Don’t put adopted children in a box

One of the things that worried me when we first considered adoption was the emotional scar that adoption leaves on adoptees. I know adoptees feel a loss, even if adopted as infants, and that it’s natural and understandable for them to wonder why their birth families couldn’t raise them. If I was adopted, I would wonder that, too, and I’m sure it would hurt. But some of the stuff I’ve read online makes adoption seem like it’s a life sentence for misery. The notion of the “Primal Wound,” in particular–that a child is irreversibly damaged when separated from its mother at birth–is disturbing. At first, this really freaked me out. Is it a given that my child will grow up to be miserable just because he or she is adopted?

growBut then I realized I shouldn’t believe everything I read. I don’t agree with this at all. Yes, adoption involves loss and grief. But adopted children are not broken, irreversibly damaged, or hopeless. There are many other, perhaps far worse, hurts a child can experience in life and still remain resilient.

My parents went through an ugly divorce when I was nine and shortly afterwards, my mother, brother and I moved out of the small town we had always called home and away from all of our family and friends. Did I feel a tremendous sense of loss from that? You bet. I was a daddy’s girl and it was incredibly painful when he was suddenly no longer a part of my day-to-day life. And it was scary and difficult starting a brand new life at that age away from all that was familiar. But many wonderful things also came out of that divorce and move. I gained new family members and friends who I treasure, for example, and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I learned to be brave and strong and independent and unafraid of change–all things that have served me quite well in life. Did the loss and pain from this experience determine who I have become and my happiness as an adult? Yes, but in some very positive ways.

Adopted or not, life is full of loss–for all of us. That’s just life. What matters is what you make of it.

I was thinking about this when I came across an insightful post on the Adoption Goddess blog. So many of these things resonated with me, but #7 is completely in line with what I’ve been thinking:


“Rule #7:   Don’t buy into limiting stereotypes about adopted children.

Adoption is a huge thing. A profound, wrenching disruption at a crucial time. Adoption always involves some loss. But so do many other situations children experience: imperfect parenting, divorce, death, illness, any major life disruptions, abuse, poverty.

So many people tell me they don’t want to adopt because the children come with ‘baggage.” Really? Who doesn’t? Yet no one goes around screaming, “Your parents are divorced so give it up, you are damaged goods.”  How can we do that to our adopted children? A culture that tells children they are forever damaged is arguably as damaging or MORE damaging than the initial disruption and wound of adoption.

Keep an open mind.  Don’t assume anything.  Always allow for the possibilities of healing,  redemption, resiliency, creative use for past pain, & transcendence.  And never ever underestimate the (yes I said it) power of love.”


I couldn’t agree more. I would be doing a disservice to Charlie (and all adopted children) if I subscribe to this notion that adoption is forever crippling to adoptees. As someone who has had her fair share of traumatic childhood experiences–not to mention the devastation of infertility–I understand what life-changing loss feels like and maybe that makes me specially qualified to empathize with my adopted child. I will try my best to empower Charlie by teaching her that loss and pain can be turned into positive and constructive feelings, thoughts, and actions. That sometimes the most painful experiences are actually blessings in disguise. Instead of being defined or limited by her adoption, I hope she will grow stronger from it and accomplish or create amazing things because of that strength.

I think Helen Keller said it best:  “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

5 thoughts on “Don’t put adopted children in a box

  1. Kate

    Thank you so much for sharing this post…sometimes I get so caught up in the fear, I forget that I will be enabling my child with the tools to fight their own battles and that yeah, we all have battles. thanks 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kate. I hear you about getting caught up in the fear. So easy to do with all the negativity out there. But adoption is changing for the better and you sound like you will be (or are already) a wonderful, thoughtful mother and that’s what matters most!

  3. Ok – so I’ve been trying to comment on this for a fews days and for some reason keep deleting the posts. Basically everyone needs to realize that for every subject out there the books and media are going to pick up and read the extreme views or those with an ax to grind! After all stories that go “hey, it all worked out…” don’t sell a lot of copy, and are kind of boring. My life is kind of dull. But it’s a great life and hey it all worked out. In our quest to adopt we chose to speak with adult adoptee’s and this is what they told us (Eric and me).

    PhD in Aerospace Engineering who is currently launching the next generation explorers into space and was adopted out of an Indian Reservation (something not easy to do) said she loved being adopted it made her feel special… she knew that she was loved by her birth families, her tribe and her adopted family who at 32 she still calls mommy and daddy. She liked knowing and having contact with her birth family because she liked looking in the mirror and knowing where her nose came from and why her fingers were very long. But she also believes she is where she belongs and although she cherishes her biological siblings she wouldn’t change anything in her life for the world.

    PhD in Chemical Engineering working as a Nuclear Physicist told us this… he had no interest in contacting his biological/birth mother. He believes that she did what she thought was best for him and what kind of ungrateful son would defy his bio-mom and go looking for her just so he could satisfy his own curiosity about his bio-past.

    Another friend a Pediatrician said she never considered her adoption to be something significant and only ever mentions it when someone makes the bold statement that adopted kids are somehow broken. She says “yea too bad I wasn’t broken can you imagine what I would have achieved? (says the tongue and cheek Eagleston Children’s Hospital Fellow and Founding Partner of the Northside Children’s Center).”

    So here it is … it’s unknown and scary because life has no guarantees. The truth is all kids have problems and things to overcome. Some are minor, some not so much. Everyone likes to pin their problems on a moment of origin. Adopted kids just have an easy target. And somewhere along the way someone said it was ok to pick that target. It’s not, not unless their adoptive family got up every morning and told them terrible things, and abused them. Sorry… got to find something else.

    Please do not mistake me of saving that it’s no big deal. Because with every situation comes a minefield to navigate. Currently my daughter and I both share a loss. We both grieve that she didn’t grow in my belly. She wishes she did. And I wish she did – only so she wouldn’t experience the loss. But I would never change it, as if she did she wouldn’t be my amazing little feisty, shy, sweet girl. She knows my tummy was broken and she was too big to grow in my heart so I needed help. And her birthmother was that help. As she grows she is going to experience other feelings of loss about how she came to us. And I will too. But as long as I am sensitive to her concerns we can work thru it together.

    My mom-friends who became moms thru adoption all agree we don’t read the hype, we read Adoptive Families magazine and other things that we can use to help our kids navigate any pit-falls or potential harmful comments – because well meaning people say stupid things – the way any mom would help any kid navigate any problem. Can’t tie your shoes Johnny? Mom’s gonna help teach you! Someone can’t understand why your very white moms have an african american child – Mom’s gonna help you with an answer for that. My nephews and niece are bi-racial, people said stupid things to them and will continue to do so. People say stupid things to our daughter. But they also say stupid things to non-adoptive kids. It’s my mom-job to help them figure these things out. As it will be yours – very shortly…. did you register yet?

    1. Thank you for sharing those thoughts from adult adoptees and your own experience, Jennie. So great to have your perspective, and you put it so well! You’re absolutely right. I need to get a subscrition to Adoptive Families… and we started the registry. Still trying to figure it all out but we have started. Look forward to seeing you next week!

  4. The Primal Wound is a *theory* and one that’s not backed up by any medical or scientific fact. Although some adoptees read the book and say, “Yes! I totally feel like that!” there are many others who don’t, and who are offended that anyone would say that they are wounded in that way. Allison Boynton-Noyce is one of them. She has a wonderful blog that she mostly neglects these days, but the older posts are still good reading.

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