What is forgiveness? I’ve always struggled with defining it, and I know many who view it quite simply as an act indicating that all is well–that the forgiver and the “offending” party can just move on and forget about what happened. In reality, forgiveness is somewhat more complex than that.

I’ve seen more nuanced descriptions of forgiveness, and I like them better than the simplistic view. Essentially, they describe forgiveness as the intentional and voluntary process of letting go, not wanting harm to come to the offender or seeking revenge. At the same time, it’s not excusing, forgetting, pardoning, or reconciling. Forgiveness, in this context, is something that helps the victim move on, regardless of the offender’s response–sometimes, the offender isn’t even aware of it.

So what is forgiveness in adoption? I think that can vary greatly, depending on the experience. It can also be relevant to the adoptee, the biological parent, the adoptive parent, and others. Because adoption is so complex, and impacts multiple individuals, there may be harm experienced from many different perspectives.

The adoptee, for example, may feel that they were abandoned, left to survive on his or her own. Regardless of the circumstances she or he finds themselves in, the adoptee may feel that survival was simply left to chance. What can forgiveness do for them? Perhaps it can help them to move forward and lead a happy and productive life. It may be a powerful tool to help them let go, harbor no ill will to those who surrendered them to adoption, and embrace their current situation.


The biological mother may feel that she was coerced to surrender her child. She may have felt shame and guilt because of those who chastised her for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Forgiveness for that biological mother doesn’t have to mean forgetting the atrocities that society bestowed upon her, but it could mean that she can get to a better place for herself.

What about adoptive parents? Maybe they had family members who didn’t support their decision to adopt. Maybe there were some who chose not to treat their adopted child as part of the family. Where does forgiveness fit in with them? Perhaps it can serve as that powerful tool to help them focus on the positive aspects of their lives, to be thankful for their child, and to protect them from those who express negative attitudes about their situation.

Forgiveness is not one size fits all. It’s a process, and the forgiver needs adequate space to process their circumstances and get there on their own. Once there, it can really be a powerful tool for them. For those who want to be supportive in the adoption realm, it’s best to just be there to listen, express empathy, and let the process evolve on its own.