Many people know that adoption is a complex process that has a profound impact on the lives of biological parents, adoptive parents, adoptees and extended families alike. However, due to its often over-simplified depictions in the media, certain stereotypes and preconceptions regarding the adoption process have entered our culture, giving us the wrong idea of what adoption is like. This is why it can be easy to unintentionally hurt the feelings of an adoptee, or a biological or adoptive parent while attempting to connect with them on the sensitive subject.
Adoption, in all of its aspects and forms, often looks and feels quite different from the inside than it appears to the outside world. That is why, in order to be able to truly empathize with those involved, in any capacity, we must learn to tell facts from fiction. A good place to start is by dispelling some of the most common misconceptions surrounding adoption.
Common Misconceptions About Birth Parents
1. Birth parents were selfish, or did not love their children
This frequently encountered myth can be as hurtful as it can be untrue. The decision to give birth to a child and then allow them to be adopted is rarely taken lightly. In many cases, biological parents who are very young or struggling with difficult life situations choose to allow their baby to be adopted specifically because they feel this would give the child a chance at a better life than they would be able to offer. Whether this turns out to be the case or not, this reasoning often comes from a place of deep love and caring.
2. Birth parents want nothing to do with their adopted children
While it can be true in some cases, many biological parents never stop thinking about the child they allowed to be adopted and never stop hoping that one day they will be reunited. In fact, a significant number of them are actively searching for their birth children, using a variety of methods, such as DNA testing, employing the services of a private investigator, or joining an online adoption reunion registry.
3. Birth parents are always happy to be reunited with their biological children
Just as not all birth parents are actively avoiding reunion, not all of them embrace the idea of it either. Some have mixed feelings and are unsure of the implications of such an encounter. They may often feel that they are not well enough from a physical or psychological point of view to face such an emotionally charged event. Others fear that meeting their birth children would significantly disrupt their current family life or bring back extremely painful memories of their own (e.g. of abuse, rejection by family or a romantic partner, etc.).
4. Birth parents are always a complete mystery in an adoptee’s life
Open adoptions have risen significantly in popularity throughout the world. As a result, more and more adoptees are aware of their biological parents’ identities by the time they come of age. Moreover, in some cases biological parents remain in touch with either just the adoptive family or with the child as well, receiving regular updates about their development, photographs and other forms of connection. Sometimes they are even allowed to meet their biological son or daughter and spend occasional time together, based on agreements made with the adoptive family.
Common Misconceptions About Adoptive Parents
1. Adoptive parents are unable to have children of their own
While many infertile couples choose to adopt, this doesn’t mean they are the only ones to do so. It is not an unusual occurrence for fertile couples to adopt and for families to have both adopted and biological children. This can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from the desire to provide a home to a child in need, to being a foster parent who has formed a special connection to their foster child. In other cases it is simply a result of choosing not to undergo pregnancy and childbirth for personal or health reasons.
2. Adoptive parents are always wealthy married couples
While, depending on the state where it takes place, adoption can sometimes be a rather expensive and time consuming process, this does not mean that only wealthy couples adopt. Or, for that matter, that couples are the only ones to do so. Research shows that a staggering 93% of US adoptive parents rely on post-adoption benefits and services to provide the child with appropriate care. Furthermore, while most adoptive parents are indeed married or domestic partners (71%), one quarter of them are single mothers, while 3% are single fathers.
3. Adoptive parents are usually strangers with no previous relationship to the child
Most media depictions of adoption involve a couple seeking out a pregnant woman who is willing to give them custody of her baby, or meeting a child briefly and deciding that they wish to become his or her parents. However, statistics show that a surprising 86% of the children adopted in the US in 2018 joined the family of someone already familiar to them, such as their foster parent (51%) or a relative (35%).
4. Adoptive parents cannot love their adopted children the same way as their biological ones
While the experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and early infancy can be very special and sometimes help parents bond more easily with their babies, there is no reason for them to be unable to love an adopted child in the same way that they would a biological one. Getting to know the little one, caring for them day in and day out, through thick and thin, watching them grow, rejoicing at their small victories and holding them when they cry is what makes parenthood amazing, regardless of the genetic relationship with the child.
Common Misconceptions About Adoptees
1. Adoptees always joined their adoptive family as babies
It is true that when given the choice, many couples looking to adopt a child they have no previous relationship with would prefer a baby over an older child, so they can provide the little one with a good start in life and not miss out on any precious firsts. However, in the US, a child who is eligible for adoption will spend approximately four years in foster care before being adopted (frequently by their foster parents). Furthermore, over a quarter of all eligible US children are older than 9 at the time of their adoption.
2. Adoptees are always severely traumatized by the experience
Adoption is an incredibly complex process with a wide range of social, psycho-emotional and developmental implications. Its outcome is determined by many factors. Undergoing this experience, whether as a child or a parent, is perceived and felt by everyone differently. While some adoptees feel like they have been abandoned or rejected by their birth family and develop psychological trauma as a result, others have very positive feelings about their status, allowing them better mental adjustment. Each of these reactions is normal and must be understood in the unique context surrounding every adoption.
3. Adoptees always harbor resentment towards their biological parents
While it is frequent and understandable for an adoptee to experience certain negative emotions towards their biological parents, it does not always have to be the case. Some biological children are aware of the circumstances of their adoption and find their birth parents’ decision justified and even loving. Some have experienced anger and resentment towards their birth parents at some point in their lives, but found that these emotions diminished in time. Others have always been eager to become reunited with their birth family and to get to know them. Each of these reactions is valid, as they are based on a variety of factors and considerations unique to every adoptee.
4. Adoptees should feel grateful to have been adopted
This sentiment is frequently encountered among people who have little direct experience with the complex realities of adoption and it tends to make adoptees feel uncomfortable for good reason. While it may be true for some that their adoptive family was able to provide a better life for them than their biological one would have been able to, the simple fact of being adopted can cause powerful, confusing, often distressing emotions. For many, the simple fact that they have been separated from their birth parents and placed into another (albeit loving) family is far from ideal. Furthermore, not all adoptees have a good relationship with their adoptive families. Some are exposed to various kinds of abuse or neglect, just as can happen in birth families. Expecting them to feel grateful in such situations would be unreasonable.
Common Misconceptions About the Adoption Process Itself
1. Adoptions are a matter of charity
It is a widely held belief in society that adopting a child represents a selfless, charitable action and that those who choose to undergo this process are kinder and more generous than those who prefer having biological children. This does not take into account that adoptees do not only receive love and care from their adoptive families in a one-sided fashion, they also frequently give to them in return, bringing joy and enriching the life of the family they joined. Charity implies giving to someone else who can provide nothing in return. Deciding to adopt a child has numerous rewards in itself, in the same way as having a biological child does. While being adopted can without question be life changing to a child in need, adopting can also have a tremendously positive impact on the lives of the parents who choose to do so.
2. Adoptions are a strictly private matter
While adoptees, birth families, and adoptive families are the ones most directly impacted by the process, society as a whole is influenced by adoptions and can influence them in return. The environment where a child grows up, the opportunities they have access to, the love and care they receive in childhood can have a cascading effect on a larger scale, affecting generations to come. But in order to have access to a simple, affordable and timely adoption process, effective policy-making is absolutely necessary. Implementing just and efficient adoption legislation can make a considerable difference when it comes to the number of parents who are willing and able to adopt. This also impacts the number of children who become adoptees, instead of graduating out of the foster care system when they come of age, often without the necessary emotional and financial support they would need to thrive on their own.
3. All adoptions are open
Since most of the adoptions in developed countries are open (in recent years), it is often mistakenly assumed that this has always been the case. Closed adoptions used to be the norm in many parts of the world in the past and some of them still hold on to this tradition, in spite of evidence that shows open ones are significantly more beneficial for children and parents alike. This means that there are adoptees who are not able to request identifying information regarding their birth parents, which can make the process of adoption reunion more difficult.
4. It is always very difficult to find your birth family
While it is easier to find your birth family in the case of an open adoption than a closed one, sometimes the search process itself can be daunting. When all you have is a few dates and facts, it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, modern technology has provided a fast, simple and comfortable solution: The Global Adoption Reunion Registry. To use the registry you can create a profile and enter the information you have. If the person you seek is are also looking for you, the matching system will yield a match. Additionally, you will be provided with leads that are close, which is incredibly effective for those who have any misinformation on their profile. With over one million members, the chances of finding your birth family are substantial. In fact, some matches are accomplished by simply uploading your DNA data from any of the major DNA testing sites, which is then matched against biological relatives who have done the same.