Disclaimer: I am not an adoptee, nor do I play one on TV. However, I did survey the members of an online adoption community that includes many adult adoptees—and was able to get some candid answers to this question from an adolescent adoptee as well. Adoptive parents need to listen to the previous and current generations of adoptees to learn about the thoughts and feelings that our own children may have.
Things Our Parents Did Right
• They told us right from the beginning that we were adopted.
• They told us our stories—at least, as much as they knew.
• They made sure that we always felt loved and welcome.
• They kept our connection to our biological families or supported us in our searches for them.
• They welcomed our birth family members into our extended family.
• They were financially stable.
• They were open-minded and encouraged us to be a well-rounded individuals.
The adoptees who responded were generally very positive about their adoptive parents. Adoptees especially appreciated that their parents told them their adoption stories in age-appropriate ways from early on in their lives. As an adoptive parent, I know I cringe—and often want to slap someone—when they say that their 6- 8-, or 13-year-old children don’t know they’re adopted. If you only do one thing right as an adoptive parent, make sure you tell your children that they were adopted before they even understand what that means.
Things We Wish Were Different
Many adoptees said that there really wasn’t anything that their parents could have done differently, but there were themes in their responses that indicated some areas to which adoptive parents should pay attention.
• Be aware that we might feel like we’re a little bit different.
• Help us discover our whole identities and who we are.
• Make sure that there are people who look like us around, as friends and role models.
• Use positive adoption language.
• Understand that curiosity about our biological families has nothing to do with you. It is only natural for us to be curious, to want to meet the people who mirror us. This is not a comment on your parenting skills.
Parallel to the first list, if you want to avoid a huge mistake, start understanding that your child had parents before you. Even if you adopted a child at birth, even if the birth parents are on another continent, acknowledge their existence. Understand that your child’s feelings about his biological family are not a personal attack on you, your family, or your parenting.
In conclusion, it would be great if more adoptees, especially those born at the beginning of the open adoption era, were around to share their thoughts and feelings. Adoptive parents do need some guidance from these unique experts.