Is It Helpful Or Harmful To Compare Children To Their Biological Parents?

As clear as it might be to strangers that our adopted children are adopted and don’t come from our gene pool, it might not always be as clear to our children. And, in fact, we often forget.

For example, I was talking with my daughter-in-law the other day about our genetic problem of insomnia. Her husband (my son) often has sleepless nights. She asked if my mind races or if I just have insomnia for no apparent reason . . . which led to a discussion about the possibility that there’s just something in our genes that causes sleep problems. I listed off which kids have insomnia and which don’t. Without even thinking about it, I listed my adopted son as one who “has my genes” because he also suffers regularly from insomnia.

It wasn’t until the discussion was over that I realized I had listed him has having inherited my genes. And that’s not the only time I’ve done that. Someone once complimented me on our children’s gorgeous lips. (They really do have gorgeous lips!) And I was proud to lay claim on giving them those lips. I pulled up photos of each of the kids and zoomed in to just look at their lips. “Yep,” I said. “Look at this! Five kids, five sets of gorgeous lips.” And, you guessed it . . . our adopted son was one of those five who “inherited” my lips.

As much as it bothers some in the adoption community who are all about celebrating adopted children’s heritage, race, and culture, that some of us adoptive parents regularly forget that they’re adopted, it is just a fact. In our family, our children are simply our children. So this leads to the question: Is it good for our kids when we remind them that they carry traits of their biological parents?

My answer to that is a resounding I don’t know. There are a lot of factors to consider: Are you in an open adoption? Does your child like his/her birth parent(s)? Is it meant as a compliment when you say it? Are you saying it in a way that is complimentary to both the child and the parent? Are you saying it in answer to a question the child posed? Are you hoping it will remind your child how much he/she is loved by the birth parent? Are you reminding your child of his/her culture?

Certainly, ignoring the fact that your child is adopted will not help the child feel more included. It is best to celebrate adoption rather than gloss over it. On the other hand, the child is part of your family and quite likely has developed family traits through regular exposure. Celebrating culture, even family culture, is important.

So my answer to the big question is this: Examine your motives and consider your child’s current state of being. What is it your child needs to hear and feel right now? You know your child best, so trust your instincts and do whatever is best to help your child be his/her best!