Ask AF: Acting Out After Birth Mother Visits

After her birth mother visits, my daughter's behavior changes. What gives?

Q: We have open adoptions for our five-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son. Lately, our daughter has been making comments like, “I was in my birth mom’s tummy, but I chose to come to my mom and dad.” Also, during the last two visits with her birth mom, she hit me and talked back to me. This behavior is atypical for her. What could be going on?


A: Your daughter is right on target in trying to put the pieces of her story together, and you are seeing how complex and difficult it is for young kids to understand adoption. On one hand, your daughter states that she “chose to come to her mom and dad,” and, on the other hand, she is acting out during her visits with her birth mother. I think she’s expressing confusion about her story — and about whose choice the adoption really was. While she seems to prefer thinking it was her choice, witnessing her brother’s recent adoption may have brought home the fact that babies are not decision makers. And it makes sense to express her upset feelings toward you, since you are the mom she knows, loves, and feels most comfortable with. No reason to take it personally. What she needs from you is some help with her confusion about how adoption works.

Add some age-appropriate pieces to whatever you have told her, with an emphasis on helping her to understand why her birth mother chose not to parent. Be sure to emphasize that adoption plans are made due to grown-up circumstances, not because anything is wrong with the child.

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