Between the ages of seven and twelve, many adopted children develop an increasing curiosity about their background and how they came to be adopted. During adolescence, that interest often intensifies. Teenagers sculpt their self-identity largely through studying their parents and siblings. In what ways am I like them? they ask themselves. How am I different? Adopted teens may not know this information about their birth parents, and this void can add to their usual adolescent struggles.
Who Am I?
They are particularly fascinated with their birth parents’ physical appearance, as well as many other details that might help them answer the question “Who am I?” But being typically guarded teens, they may not come right out and ask their adoptive parents these and other questions.
Sparing Hurt Feelings
They may also want to avoid hurting your feelings by being interested. It is hoped you began this ongoing dialogue with your adopted child when she was first old enough to understand (usually between the ages of two and four). The longer parents wait to discuss adoption with their youngster, the harder it will be.
Coping Styles: Healthy & Unhealthy
The majority of adopted youngsters deal well with the uncertainty of not knowing their biological origin.
Other kids, though, may react in one of three unhealthy ways.
- The exceptionally obedient child worries that if her biological parents could abandon her, who’s to say that her adoptive mother and father won’t eventually do the same? She hopes to prevent that through dutiful behavior.
- That same fear may prompt another child to misbehave, as a way of testing her adoptive parents’ love.
- The third pattern also involves acting out, but for a different reason. This teen assumes an antisocial role as a sort of birthright, based on his fantasy of what his birth parents might be like. It may be a negative identity, but it’s an identity.
Searching for Biological Parents
Many adopted youngsters may muse aloud about searching for their biological mother and father. Few, though, will act on this impulse. If your teenager expresses a desire to track down her natural mother and father, don’t misconstrue this as a rejection of you. Certainly you can appreciate why she might feel compelled to find them. If your teen doesn’t bring up the subject on her own, it can be helpful to parents to initiate the discussion. This sends the message that you understand, and are willing to help her work through her feelings.
Unfortunately, that is far easier said than done, unless the child was placed through open adoption, in which the birth parents and the adoptive parents are in contact with one another during the adoption process and perhaps even beyond. Many adoptions, however, are confidential. Some states do not allow adoptees to see their original birth certificate containing the names of their biological mother and father. Most states now maintain consult registries, which allow transfer of identifying information if both birth parents and adoptee consent, or allow adoptees full access to birth records outright. Adoptees from other countries may have a more difficult time in this regard.
Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA)
A private organization called Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) maintains an international Reunion Registry Data Bank. The computer links vital statistics of adoptees and natural parents who wish to get in touch. Frequently, the adopted youngster may know little more than his date of birth and place of birth, but that alone can be enough to make a match. ALMA was founded in 1971 by a woman who spent twenty years before she located her biological mother and father. In its first twenty-five years, the organization reunited more than one hundred thousand families separated by adoption.