Ask AF: Child Wishes She Had an Open Adoption

"My daughter, who was adopted internationally, has been saying she wishes she got to see her birth mother, like her close friend who has a very open adoption. What can I say to her?"

Q: My 10-year-old, adopted internationally as a baby, has a close friend who has a very open adoption. Recently, my daughter has been saying she wishes she got to see her birth mother, like _____ does, and that it’s “not fair” that she doesn’t even know her birth mother’s name or have a photo. It breaks my heart that she doesn’t have such basic information about herself, but we know nothing about her birth family. (We even reached out to our agency, but they didn’t have any information, either.) What can I say to her?

A: Be with your daughter in her sadness. Support her grief with statements like, “That is sad. I am sorry we don’t have information about your birth mother. If I did, I would share it with you.” or “That is sad that we don’t have a picture of your birth mother, and never got to meet her. I wonder if you look like her.” (Do not say something like, “You don’t know your birth mother, but you have us.” You would never do that to an adult. For example, if a widow were remarrying and had a sad moment thinking about her first husband, you wouldn’t say to her, “But if he hadn’t died, you wouldn’t have met your new husband.”)

Go over her story and share again what you do know—information from your referral, pictures of the orphanage, or anything that you have. Some children like to make a Birth Mother Box where they keep items they would want to share if they ever connect. For example, she could put in each year’s school picture, make a holiday card, buy a postcard on vacation, and so on. This gives the child hope.

You didn’t mention where she was adopted from, but some international adoptees who never thought contact was possible are finding their birth parents. So, you could say, “We hope in the future there will be a way to search, and we will help you in any way we can, but right now that doesn’t seem possible.” You might explain the different types of adoption—international vs. domestic, open vs. closed—so she knows she is not alone. And help her understand on a more general level that the world is not fair. That is a difficult concept for children. Some children, like her, are well cared for. Some children in the world are hungry. Some people are born healthy but some people are born with disabilities. Maybe your family could participate in a community or church program to help others.

Finally, know that your daughter is right on track developmentally. It’s very common for children adopted as infants to have new concerns or sadness about adoption around ages eight to 10. You might want to read “Adoptees and the Seven Core Issues of Adoption.” I also like the video Sorta Happy Sorta Sad…, in which adoptees discuss their thoughts about adoption. You might want to preview it first, then watch it with her and talk about it together. There may be adoption support groups in your area, as well. Check with local agencies.

It is good that she trusts you with these feelings, which are quite typical.

has been working with adoptive families and children for more than 35 years, and is currently a therapist at Adoption & Attachment Therapy Partners, in Broadview Heights, Ohio. She is a co-author of Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow, Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids – A Guide for Parents and Professionals, and therapeutic workbook series The Adoption Club. Kupecky also co-authored The Mystery of the Multiple Mothers: A Cub County Caper, a mystery novel with an adoption theme, with her brother.

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