Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR

Babe Ruth, Nelson Mandela, John Lennon, Faith Hill, and Superman were all adopted. Adoptees and their families are often misunderstood by those who are not familiar with the impact of adoption, and most of these misunderstandings can be prevented. In order to better understand adoptees and their families, consider these points.

Adoptees Might Not Have Access to Information About their History

Some adoptees might not know information that those who are not adopted take for granted. It’s important to understand that this lack of knowledge is often unpreventable and painful. Here are a few examples of such missing information:

  • Family medical history
  • Ethnicity, race, or cultural identifiers
  • Birth name or birthdate
  • Names of birth parents
  • Their adoption story
  • Contact information for birth family members

It’s important to consider this information restriction. Can you image having to constantly inform doctors that you do not have access to your family medical history? Or to explain to your friends that you are not completely sure about your race or ethnicity? It’s important to understand and empathize with adoptees and adoptive families in order to avoid appearing judgmental or insensitive.

Adoptees Make Their Own Personal Decisions Regarding Relationships with Birth and Adoptive Families

The decision to seek out contact or relationships with a birth parent or birth family member is a personal decision, and attitudes toward birth families can change over time. Some adoptees might have contact information for birth family members, while others might not. Some might search for birth family members, while others might not. Some adoptees might want relationships with birth family members, while others might not. Some might choose not to have contact or relationships with adoptive family members into adulthood, while others consider their adoptive family to be their only family. There is no right or wrong decision. Yet, some people who don’t understand adoption may express a judgment in regards to an adoptee’s decision. It’s best to understand and accept that these are personal decisions.

Adoptees Might Have Emotional Struggles Due to Adoption

Adoptees can experience attachment issues, depression, anxiety, identity struggles, and pervasive shame. The impact of adoption is lifelong and unique to each individual and family. Do not assume that someone who was adopted at birth is less likely to have emotional struggles compared to someone who was adopted at age 16. Also, do not assume that someone who has always had contact with their birth parents will have either fewer or more emotional struggles than some who has never had such contact. These kinds of assumptions can cause more emotional struggles and shame for adoptees. Instead of making such assumptions, be curious and ask how adoption has impacted them.

Adoption isn’t Always a Legal Term

Not every adoptee is legally adopted. There are many reasons why someone would use the term adoption to describe a member of their family or their position in a family. Some children are raised in foster homes or by extended family members, and these children consider their guardians to be their adoptive parents without a legal adoption having taken place. There are some adults who report that they were adopted as adults by groups of friends or existing families. There are adults who have adopted elderly neighbors as parents. It’s important to understand and accept that the term adoption can be used in many ways.

If you’re struggling with the impact of adoption or with your relationship with an adoptee, you could benefit from participating in therapy. Contact Symmetry Counseling at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment.