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“What does adoption mean to a child?”

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Difference Between Parenting an Adopted and Biological Child

In many ways, parenting an adopted child is not at all different from parenting a biological child. However, adoption is a unique experience with a lifelong impact on adopted people and their families, and adoption will shape some of your parenting experiences.

Read on to learn more about the three most significant ways adoptive parenting differs from biological parenting: biology, belonging, and birth parents. 

Biology: You won’t share your child’s DNA

The most obvious difference between adopted and biological children is that adopted children are not genetically related to their parents. For the most part, this will not change how you parent your child, but it can alter your parenting experiences in a few ways: 

  • Your child may not share your appearances – This could impact your child’s needs: for example, your child may need glasses, even though you and your spouse both have perfect vision, or your child may require different hair care methods because of his or her racial background. Physical differences may also call attention to your family in public, especially if you are a multiracial family. Pay attention to all of your child’s unique needs, and learn how to model appropriate responses to any unwelcomed adoption questions and comments you may receive.

  • Your child may have different personality traits – Genes don’t just impact physical appearance, and your child may not share your family’s interests, talents or personality traits. It is important to expose your child to many different experiences and opportunities, and encourage them to pursue their own interests and talents.

  • Your child may have different medical needs – Your child may inherit genetic conditions that are not in your family’s history. It is important to receive as much medical information as you can about your child and his or her birth family so you will be prepared to meet any medical needs your child may have. In addition, because you did not experience pregnancy with your child, he or she may not have received the same prenatal care you would have provided. This can lead to additional differences in your child’s health and medical care.

Belonging: Your child may struggle with identity and self-esteem

This issue is not isolated to only adopted children, and some adopted children struggle with identity development more than others.

However, because your child does not have an automatic biological link to your family and may not share your physical traits, personality type, talents and interests, he or she may be more likely to struggle with identity and self-esteem issues. Some adopted children also struggle to relate to their non-adopted peers, many of whom have more information about their histories and family background.

Challenges with identity and self-esteem are most likely to surface during adolescence, when children tend to become more focused on who they are as individuals. However, even young children can struggle to feel a sense of belonging.

If your child is having trouble fitting in with your family or with his or her non-adopted peers, he or she may benefit from adoption counseling or family therapy.

Birth Parents: Your child was placed in your family by choice

Every adopted child has two sets of parents: adoptive parents and birth parents. As adoptive parents, you are your child’s family, and you have sole rights and responsibilities to your child.

However, your child’s birth family played an important role in helping to create your family, and they will continue to impact your child’s experiences as an adoptee, as well as your experience as parents.

Some adopted children struggle to cope with the knowledge that their biological parents chose to place them for adoption. Most adopted children want to know their birth parents’ reasons for choosing not to parent. Your child may struggle with feelings of grief and loss for their birth family, even if they were adopted as an infant.

These feelings can be difficult for adoptive parents to recognize and understand. They may be present off and on throughout the child’s life and could lead to behavioral issues, trust and relationship development problems if they are not addressed. Adoptive parents should talk with their children openly about adoption and birth parents. Let your child know that you are always willing to talk about his or her adoption story and answer questions about his or her birth parents.

It is often easier for children to understand their birth parents’ choices and to process feelings of grief and loss in open and semi-open adoption. Managing these types of relationships with birth families is another unique experience for adoptive parents, complete with its own joys and challenges.

Open and semi-open adoption is beneficial not only for adopted children, but also for their adoptive and birth parents. Studies show that most adoptive and birth parents are happy with their semi-open and open adoption arrangements. However, like with any relationship, there may be challenges from time to time. As your relationship with your child’s birth family evolves, always focus on your child’s best interests and communicate openly and honestly about your expectations for the relationship. 

Your adoption specialist can work with you to help you build the foundation for a positive post-placement relationship with your child’s birth parents, and American Adoptions provides contact mediation services to help you continue your relationship throughout your child’s life. 

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