are all adoptees troubled

In my blog, We Got Lucky, I tackled what I consider the myth of the troubled adoptee — the idea that all adoptees will have “issues” for life. My friend who blogs over at The Adopted Ones challenged me (in a nice way) about whether I was downplaying the losses in adoption too much in an attempt to reassure adoptive parents. I acknowledged that she might have a point but asked how we address this myth of the troubled adoptee. Her response in the comments was:

Adoptees as a whole do not have psychological problems – yet – like everyone in the world, will have to deal with trauma, and sometimes it is because of being adopted – regardless if it is what happened before, after, or both.

Later, as it often happens with us, the discussion continued via email. She wisely expanded the myth of the troubled adoptee to include other myths–the always happy adoptee, the should be grateful adoptee, etc. Her thoughts were too valuable not to share (with her permission).

An Adoptee Debunks the Troubled (or Happy) Adoptee

Are we holding adoptees to a higher standard than what we we would hold other to?  Why do we expect adoptees to glide through life unaffected by losses, when we, ourselves, wouldn’t glide through unscathed?

Some people coming to adoption seem to be searching for that mythical, mystical baby (or child) who will seamlessly fit in, instantly.  A child who will never feel loss, always love their parents, be the happy forever child they’ve been searching for.  They imagine a life filled with only beautiful times that create wonderful memories.  One where their child never suffers a broken heart, deeply questions their adoption, wonders why they needed to be adopted.

In other words, the adoptee who never wonders “why me”?

Or wonders what was wrong with them that they weren’t worth keeping.  All the why’s any child asks specific to what they are going through.  Instead, we want, and hope for a child who meets every goal they set, with grace.  A child who grows up, has a career they excel at, never fails at anything, marries, has children, and only lives a happy life.

The problem with that dream is that it’s only a dream, whether that dream is for a biological or adopted child. Life doesn’t work that way for anyone and adoptees are not immune from the inherent brokenness that we call life.  That dream of the fairy-tale life is what every parent wants for their child because they love them and don’t want them to feel any pain, ever.

For those who struggle to become parents that dream may hold even more weight, or need, because of that struggle.  Those who come to adoption to give a child a better life, may also have that dream, and some may even expect it.

That’s what makes it hard for adoption educators to explain the unique challenges an adoptee may face.  It’s also hard to balance that truth, without people assuming the worst case.  It’s a tricky line to be sure – how to talk about the harder aspects, without people assuming every adoptee will be forever broken by being adopted, because they won’t.  Most, even when they are triggered – live their life, just like you do.

Like everyone – Adoptees:

  • when cut – will bleed.
  • when newly in love – will see love everywhere they go.
  • wake up grumpy and need that extra coffee to get through the day.
  • will set goals and work towards then to achieved them.
  • will fail at things they want to succeed at.
  • may take up a cause they have a personal connection too.
  • when talked down too – will likely react to being talked down too.
  • when they reach a milestone – will celebrate the milestone they achieved, and take pride in their hard work paying off.
  • when compared to the model adoptee to emulate  – will take offense because they are individuals.
  • when recognized for what they’ve done – will feel joy, happiness, and likely, a little self-conscious at the same time.
  • when triggered by events that bring up painful memories – will have to process their feelings.
  • when dealing with the loss of a loved one – will have tears, possibly regrets, will feel the loss, deeply.
  • will have good times throughout life, and bad times too.

Adoptees also have specific things to process that are specific to being adopted, for some, it’s harder than for others.  My job, as an adult adoptee who cares passionately about this current generation of adoptees, is to tell those willing to hear what those specific challenges are, when they are likely to happen, what triggers them, how to help.  I believe your job as an adoptive parent is to learn what they are, so if (or when) they apply, you can walk with your child while they process those feelings.

Let’s stop requiring adoptees to be that mythical, mystical creature that is not touched by plain old human emotions, life events, gains and losses.  Adoptees by their very start in life have different challenges, and downplaying any of their struggles is wrong.  Adoptees are all unique, have different personalities, skill sets, are introverts or extroverts, live life to the fullest, have different temperaments, and above all, different lived experiences.  They will have heartaches, struggles, joys – so lets stop pretending an adoptee is different than anyone else, and needs to be the perfect child, the poster child for adoption, the adult adoptee who thinks adoption saved them and all babies should be adopted.

Next time you are tempted to hold adoptees to a different standard, if you suffered through infertility for years, and then adopted, would you want everyone to face the same struggles, and heartache you did, and likely, still have, and will feel?  Adult Adoptees don’t want other adoptees to walk that road alone, and also some of us don’t want adoptions that don’t need to happen, to happen.


Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:

I’ve said it before, but if you aren’t following The Adopted Ones blog, you are missing out on some great wisdom that will help you and your child.

How are you guilty of perpetuating the myth of the troubled adoptee or the happy adoptee?

Image credit: Macarena Carrasco