Adoption affects more than just the children who are adopted. Everyone on the adoption journey can be impacted, both positively and...

Meet the Children Behind Adoption: How Do They Feel?

The children behind adoption fall into several different groups. At first, you might just think of the adoptees. However, as you look deeper, you realize that they are not the only ones affected by adoption. The categories of children behind adoption can include (but are not limited to) the adoptees, the siblings of the adoptees (both biological and adopted), the foster children waiting to be placed, and those who never get a forever family.

The adoption experience is different for every child and family. The circumstances surrounding each adoption vary from case to case. Adoption’s guiding principle is to always provide for the best interest of the child. To the child, though, it may not always appear that way. Imagine yourself being inexplicably taken away from your biological parents and not knowing if or when you will ever see them again. This could be a very scary experience even if it is for the safety of the child involved. Not knowing what is ahead can lead to emotional trauma that may take years to reverse. 

In a foster child situation, the goal is often to unite the child with his or her parents after proper steps are taken, but reunification is not always possible or in the best interest of the child. Therefore, adoption is the next appropriate step. This process is not fast or easy. Each state has a foster/adopt program in place to keep these children in a safe environment while waiting to be adopted.

Nearly eighteen years ago, we were fortunate to be involved in this program. After four years of fostering in hopes of adoption, we finally received a call for a hopeful permanent placement. This 2 ½-year-old girl had been through a lot in her short lifetime. She had traveled several thousand miles to get to her forever home. She just wanted to be loved but wasn’t yet sure how to give love. She had put up walls of defense in order to keep herself from feeling abandoned. She was capable of screaming for hours on end, seemingly for no reason. She would only allow hugs and comforting measures on her own terms. To put it mildly, she was hard to love. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this little girl more than you could possibly imagine. But she didn’t make it easy. To add to this, I was suffering from severe postpartum depression following the birth of my 5-month-old baby boy. The timing wasn’t great. I would wake up each day and do whatever I had to just to get through the day. I was meeting her physical needs but not her emotional needs.

I decided to seek professional help and saw a counselor weekly. After nearly a year, I was myself again. Looking back, I have very little recollection of that time in my life. I feel sad and deprived of that special time when I could have been connecting to my new daughter. I was able to bond with my newborn baby. He is what kept me going each day. The rest is all a blur. 

I’m not sure what memories she has of the first year living with us. I hope she has moments of peace knowing how much she was loved. I remember that we would brush each other’s hair. It was one way we could connect. As she got older and would ask me to braid her hair, I would sometimes become frustrated and tell her to do it herself. Then I would recall how it brought us together in her childhood and the comfort it would bring to both of us. We did eventually adopt her and have gone on to make beautiful memories together. Life hasn’t always been easy but we choose to make it work. She located her birth mother a few years back, but neither of them has the desire for a relationship at this time. She doesn’t have much memory of her early childhood. When I asked her how she feels as an adoptee she replied, ”I don’t really feel like I’m adopted for the most part if that makes sense. The only thing that reminds me that I’m adopted is I really don’t know much about myself. Like family history or medical history, or why my heart likes to beat faster than normal or why I have two different colored eyes.” My desire is for her to know how much she was wanted and that I want what is best for her each day of her life.

A quote from K. Morrison says, “God knew that it doesn’t matter how your children get to your family, it just matters that they get there.” We have always told our two adopted children that they were meant to be a part of our family but they had to come to us through someone else.

When our adopted son turned five, he received a gift from his birth mother. She had been sending gifts or a card for every birthday and Christmas since he was born, so this was not unusual. However, as he was getting older, he was curious as to where these gifts were coming from. During this time, there were several television shows dealing with adoption. As we watched these shows together, we would discuss what was happening and explain what it meant. Eventually, it led to us telling him about his adoption. We took it slow and only told him what he wanted to know so he wasn’t overwhelmed. It was no secret and we talked about it openly. 

Years went by without a whole lot of discussion, but when the teen years hit he wanted answers to more complicated questions. He knew he was different and just needed to know where he came from. After a long, heartfelt talk, he felt better about himself. We explained to him that his adoption had been out of love, and when he was ready we could reach out to his birth mother. He was not ready for that step yet, though. I was relieved since I was not prepared to share him with another woman. It was always a fear of mine that he would choose her over me. The years have proved that isn’t going to happen. He met his birth mother at the age of 23. They remain friends, and she was at his wedding. 

My son has always considered himself the “black sheep of the family” because he has made choices different from those of his siblings. However, he has never been loved any less because of those decisions. He is the son who welcomes me with a hug and never leaves without asking if there is something he can do for us. When he married, his bride brought along two beautiful children from a previous relationship. He loves them and raises them as his own. He said he learned from us that you don’t have to be related by blood to be a family. His children are blessed to have him in their lives and so are we.

All adoptions don’t end well. One of the girls we had in foster care was adopted by a previous foster parent. Although we had planned to adopt her, our family situation at the time was not conducive to that. We had asked that she not be returned to the foster parent, but due to circumstances beyond our control, she was adopted by this woman. We tried to stay in contact with her but were denied. We later found out that she had been falsely told we wanted nothing to do with her. For nine years she lived with abuse, feeling as though she wasn’t wanted. When she turned 18, she left and never returned to her adoptive mother. She changed her last name and went on to be a productive young mother. We have reconnected and share a sweet friendship; now she knows that we loved her. 

My husband and I have six children: four biological and two adopted. We don’t introduce our adopted children as such and their siblings do not refer to them in that manner. Of course, there have been times during their growing up years that it was mentioned but is not a differentiation we make. My biological children are also “children behind adoption,” as they have lived it every day of their lives. One of our biological daughters stated that she only remembers “happiness added to our family” when her adopted baby brother was brought home. Our children were simply raised as a family.

Studies have shown that adopted children don’t perform as well in school as biological children. This is a strange observation as most adoptive parents have received higher education and have good-paying jobs. It is also proven that adopted children are more likely to have trouble with relationships even when they are well taken care of and loved in their adoptive homes. Often the trauma experienced prior to an adoption can cause what is known as Traumatic Stress Theory. It may take years to reverse the trauma a child has gone through. “Severe or prolonged early stress can have long-lasting effects on a child’s development, effects that a supportive adoptive family may only partly ameliorate.” This means that they may not be able to turn something bad into something better. Unfortunately, a small percentage of adoptions end in disruption of the process, but a higher percentage end in a lifetime of happiness.

Although all children who are adopted do not display these characteristics, recently a diagnosis called “adopted child syndrome” has been recently developed. The term is used to explain behaviors seen in adopted children such as difficulty bonding, attachment disorders, lying, stealing, defiance of authority, and acts of violence. The term is considered controversial but many studies have shown it to be an accurate assessment. According to Dr. Tracy Carlis, “How adoption is handled in the adoptive family is instrumental in its impact on the adoptees’ psyche. The syndrome is found more inherently in families where adoption is kept a secret.” It can also be found in a small percentage of children who are raised in an environment where adoption is openly discussed. Clinical professionals can help with treatment before the diagnosis becomes dangerous to the child or those around him or her.

There are several famous people who were adopted that have gone on to have successful careers. Being adopted does not mean that your chances for success are any less likely to happen than someone who is raised by one or both of his or her biological parents. Professional football player Daunte Culpepper is quoted as saying.” I am a living testament that you can be adopted and be successful.” Culpepper is a former American football quarterback who played primarily for the Minnesota Vikings for 11 years. Other well-known people of fame who were adopted are author and poet Maya Angelou, actor Richard Burton, and President Gerald Ford. 

Growing up adopted can be difficult but also rewarding. Over the years, adoption has had many changes. The negative aspects of adoption have been replaced with hope and gratitude for a life of chances and opportunity.

 The children behind adoption have many faces. They wear different expressions on different colors of skin. They come from wealthy backgrounds or places of poverty. They keep to themselves or find ways to make their mark on the world. There is no stereotype for them. Every child is unique in his or her own way, and all children have their own story to tell. 

Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
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Cindy Hill

Cindy Hill was introduced to adoption when she was 9 years old as she watched her 16-year-old sister place her baby for adoption. She had no idea how adoption would impact her life.
Cindy married her high school sweetheart and they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this past June. They have six children, two of whom are adopted. In addition, they have 12 busy grandchildren. Pre-Covid, they enjoyed Sunday dinner together each week. During their four years of foster care, they had 34 children in their home, either for respite care or long-term placements. Cindy has always had a great love for children, especially newborns and young teens as they learn to navigate the world. For the last 12 years, Cindy has been a substitute teacher for grades K-12 for their local school district. She is an active member of her church congregation.
Cindy loves yard sales and finding bargains to decorate her home. She has always enjoyed writing poetry and keeps a journal. ( 13uponthehill.blogspot.com) She and her husband have one son at home who will graduate in May, leaving them as empty nesters with their small herd of cattle.