Blog// LGBT Adoptive Parents

Adoption & Identity: What it is like to be adopted

Adoption and the concept of identity can be deeply intertwined. For this reason, many prospective adoptive parents are concerned with understanding the complexities of adoption from the perspective of adoptees, and birthmothers may worry whether they are making the right decision for their child. Both of these concerns are completely valid and normal, and if you have these concerns, you are not alone. Read on to discover more about the complexities of adoption, the challenges adoptees may face, the benefits of adoption for adoptees, and other important information related to the adoptee experience as it relates to identity.

How does it feel to be adopted? 

Before considering adoption, throughout the process, and after the adoption has been finalized, many adoptive parents wonder how it feels to be adopted from the adoptee's perspective. It goes without saying that there are many benefits and positive aspects of adoption that adoptees can experience, but it is also important to discuss the challenges adoptees face in order to speak on their experience with the complexities of adoption.

Because every adoptee’s experience is different and feelings are subjective, it is impossible to measure every adoptee's feelings about their adoption; however, there are common challenges many adoptees report. Some include dealing with feelings of grief and loss, struggling with identity, and dealing with insecurity and self-esteem issues. Adoptees may grapple with these feelings throughout their life, making it essential for them to have adequate support from their families and professionals as they navigate their relationships and feelings and make peace with their adoption. 

Despite the challenges, many adoptees report strong bonds with their adoptive families, particularly when they have communication with their birthmother. This is just one reason we encourage prospective adoptive families to pursue an open or semi-open post-placement communication plan. Knowing the reasons behind their birthmother’s decision to place them for adoption can make all the difference in overcoming the challenges that adoptees face. 

Studies on Adoption & Adoptee Identity

The intertwined nature of adoption and adoptee identity is something that prospective adoptive parents, birthmothers, and adoption professionals are all concerned with. Because this is such an important topic, various studies have been done on adoption and the adoptee identity. Some findings include the following:

Researchers at the Minnesota / Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP) conducted a long-term study of the effect of adoption on identity. One of their most impactful findings is that when having a relationship with their birth parent, the adoptive child understands there is a difference between their adoptive parents and their birth parents. This allows the adoptee to form a healthy sense of identity while still understanding their origins, which in turn aids in their social and emotional development. This finding can also help adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents overcome any fears they may have related to open adoption.

A 2018 study published in Families in Society Journal reported that adoptees prefer having access to their birth families as it aids in self-determination, allows for healthy identity formation, and helps them process their feelings surrounding their adoption in a healthy way. This indicates that open adoption is an important factor for adoptees in navigating the complexities and nuances of their adoption. 

A research study published in The National Library of Medicine shows that adoptees who have ongoing, positive contact with their biological parents are overall more satisfied in their lives than adoptees who do not. An open adoption arrangement allows adoptees to understand why their birthmother chose adoption and promotes a healthy relationship with her. This provides them with essential information and the ability to directly understand their adoption, which in turn aids in the building and maintaining a healthy sense of identity.

Benefits of Adoption for Adoptees

In addition to the studies conducted on adoption and identity, there have also been studies conducted that show the benefits of adoption for adoptees. A 2007 report published by the U.S Department of Health & Human Services outlines some of the benefits of adoption, including the following: 

  • A majority of adopted children live in a household above the poverty line, are in good health, and are more likely to have continuous health insurance.
  • A majority of adopted children have healthy social and emotional growth. Of the adopted children surveyed in this study, 88% exhibit positive social behaviors and a keen attention paid to their mental health by their families.
  • Adoptees have enriching experiences in their family life. According to the study, 68% of adopted children compared to 48% of the general population of children are read to every day. 
  • 85% of adopted children compared to 81% of the general population of children are more likely to be involved in an extracurricular activity.
  • 85% of children adopted through domestic private adoption have close, warm, and positive relationships with their adoptive parents.

Adoptive Parents & Adoption Education 

It’s no secret that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about adoption, which is frustrating for both adoptees and prospective adoptive parents. Something to keep in mind is that once you have made the decision to initiate the adoption process, you take on the responsibility of educating others about adoption through your actions and words. This is particularly important for adoptive parents raising a transracial adoptee, who may face additional misconceptions about their adoption or issues related to their identity.

An interesting aspect of adoption is that sometimes it shows that two conflicting ideas can be present at once. For example, someone who is misinformed about adoption and its nuances may voice the well- intended but misplaced sentiment that the adopted child is lucky to be adopted due to circumstances related to their biological family. While this may be technically true, it does not negate the feelings of loss and grief the adoptee can experience as they navigate the complexities of their adoption. It is important for adoptive families to understand these nuances and complexities in order to advocate for their child and dispel adoption myths.

Being an Ally for the Adoptee

If you are a prospective adoptive parent reading this article, most likely you are already taking time to reflect on how adoption can impact the adoptee. This is a great first step in becoming the biggest champion and ally of your adopted child as they navigate the complexities related to their adoption. 

In life, our parents can be our strongest allies, and for an adoptee, this is even more critical. Adoptive parents must continually advocate for their child, keep up to date on discourse related to adoption-related issues, educate those around them — especially related to language surrounding adoption as described above, and empower their child to set and hold boundaries related to their adoption as age appropriate. This is no easy feat, but it is an essential role that an adoptive parent must take on to ensure their child feels safe, supported, and capable of navigating their adoption journey.

A Lot of Love to Go Around 

While adoption can be complex for adoptees, adoptive families, and birthmothers, the best thing about it is that there is so much love to go around. This is particularly true in families where there is an open or semi-open communication plan present that leaves room for the adoptee to have a relationship with their biological family. Love is an inherent aspect of adoption, and it is shown through the actions of adoptive families, birthmothers, and eventually the love the adoptees have for themselves. Adoption is not without its challenges, but for adoptees, it is an essential thread in the fabric of their identity and relationship with themselves and the world around them and can provide them with an abundance of love that will last a lifetime.

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