terminated. There are many reasons why this might happen. For example, adoptive parents may feel that they are not able to handle the extreme behaviors of the child they adopted. They may make a decision to terminate the adoption and place the child with the county or state. In some situations, the adoption may be forcibly terminated by a judge if there is abuse or neglect going on.

While disrupted adoptions are certainly not the norm, it is important for potential adoptive parents to be aware that they exist and to do what they can to make sure their adoption does not lead to disruption.

We can’t fully understand what some families have gone through as a result of their adoption. If you know someone who made the choice to terminate the adoption of their child, don’t be quick to judge them or assume you would have made a different choice. Adoption is hard—really really hard—we can’t know with certainty what we would do in a particular situation. And while it is a sad day when an adoption gets disrupted, we must understand that sometimes it just was not meant to be.

A Word to Adoptive and Hopeful Parents

Certainly, there are other common problems of adoption, but the above is a quick overview of just some of them. If you have adopted a child, you have no doubt experienced some of these problems in your family. If you are planning to adopt or are in the process of adopting, don’t let this list scare you off. Every single problem listed above can be worked through and fixed over time. This is not meant to scare you. It can prepare and equip you for what may be down the road.

Adoption is an amazing thing and can be a tremendous blessing to both the parents and the child being adopted. It’s not perfect—it’s not easy—and there will be days where you wonder why you chose to adopt—but let me encourage you to keep going. Even when you face some of the common problems of adoption, keep pushing forward. And as my wife often reminds our foster daughters, “There is good on the other side of hard.” Fight through the hard to get to the good. Because the good is really good!

Arthur C Woods is an experienced speaker, teacher, and writer, covering topics related to orphan care, adoption, and foster care.  He holds a Masters Degree in Student & Family Ministry and in his spare time volunteers as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) – working with teenagers in the foster care system. Additionally, Arthur serves on the Board of Directors of Camp Orchard Hill, a large youth camp in Pennsylvania.  He and his wife (Liz), and their two amazing daughters live in Lancaster Co. PA with their Siberian Husky, Jadis, and their adorable cat, Epi. For more information on Arthur visit www.ArthurCWoods.com or shoot him an email at [email protected]