Ask AF: When a Child Questions Adoption vs. Biology

"Recently, my 12-year-old has been questioning whether an adoptive mother can really love her children as she would biological children. She'll say things like, 'You think you love us, but you would love a child you gave birth to more. How should I talk with her about this?"

Q: I have a 12-year-old (adopted at age two) and a six-year-old (adopted last year). For a while, things were going very well. But recently, my older child has been questioning whether an adoptive mother can really love her children as she would biological children. When I tell the girls I love them, she’ll say things like, “You have to say that, because you’re the ‘mom’” or “You think you do, but you wouldn’t love us as much if you had a biological kid.” She’s also been saying that, even though she loves her sister, she worries they’re “not really sisters, and never can be.” I’m not sure where this is coming from. I feel that she and I are well bonded and that, deep down, she knows I couldn’t love her more than I do. How should I talk with her about this?

A: There’s a line in an old but classic book, Shared Fate: A Theory and Method of Adoptive Relationships, by H. David Kirk, Ph.D. The author’s son says, “Adoptees are like loose boards that need nailing down.” Making sense of what it means to be adopted is lifelong. As children grow and enter new phases of development, their understanding, questions, and thoughts about being adopted change and become more complex. It is wonderful that your daughter feels that she can share these troubling thoughts and feelings with you. I recommend letting her know that you are glad she can tell you what’s on her mind (some kids won’t, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents), and acknowledging that these thoughts/worries are not at all uncommon in kids who were adopted as they try to understand their story.

However, I wouldn’t assume you have all the facts. Ask your daughter to tell you more about why she thinks the “love” is different—for example, maybe someone said something to her or she heard something bad about adoption. Accept whatever she shares, and then “nail her down,” as you would a loose floorboard. Reassure her as much as she needs every time—that if you loved her and her sister any more, your heart would burst. Remind her that love is not based on biological connection. Tell her how deeply you love her father/mother/your partner, etc., and your dearest friends, to whom you are not biologically related! You might also add (if this is true), that you know parents who have children by birth and by adoption and they tell you their love is not based on how each child came into the family. Show your daughter photos of her as a young child and remind her of how adorable she was and is and how lucky and blessed you feel every day to be her mother. Best of luck.

is an adoption therapist and educator with the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.;, in Burtonsville, Maryland.

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