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Seven Core Issues of Adoption: Identity

Exploring Kaplan and Silverstein’s seven lifelong issues common in adoption, we are discovering how these core issues may impact individuals on varying levels and can influence one’s perception of self, relationships and how the world functions.

Identity formation is a natural, developmental process experienced by everyone, but for those touched by adoption, this process can be more complex. On the heels of November as National Adoption Month and now in the thick of the holidays, thoughts and feelings around identity can become very tangible for all members of the triad. The images, people, and events that surround this season (and other times too) may trigger thoughts and feelings specifically related to one’s identity.

A birth parent who relinquished her only child may wonder if ‘mother’ is part of her identity. An adoptive parent may experience feeling not entitled to parent their child or not feel like “mom” or “dad” yet – especially in the first year of the child being with them. Both adoptive parents and birth parents might find themselves comparing their role as a parent to friends and family who are raising biological children, or they might struggle with navigating the openness in their relationship with each other.  Adoptees might feel a sense of feeling different or not belonging – “I don’t look like my parents. Everyone in the family but me is good at art/has small ears/can relate traits to each other.” Also, adoptees, both children and adults, may find themselves thinking more about birth family and their adoption story and may ask questions, request information from their file, or explore the search process.

Things to consider when identity concepts may be impacting you or a loved one:

  • Acknowledge that this is common. Questions and feelings alone are not necessarily cause for concern and occur throughout the post-adoption lifespan.
  • Encourage open communication. Sometimes it is easier to talk with those who have similar experiences, so support groups – in-person or online – can be helpful. Clarifying facts and background history can be especially beneficial for adoptees.
  • Find the balance in accepting all parts of identity. All-or-nothing thinking, labels defined by society and culture, and generally trying to fit into someone else’s definition may create more stress or negatively impact self-esteem or coping strategies.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for guidance or support. Reach out to your local Bethany branch or the Post-Adoption Contact Center if you or someone you know may be experiences challenges with identity in adoption. Our staff are available to answer questions or find local support and resources.