What to Do When Your Child Wants to Search for Their Birth Parents

An over-the-shoulder shot of a young teenage male athlete in the gym changing rooms, he is taking a break from his gym session to catch his breath, he has his hands on the wall and is looking at his reflection in the mirror.

What your child may be looking for

An understanding of why her birthparents placed her for adoption. Hearing her adoption story from the person(s) who made the adoption decision for her will sound very different to her than hearing the same story from you or an agency counselor.

A sense of physical connection. She is every bit a part of your family, but who does she look like at a family reunion? It is very common for adopted persons to wonder where their curly hair or dark brown eyes come from. Many just want to know “Who do I resemble?”

To know that her birth family is okay. We raise nice kids…they worry about their other family.
What your child needs most is to know that her parents are comfortable with her curiosity about birth family. She needs to know you understand that she feels a tie to another set of parents, those who share her biology, and that it’s okay for her to express this connection with you. She needs to know that you don’t resent her curiosity or feel like she is being somehow disloyal to you by expressing interest in exploring that part of her identity.

Ways to support your child

Keep your child company in this process. How much you help versus just offer support depends on your child’s age as well as the birth family (or birth country) specifics.

Remember that relationships are easier to sort out when you’re dealing with real people and real situations, not your fantasy or your child’s fantasy about people you cannot contact.

Try viewing your child’s birth family as in-laws, like you might view a spouse’s family. They may need a few boundaries set or encouragement to participate in family activities, but they are part of your family.

Be realistic: Remember that birth relatives have other family ties, families and customs. Not all birth relatives (or in-laws) are equally easy to get along with or manage.

Take advantage of the wisdom of the community. If an awkward situation arises, rely on friends who have been there or call on The Cradle post adopt counselors. Reach out for help thinking through the best and worst case scenarios or to problem solve.

If you’d like to discuss your family’s specific situation with one of our therapists, we are happy to help.

Rather than avoiding topics, be available to hear personal concerns

Birthparent information needs to be fleshed out so that their decision not to parent makes sense to your child. Something like, “your birthparent(s) weren’t able to take care of you and wanted you to be safe and happy. After thinking a lot about their decision and getting some counseling, they chose us to be your parents.” If the adoption is open, ask the birthparents’ help filling in information, or ask if they would feel comfortable addressing the topic directly. If you have letters from the birthparent(s), be sure to share those with your child. We sometimes hear from adoptive parents that they are waiting for the “right time” to give their child letters and cards from the birth family. I don’t advise this, unless there is something in the letter that is highly inappropriate.

“Please don’t think that because I’m not talking about adoption, I’m not thinking about it.” These words of sage advice were from an adult adoptee talking to parents of adopted teens. It’s a reminder to keep an open dialogue with your kids on this important topic. They need accurate information as well as your empathy and parental values to help them shape their own sense of identity as an adopted individual.

For more information on maintaining a healthy dialogue on the topic of adoption in your family:

If you’d like to discuss your family’s specific situation with one of our therapists, we would be happy to help. You can request an appointment through our online form or by calling us at 847-733-3225.

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