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Seven Core Issues of Adoption: Control

Control is another issue that can impact individuals touched by adoption, especially in their relationships with each other.  Seeking control is human nature. It provides a sense of safety, security, and mastery over one’s life. It’s a survival instinct. And when one area feels out of our control, it’s also human nature to seek control in another area.

This pattern is common for some in the adoption triad because lack of control is inherent in adoption. These are a few examples:

Adoptive parents 

Waiting for a referral, placement or finalization - The timeframes can be very long for all types of adoption and many families experience unexpected delays and challenges
The needs of the child – There is a level of unknown in a child’s history which may include not having complete or comprehensive information about the child’s emotional, developmental or physical needs


  • An unplanned pregnancy or placement in child welfare system– adoption may feel like the only choice rather than one of several options or may be mandated by court
  • Keeping a connection with the child – birth parents lose control over how their child is raised; and birthfathers and extended family in particular can feel victimized or dismissed depending on the circumstances of the adoption planning 


  • Not involved in the decision - Adoptees do not choose to lose birthfamily or plan to be adopted. Some older children may choose whether or not they want to be adopted, but the circumstances that led to that option were out of their control.
  • Mismatch between expectations and the adoptive family - Adopted children may have a very different perspective about what adoption means, what it means to be in a family or understand different dynamics, rules, culture, etc. 

Both grown-ups and children commonly try to regain a sense of control by controlling other areas of their lives. There are no “fixes” for any of the core issues (they wouldn’t be core if there were) but there are ways to reduce the impact on one’s life. Awareness is key to giving control issues less power.  

  • Evaluate your triggers. Know what pushes your buttons. What aspects of the adoption process were out of your control? Are there certain situations where you find yourself trying to overexert control?
  • Explore other ways you or your child does have control and be prepared with choices. If you have only one outcome in mind or your child struggles with one-option only situations, have choices available and flexibility in your agenda. 
  • Nurture mastery. If you or your child has a talent or determination to do something that makes you or him feel productive and proud, make it a priority. Feeling successful in one area can help ease the urgency to feel in control of everything.