An adopted child’s origins are never far from his or her thoughts. But the subject often occupies the shadows of family life.
It’s up to parents to bring it into the light. Think of an adopted child’s history as a story worth telling and re-telling.
“The best piece of advice I’ve heard is you should never remember when you were told about your adoption,” said Kendra Crookston, a mental health therapist in Intensive Outpatient Program at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“It’s like a tapestry – it should be woven into everything else that’s happening in family life,” she said. “The more comfortable the parent is with it, the more comfortable the child will be.”
Kendra has special insight. She was adopted as a baby and has spent much of her professional career guiding others on adoption-related issues. As a young adult, Kendra, raised in Ohio, sought and found her birth family in California. She wrote about her experience here.
Her thoughts and advice for parents of adopted children:
- Adopted kids want to hear as much as you can tell them about their roots, their birth and adoption, just as biological children love to hear about how they came to be.
- Adopted children often don’t let on to their feelings. But be assured they wonder endlessly about their biological family and feel grief over the loss, even if they were adopted as babies. Acknowledge their feelings of loss and anger.
“They’re always thinking about it,” Kendra said “You look for clues and context your whole life.”
Although adopted kids are often as well adjusted as other kids, studies have found some adoptees have lower self-esteem and self-confidence, and they are more likely to see a mental health professional or have a behavior disorder.
A higher prevalence of mental health issues may be related to reasons the child was placed, or that their parents are more likely to seek out supportive services, Kendra said.
- Share as much information you have about your child’s family history and the adoption. “Tell them everything you know about their origins. Don’t romanticize the story. Be matter of fact, but without judgment.”
- Don’t wait for kids to ask about their adoption.
- Understand, though, that adopted children may worry about hurting their parents’ feelings by expressing curiosity about their birth parents.
- Encourage and support efforts to connect with their birth parents.
Kendra’s journey to find her birth family was a life-changing experience that brought joy, understanding and heartache, she wrote in her blog post, “Making Sense of Fantasy and Reality.”
“Don’t be afraid of your kids’ birth parents. Don’t be afraid of their history,” Kendra said. “It will help them form their identity the best way possible.”