If you’re reading this, it’s likely you are a current or prospective adoptive parent who is curious about the impact of adoption on the identity of adoptees. This aspect of adoption contains many complexities and nuances, but is worth learning about. Read on to learn about identity and adoption and our tips for overcoming any parenting challenges you may potentially face in this area.
What are the positive impacts of adoption on identity?
Adoption can bring so many positives to adoptees and their families. When done with the adoptee's identity in mind, adoption can be a powerfully positive thing for the adoptee's identity.
When thinking about adoption and identity, the level of communication with the biological family is something to consider. For example, an open adoption can have a more positive effect on the adoptee and their identity. Having any level of contact with their biological family can offer answers to any questions an adoptee may have about their adoption, cultural background, biological family, and family health history. Most importantly, it illuminates the answer to the ultimate question of: “who am I?”
An adoptee’s relationship with their biological family can contribute to them forming a strong, healthy sense of identity and can create a more positive sentiment towards their adoption. This scientific study indicates that adolescent adoptees who were adopted with an open adoption have more positive feelings about their adoption and identity. For this reason, we do encourage prospective adoptive parents to keep an open mind when considering their post-placement communication preferences.
What are other potential long-term effects of adoption?
It is clear that there are long-term effects of adoption for an adoptee, and like anything in life, not all are positive. Adoption can affect children’s identity in different ways throughout their lives. Adoptees can experience issues related to their identity as they grow and become more aware of themselves and the world around them. Adoption can trigger feelings of grief, rejection, loss, and confusion. As an adoptive parent, it is important to be prepared to address these issues if they come up so you can help your child work through their emotions in a healthy way.
Tips for overcoming challenges of adoption on identity
Despite the potential for challenges to arise related to your adopted child’s identity, there are things adoptive parents can do to help their family work through the nuances of identity and adoption.
1.) Consistently check in with your child.
As your child grows older and begins to develop their sense of identity and understanding of their place in the world, it’s natural to check in with them as their parents. With an adopted child, it is especially important to check in with them and get an overall sense of how they’re doing, especially during their teen years when things can get particularly difficult. Establish open communication as early as possible to create an environment where your child feels comfortable coming to you and expressing their feelings so they can get help when they need it.
2.) Answer their questions honestly.
We feel it is critically important for adoptive parents to answer all questions about their child's identity openly and honestly. There may be times when their questions are difficult to answer, especially if they are from a different racial or cultural background than your own. There could even be a time where you simply don’t have an answer to a difficult question surrounding their adoption or birthparents. Approaching these questions with a spirit of honesty and openness will help to encourage their development of a solid and strong foundation for a healthy sense of identity. Avoiding or puttin off these tough conversations will only be detrimental to your child and could affect your long-term relationship with them.
3.) Access helpful resources.
Every child goes through the process of developing their sense of identity and meets struggles along the way, which requires the help of their parent(s). An adopted child may face unique challenges in this area that their peers may not be experiencing. For this reason, it is important for adoptive parents to have access to helpful, up-to-date resources and tools to help them successfully address these things with their child. The North American Council on Adoptable Children has a great resource on tasks for parents to help their child develop a positive racial identity and other informative resources.
4.) Have a support network.
As you navigate identity, adoption, and parenting, having a robust support network you can rely on will make all the difference when things get tough or challenging. It is also helpful that you can trust your network to be supportive and give guidance to your child as you are helping them to create a positive identity. As your child gets older, it is also beneficial for them to seek out a community of their own, for example, fellow adoptees and/or individuals who share a similar cultural background. This can help elevate their sense of belonging and help them grow their personal sense of identity.
5.) Take time to educate yourself.
As a prospective adoptive parent, one of the best things you can do is take time to educate yourself on issues surrounding adoption and identity so that you are armed with the best knowledge and tools that will help you play a key role in forming your child’s identity. It is particularly important to educate yourself on transracial adoption and tips for successfully raising a child from a different cultural background than your own.
Adoption is a lifelong process.
When you are in the thick of the adoption process, it is easy to only think about the short term tasks of finalizing the adoption and bringing your baby home. However, it is important to remember that adoption is a lifelong process where you and your family will face both beautiful moments and challenges together, including navigating your child’s identity development.
Keep in mind that adoption is complicated. Every adoption and family is unique. With love, acceptance, and an understanding of the nuances involved, you and your family can have lifelong bonds and positive, lasting memories that are unique to you.