Q: My husband and I adopted our now 7-year-old daughter from foster care (fostered from infancy). She knows she was adopted, but, lately, she has told her dad and I that she doesn’t “belong here.” We have responded that we love her and that is why we adopted her. Why might she being saying she doesn’t belong in our home? We are the same race, though we don’t look similar (different features, hair color). Do you think she wants to know more about her birth parents (though we’ve already told her nearly all that we know)?
A: If you are like many adoptive parents who have been with their children since infancy, it can come as a big surprise when your 7-year-old, who has always “known” she was adopted, begins to ask questions you thought were answered years ago. In many ways you’re right—you likely told your child her story over and over, making sure that all the important people and events have been included. But something transformative happens between the ages of six and eight; as your child moves into middle childhood, she is experiencing tremendous cognitive changes, from newly found reasoning and problem-solving skills to being able to take another person’s perspective for the first time. You’ve likely noticed that your daughter has been able to unpack more complex subjects in school and has bursts of curiosity and wonderings, with most sentences beginning with “why?” So, we can see that your daughter is now able to think about her adoption in a whole new way. It’s an exciting time, but also comes with some sadness and confusion as adopted children are able to understand for the first time that relinquishment led to their being adopted. This is a significant shift for many children and could be at the root of your daughter’s wondering about where she belongs. And, just in case there wasn’t enough to consider, this is also the time when most children want more than anything to fit in with their friends. At age seven, your daughter more fully understands that, by being adopted, she is indeed different.
With all this in mind, we now know that your daughter is right on track. This is a good thing! and worth the growing pains.
Here are some suggestions to help:
- It may sound counterintuitive, but try your best not to rush in to answer your child’s questions or fix what might seem like a problem. Instead, try to listen carefully and ask your daughter simple questions to help her express what’s on her mind. This could sound like: “You mentioned that you feel like you don’t belong in our home….can you tell me more about what you mean by that? Or, can you tell me where you think you belong?”
- Remember that your child’s interest in her birth family and the grief that she may feel is not a rejection of you. It’s hard, but imperative, that you not take this personally. If you do, your child will pick up on this defensiveness and retreat from future discussion. You can feel comfort in knowing that she loves and trusts you enough to share her fears.
- This is an ideal time to create or re-create a life book with your child that will help facilitate conversations about her adoption story. Your intuition is correct—at this age it’s important to revisit the information you have already shared with her and consider introducing new information.