#33 – Substitute child?

October 12, 2011 at 8:48 am | Posted in Adoption differences, adoption issues, Adoptive parenting do's, Identity issues, Raising the adopted child | Leave a comment
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I recently received an email from an adoptee who asked me to address an issue.  This woman said that during her whole childhood she felt like she was a substitute child.  She felt the pressure to do things as her adoptive family did things, to like the same things they liked, and feel like they felt.  Now that she is in her thirties she is struggling between what she pretended to be in order to fit into her family and what she truly is or might be.  She doesn’t know who she would be if she’d been brought up in her biological family or even another adoptive family.  She says she feels empty.  She says she can act like she belongs, but she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.

I’ve heard this before.  All of us who were raised as biological children in our biological families knew our family rules, regulations, and guidelines.  Most of us, however, were able to develop our own uniqueness as long as we didn’t stray outside the family mores.  Some adopted children who sense that they were placed in a family artificially as opposed to their friends who were born into a family, become very aware of how different they are from the rest of their family.  As one adoptee told me, “I was hard-wired very differently from everyone else in the family.”

This is going to happen.  It happens in biological families, but it happens with more frequency in families where the gene pools of the children don’t come from the parents.  For years adoptive parents were surprised at this, but in recent years we’ve learned that environment does not cancel out heredity.  Nurture can do just so much.  As the saying goes, “Don’t argue with Mother Nature.”

Adoptive families are in a wonderful position to deal with this.  Actually, all families should handle each child as the unique person they are – or can become.  But, in adoptive families it is so obvious.  In biological families there is a tendency to look at your own family limitations and project these onto your biological children.  Such as, “We have no one in our family who is musical, or athletic, or a scientist, and so on.” Every parent should look at the potential in each of their children and nurture it.  A very important factor – emphasize to your children that every human being on this earth is in charge of who they will become.  Parentage and heritage may be a factor, but the joy of life is in exploration and discovery.  We need to tell our children that they will always be loved as a member of our family, and being just like us is not necessary.  What an opportunity we as adoptive parents have, not knowing the family perimeters or limitations of our children.  The world is open to them and to us.  The sky’s the limit!

No child should ever be made to feel they have to stifle their personal potential because they are a substitute for another child.


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