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Exploring the Concerns of Adoptive Parents

by Michael Thompson, Ph.D

Michael Thompson, Ph.D

Michael Thompson, Ph.D. is a consultant, author and psychologist specializing in children and families. Read more »

Sorry, Michael Thompson, Ph.D is no longer taking questions.

Twenty-four years ago, when my newly-adopted daughter, Joanna, was about four months old, I was reading an article about adoption in the Sunday paper. The author made the sweeping statement that all adopted children feel a life-long "sorrow" about having been given up by their birth parents. When I read this, it made me angry. Here I was, preparing to be a loving, caring, generous adoptive father to a beautiful baby girl. The idea that she would carry a sorrow with her for her entire life felt like an affront to my loving heart. As her excited psychologist father, wasn't it my mission to protect my daughter from pain? Wasn't it my job to make sure that she had a happy childhood and felt wonderful about being adopted by us?

I read the offending sentence out loud to our in-house expert on adoption: my wife, Theresa. As a malnourished baby weighing only eleven pounds at seven months, Theresa had been adopted from an orphanage outside Dublin, Ireland by an American family. She also has three adopted younger siblings. She was the expert, and I fully expected her to refute the author's sorrow argument. "This is a little much, isn't it?" I prompted. She looked me in the eye and said, "That sounds about right to me." Was there anything I could do to transform our daughter's sorrow? "No," she declared with the voice of authority. I realized how naïve I was. It was time for me to start thinking more deeply about the psychology of adopted children and adoptive parents.

Let's jump ahead to my daughter's eighteenth birthday. I found her upstairs sobbing on her bed. "I want to meet my birth mother," she cried. "You promised I could when I turned eighteen." Fast forward now to Joanna's twenty-third birthday, which we celebrated as a family that included not only our adopted seventeen-year-old son, Will, but also Joanna's birthmother and her family--including two daughters she later adopted from China.

Every adoption comes with a fascinating back story and, of course, that amazing first meeting between parent and child. But all adoptions come with questions and doubts, too, both for the adoptive parents and later on for the adopted child. These questions may continue throughout the child's entire childhood and adolescence. Each year I speak to audiences of parents more than a hundred times and whenever I mention that I am an adoptive father, an adoptive parent approaches me later with questions and concerns. Below are the top four worries that come up when adoptive parents talk about their children, and the one, big worry that adopted children have expressed to me in psychotherapy.

How can I be sure that the loving bond I have with my adoptive child is as strong and close as the attachment (I imagine) between a biological child and birth parents? The idea of "my flesh and blood" has a strong psychological hold on all of us. You can't raise someone else's biological child without wondering whether you are getting it "right." How can adoptive parents tell whether they have formed a strong bond of love, especially if they adopted a child later in infancy or childhood? Adoptive parents must contend with an extra measure of normal parenting doubt.

How do I raise a child whose temperament and learning style are so different from mine? Because traits run in families, the chances of having a child with a very different temperament from your own obviously increase when you adopt a child. In addition, research has proven that adopted children have above-average rates of learning disabilities, ADHD and other school problems. Things that came easily to you may not to your adopted child and vice versa. Raising an adopted child forces us all to stretch a bit to understand a different temperament and brain.

When my child has behavioral or emotional difficulties in childhood, how can I tell whether they are "normal" problems or adoption-related problems? When an adopted child hits developmental snags, as all children do, it is impossible not to wonder, "Is this happening because he or she is adopted?" Most of the time, most problems are simply developmental, true, but some problems like hoarding and stealing, or unusually ferocious identity struggles in adolescence may, in fact, be related to a child's early infantile experiences or to the sorrow and anger related to adoption itself. It's important to be able to talk about these challenges.

How do I talk to my child about his or her being adopted when it's hard to bring the subject up, or I'm not ready for it myself? Talking about adoption is always important and rarely easy. It used to be common to keep adoption a family secret; not so much anymore. Yet, I still run into parents who are waiting until their children are five or six before telling them. Yikes! Even if you are open and positive about adoption from the beginning, direct conversations about it can be emotionally difficult for parents and children alike. Waiting years to drop this bomb can mean intense feelings of hurt and betrayal for the child, because it changes his or her feelings of identity so radically.

And that brings me to the concern so many adopted children share with me in conversation--the question of fit between adoptive parent and adopted child: "Was I the child my parents hoped I would be when they adopted me? Have I been a good son or daughter to them?" All children hope to please their parents. It is one of the fundamental motivators in a child's life. They want to be loved, certainly, but they also want to honor their parents' love and sacrifice on their behalf. How does this worry about expectations affect an adopted child?

Let's talk about these and other questions or concerns you may have about your adopted child. I look forward to your questions.

Sorry, Michael Thompson, Ph.D is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Amyadoptee writes...

I am an adoptee from the closed era. I was born in 1965. I have a daughter who has hit learning snags. Because I do not have my side of the information, I find it hard to help her get past this bump. I always wonder if it has something to do with my adoption. I have children now. The decisions made then affect what I do today with them. It affects who they will become. The worst scenario for me is knowing that I can not fix this for my kids.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...


I certainly understand your wanting to know about whether your daughter’s learning problems are the result of your being adopted, or whether they come from some other source. I think all adopted people wonder about their birth families; they wonder about their genetic inheritance, especially any medical problems. They also wonder about their birth family’s learning difficulties. They think, “Did people in my birth family struggle in school?”

If I could talk with you in person I would ask you a couple of questions: Did you have the same learning problems as your daughter when you were growing up? If so, how did your parents help you in school? Did your daughter’s father have learning problems in school? How did his parents help him? I would then ask you whether you liked school or whether you hated it, and if you disliked school, have you passed some of your attitudes on to your daughter?

Since we can’t talk, I’ll just say what I intuit from your email. It sounds to me as if you feel that being adopted means you missed something in your growing up, something that you might have gotten from your birth parents, and because of what you missed, you feel you cannot fully understand your daughter’s troubles. You worry that you cannot help and protect her the way you want to, and maybe you cannot because you are adopted.

As a practicing child psychologist and school consultant for more than thirty years, I can tell you that ALL parents who discover their children have learning troubles feel worried, confused and helpless, sometimes for years. All parents struggle to understand what it means for a child to have a learning disability. Parents who were successful in school are usually baffled by a child who finds school painful. Parents who struggled in school always hoped they could make it easier for their children. Absolutely everyone, whether they are a birth parent or an adoptive parent, wishes that they can make learning easier for their children.

I strongly doubt that it is your adoption history that makes it tough for you to help your daughter.

Jon writes...


MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jon, let me recommend two websites which might be of help to you in your search. CASE: the Center for Adoption Support and Education ( and the American Adoption Congress ( There are others as well, but these are two good places to start. I wish you luck.

Jenny writes...

Thank you for your balanced and realistic veirw of adoption. As an adoptee myself, I usually cringe when I hear non-adoptees speak on the subject, because of all the unrealisitc and naive myths about "saving" a child. If I could get one thing across to all those interested in adoption it would be this: the challenges will be greater and it simply will not be the same as a blood relationship. It is also extremely unethical to keep any secrets from your adopted child or to hinder their ability to find their biological relatives. If you have truely accepted this and think you have the time energy maturity and patience to deal with this, adoption can be a good thing. If this doesn't sound like what you want, adoption is simply isn't a smart choice, as denying these things will harm your child.
Studies have shown that taking a child away from biological parents (even abusive ones!)increases the likelihood of lower IQ and delinquent behavior. Think hard about your motives and your limitations before making this life changing decision for someone else.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jenny, I’m glad that you find my approach to adoption balanced and realistic. I do agree with you that adoptive parents and adopted children face more than their fair share of challenges. I also agree with you that an adoptive relationship can never, by definition, be the same as a blood relationship.

However, as a psychologist who has seen many families in which biological parents have abused or neglected their children, and as someone who has seen a lot of loving adoptive parents, I find it hard to agree with your suggestion that it is the process of adoption that puts children at risk. There are many, many risks—physical and psychological—in the lives of children. You suggest that it is adoptive parents who have made the “life-changing decision for someone else” when they adopt. I acknowledge that the baby doesn’t have any say in the process, but isn’t it the birth parents who make the life-changing decision to give up their child for adoption?

What I really agree with is your contention that it takes time, maturity and patience to be a good parent to an adopted child. I sense that you feel your adoptive parents may not have had the maturity and patience that you needed. If that is true, I’m sorry to hear it.

kierstin writes...

I'm 15 years old, and I was adopted at birth. My adoption is a closed adoption. The parents that I have now won't tell me anything. I have the right to know who my birth parents are, but I have no idea where to start to find information. I need help.

Edited for clarification by Tracey at PBS Parents.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kierstin, I am not surprised that you want to know more about your adoption; many adopted teenagers want to know more about their birth families. That’s perfectly normal.

The problem you face is that your adoptive parents are apparently not taking your wishes seriously. It is hard for me to say why. They may be frightened that if you connect with your birth family they may lose you; they may believe that you are just a rebellious teenager who wants to undermine their parental authority by looking for another set of parents; they may be protecting you from information that they think will be painful to you; they may feel they have to honor the “closed” nature of your adoption. I cannot figure out from your email what is going on in your adoptive parents’ minds. If they dig in and oppose you, it will undoubtedly make it more difficult for you to conduct your search for information. You may have to wait until you are no longer a minor. But in the meantime, I have two suggestions.

The first suggestion is that you ask your parents the question: Why don’t you want me to learn more about my birth parents? What are you worried about? Ask them when you are not fighting with them. Ask them when you are calm and they are in a receptive mood. Ask with genuine curiosity and empathy in your voice. They are much more likely to tell you if you ask in a respectful way and if you show some concern for their feelings.

The second suggestion is that you buy a couple of books (or get them from the library) for you and your family. For your parents, get a book like “Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew.” Read it and then leave it out on a table in the living room. I cannot imagine a parent not reading a book by that title. It could start some healthy discussions.

For yourself, you might try a book like “The Adoption Reunion Survival Guide: Preparing Yourself for the Search, Reunion and Beyond” by Julie Jarrell Bailey, and “Birthright” by Jean A. Strauss. If you read about adoption and make yourself an expert, your parents will have to respect the work that you have put into fulfilling your wish. It won’t be easy for your adoptive parents to say “no” to your request for more information when they see how serious you are. Good luck!

Lisa writes...

Do you have advice on how to deal with questions adoptive children may have such as "Why did my birth parents give me up?" My two daughters are adopted from China. Unfortunately, in the official documents the word "abandoned" appears frequently. For that reason, I will not let them see the paperwork until they are much older. But I do want to try to explain in a way that does not sound negative that there were/are real issues that are serious that cause birth parents to choose to give their child to another family. thank-you for your help.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Lisa, you are right not to accept the word “abandoned” as the definitive description of your child’s birth parents’ state of mind. “Abandoned” is the kind of word that an observer or a government official uses. Does it really describe what a birth mother went through when she left her child at a hospital, orphanage or police station?

Even in China, where people may prefer boy babies, a birth parent never wants to “abandon” a child. No doubt if the laws were changed, families would keep their girls. A birth parent may feel overwhelmed, incompetent, frightened, stressed, embarrassed, too poor or simply feel unable to keep a child because of the one-child law, but she never wishes to abandon her child.

When you talk to your child, you should talk about what might have happened to prevent your daughters’ birth mothers from raising them. If you don’t have any facts, you have to do your best to understand the frightened state of mind that resulted in their giving up their babies. Create a hypothetical story that enables your daughters to feel some empathy for their birth moms and some compassion for the circumstances of their adoption. I don’t mean that you should tell a pretty, romantic story. You can tell a story of fear and despair, you can even use the word abandoned but should focus on the fact that it was difficult for their mothers to give up their children, how sad that makes you, and how lucky you feel that your girls came to you.

malinda writes...


We've been discussing this very topic -- how to talk to your kids about abandonment -- at my blog:

I have two daughters from China, age 5 and 8, and we talk about their adoptions A LOT! That's been the motivation for my blog, and we have lots of supportive readers who give suggestions, too.

I understand the desire to avoid the word "abandoned;" it sounds so harsh. But it's likely your kids will hear it from others, so you might want to innoculate them to its power by using it and defining it yourself.

Check out our posts on the "Ten Commandments of Telling," and "Telling about Abandonment."

Kathleen writes...

We adopted an older sibling group (age 10 and 6 at time of adoption) from our county and our kids already knew who their birth family was. We were matched with our kids because we were open to ongoing contact with the birth family. Can't say it helped our kids developmentally but then again, it could have been worst if their was no contact. In retrospect my husband and I wished we limited the contact because the birth family has been very disrespectful towards my husband and me by telling our kids that we aren't real parents, don’t listen to them and just use those adoptive parents for what ever they will buy for you. I could go on and on about the horror stories such as false allegations of child abuse brought on by the influence of a birth aunt. So...we did our part by allowing our kids to know who they are by allowing birth family contact but we're done now. The kids know who they are and my daughter is almost 18 and then she can hang out with them all she wants but, my son is 13, very attached to us, and I don't want birth family interference while we try to parent him. I have made this perfectly clear to my daughter. I do not have to put my tail between my legs anymore to the almighty birth family.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Ouch! That’s a painful story. If I had been in your shoes I would have been enraged when I was devalued and falsely accused by my children’s birth family. You are generous-hearted to write that “it could have been worse” if there had been no contact between the children and their birth family. I’m really glad to hear that you no longer defer to the “almighty birth family.” You deserve the chance to parent your thirteen-year-old in peace and quiet. As you say, your daughter can now make up her own mind with whom she wants to spend time.

Josue writes...

I think adoption is a nice action, beacuse every child must have parents. It's their right isn't it??

Free latin Chat

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Josue, as an adoptive parent, I agree with you.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Josue, I have been thinking about your email ever since I gave my brief answer saying that I agreed with your idea that children must have parents. I want to add a couple of more thoughts about adoption and the idea of “parents” because you mentioned that word in the plural.

In my experience as therapist to many children of divorce and parent loss over thirty years of work, I believe that all children yearn to be part of nature’s original design: to be raised by the two parents who conceived them. That is (apparently) nature’s original plan for human beings (not all mammals) and that’s what children have a deep wish for. The two-parent biological family model always seems right to them.

However, life isn’t always as conventional, predictable or “natural” as that. Stuff Happens. With a divorce rate close to fifty percent for the last forty years, even children born to married birth parents often don’t end up living with their parents, at least not in the same house. Parents divorce, biological parents die or become mentally ill, or two people have sex without benefit of a relationship or a commitment. More and more women have chosen to have children without getting married (the number of one-parent families in the U.S. has tripled in the last twenty years) and many more single women have chosen to adopt children. Many gay and lesbian couples have also chosen to have children or adopt children. The percentage of two-parent families has been in steady declines for decades, both in the U.S. and all over the industrialized world.

I have a politically conservative friend and all of these changes have been deeply unnerving to him. He has repeatedly asked me, “Isn’t a child better off with two parents of the opposite sex?” “In an ideal world,” I say, “that might be true, but in the world we live in the most important thing is that children have loving parents or a loving parent. “ And it doesn’t matter whether that person shares your blood. You just need a person or persons who love you totally, are willing to sacrifice for you, both in time and financially. You need someone to look at your face and be delighted by you, to read your report card and be both pleased and full of expectation, you need someone to see you as a whole and sacred person, even when you are very little. That’s parenting.

And yes, I believe all children are entitled to great parenting. And that’s why adoption is so important, because when birth parents don’t think they can provide great parenting, or when parents have failed their children (read some other stories on this blog) and the state has had to take children away from their original parents, adoption is the very best thing that can happen to them. Because adoption is a commitment to be a good parent. Almost no one stumbles into adoption; adoptive parents have to choose it, and that is a pretty good indication that they are going to work at it. I’d rather see a child raised by parents who are willing to work at parenting---that’s a child’s right---than to see a child with disinterested incompetent, or abusive parents. The vast majority of adoptive parents make the commitment to try to be good parents.

Sassy writes...

Hi, I'm a birth mom. I have an almost 10 year old out there somewhere.

His adoption was semi-open. I can get letters and pictures from time to time, and presumably, he could have some of me. When he was first adopted, his family recieved a 'treasure box' of stuff to show him who he was. His grandpa (my dad) made indian jewelry, and several pieces went into the box. Toys, pictures, letters and momentos went into the box as well.

I 'sent' him with love. I love him still. Whenever I see a red headed little boy about his age, I look and look and look. And then, I go somewhere and cry.

I am not involved in his life. Somewhere along the way, it was easier to stop getting pictures and updates. Sounds selfish, and maybe it is. But it's hard to care and worry, as the birth mother, and yet, YOU (well...I) cannot effect any I have no legal right (or dare I say, even ethical) right to do so. It's unfair to his parents, to try to insinuate myself and possibly upsurp their influence...
But it doesn't mean I don't love him, think about him, and wonder about him.

I hope I get to see him again some day, and I hope that I get to hug him some day.

Meanwhile, I AM THANKFUL TO GOD for his adoptive parents. I feel that we have entered into a not just legal, but emotional understanding, that they will be his parents. They will love him, and rear him, and give him what I could not.

I believe that I have given him more, infinitly more THIS way, then he would've ever had before.

So...adoptees...think about this...Moses' mother put him in a basket and allowed him to be adopted by the pharoahs daughter, NOT because she didn't love him. She gave him the best opportunity at LIFE and happiness that she knew to do.

I think that's pretty much the motivation behind most birth mothers actions.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sassy, thank you for your beautiful message. I’m sure you touched the hearts of many readers. I don’t have much to add, but I am sure you are right that most birth mothers hope their children have a better life with their adopted parents than they feel they can give their children.

kristen writes...

We have two amazing children who are adopted. Our oldest (3.5 yrs old) is having a very challenging time with following directions and controlling his behavior.Our daughter is only 3 months old and doing fine thus far.
My question/concern is that both of our children are not only adopted but were born drug exposed. So, i am confused by what is "normal" challenges, what may be coming up from being adopted (we talk about it in our family and celebrate our family adoption days), and what may be due to the drug exposure. Also what avenues to take- therapy, OT, home schooling, drugs?
He is developmentally on target and the most intelligent, vivacious,loving son ever but has these behavioral problems. We are working with him on this and we are seeking out professional help.
I am very concerned with him becoming labeled or "tracked" into the drug exposed category and becoming stigmatized or limited by it.
any ideas or input would be much appreciated.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kristen, ah yes….three-and-a-half-year-olds can be a handful. They are “wild” and impulsive and full of their own wishes. The most aggressive, out-of-control time in a child’s life is when he or she is two to three years old. That’s when children on the playground smack and bite each other (totally embarrassing their mothers). Thank goodness they are small enough so that we can manage them. The task of the parent of a three-year-old boy is to gently, firmly, consistently and consistently teach him habits of self-control for life. It will take time.

It sounds as if you have a pretty strong-willed boy; there are, of course, a wide range of temperaments in small children. He may be a hard-charger. He may also be pretty angry about the arrival of a baby in the house. That’s normal, too. He may need time to adjust. What he needs is for you to love him, control him and not retaliate against him.

If his pediatrician tells you that he is developmentally on target, if his pediatrician isn’t worried about long-lasting symptoms of drug exposure, then I doubt that the behaviors you mentioned are the result of his pre-natal life. I think he’s just a three-year-old. When you tell me that he is “the most intelligent, vivacious, loving son ever,” I conclude that he is normal. May I recommend my book, It's a Boy!: Understanding Your Son's Development from Birth to Age 18. If you read the chapter on three-year-olds, I think you’ll hear a description of a boy just like your son, and he is being raised by his birth parents. Adopted or not, three-year-olds need to become civilized.

ron writes...

It really seems to me that openness about adoption minimizes the pain that comes to adoptees who might otherwise feel cast off or rootless.

We adopted our 10-year-old daughter when she was almost 2. Although she had never lived with her birth family, we made it a point to get to know them and to keep her in regular contact with her siblings. Birth-mom is an addict who is in and out of prison, and her six other kids are in various forms of care, but we all stay in touch, and my daughter is much the better for it. She likes to talk about the tastes and interests (and even the appearance) of her siblings and compare them with her own, and she refers to them as she might to cousins or other close relatives outside the home--very fondly, but not with a strong desire for more contact.

My daughter really has no developmental or temperamental issues. She is a star student (skipped a grade, top of the class) and a star athlete with a wide circle of friends, with whom she readily shares her adoption story. If she should have questions or concerns about her adoption as she gets older, she knows that she has two loving families who will be glad to answer them.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Ron, your daughter is a star student and star athlete with no developmental problems? That’s lovely to hear. And she gets to think about the traits that she inherited from her birth mom without having to ride the roller coaster of her birthmother’s sad, drug-addicted life? That’s great. The part that I liked best about your letter was when you said, “She has two loving families who will be glad” to answer her questions. You have a generous soul and you want the best for your daughter. That’s very clear.

Sheree writes...

We have had our son since he was one week old, and adopted him last year from the department of human services. He is a completely normal, healthy child of 21 months. We are wondering when and how to tell him he is adopted. What is the best way to do it? He is our only child so far. Thank you from very loving, devoted adoptive parents!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sheree, don’t wait until a certain age to let your son know he is adopted. Start right now telling the story of his adoption to relatives in front of him; when you are diapering him tell him how much you love him and how glad you are that you adopted him. He needs to hear the word frequently, until it is just part his life. And you need to say it frequently, until it isn’t a BIG DEAL for you to say it. That isn’t a conversation that you want to have with a four-year-old or five-year-old. A child that young may feel betrayed that you have kept it a secret until that time. Start using the word now.

bryce writes...

I need a lot of help in trying to understand parents of an adopted child. I would like to, but I can't, because it's too hard. One thing though is that I like their daughter, and we intend to get married in a couple of years, but the mom is being unbelievable. Please help.

Edited by Tracey at PBS Parents.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Bryce, I don’t know how old you are and I don’t know anything about the details of what behavior qualifies your girlfriend’s mom as “unbelievable,” but I can say this: While all parents are protective of their children, and usually a bit more protective of their daughters than their sons, adoptive parents can be just a bit more protective because having a child is so special to them, they waited so long, and they are so worried about whether it will all work out for their child. Remember, the adoptive parents are usually acutely aware that the reason their child was born was because of a mistake, a condom not used, a bad judgment, a failed relationship, a something. They don’t want anything bad to happen to their children. I’m afraid that without more details I cannot give you more of an answer than that.

Mei-Ling writes...

"Moses' mother put him in a basket and allowed him to be adopted by the pharoahs daughter, NOT because she didn't love him. She gave him the best opportunity at LIFE and happiness that she knew to do."

That is a different context of adoption compared to modern adoptions.

Moses' records were never sealed - he always knew where he came from, and in the end he returned to his bio family.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

I love that the writers on this blog are debating the circumstances of Moses’s birth and adoption. There have been many famous adoptions through history and mythology and we can learn something about the psychology of adoption from them.

Does anyone remember that King Oedipus was adopted? His father heard from an Oracle that his son would grow up to kill him, so he gave the baby to some shepherds to raise. Oedipus grew up never knowing he was adopted---no one told him---but when he learned what the Ooracle had said, he left his adoptive parents’ home because he didn’t want to do anything to hurt them. He left home intentionally so he didn’t hurt the father he loved. Then he met his birth father on the road; they didn’t know or recognize one another, he got into a fight with him and killed him. When he found out what he had done he put his own eyes out. Bet not a lot of people know that the story of King Oedipus is, in fact, the story of an adopted boy who should have been told he was adopted!

Kathleen writes...

I posted earlier about adopting two older siblings from our county.

Our kids were taken away from their birth mother due to repeated abuse, neglect and they were exposed to adult sexual acts and drugs all the time.

I have read most of the books on older child adoption and that is why we kept our word for years on birth family contact. However, the birth family isn't like the birth mothers that had no choice but to relinquish their child so that the child could hopefully have a better quality of life. The birth family that we dealt with lives within our county and harassed us constantly. That is why we decided that more investigation and research needs to be done on birth family contact especially when it relates to dysfunctional birth family that repeatedly put their children in harms way.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kathleen, thank you for posting your story. It is a difficult one to read about, but I’m sure your warning that adoptive parents need to do more investigation and research before agreeing to family contacts with dysfunctional birth families will be of help to many families.

Maya writes...

I'm 10 and i was adopted 3 times-- my first dad never even saw me once, my 1st mom abandoned me, my 2nd dad died cause of my 2nd mom who murdered him- she got remarried and went to jail- the 3rd one- i was only there for 1 month

How can i help- i cry to much about it- i make bad grades if i think about it my "friends" always tease me about it-- i feel so diffrent and alone -- any help

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Maya, your story is tragic and terrible. No one should ever lose a parent, no one should ever be abandoned and no one should ever have to bear the burden of having a mother murder her father, as your second mother did. I feel awful for you.

You have been traumatized by these events and I’m very worried about you. When you say you cry all the time, it makes me wonder if you are suffering from depression or PTSD (Post—traumatic stress disorder). That wouldn’t be a surprise given all that you have gone through. I encourage you to speak with a school counselor or your teacher. You need to see a psychologist. Of course, what you really need is a stable, loving family to take you in, either as a foster child or as an adopted child, but until that happens I hope you will use a counselor (social worker or psychologist) for support.

Deb writes...

I've just gotten in contact with my biological sisters & brothers & they are excited to meet me. But when they told my biological mother about this secret she's kept from them for 58 years not only doesn't she want to see me, but she doesn't want them to have any contact with me. The mother is 80 & the oldest sister is 48. Isn't that very controlling? What possible reason could she have in not allowing them to contact me? This makes me worry more that I have a bad story about why I was adopted. The one I heard was because my parents were having marital problems. Now what do I do?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Deb, you have an absolute right to meet your biological brothers and sisters whether your mother wants you to or not. I don’t know why she wants to stop your sister from meeting you, but after all, she is a person who has kept a secret for fifty-eight years. Whether she is driven by shame about her “secret” about having conceived you, or guilt about giving you up, or fear of the unknown feelings that could come out of her, you and her other children if you get to know them, I don’t know. What I do know is that you need to go ahead and meet your birth family. I hope your mother will come around and see the wisdom of what you are doing. Whether she does or not, I encourage you to keep up contact.

Ashley writes...

How do we begin to tell our son that he is adopted? He is a year and a half and has been with us since his birth, he even stayed with us in a room that the hospital provided. He is from Ga. which is our home state and it's a partially open adoption, i.e. the birthmother recieves emails and photo's however the 17 yr old natural father is not in the picture at all. Can you please share your insight with my husband and myself as to what age you may think is appropriate as well.


MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Ashley, I answered a very similar question for Sheree. Please read my answer to her or read the helpful suggestions from Shannon just below. You need to start using the word adoption, telling the story of your son’s adoption, telling him how much you love him and “how glad we are that we adopted you.” The word should be second nature to him throughout his child, never a surprise. He’ll ask for explanations and clarifications as he grows up and comes to understand more and more. You just don’t want him to ever feel that his adoption was a secret.

Shannon writes...

I want to address the folks who are asking when and how to tell a child adopted at birth about the adoption.

I have two children adopted at birth who are currently 2 and 4. Only now is the 4-year old really beginning to grasp what adoption means, as she is starting to learn a little about where babies come from. SO now she knows that she grew in her birth mother's body and after she was born, her birth mother called the adoption agency to help her find a new family for the baby.

But we have been "telling" both of our children all their lives. Here are some ways to "tell" even before children can really understand:

1. We are lucky enough to have pictures of each birth mother. We even have pictures of them holding the babies. On the bedroom wall, each of our daughters has three pictures of herself being held as a baby: one each of my partner and me and one of her birth mother. We point to the pictures and name the people. (We refer to the birth mothers as "Mama First Name" in our family.)

2. Our children's baby books include the story of their adoptions. These include the story of us deciding to adopt and of their birth mothers growing babies in their bodies and then looking for new families for the babies after birth. Our children love to look through these picture books about themselves.

3. We include the birthmothers' names in our children's bedtime prayers, along with the names of other family members.

These are ways that the birth mother (and whomever else you might want to inform your child about) is in the child's consciousness well before the child can really understand what adoption is. As they grow, they will say, "who is so-and-so from my bedtime prayers?" (or on the wall or in the book) and you can start to explain in age-appropriate detail.

One cardinal rule of explaining tricky things to children is to never tell more than they asked. If a child says "what is adoption?" you merely say "adoption is when the mother who grew a baby in her body gives that baby to a new family to raise instead of raising it herself." Then, if the child asks a follow-up question, you can answer more. If not, that's enough for then.

Good luck to all! (And I dearly hope those of you who are adoptees in search and reunion find resolutions to your questions and support from those in a position to give it.)

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Shannon, I don’t have anything to add to your excellent suggestions about how to make the word “adoption” and the reality of adoption part of your adoptive children’s lives. You and your partner have done a wonderful job of making adoption a natural part of your children’s lives. I also liked your advice about not overwhelming a child with too much explanation. Some parents who have been waiting nervously for a long time for that BIG question, “Who is that person in my bed-time prayers?” or “What does adoption mean?” may tend to run on too long. I like your short-and-sweet explanations and the advice to wait for more questions.

Abigail writes...

I too have a question. We believe in being open and proactive about adoption conversations and have tried hard to get it "right" with our 2 adopted children, now 7 and 4. Her is the question -- the four year old was conceived as the result of the rape of her birth mother by a relative. Any advice about how and when to go there? I wish I didn't have to at all -- but in my heart I don't think that's right either. Also, we have a had some limited post adoption contact with the birth mother with the potential for more over the years maybe...

Edited by Tracey at PBS Parents.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Abigail, I have never advised anyone about when to tell their child that they were conceived as the result of a rape, and I certainly understand why you wish you didn’t have to do it at all. Did your adoption agency give you any advice when they told you this information? There may be more experienced people out there to address this question, but I’ll give you some thoughts. The issues in your case are “WHO should tell her” and “WHEN should she be told.”

If there is going to be contact between your daughter and her birth mother in the future, you must anticipate that your daughter will want to ask her birth mother about her birth father. That’s just natural curiosity. Having met her birth mom, she’ll want to know about the father from the only person on earth you can say for sure who that man was. But there are a lot of facts that you need to know about the birth father. Was it the birth mother’s father or brother or an uncle? Was he prosecuted for rape or is he still in the family? The situation could be complicated indeed.

My guess is that you are by far the better person to tell your daughter about the rape than the birth mother. You know your daughter better, and you didn’t experience the trauma. Therefore, if you have some “limited post adoption” contact with the birth mother the two of you should discuss the rape. You should agree in advance that you’ll be the one who will tell her. You don’t want your daughter to have a conversation with her birth mother and get blindsided by the news. But once she learns that her mother was raped, she will at some point want to discuss it with her; and you need to be around to follow up on those conversations.

The “When” is the hardest part. In an ideal world, I hope you could wait to tell until she is thirteen or fourteen years old. In other words, I’d like the conversation to take place after she’s had some sex education and after she’s gone through puberty. At that point your daughter will have some perspective on the sexual tensions that exist between men and women, she’ll know about the crime of rape and she will be cognitively capable of taking a perspective on this news. But she may not allow for the passage of that much time. If she asks earlier, I don’t think you want to lie to her, but you may to defer telling her the entire story by saying that you don’t know much about her birth father, that your understanding is that it wasn’t a love relationship. If she asks again, you may need to say that a man forced her birth mom to have sex with him. That may be all that a nine-year-old wants to know, or it is possible that she’ll ask “Did she call the police?” Then you’ll have to give her more of the story.

Your daughter is only four; you have some time to get this right. The important thing is that you get the facts you need, come to an understanding with the birth mother about who is going to do the telling and what you’re your daughter need to be told. (What does the birth mother want said?) I suggest that you talk to a few experts about this, experts in adoption and trauma and rape as well.

But before you immerse yourself in the details of this tragic act, the compelling and beautiful part of this story is the same as any adoption story. Your daughter’s birth mom wanted her to have a good life, didn’t think she could raise her and gave here up for adoption. You are lucky to have her and you love her. That’s worth a lot in a world filled with tragic and terrible stories.

Tori writes...

Re: your comment about "flesh and blood" being such an inherently strong tie. I don't know how I could feel a stronger tie than I do to my son, adopted from Russia at 6 months of age. Maybe it was the emotional energy I put into becoming a Mom; maybe its the natural love and amazement I feel as I watch kids grow and learn (former ESL,German,&Spanish teacher)
That aside, my son does have behavioral and learning differences which have caused him to work below his naturally high ability level. He has ADHD (I do, too), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (I did, a bit...but kept it "quiet"), Sensory Impairments (bright lights, used to feel an unexpected TOUCH as an offensive HIT) & Auditory Processing Disorder. The latter makes it seem like he's disobeying purposefully, rather than having to take time to process instructions. Teachers don't believe it because "he's SO smart!!" A smart kid can also have learning differences!
The effect of my child's differences have been so stressful on my Very Fragile Mechanical Engineer of an Ex-husband, that it did figure significantly into our marrital difficulties.
Now my question: What is the best way to deal with and discuss issues of divorce with an adopted child? What are the most important issues to make sure you discuss with your adopted child after a divorce?
"Dad" and I "trade" him back and forth each week, according to the Divorce Decree that I was bullied into. Its a $$ issue for Dad.
My son has known he's adopted all his life. I formed an Adoptive Parents & Kids Support Group so the kids would meet each other and not feel being adopted was so "different." Upon meeting a new friend, my son used to ask "Where was he adopted from?"
He's now 12, laxidasical about school work; organizational problems keep his grades low, i.e. losing work, forgetting to turn it in, etc. This turns into frustration, then anger, then not caring. (I also have organizational problems, but somehow made it through Grad.School w/ a 4.0 - but remember the same feelings of frustration in Elementary-High School). He's also an only child - not MY choice.
Any insights will be appreciated!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Tori, I don’t think I said that “flesh and blood” was inherently such a strong tie. If you check back to my blog essay, you’ll see that I said the idea of “flesh and blood” has a strong psychological hold on people. I absolutely believe that the love that an adoptive parent has for a child is as powerful as the love that biological parents experience for their children. I’ve experienced that myself in my love for my adopted children.

The rest of your letter isn’t really about the problems of adoption. You have outlined many of the problems that biological parents of learning disabled children run into: frustration and stress for child and parents, disorganization, lack of interest in school. You are also encountering many of the difficulties that parents in divorce situations run into: problems in school, problems of split households, different values, bitterness about the divorce settlement, etc.

I trust that if your son already as a diagnosis of Oppositional-Defiant Disorder that he is in therapy, and you and he are in family therapy together. It is extremely difficult to deal with this many problems without the help and support of a family therapist. If your son just has tutors or a placement in a special education class, it is not enough. You are both under a lot of stress. You need someone to go to from time to time; not every week, but enough to get support.

Cheri writes...

Kristen, I have an almost three yr old boy who is the sweetest, funniest little guy you could meet. However, when you tell him "no", his tantrum goes to a whole other level than any other 2 yr old I have ever seen. He will fixate on something and will literally say the same thing over and over again even when you are talking to him about other things.... trying to get his attention on something else. This can sometimes last for an hour.
He came to us as a foster child at 13 months of age. He was aggressive, would hurt himself and others. Once, I placed him in his crib because he was having a meltdown. I went and got him a pacifier, came back to a baby who had bloodied both lips, jumping and wailing, flipping over and over, up and down, screaming and kicking. From then on, we did tons of bear hugs, especially to calm him and keep him from hurting his self. We have come a long way.
However, now, he still has an instant temper. When he is having a bad day, I am even concerned with the way he treats our 1 yr old. When he has a good day, he is awesome, goes to time out when there is a problem, shares with everyone and is very loveable.
Recently, I found that the health dept in our county has a behavior and developmental counselor who is going to go to his daycare and watch him for a while. She is going to work with us on new ways to approach in order to help him.
Is this anything close to the behavior problems you are having? We also have a tough time knowing what is "normal" and not.
I would appreciate any feedback to help get through to this little one. He is definitely worth our love and our efforts. He is my engineer-in-training since he is determined to take everything in my house apart!!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Cheri, what a great, helpful letter you have written to Kristen. You have put a lot of excellent strategies in place for your loveable son, but you are wise to get some additional help from a behavioral counselor. May I also recommend Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child”? All parents with strong-willed or explosive children wonder whether their child’s behavior is normal or not, and adoptive parents always have to wonder whether the disruptive behavior is related to adoption. Sometimes it is because of early attachment or trauma experiences; sometimes it isn’t because it is just an easily frustrated child with “instant anger.”

Liz writes...

We adopted our daughter at 1 week and she has known all her life that she is adopted. We've always answered her questions about her birth family to the extent that we have knowledge from the history we received from the agency. Where we don't know, we have told her that we do not know the answer. When she was about 8 or 9 she went through a period of about a month where she was upset each night and asked why she was the one who was adopted and not one of the other siblings in her family. We did our best to explain the situation (her birth parents had both had very difficult lives and wanted the best for their children but were unable to handle caring for three children; since her siblings were older and she was a newborn, they chose an adoptive family for her so she could be taken cared for better than they were able to care for her). We tried to explain that there was nothing she had "done wrong" to be adopted; that she was an infant and they weren't able to give her the emotional and financial support that they knew she would need. After a a while she seemed to accept this and stopped bringing it up. Since then she has occasionally brought up her adoption, she occasionally brings the subject up and has told me that she wants to meet her birth family some day. I believe her birth family is amenable to meeting based on letters that we received when she was younger. However I thought it better to wait until she was at least 18 so she would be better emotionally prepared for this fact I believe the agreement with the agency is that she must be at least 18 but I may have imagined this. She recently told one of her coaches that she was adopted at 3 (not at 7 days) and that although she couldn't remember much about her family since she had lost touch with them, he reminded her of her brother. She has seen pictures of her brother and sister, but we know nothing about the family since the children were under 10. It seems to me that she may possibly be using this story as a way to endear herself to the coach or possibly so he will feel sorry for her? In any event I was surprised when I discovered this and am trying to understand why she would construct an inaccurate story about her adoption. I feel as though she is trying to work her way through the adoption by doing this, but since she has not come to me to talk about this I am unsure of how to help her. Any suggestions on how to approach?

wilna malherbe writes...


What if an adopted child of the age of eight dearly wants to know as much as possible of her birhtmother. Kind Regards
Wilna Malherbe

Donna writes...

We are in the process of adopting two siblings we knew from our church (9 yr old boy and 11 yr old girl.) We also have a 7 yr old girl, 5 yr old girl, and 3 yr old boy. Both my husband and I are very excited and love these children very much but we are having a lot of trouble with our parents excepting the additions to our family. They are convinced that our children are sacrificing to much and are in potential danger of being hurt by the foster children. We feel very strongly that our new children are to be treated equally in order to feel accepted but we have to be very careful to protect them from comments or actions that are being made by our extended families. We are at complete peace with our decision to adopt and feel that we will probably take in other foster children in the future. This seems to be our "calling" in life. To care for children who have no one to care for them. Our parents completely disagree and are vocal about our "incorrect" decision and think we should send the foster children we have now back. This is not going to happen but we are unsure of how to deal with our parents. We are very close to selling our house (which is built on my husbands family's land) and moving to a nearby city in order to avoid the conflict. This is going to hinder the close relationship our birth children have with their grandparents but we feel such a need to protect our adopted children. Did you have problems with family excepting your decision to adopt and do you have advice for us? Thanks!

Jacquelyn writes...

I have a 20 month old son and is still have to rock him to sleep and lately that hasn't been working. I have tried what the doctor says and just let him cry and he went four straight hours (and he didn't have a nap the days we tried so he would be extra tired. He threw his cup of water out of his crib, his binky, his bear, and all of his blankets and on top of that he screamed the whole time and kept hitting his head on the rails of the bed because he was so mad. I honestly don't no what to do but I'm honestly getting sick of rocking my 20 month old son to sleep for naps and bed and it taking me anywhere between a half hour to two hour. Please help!

Beth writes...

I gave my daughter up for adoption when I was 19. She is now 18 and ready to graduate from high school. I used open adoption and my daughter has always had contact with me. The last few years she has been VERY upset with me because I gave her up and she isn't getting along with her birth parents. She is a normal teenager and the problems she is having are totally normal - to me. How do I make her feel better - still very loved? I tell her always and no matter what. She won't even hear my reasons or try to understand. Does she just need time? HELP!

Bonnie writes...

I'm not sure how I landed on your page, I do know there is a reason for everything.
My very good friend, gave to a family a very precious gift. A lovely little freshly born daughter. That gift is now 20yrs. old.
My friend has never wanted to meet this little girl, knowing that by the grace of God, someday they will meet again. Without regret.
Your information has helped me to understand more, not just a one sided story. Thank-you. My prayer is for there to be a child for all people to love, no matter what got them here. With God ALL things are possible.

Roxanne writes...

I am a grandmother who was given her temp.custody of my 2 grandchildren when the mother was involved with dhs because of drugs. after 2 years they decided to terminate the parents rights, the judge (who was not a family judge) left it up to dhs on where the children went but they had to be adopted. We were denied the right to adopt because of my husbands 12 year old felony record of theft. the children went to a family friend that knew the children well and was approved for adoption. she was asked in court if she believed in the kids staying in contact with us, she said yes. it has been 2 1/2 years now and no contact. The girls were 2 and 5 when this happened. the youngest is in therapy from what i hear. It is killing our family as each day/month/year goes by. we were wronged by the system is there anything we can do.

Roxanne writes...

I am a grandmother who raised 2 grandchildren when the mother was involved with DHS due to drugs. After 2 years they decided to terminate her rights. Then we found out with that they HAD to be adopted, we were denied due to my husbands 12 year old felony record for theft (clean record since then) so we lost our grandchildren, it was horrible and the youngest is in counseling from what we have heard. they were 2.5 and 5 years old when they left us. I have nightmares about them. I know who has them and the exact words of the worker to this adoptive single mom were "it is my intentions of placing them with you so the kids can still communicate with the family they know and love" since getting the girls there has been no contact whatsoever. I miss them terribly and believe the system was wrong in taking them from a family that cared and loved them. I am bondable, worked in a daycare, worked for a Head Start program and currently working in a financil institution, we have been dragged through the mud from DHS with false accusations made to them about us as well, we proved all of them were lies. Why can't this adoptive mother, who was a friend see that what she is doing is hurting the children and do what was asked of her to begin with?

Helene, Former Adoption Worker writes...

Another part of the picture, is the lifelong concern of the adoption worker-- Did I facilitate the "right" and "best" placement? Did both sets of parents get the appropriate, available information about each other and the child? Everything in life is dependent on chance, but was this the best chance for this child? With the change in placement criterea and procedure, was what I did forty years ago ok?

marie writes...

As a birthmother who found a profoundly disturbed son at he age of 18, I find it interesting that you have not recommended the Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. I am sure you are familar with the book. We gave up our children because social workers coerced us and made promises that were never kept. Adoption sucks-Why don't you tell people how much heartbreak everyone feels from birthmother to adopted child t adoptive parents. Everyone is sold a bill of goods. I pray for the day adoption is illegal.

DM writes...

One of the adoptive parents above mentioned investigating dysfunctional birth families before allowing visitation. How exactly would you do that?

I am in the process of adopting a 2 year old relative who has been in my care since infancy. The birth parents are in another state (in my hometown) and have seen him twice each since I've had him, basicall whenever we go back to my hometown to visit family. I let them know we're coming and give them each a chance for a visit in a public place. I also email them pictures every few months and tell them they can call or email us anytime they want to know how he is doing, which they do maybe a couple times a year.

As our attorney and I are working through the adoption, is it better to make a legal agreement regarding visits with the birthparents, or just play it by ear? And if so, how much visitation is appropriate? I want him to know them and them to know him, but I also want to keep it within reason because of their issues with drug and alcohol abuse. What do you suggest is best for the child, especially as he gets older?

Kathleen writes...


We did not have a legal contract and I would not advise any verbiage in reference to birth family contact because you would be bound to that arrangement. I would not give out your home phone number because as your child gets older your child could and would answer the phone and you would not have control over what is being discussed. Birth family whether they like it or not needs to go through you. (you are the parent and you’re the one paying for everything) so I would suggest only giving out your cell number. An example: we gave out our home phone and my daughter would answer and say that the birth mother wants to get together for a birthday party for her daughter (which landed on Mother's Day). When I said I didn't feel like doing that on that day she would become very indignant. Example 2: On several occasions when the home phone rang, and I saw on caller ID that it was the birth grandmother, and when I answered, she hung up. I want to add, that these terribly experiences did not happen in the beginning. It grew into this over time. Yes, we let our guard down and the birth family took advantage. Also my daughter has run away twice to the birth family and that is when there was an unfounded false allegation of child abuse filed against us by her and her birth aunt. The birth family tried to extort money out of us and when we made it clear that we were only providing money to our adopted children things got ugly.

The birth family has set up "Myspace Accounts" and secretly contacts my daughter and for two years straight they have coached my daughter to leave on Mother's Day to spend with them. It got so ridiculous that the birth mother had fantasies of my husband leaving me for her. The birth mother suffers from arrested development and is extremely hardcore. They are terribly manipulative and that is why for the longest time we were sucked into bad situations. The birth mother has had six children taken from her (four by the county and two by the birth father).

Chances are that since your child is only two years old, you will not have the attachment problems we're had with our daughter who we adopted at 10.

Visiting in a public place is a good idea and the best plan. The good news for you is that the birth family does not live in your town so that gives you distance. I'd be very careful about the Internet as your child grows older or at least install software that gives you all the passwords so you can monitor the activity.

My daughter will be 18 in July and has a baby that is 18 months old. She has begged and pleaded to be emancipated which couldn't happen because she doesn't work so she can't show any financial support. Now...she doesn't want to move out the closer it gets to her birthday. She claims she wants nothing to do with her birth family but I know she is scared because her birth family has no money to help her with her baby.

Kathleen writes...

Here is a website that has been extremely helpful to me in regards to adoption issues. It's a great place to network and you get fast replies.

Cheri writes...

I would like to ask Jacquelyn- how does your 20 month act during the day? Does he hit or pinch at himself or you?
His bedtime behavior does remind me a lot of how our now 35 month old did act. I feel for you! We were also told to put him in bed, let him cry, check on him and "reassure" him every few mins. It would go on for hours. We tried laying down with him. I sat in his room and sang to him. I sat in his room and did not say anything.- Many different things...until the occasion I wrote about above which led to him busting his own lips from the bed rails of his crib.
We did not do that anymore. My husband and I would tell him it was nap time, he would begin his tantrum. Either he or I would hold his feet and hands in a fetal-like position (bear hug). He would also hold his mouth with the other hand. We DID NOT DO THIS IN ANGER. The child would do his tantrum in a controlled spot but used all of his energy trying to get out of that position. He screamed in our hand and we did make sure to let him scream out loud some too. Mainly, we were securing his head because he would jerk his head in his fits of rage too trying to head-butt. This was not pretty; at first he put all of his strength into getting out, eventually he started coming to us and putting his legs up in order to assume that position. We also started talking quietly in his ear, "I know you don't want to rest but it is time to rest- your eyes are tired" "We love you and want to have a good day tomorrow so you have to rest" (The word "sleep" was a trigger for his fit so we learned not to use it.) We no longer had to hold his mouth but just told him "if you do not calm down, I am going to hold your mouth". He did eventually learn to calm down. A word of caution- when I decided that I just did not want to go through the process one night but would rather rock him for a couple of hours- this was horrible for him (and us) because we just took several "steps back"- the next night's fit was longer.
I don't know if this will help but I sure believe that we would still be battling nights and naps if we did not do this. At almost 3, he goes to sleep much easier and "bear hugs" are mostly a thing of the past. We have plenty of hugs and holding during the evening before the bedtime thought. Blessings and lots of prayers!

reginald writes...

home loan Somerset MA

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.Any way Ill be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon

Storage Seattle writes...

Every adoption comes with a fascinating back story and, of course, that amazing first meeting between parent and child.

I don't agree with everything in this article, but you do make some very good points. I'm very interested in this matter and I myself do a lot of research as well.

dog gate writes...

I'm not a great deal into reading, but somehow I got to read plenty of articles here. Its superb how interesting it is for me to visit you very often.

circle y saddle writes...

I’ve been searching for some decent stuff on the subject and haven't had any luck up until this point, You just got a new biggest fan!

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