Just days ago, soccer stars Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris announced the adoption of a daughter. Krieger wrote to her birth mother on Instragram saying, “Dear Birth Mom, Our promise to you: We promise Sloane will be loved every single day by us, our friends, and our family. We promise to give her the tools to live a happy, successful life of inclusivity and support. We promise to share her adoption story with her from the very beginning and celebrate every milestone!”
I found this letter beautiful. I felt happy for this sweet girl to have this kind of love, even though she had already experienced significant loss so early in life. And though she wouldn’t understand the significance of it for many years to come, it was good to see that she will have the support and encouragement to grow into who she was born to be with the love of all of her family members.
However, the fact is there are many children who are adopted that will never know what it would have been like to have adoptive parents that would not only embrace their birth mother with compassion and encourage a relationship with her. Nor will many know what it would be like to grow up in an environment where they knew the people who chose to become their parents really wanted them to find happiness.
As an adoptee myself, I know it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but there are many ways we can begin to open up the dialogue around adoption and create healthier relationships for families.
For starters, as difficult as it is to fathom for those who haven’t experienced it firsthand, the joy, hope, and love that comes with welcoming a new family member is almost always accompanied by feelings of loss, grief, and guilt. This can be true for both parents and children. And sadly, children are often left without the resources or support to deal with these conflicting emotions.
In addition, a large percentage of children are stuck in the foster care system, shuffling back and forth between homes. According to Adoptionnetwork.com, there are about 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, which is 2% of the population, or one out of 50 children. Of those, 107,918 foster children eligible for and waiting to be adopted. In 2014, 50,644 foster kids were adopted — a number that has stayed roughly consistent for the past five years. The average age of a waiting child is 7.7 years old and 29% of them will spend at least three years in foster care. More than 60% of children in foster care spend two to five years in the system before being adopted. Almost 20% spend five or more years in foster care before being adopted. All of this trauma creates significant mental health struggles for children and adolescents..
Research shows that adolescent adoptees are at a greater risk of suicide and behavior disorders. Additionally, there is research to suggest adoptees are more likely to abuse substances and attempt suicide than their non-adopted peers due to trauma in their early childhood.
So, what does this mean for those who are adopted, seeking to adopt or have adopted and are now living out the reality they once thought would be a fairly tale ending?
First, there needs to be an understanding that adoption is not a cure all. Adoptive parents are not “rescuing” a child from a “bad” parent, nor are they replacing them in that child’s life. They are choosing to raise that child as their own, come what may, and should do so with a clear understanding that it is not their child’s job to fulfill the needs of the parent. They should expect and be ready to deal with the very real issues that can come with adoption. They should also understand that adoptees are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues. According to a study by the University of Minnesota, the most common mental health issues in adolescences are:
- oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- conduct disorder
- major depressive disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
Prospective parents should also consult with a mental health professional before making a decision regarding adoption to understand fully the possible ramifications and what would be required of them should their child suffer from any of these issues.
Likewise, they should consider the tools both they and their child will need to cope with their own emotions. Their children will need to know how to do so in a way that doesn’t label them as being different or “broken” because of what has occurred in their lives.
Fortunately, more and more tools are becoming available to the public through therapists and other practitioners as well, and modalities such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) have been proven to be highly effective in resolving trauma, as is EMDR when used in combination with traditional therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Through non-profit organizations like Together We Rise, more of these resources are becoming available to adoptees and families at no cost.
And there is much parents can do themselves to support their children and make their lives better. Making a concerted effort to communicate with their child in a way he or she can understand is even more important in the lives of adopted children. The reassurance of acceptance and belonging will help them learn to trust others and communicate in healthier ways. Encouraging him or her to express emotions, ask questions, and share feelings is equally as important. Staying connected via activities he or she enjoys, focusing on the positives, and remembering, there is no better person than them to help their child can make a world of difference.
As challenging as it might be at time, parenting does not come without reward. And while their job, above all, is to love their child, they will find that love that is given is always an investment, not just in their child’s life, but in their own.