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aq adoption attuned parenting

My Kid Has No Adoption Issues. That a Problem?

Question:  My daughter is 8 and really, it feels as though she’s having no adoption issues. None at all. Is it possible for her to just be well adjusted about adoption?     — Laurel


Dear Laurel: I do believe it’s possible. We should welcome, recognize and show gratitude when our kids are seemingly well-adjusted. Enjoy the ease you are experiencing in parenting.

But wait — there’s more!

Adoption Attuned Parenting Gets You Partway There

So congratulations, Laurel. Not only do you have a child who seems to have a high EQ (emotional intelligence quotient), I surmise from knowing you online for years that you are a parent with a high AQ (adoption attunement quotient). With these two ingredients — a child’s EQ and a parent’s AQ — you may experience smoother sailing than some other adoptive families. (And that’s OK, in spite of the groans of envy that may ensue.)

aq adoption attuned parenting

Let me make a few more points.

Myth: If Parents Do Things “Right,” There Will Be No Problems

You deserve a pat on the back for your ability and willingness to attune to your daughter — truly, like tuning an old-school radio until you’re able to hear things just right. She is no doubt benefiting from having such a close relationship with you, from feeling safe and connected through your attention and efforts.

But I also want to dispel the notion people sometimes have — subconsciously — that if you do things “right” your child will have no issues.  And the other notion that If your child has issues, it’s because you are not doing things “right.”

While it’s great that you’re doing things “right,” the other part of the equation is that your daughter is able to do a lot of her own work, tuning in to herself, tapping into her own resilience. I wrote about resilience — why some have it and some don’t — in this excerpt, the foreword to the book Adoption Therapy. Like so many innate traits and talents, some kids come by it more easily than others do.

You get some of the credit but not all (not that you were asking for credit).  And parents with struggling kiddos don’t get all of the blame.

Drop Pebbles Every So Often

One thing we know about people and relationships is that things are always in flux; things can change over time as people go in and out of stages of life. While we never want to plant or create issues where there previously were none, we do want to detect issues if they arise.

For this reason, I suggest you keep “dropping pebbles.” This is a a technique covered by Holly van Gulden and Lisa M. Bartels-Rabb in Real Parents, Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child. In essence, it means you throw out possible conversation starters and see if your daughter is ready to pick up any. This is a way of spreading out the emotional charge for your child (and maybe for you).

Dropping a pebble might look like this, while driving by The Hospital: Oh, look. This is the hospital where you were born. Wait, be silent, and see if your daughter picks up your pebble with thoughts/feelings on her birth, her birth mother, her coming home with you, or anything else.

The goal of dropping pebbles goes beyond discovering what she thinks, however. That, of course, gives you a keyhole into what’s going on in her mind. But even deeper is helping her access what she feels. The more we can help our children bring forth their emotions in a safe way, the less likely the emotions are to be suppressed and come out later in surprising and uncontrollable ways.

So bottom line, yes it’s possible for an adoptive parent to raise a child who is relatively issue-less. (a) It’s not all you, and (b) stay attuned in case issues do come up.

See also:

Dear Readers, what say you?


About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
  • Readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own open adoption question. I’ll either offer an answer or find someone who can address your issue.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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31 Responses

  1. Not only sound advice on pebble dropping, but I love the point you make that relationships and the way we process things are about more than one person — “You get some of the credit but not all (not that you were asking for credit). And parents with struggling kiddos don’t get all of the blame.”

  2. Wow Laurel. This is a question I had and did not even realize I had it or that it was a question to pose. I am so happy you verbalized it and asked it. While our son is only 5 1/2, I have detected nothing either to date and I am a pebble dropper. I have been wondering, when will he be old enough that he will start to express issues? And: if he is not expressing any, does that mean he is not sharing feelings with me that he has about our adopting him. Somewhat related, he did ask me recently if I would put a little girl in my belly so he could have a sibling which really got me wondering why he chose to ask the question in that way.

    Anyway, your question Laurel, sets my mind at ease a bit knowing that there could be people who don’t have issues with having been adopted. (Now, liking the parenting rules in place in our house – that is a horse of a different color… 🙂 )

  3. I second and third this advice and the mythbusting involved. I do think some children are tempermentally wired to have an easier time with adoption, and some families are simply an easier natural fit for each other. It’s nice for everyone involved when that is true, and it’s nobody’s fault when it’s not.

    Of my two children, one was concerned with adoption issues from the get-go. By the time she was 3 she would look at same-race families and point out that she didn’t match with her mom and dad and it made her sad. By 5 she was often worrying that her birthmother must be missing her, and vice-versa. Her sensitive, empathetic temperament showed early and has been consistent into adulthood. As she got older she got angrier about being given a new family without anyone asking her what she wanted. Having an open adoption helped, but it was not a panacea.

    Her sister, who came to us as a toddler, showed almost no interest in adoption topics, at least verbally, until puberty. When Dtr 1, who joined us at two weeks, would talk about the unfairness of being moved from family to family, Dtr 2, who actually had had a couple of foster placements prior to us, would just say, “We’re here now.” Subject closed. She did, however, love to act out being born, over and over and over. She never wanted to discuss the game, but she wanted me there to witness it. I never did learn what she was thinking, only that is was something she needed to do. She has retained that action-oriented, direct approach to life, though she now has plenty of opinions on adoption in general and her own experience in particular.

    A friend who was adopted in infancy told me she never really gave adoption much thought until she became a mother herself. Then, thinking through her adoption and finding her first family became an emotional necessity. I know for certain that early obliviousness wasn’t because her adoptive family did everything right. It’s just how life played out for her.

    So my takeaway is that being willing to be open, and “dropping pebbles” from time to time is the way to go. The rest is up to our children in their own way and time.

    1. This is something I hadn’t thought to include, a third influence: FIT. “Some families are simply an easier natural fit for each other.”

      Great thoughts. Thanks.

  4. Laurel – I would say to you: “She’s only eight!” Has she experienced seeing a pregnant woman? Wait until she learns some biology and wait, just wait and strap yourself in for her teens!

    Opening conversations and giving children permission to talk and ask questions – knowing it won’t hurt you, is very important. I also urge all aps to read as many books and blogs written by adoptees as you possibly can! You need to know what it is like from their perspective.

    1. Though it’s not part of the question, Laurel, her family and the birth family are in and open adoption, both in terms of contact and in openness.

      Always good advice to get the perspective of others.

  5. Hi – as an adult adoptee, I would say that at age 8, I had no problems with adoption, either. But, now, being much, much older than 8, I can see that I was not unaffected. And, honestly, it wasn’t until my 40’s that I realized how seriously and profoundly being adopted affected who I was, my view of the world, and my mental health – lots of stuff that my adoptive mother (who was most excellent) would not have seen when I was 8. That said, it is very good, the pebble thing. The more your daughter feels that it is an open topic, the better for her it will be.

  6. I love the “dropping pebbles” imagery. This is something I’ve done with my son all his life – not just about adoption, but all the “big” topics – death, sex, drugs….

    My struggle with having a kid who doesn’t seem to have any adoption issues, is not fobbing of MY adoption issues onto him… it’s a tough line to walk.

    1. Oh, wow, Andy. I hadn’t thought of this aspect of being both an adoptee and an adoptive mom. Takes a lot of mindfulness to walk that line, I suppose.

  7. Yes, she is only 8. And what about the parent having not recognized emotional adoption issues and expresses an implicit personal adoption ideology, and transferring all that to the kid?

    1. That’s an assumption you are making, Frank.

      Though it’s not part of the question, Laurel, her family and the birth family are in and open adoption, both in terms of contact and in openness.

      1. I am talking in general. Infertility issues, adoption seen as ‘saving a child’, these issues are transferred in raising an adoptee. I am as a gay father not free of unresolved inner conflicts and ideological assumptions

        1. I would agree that adoptive parents (all parents, really) will better be able to connect with their child, and enable the to grow into the people they are, to the degree we can recognize (and resolve) our own inner conflicts. This simple pursuit of ongoing mindfulness can make such a huge difference.

          We so often are not aware of our OWN motivations (like infertility grief, wanting to “save,” etc). How could we possibly know the motivations of another? It’s through mindfulness that we begin to know why we do what we do. And then do it more intentionally.

  8. The connection between EQ (emotional quotient, emotional intelligence) and lack of adoption issues is troubling. How could these be connected? If anything, it would seem to be the opposite. A child/person in touch with his or her emotions on a deep and introspective level would have more questions and concerns about how adoption came about in his or her life and how it affects the various aspects of it, internally and externally. Adoption is not the natural order in the world, in the animal kingdom of which we are a part. Children see pregnant happy women, dogs nursing their puppies, etc. and it would seem only natural to presume that adoption is some type of unnatural and disruptive arrangement to how things “should be.” Those who seem to have zero interest or concern, especially when it comes to their own amputation from natural family members, would appear to have a lower EQ overall, or perhaps just numb (for now) – or too young yet to absorb and internalize the tremendous implications involved.

    1. Chatterbox that I am, I was about to go off on another long-winded comment on KM’s perspective. Then it occurred to me that this is an excellent example of a time when adoptive parents, or at least me, would do well to quiet down and listen.

      The only area where I do feel a need to push back is on adoption as not part of the natural order for animals. It’s actually quite common, and evolutionary biologists have long wondered why that would be:

      That is not meant to negate the other points made here. Looking forward to hearing and accepting other perspectives.

    2. KM, I think you have overreached here. As a pediatrician, I can tell you that children adjust to and accept various life situations that are not at all traditional. If it is *their* normal and is presented as such, especially in an open adoption situation where all parties are sharing the same reasons and explanations for the adoption, the kid can accept it as their normal after exploring his/her feelings about the situation.

      There are kids raised in households with two same sex parents. And that is *different* from the norm. But there is no data demonstrating that such parenting situations are traumatizing in and of themselves despite the messages they receive of how things “should be,” in families, as you put it.

      Some kids incorporate differences easier than other kids, whether those differences are their family situations, their race/ethnicity, being differently-abled or any of many situations that life can throw at us. And this varying ability to incorporate such differences shouldn’t be judged by an external person not involved with the person or the family. (ie this reaction is normal and this one is not).

      1. I agree with what KM has said. I don’t think it is over-reach at all. If the child has a high EQ, I’d suggest that it is possible that at that age the child may be more likely to be internalizing any feelings vs. not having any feelings. Finding words to explain things like that is hard at that age. Telling your parents who you love that you have crummy feelings about adoption stuff is even harder because you don’t want to hurt those you love. The openness in the adoption may mitigate any feelings somewhat, or escalate it for that specific adoptee.

        To your point that of it being the child’s norm. Of course being adopted is our norm, we can also readily identify that being adopted is not the normal course of events after the birth of a child. That generally, people are raised by those who brought them into this world in some form or another. We do have peers that aren’t adopted. It’s okay to recognise that being adopted isn’t the natural sequence of events, truly it doesn’t damage us to see reality.

        Having adoption as our norm has nothing to do with whether or not we accept, understand, or agree with decisions made, or have self-esteem issues, identity struggles, feelings of grief or loss surrounding being adopted.

        Our norm being adopted is because we have always known we were adopted, or if told late adjusted until it became our norm. Just like a child raised in their family of birth has that as their norm. That’s all our norm means.

        1. I agree with you that well-adjusted doesn’t mean having no feelings. It means being aware that there ARE feelings and then processing them in a healthy way (or at least a not-unhealthy way) — hopefully with the support and nurturing of attuned parents.

          “If the child has a high EQ, I’d suggest that it is possible that at that age the child may be more likely to be internalizing any feelings vs. not having any feelings.”

          — That’s one possibility, and another possible scenario is that with attunement on the part of parents, the child has been able to recognize that there are feelings to deal with and then address them. Attunement is such a key for parents, especially adoptive parents.

  9. I am an adoptee, and have been exposed to countless other adoptee’s through my reunion efforts. Yes, my primary exposure has been limited to those looking for b-family, but I’m also very open about adoption in my daily life so have limited exposure to flip-side of that coin.
    That said, i feel it safe to say EVERY adoptee has been affected by adoption. I choose the word affected rather than issues, as the word issues come with negative connotations. Some folks are affected less than others, and that value is subject to change in time. Awareness and education are the AP tools. Love the pebble analogy, but want to stress the importance of education. As shared already, read adoptee blogs, view research papers, etc. Many adoptee’s claim a driving need to be ‘accepted’ by their adoptive family, so sacrifice self to gain such acceptance. A ‘well adjusted’ adoptee may just be a great actor. Not saying adoptee’s can’t be happy, but they have been affected. Knowing that can help the AP keep perspective, and hopefully drive the education needed to empathize/recognize a good actor.

    At it’s base, adoption is trauma. With the right tools/guidance, that trauma can be minimized for all members of the triad.

    1. Robert’s post resonates with me based on readings and communicating with HUNDREDS of adoptees over 40+ years! Betty Jean Lifton wrote about “the good” and “the bad” (aka rebellious) adoptee. MANY adoptees become the “perfect” obedient child for fear of not being rejected yet again, the biggest fear of of every adoptee.

      If your adopted child is of another race or ethnicity, you REALLY need to read and there are many sources to get insight into how it feels to be an inter-racial adoptee. Read Jane Jeong Trenka’s Lanuage of Blood and Fugitive Visions; watch documentaries about inter-racial adoption

      Read “Adoptionland.”

      1. This highlights the importance of attunement on the part of the adoptive parent. REAAAALly tuning in, without judgment, to get past the “good” and “bad” and sense what really IS for the child. Being sensitive to that fear of rejection and abiding with the child as it is experienced.

    2. I would say EVERY child is affected by whatever parenting situation they grow up in. I was raised by my biological parents and am raising a son my husband and I have adopted. “Many adoptee’s claim a driving need to be ‘accepted’ by their adoptive family.” At this point in my life experience, I would say that I am and have always, for some reason, had a sense of a driving need to be accepted and I would not say our son appears to be similarly affected by this issue. I think we as parents need to be attuned to the needs of our child(ren) and their needs, whatever they may be. But I do not see the need for sweeping generalizations. At this point, all those sweeping generalizations have gotten me is a lot of anxiety anticipating problems that I have yet to face and may never. We will face situations we need to address in parenting, but I would prefer to address them as they come up rather than worrying about things over which I have no control and may not every present as issues in my family.

  10. Some adoptees do seem more resilient and better able to adjust than others. I would say that along with emotional quotient, every one of us has our own “anxiety quotient” that determines how well we cope with stress or trauma. Maybe this 8-year-old is naturally resilient and will never display any adverse effects from being adopted. Or maybe it’ll hit her like a freight train when she reaches adulthood, experiences motherhood for the first time, or attains another milestone in her life. The important thing is to ensure that she knows home is a safe place to discuss all things adoption-related. Your “pebble dropping” is a very wise idea for keeping the dialogue open – preferably with both of her mothers.

  11. Every person in the world is affected by their family.

    Hopefully every parent “drops a pebble” about life in general and/or issues specific to that family.

    Families should be safe harbors where kids are free to discuss everything. And to not discuss things.
    Sometimes they need time to process thoughts; other times they do better by thinking on their own, reading, watching TV, even talking to friends.

    it’s a parent’s (adoptive or not) job to be in tune with their child and to know if and when things should be discussed

    1. You highlight the idea that attuned parenting is called for even when adoption isn’t part of the picture, Pia. I love what you say about being a safe harbor.

  12. I am now 63 and I too did not have any adoption issues that I was aware of my whole life. However at 60 someone mentioned to me that my first 19 months of life were trauma. The trauma being 5 different families…3 different names…and 1 failed adoption which had me entering into failure to thrive at 8 months. I didn’t realize this was trauma because no one set out to be mean to me and no one ever mentioned the word trauma . Not Dr’s, not therapists, on and on. So here I am at 63 having to do Trauma Therapy and this does not a happy camper make me;-( So to the adoptive parents out there watch out cause it will bite you in the butt one of these days

    1. I am so sorry you went through trauma that first 2 years and no one helped you process it. The closed era was so….closed. We just didn’t deal with the hard things.

      I’ve come to define “openness” as “dealing with What Is,” and your story helps me to understand that we must be ready to help our kids do that — no matter What Is.

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