Grief and Loss in Adopted Children

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Adopted children are ‘lucky,’ they are ‘blessed.’ They have been rescued. Perhaps they came from an orphanage or from a foster care system that moves them in and out of temporary homes ..or from a birth mother that is just a child herself, unable or unwilling to safely parent. Do these statements/thoughts sound familiar? Have you wondered:  What on earth does an adopted child have to grieve over? What have they lost?

The answer is, plenty, and if you are an adoptive parent you need to be able to understand and acknowledge these losses and help your child grieve through them.

It is difficult in our society, for an adoptee to mourn when adoption is only seen as a joyful event. Adoptive parents will help their child best when they allow them to express their grief openly, listen carefully and offer comfort.

What are some of the losses? Primary losses are: birth parents, siblings, extended family, foster parents/orphanage caregivers and fearing the loss of you. Secondary losses are: culture, religion, ethnic and racial connections, medical history, birth history, birth order, language, someone with a physical resemblance, familiar tastes and smells and the chance to be like friends growing up in a birth family.
Your child did not choose to be separated from their birth parents. It is OK for them to feel sad, angry or hurt by the losses in their lives. They need to live and work with and through their grief and they need your help to do that. It is likely your child will perceive the disappearance of their birth parents as desertion or abandonment and that they caused it. It may take a long time for your child to fully trust that you will ‘be there’ for them.

Allow your child to express all the emotions they need to. They may just need someone to bear witness to their pain. You can’t change it or fix it and you need to be OK with that. Don’t send the message that they need to hide, change or deny their feelings. Respect their unique timing and duration for grief which will, typically, come up at various ages and stages in their life. Be a good listener. Be patient. Be aware of possible triggers.

What are Possible Triggers? Perhaps, when your child reaches developmental stage where they understand “loss,” triggers might be: birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, anniversary dates, moves, divorce, death, school activities, peer relationships or stress.

A tip from a mom who’s been there: During the teen years grief and loss in an adopted child can look very much like anger, disrespect and defiance. Know your child well. Keep communication lines open so you can tell the difference because parenting grief and loss – and parenting anger, disrespect and defiance. These look very different and will have very different outcomes. You will need to recognize which one you need to parent and at the right time.

The good news is that studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of adopted children do extraordinarily well in their adoptive homes. Many even show higher rates of self-esteem than children raised in birth families!


One thought on “Grief and Loss in Adopted Children

  1. momto3sugars says:

    Great information! Exactly what I was looking for today! I really want to be prepared when we bring our child home from his/her birth country to be able to help them grieve in the healthiest way possible! Thanks for the info!


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