What’s It Like To Be Adopted

Dawn Davenport


We can't always know how our adoptive children feel about adoption, but we can be there to support them.

We can’t always know how our adoptive children feel about adoption, but we can be there to support them.

One of my closest friends is also a mom through adoption.  We run together several times a week for exercise and therapy—mostly the latter.  We talk about everything, but the majority of the time we talk about parenting.  Seldom is the talk specific to adoptive parenting because after awhile most parenting is just parenting.  But last week I was telling her about the whole “no family medical history” incident at the various doctor’s offices that I blogged about last week.  I was somewhat bemused and a little embarrassed that after all these years I could still overreact in this way.

I told her about talking with my daughter afterwards and her response that it really hadn’t been a big deal to her.  Perhaps I misread her, or perhaps after thinking about it in the safety of her home, she had time to process and decide that it wasn’t a big deal after all.  She told me that she had the most important information about her birth parents—their heights—so she was content.  (She’s thirteen, and how tall she will become is one of her top concerns.)  My friend commented, “You know, as much as we love them, we don’t really know what it is like to be adopted, and so it is hard to know what is a big deal and what isn’t.”  And then, being the immensely logical person that she is, she said. “I’m going to ask mine over dinner what it is like to be adopted.”

My friend has four children–all adopted. The first was adopted as an infant from China, the second as an almost three year old from Vietnam, and her older two are biracial sibling adopted from foster care when they were 9 and 10.  Yesterday she told me about their family discussion.  Her kids, now 16, 15, 13, and 11, reported that most of the time they never thought about being adopted at all.  It was only when other people pointed it out or brought it up that they considered it.  Her 15 year old said the worst were teachers.  She relayed a story that had happened this winter when her English teacher assigned the class a paper to write about their happiest memory from age 5.  Her daughter said glumly that she didn’t have any happy memories from that age since that was the year she was removed from her biological family and separated from her brother in foster care.  Her daughter from China said she hated it when people stared at her mom and then at her, and she knew they were wondering if they were mother and daughter.  That led to a contest of who could top who with silly incidents like that.  But the bottom line from her kids was that adoption just wasn’t much of a factor in their everyday life.

Adoption Is Only Part Of Their Identity

This reminds me of a story told to me be another friend several years ago.  Her son had been struggling for many years with his sexual identity and had finally told his parents that he was gay at the beginning of his senior year in high school.  They were not surprised; in fact, I think they were relieved since they had been worried about his mental health and saw this as a sign that he had begun to put the pieces of the puzzle that was him together.  The following year when they were taking him to college his mother casually pointed out that there was a gay student union on campus.  Her son responded with a sigh as only an 18 year old who knows everything could, “Mom, being gay is just one part of who I am, it is not the whole of who I am.”  (Proof that sometimes in parenting you can’t win for losing.)

I think that adoption for our children is like that.  It is one part of their identity, but it doesn’t have to define them.  Most of the time it isn’t an issue, but the tricky part is keeping the communication door open for those occasions when it might become one.  I became convinced of the need to raise the subject even if my child doesn’t after reading Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew.  I don’t agree with everything in this book, but this seemed like sound advice.  (We interviewed the author, Sherrie Eldridge, about this book for the Creating a Family radio show.)   We talked about this, as well as the other nineteen things she thinks you should do.

Since my daughter seldom raises anything connected with adoption in conversation, I think it is my responsibility to occasionally bring the topic up so that it doesn’t take on the mantle of something we “shouldn’t” talk about.  It a bit of a balancing act to know how often to bring up adoption related topics in the face of supposed lack of interest, but I take the approach that I’ll periodically throw the conversation starter out there, and let her decided whether to pick it up or not.  Quite frankly, most of the time she lets it drop and that’s fine. I hope that when (if?) she ever wants to talk about any part of being adopted, she will feel comfortable talking with me.

As dinner at my friend’s house was winding down, my friend said, “I hope being adopted makes you feel special.”  (She must have missed the memo that said calling adopted kids special in no longer PC.) Her 11 year old smiled and said, “Well, I’ll tell you Mom, I always feel special.”  May we all be so blessed to have kids who feel this way at least some of the time.

P.S.: If your kids also report that some of their most uncomfortable moments with being adopted come from teachers, check out the Creating a Family resources on School Issues for Adopted Kids.  Please let me know of any other resources that we should add.


Image credit: BC Gov Photos

31/03/2008 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 9 Comments

9 Responses to What’s It Like To Be Adopted

  1. Avatar Stephanie says:

    Thanks for posting on the topic Dawn! You always have such great insight. I remember my only uncomfortable moment in school was in Biology class in Jr. High when we were given an assignment to find out where we got our eye color from. We were to report back the following day and we would have a class discussion to report our findings. Oy! Not only was I going to fail the assignment but I feared having to tell everyone in my class that I was adopted. Something (at the time) I wasn’t 100% comfortable discussing. I did report to the teacher the following day before class that the assignment was impossible for me because I was adopted. Poor woman didn’t know quite how to react. She obviously hadn’t known anyone who had been adopted or had adopted a child because she was dumbfounded. With all the wonderful ways there are to build a family now, I just hope that teachers are more sensitive to things like this! 🙂

    Thanks again for the post!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      As an adoptive parent, we want our kids to have no reason to feel embarrassed over being adopted, but the reality it that most kids don’t want to feel different. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Avatar Cathy says:

    Very well written Dawn!

    I was adopted and I like your friends kids, I didn’t think about it all the time, when I was growing up.

    I don’t ever remember if my parents brought it up from time to time or if I did. I have always accepted being adopted. I even have to say really, I’m adopted?

    Now about the comment, “I hope being adopted makes you feel special.” (She must have missed the memo that said calling adopted kids special in no longer PC.)

    Being told you are special is not PC. Really? Since when? I guess I should say, I have never heard that before.

    I am so grateful that I was told over and over that I was special, because I was adopted. Because of that one word (and actions showing me I was special) I have a positive outlook on adoption.

    Over the many years of coming in contact with others that have been adopted, I can count on one hand that has had a positive outlook.

    My parents never hid from me about being adopted and I have always felt special because I was adopted. There’s that word again. 😀

    So as far as my children are concerned, I have 3, all adopted from China, they too will come to understand that like me, they are special.

    As I sit here typing this, I just asked my 5 yr old, “do you like that you are special because you are adopted?” “Do you think that is a good thing or not?”

    Her reply, “yes, a good thing momma.” I hope my children will never not feel special.

  3. Avatar PaulaP says:

    To start I’ll say I’m from the uk but live in taiwan.
    The whole school thing fills me with dread, as my dear daughter will be starting in two weeks. I am sure she’ll be asked “dumb” questions, and I’m sure that we will get stared at for at least a month. Gosh, I dread to think how my daughter will feel about being adopted after school starts. Right now she tells me “it’s great, you’re my mummy” (of course that was preceded with, ” why mum?”)
    Maybe she’ll not be so happy when she finds out that not everyone think the same way we do. Also what do you do about the family tree? Just put down ours and ignore the birth mother.. That can’t be right, we don’t know anything about her really.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Paula, it seems as if you’re anticipating the worst, which is likely not going to happen. In fact, in my experience it has not happened. The kids in my children’s schools more or less take adoption in stride. Yes, there are the occasional stares when trying to figure out who belongs to whom in our family and as they get older and study genetics, there are the uncomfortable moments when they don’t have the answers, but on the whole it is something of a non-event.

      When they were younger, I always spoke with the teacher at the beginning of the year to anticipate if there would be an assignment that we would need to alter or that would precipitate a discussion at home. I also volunteered to do a class presentation on different way families are created or on my kids birth country. I volunteered to be the reading mom and often choose a book with a subtle theme of respecting differences, especially different looking families.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is to not make it a bigger deal than it is. Check out the many many resources we have on school issues. Others have been down this road before and their wisdom can help you. For example, there are many possible alternatives to the traditional family tree.

  4. Avatar Linda says:

    I just wanted to say that I stumbled across your blog and am really enjoying reading it. I have a 2 year old adopted from Guatemala. I particularly enjoyed your most recent post. I was so worried about how “injured or damaged” my son would be from being adopted, that it was overwhelming at times (before he came home). Now I realize, it is just part of who he is. He may struggle with, he may not, but we are a family and we will get through it. It is just a PART of who he is.
    Thanks for affirming that! Keep writing!

  5. Avatar Dawn says:

    Thanks Kim. I somehow manged to erase your other comment on last week’s blog. ARGHH! I have no idea where it went. Sorry.

  6. Avatar Kim says:

    I just wanted to tell you that your most recent blog “What it is Like TO Be Adopted” was beautifully written. It was interesting, informative and funny. I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you,

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