What If My Birth Mother Shows Up To Claim Me?

Your child's worries about her birth parents are perfectly normal. Reassure her that adoption is forever and your family will remain intact.

A mother reassures her son about his birth parents

Young children lack the ability to completely understand the why’s and how’s of their adoption. Many ask questions when they are preschoolers, but it is in the early elementary school years that thoughts about birth parents often lead to fantasy and speculation. Children are by then beginning to understand that they lost a family before they joined another one, and they are starting to grapple with exactly what that means.

Entwined in their questions are two issues they need to explore with you. First, they want to know why their birth parents couldn’t raise them. They may mourn the loss of their original families, even as they enjoy belonging to their adoptive ones. Second, they worry about whether their birth parents could ever find and reclaim them.

Help Your Child Cope

Anticipate your child’s anxiety. You might consider raising the prospect yourself, rather than waiting for the emotionally loaded question that may never get asked. “Some adopted children worry that their birth parents could pop up and want to take them back,” you might say. “If a child thinks that way, what could their mom or dad say?”

This can uncover what a child thinks is possible and initiate discussion about whether he has ever wondered about this. If information isn’t volunteered, then ask, “Have you ever thought anything like this?”

Offer positive feedback for your child’s thoughts or feelings to encourage continuing discussion. Let him know that it’s sometimes okay to wish that he had not been separated from his birth parents, while affirming his joy in belonging to his (adoptive) family. This is a generous way to convey the idea that you are not in competition with your child’s known or unknown birth parents, and to give permission to claim a connection with his or her ancestral roots.

Reassure your child that no one can take him away from you. He needs to know that adoption is a legal promise and that you will be his parents forever: “You may wonder and worry whether your birth parents or anyone else could take you away from us. Most adopted children wonder about this. You should know that it can’t happen; the law says that we are legally your parents and this will always be the family you live with.”

Realize that your child may be vulnerable to stress over this issue. She may be concerned about whether she is safe and permanently placed. Few children who have lost a family ever entirely believe that they could not lose another.

Although this is sad, it can bring a special intensity in cherishing one’s adoptive family relationships. But we must let our children know that these are permanent bonds.


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