How much do you know about your child? Parents who adopted internationally, those who experienced a closed adoption, or whose child was relinquished through the Safe Haven law in Wisconsin may find that they know very little about their child’s medical, social, or birth family history. So, why is this important? Most children and youth who were adopted will someday look to find out about their birth family members or will have questions about their pasts. This tip sheet looks at what you can do to support your children when you have little or no information about their birth family.
Adoption, Loss, and Its Implications
Adoption cannot happen without loss, and most adoptees experience some amount of grief over the loss of their relationships with birth family and culture. When information about the child’s birth family is lacking, those feelings of loss may be even more intense and might surface at various points in the child’s life. If the adoption was preceded by an abandonment, children may experience self-esteem issues as they try to understand how and why their birth parent would desert them.
Adoption is a lifelong journey, and your child’s feelings and understanding about adoption will change as she goes through various developmental stages and life events. Preschool-aged children often view adoption in a positive light and may ask a lot of questions about the subject. By the time children who were adopted reach school age, most realize that, in order to be adopted, they were first “rejected” by their birth parents.
The Teen Years and Beyond
Adolescence can be a trying period for any young person, and adoption adds another layer of complexity. Identity becomes a big focus during the teen years. Part of a person’s identity includes where they came from and how that affects who they are. Adolescents who do not know much information about their past may struggle with questions like “who am I?” Those who joined their family through birth or through an open adoption, have some idea of what their birth family looks like, what they have in common with them, and/or why their birth family made an adoption plan. Youth who know little about their past may struggle with the unknown. In general, most teens try to fit in with their peers and don’t like to stand out. Since most teenagers have information about their family history, a teen who was adopted can feel “different.”