Life with an adopted child is much like life with other children. All children need food, clothes, shelter, safety, education, discipline and above all, love. However, the needs of an adopted child are not completely the same as the needs of other children. Adopted children have all been through great transitions from an early age. All children will react to adoption differently, and different types of adoptions will have different effects on children. While some children will be placed with their adoptive family early enough that they will have no memory of life before their adopted family, other children will have clear memories of their birth family, foster family or orphanage. Either way, adopted children have all undergone huge transitions and have experienced losses in their lifetime, and require extra sensitivity and compassion.
Issues Related To Adoption
Parents of adopted an adopted child must decide how to handle the issue of the child’s birth family and life before the adoption. Depending on the adoption experience that the child had, issues related to adoption may be a constant occurrence. Children who are adopted from an early enough age will not have memory of the adoption or life before their new family. Many psychologists now recommend that a child should be told about their adoption from a young age, in order to prevent feelings of mistrust toward the adoptive parents and shame about the adoption. This is often hard for adoptive parents, who may have fears of being rejected by their adopted child, or who may simply find the subject uncomfortable.
To address this issue and to provide comfort to their child, many adoptive parents will write a “Life Book” for their child. A Life Book describes the journey of the adopted child from birth through the present. A Life Book will often contain photographs and artwork from the child, and will tell the life story of the child. Adopted children may feel disconnected from their history and Life Books can be used to bring their history out into the open and available for them to reflect upon. Parents of adopted an adopted child need to make themselves available–emotionally and physically–so that their child can discuss their feelings about adoption in a way that makes them feel safe and secure.
Many children who are adopted at an older age–particularly if the adoption is international or through foster care–require special help dealing with issues surrounding birth families, foster families, and loss. Many of these children benefit from therapy. In some cases, parents participate in therapy with their child or children. This allows parents and the child to bond in a safe environment and teaches parents and the child how to communicate their feelings in a way that is healthy. Many children who are adopted at an older age experience feelings of frustration, anger, fear and grief that can affect their behavior and familial relationships. Parents of these children must work together on a daily basis to sort through these problems.
Some adopted children are brought into a family through “open adoption”, meaning that the biological mother or parents of the child are still in contact with the adopting family and are known to the child. The extent of “openness” varies from family to family–in some cases, the biological parents are like extended family and the relationship is an important part of the child’s life. In other cases, contact is minimal.
Sometimes adopted children with a difficult background–as might be the case in international adoptions or foster care adoptions–require extra help with school and learning. These children benefit from tutors, extra help at home and special programs at school. The parents of an adopted child who is struggling in school must work closely with teachers and school administrators to advocate for their needs.
In addition, older children who have been adopted internationally often need to learn a new language and culture. This transition can be very difficult, and progress in school may be slow at first.
Exploring Birth Culture
Many psychologists recommend that children with cultural origins that differ from their adoptive family’s culture should continue to be educated in the ways of their birth culture. A child’s birth culture is an important part of their identity and the child’s sense of self.
Adoptive families often help their adoptive children understand their birth cultures by speaking their original language in the house, celebrating holidays specific to that culture and by adopting a few cultural practices around the house.
Combining Adoptive Children and Biological Children
In families where a child or children have been adopted and where other children have been born into the family biologically, parents must take care to nurture a healthy relationship between the siblings. Just like other sibling pairs, some rivalry is natural. Biological children may feel unfavored because they are not adopted, and adopted children may feel unfavored because they are not biologically related. Parents must acknowledge the differences in the ways that each of their children came into the family and reiterate that each way is valid. Parents of biological and adoptive children must learn to show that what is important is the love each member of the family feels for the other. By fostering healthy relationships between the siblings, the parents minimize problems.
In many cases, siblings in families that have a mixture of adopted and biological children are just as close and functional as siblings in families of non-mixed families. Children can be easily taught to accept their siblings regardless of the circumstances of the sibling’s entry into the family.
The Experience of Raising an Adopted Child
Some adopted children do need to be cared for with extra sensitivity and may require more help than some other children, but many adopted children are less affected by their adoption and live their lives in much the same way as children raised by their biological parents. Either way, the bond between parents and an adopted child can be as strong as the bond between parents and a biological child, and the experience of raising an adopted child has all the rewards of raising biological children. Parents who are thinking of adopting a child should research the different types of adoption (international, surrogate, foster care, private, etc) to decide which type of adoption is right for them.