Category Archives: adoptee anger

Look Beneath Your Adopted & Foster Child’s Smile on the First Day of School

Scan0005Parents, when the first day of school comes and the big yellow bus pulls up, I bet you’ll have a huge lump in your throat.

Yes, summer was hectic, but in a good way. Am I not right? You’ve probably been busier than a one-armed paperhanger getting everything ready to send your child off, but it’s all good for that kid you adore.

Who was it that said, “Parenting is a lifetime of letting go?” In my seventh decade of life, I am still letting go as a mom and Mimi.

Hey, there’s something I’ve gotta share with you before that first day of school.

It’s something that most parents don’t know. It’s not talked about in your training by social workers, yet it is incredibly real for adopted and foster children when entering new situations.

I know…because I am an adopted person.

And, because I know, I want you to know. You and your children are my passion. I want you to be as connected and close as is humanly possible.

Decades ago, on my first day of second grade, we drove to the Kirvan’s house for an official photo of all us neighborhood kids.

I am the smiley one on the far right, with the front teeth missing.

A picture of confidence, right? It looks like I could hardly wait to meet my new teacher and classmates.

Looking Beneath the Smile

However, beneath the big smile is panic and fear of new places. New situations. New people.

The unknown!

Looking back, my thoughts would have been like this:

    • What will my teacher be like?
    • Will she know that I was adopted, or that I am a foster kid?
    • Where will I sit?
    • Will there be a place for me?
    • What will the kids be like?
    • Will my teacher find out I’m not very smart?
    • Will I be able to not get mad?
    • Will I be able to not have a meltdown?

Parents, going into a strange, new place is a huge trigger for your adopted or foster child. New places make our hearts beat fast and our mouths get dry, like cotton. Our bodies may tense as we go to our “happy place” (numbed out).

Personally, every new situation feels like I’ve been thrown in the deep end of the pool, with no swimming skills. My adoption, marriage, mothering, grand mothering, etc.

What Parents Can Do

So, what can a parent do? You probably feel helpless, but you’re not.

First, talk. Talk openly and directly to your child about possible fears. Use my list if you like, for a springboard. Your child wants you to ask. Be proactive!

Second, affirm, affirm, affirm any emotion or statement your child makes. Validate her emotional reality. “It’s alright that you feel so scared.”

Third, become your child’s number one cheerleader in life. Study him like a precious jewel so that you can storm heaven’s gates on his behalf. And, let him know you’re doing this for him.

And, forth…assure your child that God will turn that fear into faith. Teach her that those with the greatest fears have the deepest potential for faith.

I’ll be thinking of you in the days ahead, parents.

Why Do Adoptees Overextend Themselves?

I could just hear Bob saying, “You didn’t have to do that, Sherrie.”

Such a familiar phrase.

He said it when:

  • I accompanied a fellow adoptee up the steps of the Indiana Capitol building when I was just 10 days out of knee replacement surgery.
  • I invited neighbors in for wine and cheese on the day I got home from my second knee replacement.

You, see, I love to give, give, give.

I give because I want others to feel special or to help lift a heavy burden from their shoulders.

That’s my nature.


I also overextend, go the extra mile, and do what my heart tells me.

Just about every fellow adoptee I know has similar desires. My friend, Jody, and I laughed at ourselves one evening long ago when we gathered for a meeting. We were the only ones that brought a gift and we wondered at the time if that trait is characteristic of many adoptees.

Why is it that we are such givers? Why do we over-extend ourselves? Why do we work like dogs?

No matter what the cost, be it rain or shine, by golly, we will be there. We are as faithful as the day is long.

You Didn’t Have to Do That

Yesterday, I was reminded of Bob’s admonition.

While preparing for a meeting at our home, I baked homemade blueberry muffins, washed and used my mom’s china tea cups, picked fresh flowers from the garden, and served salami, cheese, and crackers because the meeting went longer than expected.

The dear women who attended didn’t care if we sipped coffee out of mom’s china tea cups.  They didn’t care if the muffins were homemade. They were simply there to start planning a community outreach.

But, I cared!

Big time.

Aha! I think we’re getting down to some issues.

Addictive Thinking

First, I get an absolute “high” when I use mom’s tea cups or bake homemade muffins. It is my way of saying, “You are special.”

The high?

That can be characteristic of addictive thinking.

Second, why am I exhausted after over giving? Why am I spent? Isn’t that what God calls us to do and be? To love others more than we love ourselves.

No…God says to love others as we love ourselves.

Because I care more about the needs of others than I do my own. I sacrifice my health for others. I would get zero on a quiz about self care.

But, what if others don’t feel special or know that burdens have lifted?


Honestly, in my exhaustion, I get mad. Really mad.

Over the years of being an over-giver, I have discovered that when I am in need, people don’t serve me coffee in their mom’s china tea cups. They don’t accompany me by post-op hobbling up Capitol steps.  Nor, do they come bringing wine and cheese when I’m a few days out of knee replacement surgery.

They never meet my expectations.

How could others be so unthoughtful?

I expected tit for tat. I thought if I did it for them, then they would certainly do it for me.

That is stinking thinking.

I believe what our hearts are saying, fellow adoptees, is: ” I want to feel special. I am the one that needs help, not only up Capitol steps, but every step of the way. I am the one who wants to have wine and cheese brought to me.

Someday, that will happen.

Jesus is preparing something phenomenal for those that love Him–a wedding banquet in heaven.

And, in my adoptee heart, I believe He’ll be serving coffee… in exquisite china tea cups.

I’ll feel special, not because of the tea cups, but because of the nail-scarred hands that pour the heavenly coffee.

I can’t wait!





Tips for Adoptee Birthdays

Here is a You Tube video on adoptee birthdays!

Forgiveness A Command, Reconciliation An Option?

The longer I walk this journey called adoption, the stronger my belief is that the key–the whole key–to being healthy and thriving, to having a cup brimming over with joy, is to learn to forgive.

We all need to learn what true forgiveness means. You will be surprised.

We all need to learn what true forgiveness means. You will be surprised.

How I wish I would have known some of the things I’ve learned lately about forgiveness and reconciliation. In Dr. Henry Townsend’s book Forgiving the Unforgivable, he clarifies the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Forgiveness is an act of obedience for Christians. Reconciliation, however, is not the same as forgiveness. Reconciliation is an option for those like myself who met a cruel birth mother. We don’t need to keep trying to reconcile. I came to the conclusion with my mother that I was banging my head against a brick wall. We don’t have to do that, fellow adoptees!

We can shake the dust off our feet and go on with an overflowing cup….as in “my cup runneth over.”

Dr. Townsend gives about a ten-question quiz about forgiveness. It’s true/false. I’ll be sharing some of that next week!

In the meantime, stay well and safe!

To leave a reply, scroll down below verbiage to the black box.

What If Your Adoption Glass Is Half Empty?

If our adoption glass is half empty, we’ll be growing something in our hearts that is downright malicious. Something unseen and destructive. Something that keeps us from growing and moving toward maturity. Something that keeps us looking at life in a distorted way.

We will fight for our rights to be heard and even become somewhat militaristic. We will make loss our focus and all the while, we will be growing a deep root of bitterness inside, resulting in anger, rage, depression, guilt, and self-loathing. Not a pretty picture or healthy life.


I propose becoming “fair and balanced.” Of course there is loss involved in adoption, but for every loss, there is a gain. The deepest losses should produce the highest gains.

Just for fun, trying reversing the loss issues in your life and see if you can make a list of gains.

You may be pleasantly surprised when you’re done!

And, how I would love it if you shared some gains here (black box way down after verbiage).

Is Your Adoption Glass Half Empty or Half Full?


If you were to appraise your perspective on adoption in general, would your cup be half empty or half full?
We’ve done such a good job in the adoption community defining the primal wound, the profound wound, the hard place, the trauma…but do we need to stay there?
It seems to me that the adoption community at large is at the half empty place and quite content to be there.
After all, it does feel good to have our wounds validated. At least we know we’re not crazy!
But are we to stay stuck in that place of woundedness forever?
From all I’ve been learning researching my upcoming book, the answer to that question is an absolute “no!” We are not meant to stay half empty. We are to move on.
The wound is the dark night of the soul, the rite of passage, that we must go through to reach maturity…and we all want that.
Where are you?
Is your glass half empty or full?
Share your thoughts here, okay?
(Scroll down past all the verbiage to the black box–that is the share box!)

I Need to Know the Truth About My Conception, Birth, and Family History, No Matter How Painful the Details May Be


The late Betty Jean Lifton, author of Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, describes the adoptee’s growing awareness of his desire to know more about his biological family as an awakening: “The act of adoption puts us under a spell that numbs our consciousness. When we awaken it startles us to realize we might have slept our lives away, floating and uprooted…The adoptee awakens when he or she realizes that not to know (who gave them birth) would be to live life without meaning. The curiosity has always been there, waiting to be released.”

Awakenings happen at various times for adoptees, sometimes and to some degree during childhood, often to a greater degree as the adoptee grows older. My greatest awakening was at mid-life, when I enrolled in a college writing class and was assigned to take a few facts, weave them together with historical data, and create a story. Since I only knew a few details about my birth family, I chose that as my topic.

This blog piece is drawn from Chapter 10 of Twenty Things Adopted Kids WIsh Their Adoptive Parents Knew

This blog piece is drawn from Chapter 10 of Twenty Things Adopted Kids WIsh Their Adoptive Parents Knew

I remember sitting for hours in the library, my head buried in the study cubicle, pouring over tattered, musty books describing maternity homes in the 1940’s. I learned of the awful stigma and shame society laid upon women experiencing untimely pregnancies. I learned about the vulnerability of married women whose husbands were off at war. Dark thoughts and emotions stirred in me and my heart began to weep for the birth mother I never knew.

For many adoptees, the need to find the birth family becomes all-consuming and an actual search begins. I grew relentless in my search for more information. I interviewed elderly nurses and found out what procedures were used during births. “What was my birth like for my mother…and for me?” “Was anyone there for my birth mother?” “Did she ever get to see me or hold me?”

I thought for the first time of the excruciating pain of having to give up a child, leave the hospital with empty arms, and go on with life as if nothing had happened. I longed to tell my birth mother that she had done the right thing. I wanted to let her know that I was all right.

Little by little, my birth family was coming to life in my psyche. Finally I realized what I had been searching for all my life: a connection to my “real” life–the real me–before I was adopted, and the whole truth about my past that would enable me to live my present more honestly and fully.

Going Through Home Again

As a parent you may be wondering, Why is it so important that our adopted child know the truth about her origins? What good will that do? Why put her through all that?

Author Carlye Marney, in Achieving Family Togetherness, once suggested that there are at least 80,000 generations behind each one of us, and that we are incapable of blessing ourselves or giving blessing to others until we are first able to bless our origins. Marney terms this process of blessing one’s origins “going through home again.”

Going through home again is no easy process for an adoptee, for her origins are often shrouded in secrecy. Secrecy about her conception, secrecy about her birth, and secrecy about her family history. How can she bless her origins if she doesn’t know what they are?

Webster’s says to bless means:
• to bestow good of any kind
• to honor, to beautify
• to be in favor of
• to endorse
• to smile upon
• to pardon.

Think about these words in regard to your child. I know you would agree on every point that this is what you want for her. You want her to be able to smile upon herself…to be in favor of herself…and ultimately to pardon others who may have given her a painful beginning. In other words, you want to implant in her a healthy self-esteem, regardless of her past history.

The saying, “When you know the truth, the truth will set you free,” is applicable here. I am reminded of a poster with the above verse and picture of a rag doll being pushed through an old-fashioned wringer. A good reminder that the truth is often painful.For example, when Cathy found out that she had been conceived in rape, her heart sunk at the sound of the words. She was one who therapist Dr. Randolph Severson, in To Bless Him Unaware, described as a “child whose life leapt into being through a degrading, terrifying act of sexual violation.” Cathy never imagined in her darkest fantasies that this could be a possibility. Yet it was her truth, and it led her to a greater truth: that something good came out of that terrible violation of her birth mother. That good thing was her. It also helped her learn about her birth mother and all that she had been through in order to give her life.

There may be many truths that will be difficult to tell your adopted child. Perhaps the birth mother was a crack addict. Perhaps there is a history of mental illness, neglect, or sexual abuse in the family.

Jeanine Jones, MSW, CCSW, and adoptive mother of seven said in an article appearing in Jewel Among Jewels Adoption News: “No, it is not a joyous time when your child wants to see all his information and you’re concerned that what he reads will hurt him. This is a time for honesty, compassion, and relationship building.”

Your child, at the appropriate age, can actually benefit from hearing painful information about his past because he will know that finally you are telling him the honest, gut-level truth. Kids are geniuses at detecting untruths. This giving of information doesn’t have so much to do with the truth about his past as it does with his relationship with you and with himself. He is learning to trust you at a deeper level and he is also developing self-esteem. He is possibly having some of the ugliest and most painful information about his past revealed by you, yet at the same time you are demonstrating that you love him just as he is.

As this relationship of trust and love deepens, he can decide what he wants to do about the option of searching for more facts or for birth family members. Whether or not he goes ahead with an actual search, the relationship between you and him will have grown tremendously.

How to Know When Your Child Is Searching

Now I am beginning to see the necessity of the adoptee going through home again, as well as the challenge, you may be thinking. Are there any behaviors I can look for in my child to know if he is wanting to go through home again?

Yes, there will be behaviors that will help you know if your child is inwardly heading in that direction. Learn to listen, as you have been, with your heart. Keep in mind the wise words of Drs. Brodzinsky and Schecter from their book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self. These doctors have thirty years combined experience in dealing with adopted children. When asked what percent of adoptees search for their birth parents, their answer was one hundred percent. “In our experience,” they said, “all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search nonetheless.”
Sometimes the adoptee’s desire to go through home again is subtle or masked. Following are some ways adoptees may express their unspoken need.

For children:

• The search begins in their imagination, through the telling of fairy tales and stories.
• Can show up as early as three years old through play. (Look particularly for themes of loss and rescue–lost animals, lost children, etc.)
• After you tell her about her adoption, she asks, “Why did it happen?”
• She may wonder where her birth parents are now. “Where are they?” “Will she come and see me someday?”

For adults:

• “You can take a dog to a vet and find out what kind he is, but I can’t even find out what my heritage is.”
• “I wish I could tell her (birth mother) how much I love her for bringing me into the world.”
• “Meeting my birth father was validating for who I am.”
• “Now that I have met her (birth mother), I know how to be.”
• “Knowing your birth family gives you a point of reference.”
The truth can and probably will be painful for the adoptee, but most of us want it all. We want truth on every level–physical, emotional, and spiritual.

What Parents Can Do

At the earliest age possible, introduce information about the birth family. The words “birth mother” and “birth family” shouldn’t be some strange term imposed on the child later in life. Instead, the child’s history should be presented in terms which even the pre-schooler can understand. I am so glad your birth mommy gave you to us to love. Maybe it was your birth mommy who gave you that beautiful curly hair!
Vicky remembers her mother’s anxiety about the subject of her birth mother. On the night before she was married, her mother nervously revealed her birth mother’s name and the few facts she knew about the birth family’s history. “Not only did it seem awkward and out of place, but it felt like a betrayal,” Vicky said. “Why didn’t she tell me earlier? Why did she withhold something so vital to my well-being? It also created feelings of shame. Was there something awful about my past or me that made her so nervous?”

It wasn’t until many years later that Vicky learned that her birth mother had been raped. She was confident am sure her adoptive mother was aware of this because her grandmother was the social worker who handled her private adoption.
“If my mother had shared that information with me earlier in life, I am sure I could have handled it,” Vicky said. “Yes, it would have been painful. Yes, it probably would have created more questions about my history, but it would have empowered me to be able to trust and love my adoptive mother more.”

Vicky realizes the toll it took on her. “Because I was not given the painful details of my conception until I was forty-three years old, it took me a lot of time and energy to be able to separate the circumstances of my conception from who I am as a person. For years after finding out the circumstances, I said that ‘I was conceived in rape.’ Whenever I said those words, my soul flooded with shame and sadness. One day I realized that I was carrying the pain and shame of my birthmother. After that I learned to simply say ‘my mother was raped.’ That removed the incessant shame from me and enabled me to love my birth mother more.”

What a gift you would be giving to your child by sharing all of his history with him as the time arises. You would be able to help him work through the complex task of separating the painful circumstances from his who he is as a person.
I am not advocating that you sit down with your four-year-old child and share the negative aspects of his conception and birth, but I am advocating answering his questions honestly whenever the opportunity arises.
Let the child lead. You will know when the time is right because he will begin to ask questions. Expect questions about his birth mother as early as age three. Adoption may seem like a wonderful thing to your pre-school child, but when he reaches school age, he will begin to realize that to be chosen means that he was first rejected by someone. Why didn’t my birthmother want me? Where is my birthmother now? Did you ever meet her? Do you think that she would like me if she knew me now?

I cringe when saying the word “rejection” because it sheds an unfavorable light on the birthmother and her decision to relinquish. This is not my intent. However, it is important to realize that relinquishment translates to the adoptee as rejection no matter how much the birth mother loved him. This is the adoptee’s emotional reality and probably the point at which his questioning will occur.

Think through possible scenarios of how you will answer your child’s questions before he becomes curious. When the time comes, your confidence and serenity will let him know that it is okay to ask questions and express his true feelings.

You probably will not have all the answers to his questions, especially if you adopted internationally. Nevertheless, he can learn to have a settled peace about his origins knowing that in this life there will always be unanswered questions.
Learn to listen to your child’s spoken and unspoken messages. This will clue you in to what part of the information upsets him. “You’ve got to be kidding?” “Oh, no way.” “That is horrible.” “I don’t want to hear any more.” These are indications that he has digested all the information he can at this particular time. What are the non-verbals? Remember that this is your first avenue of communication before words. Does he throw up his hands in utter disbelief? Does he get a far-away look in his eyes or drift off into a catatonic stare? Does he swallow hard? Does his body stiffen? If so, pay close attention. If he stares, he is likely frozen in fear. If he is swallowing hard, he may be overwhelmed. If his body stiffens, he may be communicating that he just can’t tolerate any more.

Remember that adoption is a life-long journey. Questions about his birth and birth family will surface at each developmental stage of life. Times of change–going to high school, leaving home for college, getting married and having children of his own, mid-life, old age–will often be the precursor to history issues resurfacing. However, the information you have already given him will not be a millstone around his neck; rather, it will provide him with a context to learn deeper lessons about what it means to be adopted. Ultimately, growth will occur.

You probably would agree that “going through home again” by learning birth history is not an easy task for most adoptees. Some adoptees have no desire to learn anything beyond the adoption story. However, when your child expresses his need to go through home and learn what he can about his past, no matter how painful the details, trust his instincts. The end result may well be that he will finally be able to look back on his past with pardon and upon himself with favor.

Copyright 1999, Sherrie Eldridge, Random House Publishing. No reprinting without permission of author.

Why Adoptee Birthdays May Be Difficult and What Parents Can Do

Sometimes birthdays are hard for me."

“Sometimes birthdays are hard for me.”

It’s a bright and sunny fourth day of August, back in the year 1950. In a back yard on Oakland Street, preparations are underway for a birthday party for a seven-year-old named Sharon Lee.
That’s me.
Dad and Mom move the picnic table to a shady spot under the big oak tree and then cover it with a colorful paper tablecloth. As Mom stirs the red Koolaid into the green and white polka-dot pitcher, her mind wanders back to adoption day and how thrilled she and Dad were when I came to live with them when I was only ten days old. Mom is determined to make this a special birthday, as she does every year. Nothing but the best for her daughter will do.
The kids arrive for the party one by one, dressed in their Sunday best, each carrying a gift. Giggles permeate the air. Hot dogs and chips are soon served and then it’s time for the cake. Mom quickly lights the candles in the kitchen and carries the cake outside singing, Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Sherrie, happy birthday to you! My friends join in the singing.
As Mom sets the decorated cake in front of me, my eyes get as wide as saucers. I jump up from my seat on the picnic table and dart in the back door, crying.
Strange behavior, you may be thinking. What kid wouldn’t want to be in your shoes? You had it made.
As you will soon discover, this was only the beginning.

Patterns that Begin Early in Life

The preceding reaction became my pattern for future birthdays. I would greatly anticipate them but then be overwhelmed with a mixture inexplicable feelings. Every year I ended up sabotaging the very event I was excited about.
Stay with me and fast forward your thinking to 1960. I am now fifteen and my parents ask what I would like to do for my birthday. Dad and Mom would have bent over backwards to make this a memorable birthday. They loved me so much.
I don’t want a party. I don’t like being the center of attention. I opt instead to go with my parents to a pricey restaurant in East Lansing for dinner.
After ordering our food, I feel crabby (this was how Mom described my moodiness). My parents don’t know what has come over me. They don’t understand my behavior and neither do I. The twenty-mile trip home is long and silent.
I feel so guilty for being crabby. What is wrong with me? I ask myself. How ungrateful can I be?
Now fast forward to 1970, I am a young married woman with two small children, ages two and four. It’s my twenty-fifth birthday and I decide to invite my parents to our home to help celebrate.
When they arrive, they’re carrying a pantsuit which I had admired in a hometown store window.
“Wow! What a present!” I exclaim.
Later in the afternoon, my husband and dad go out to play golf. As the hours tick by, I get angrier and angrier. How could they be so insensitive to me on my birthday? I fume. When they arrive a few hours later, I let them know of my displeasure in no uncertain terms. You could have cut the air with a knife!
The family is perplexed, to say the least. My parents have come all the way from Michigan to celebrate, they have surprised me with the clothing I admired, and my husband and children are planning dinner. What more could I ask for? But in spite of everything given to me, I am angry, critical, and disappointed.
One last time, fast forward to August 4, 1995. It is my fiftieth birthday–a milestone. I anticipate it with great excitement. Instead of having a party with friends, I request a “card shower” from friends across the country. That way, I won’t have to be the center of attention.
From my husband, I ask for a gold diamond “Mother’s bracelet” and for food to be prepared from my favorite restaurant for an intimate family gathering. Not too tall of an order, right?
All day long prior to the party, I feel anxious. Knowing weeks ahead of time that it is going to be a difficult day for me, I schedule an appointment with my therapist, remarking to the doctor’s secretary that my birthday is a difficult day for me.
“Sad on that day?” she questions. “Birthdays are supposed to be a happy day.”
What’s wrong with me? I wonder. Why are birthdays such a bummer for me?
The counseling appointment turns out to be a disappointment. Talking about my feelings to a professional doesn’t seem to help the chaos I feel inside.
Later that day, the family gathers for the meal which my husband has arranged. I open their cards and gifts, feeling nervous and self-conscious. Why would I feel nervous and self-conscious with my own family? I ask myself.
When the party is over and my husband and I are driving home, I begin criticizing him for not doing enough. Why was he so preoccupied? Why didn’t he show me more attention? Why? Why? Why?
Poor guy. He had given everything I asked for and then some. I feel angry, sad, and guilty all at the same time.
It is embarrassing to give you a glimpse of my birthday history, but I do so to illustrate some of the internal dynamics that many adoptees experience on their birthdays.
“I had no idea,” I’ll bet you are saying. Why is it that birthdays are so difficult for some adoptees?

Why Birthdays May Be Difficult

Let’s back up for a moment and think about the concept of birthdays. What does a birthday represent for the non-adopted person? For most, it’s a happy time, built on the foundation of being welcomed into the world. A time for birthday cakes, parties, and balloons.
Now consider an adoptee’s birthday. What does a birthday represent for him? It represents the day of his greatest loss, the day he lost his birth mother and all that was familiar. It was not only his birthday, but his loss-day.
For the child who was adopted later in childhood, it reminds him of the wrenching-apart day–the day that the past, as he knew it, was to be no longer. For the baby adopted as an infant, the loss happened before he had words to describe it, but it was real, nonetheless. The present-day birthday serves as a trigger, reminding him of past loss.
Nancy Verrier says in The Primal Wound of the child adopted at birth, “There seems to be an anniversary reaction (also felt by the birth mother), which sends many adoptees into despair around their birthdays… is it any wonder that many adoptees sabotage their birthday parties? Why would one want to celebrate the day they were separated from their birth mothers? The adoptees, of course, have probably never really understood, themselves, why they do this.”
With the best of intentions, those who love the adoptee celebrate the day as if she were a non-adopted person. However, in the midst of the parties, in the midst of the celebration, many adoptees feel churned up inside. They know they are supposed to be happy, but a nagging thought plagues them: “I wonder if she (the birth mother) is thinking about me today. If she does on any day of the year, certainly it would be today.”
Weighing heavily upon the adoptee as well are society’s romanticized views of adoption. Be happy. Be grateful you have a family. Don’t disappoint your parents.
The adoptee’s response to all of the above? More often than not, he slips into the role of the “good adoptee,” following through with what others expect. Shoved aside is his true self, sometimes wanting only to cry and be comforted. Or he does what I did by acting out my chaotic feelings and sabotaging everyone’s effort to show me love.
I don’t know about this, you may be thinking. I have never witnessed these behaviors in my child. Maybe not, but before you reach any conclusions, listen to the experts–adoptees themselves–and hear what they have to say.

What Adoptees Say About Birthdays

Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher describe a scene between a three-year-old and her adoptive mother in Talking with Young Children About Adoption:
“Is she coming? Is my lady coming?” the child asks.
“Which lady?” the mother asks.
“You know,” child replies, “the lady I grew inside. It’s my birthday, isn’t it?”
“I purposely go out of town on my birthday because I don’t want any attention,” said a thirty-year-old male adoptee. “So I was born. Big deal. I don’t want any attention.”
“I hate my birthday,” Trisha confessed to her support group.
Reflecting on his teen years, Bob said, “Birthdays made me feel awkward when I was an adolescent.”
Dan said that birthdays were always bittersweet for him. As a child, he said he felt like he was living in a gap, or a changing room. Birthdays were a time when he remembered his birth mother and felt like the two of them were kindred spirits. Whenever he communicated these thoughts to his adoptive family, they had difficulty relating to what he was trying to say. He confessed, “On birthdays, I wished I could have been a better child for my adoptive parents.”
When Sarah turned eighteen, she felt very melancholy as she thought about her birth mother. All day Sarah ruminated: “I wonder what she is thinking.”
“My birthday is the blackest day of my year,” Melinda said. “My husband would always know because I would either lay in bed at night and cry or soak in the tub and sob. I wondered if my birth mother knew what today was.”
Beth says, “As I look back at my childhood, I think I felt the uninvited guest at my own party. I was there but disassociated. I was in the midst of some kind of script and moved through it, but without any heart, without any sense of connection or aliveness. I’m not sure why I cringe when I hear about the celebrations of Adoption Day. For me, the joining with a new family carries with it the separation from another family. This is a gigantic double bind: celebrating joining and simultaneously grieve leaving. I think this is impossible.
“As an adult, when I came to realize the hopelessness of trying, trying, trying to enjoy a birthday party, for a few years I allowed myself to do whatever pleased me on my birthday. One year I asked a friend to reserve the day. I knew that she would be with me if I just wanted to sit and stare, if I cried, if I wanted to get out of the city and cruise the countryside. She would simply support me in being. If friends wanted to take me out for lunch… whatever… we did that on a day other than the anniversary of my birth.
“Now, after much therapy and after being at the births of four of my grandchildren, I can genuinely celebrate my birthday. It took a lot of work on my part to be able to be glad I was born!”
Even though your adoptee may not verbalize similar thoughts and feelings, she may feel like the adoptees just cited. Of all the adoptees I have met, there is only a small minority that couldn’t identify with some of the above statements.
Why isn’t this written about in adoption literature? you may be wondering. Good question! I believe that for the most part it is uncharted territory. Perhaps that’s because adoptees rarely, if ever, talk about it, and parents or caring therapists might not have a clue that it is a problem.

What Parents Can Do

This blog post is drawn from the book Twenty Things Adopted Kids WIsh, Chapter 18

This blog post is drawn from the book Twenty Things Adopted Kids WIsh, Chapter 18

Recognize Distress Signals

Even though most adoptees don’t talk about it, I believe there are clues parents can look for in assessing whether their child is struggling with birthdays. Some of the symptoms you can look for in your child are:

• feeling sad and angry at the same time
• feeling like they can’t enjoy themselves
• trying extra-hard to please you
• wanting to run away and hide
• criticizing those who give gifts
• criticizing the gifts themselves
• feeling victimized by expressions of love–none of them are enough
• daydreaming (possibly wondering about birth mother)
• being disgusted with themselves for acting angry or critical
• feeling an unusual level of anxiety
• minimizing the importance of their birthday–“It’s is no big deal”
• sabotaging birthday celebrations
• depression
• withdrawal
• self-condemnation.

If your child demonstrates any of these symptoms of distress, respond in some of the validating and comforting ways you’ve learned in other chapters. But don’t look for problems where there are none. Not all adoptees have a difficult time on their birthday. Many aren’t phased at all.
One female adoptee said, “Mom always made everything so wonderful. One year she let me invite my whole fourth grade class to my birthday party.”
Twenty-seven year old Bill said that his parents celebrated both adoption and birthdays. “I felt like I had two birthdays. It was great.”

Establish Special Birthday Rituals

Bill said his mother established certain rituals that brought a sense of continuity and belonging for him. Special dinners with all the family members present. Celebrating adoption day as “miracle day”–the day they brought him home to be their own.
Another thing you may want to consider to help your child deal with the mixture of feelings is to pull the grief box off the shelf at birthday time and add another item–perhaps a birthday candle. Go through all the emotions described in an earlier chapter to help the child get in touch with her feelings. Then put the grief box up on the shelf until it is needed again. If using the grief box doesn’t seem appropriate, perhaps you could pull your child’s life book out and go through it from day one, reading the welcoming letter you wrote to your child.

Ask Questions
Ask questions of your child preceding and on his special day. “What would you like to do on your birthday?” “How are you feeling about your birthday approaching? Some adoptees feel sad or even angry on that day. Do you ever feel that way? If you do, it’s okay to talk about it with us. We will do our best to understand and help you work through the mixture of feelings.”

Give Your Child Extra Attention
Think about some of the things that soothe your child. If he likes back rubs, give him one. Children need to calm their bodies, which are keyed up with tension.
Beefing up bedtime rituals can also be soothing: an extra story, a massage, a night light, thinking together of some good dreams to have, or a tape recorder to play some favorite music.
There is no sure-fire way to predict how your child will handle birthdays, but at least now you will be sensitive to the possibility that he may have unspoken needs.
There is another topic that can bring up a myriad of emotions and experiences for the adoptee–that of not knowing his full medical history. We’ll examine that issue next.

Mother’s Day Tips for Rejected Adoptees

My birth mother

My birth mother

When I returned from my reunion with my birth mother twenty years ago and called to thank her for the visit, she announced to me that she wanted no more contact. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t anything written about this experience and I felt so ashamed and was sure the rejection was because of something I did.
So, for fellow adoptees who are struggling with rejection, here are a few tips:

• Know that you are not alone.
• Rejection by birth mothers is common amongst adoptees even though the media doesn’t report
• You didn’t do anything wrong.
• You didn’t cause your birth mother to reject you. No one can make another person do anything!
• You are not her. Just because she closed her heart doesn’t mean your personality and character are like her. Your are your own person.
• Get connected with other adoptees who will support you (
• Give your broken, disappointed heart to God and ask him to glue your soul back together.
• Walk with your head high on Mother’s Day, knowing that you faced and experienced your greatest fear and came through whole.

All-Adoptee ICU Signs of Recovery

Pam Kroskie, Sherrie, Beth Willis Miller, and Lisa Floyd at the All-Adoptee Boot Camp

Here are a few of the signs that adoptees have healed:
• “I have a unique life purpose…I can see how God is working in my life!”
• “I can now take rejection in stride!”
• “I can now see my adoption experience through God’s eyes!”

The link for the All-Adoptee Online Group is: This is valuable to adoptees, ages nine and up.


All-Adoptee ICU Success Stories

There’s nothing defective about adoptees! We just need a special kind of help.

Here is an amazing woman, Lisa Floyd. I included her interview last week in comments but it got buried. So, here it is again!

Here is an amazing woman, Lisa Floyd. I included her interview last week in comments but it got buried. So, here it is again!

Pam Dixon Kroskie, President of AAC

Pam Dixon Kroskie, President of AAC

Beth Willis Miller, co-author, writing specialist

Beth Willis Miller, co-author, writing specialist

An ICU for Hurting Adoptees?

Where can you take an adoptee for intensive help? If you go to the psych unit at the hospital, they don’t even mention adoption-related trauma as a possible issues of depression, anxiety, or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.


There is a place, online, where adoptees can go and be with other adoptees who’ve been where they are and who will help them identify what’s going on inside and how to navigate to health.
This group was a 501c3 and founded by Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network.
Order Here!
Here are some of the symptoms that indicate adoptees need an ICU:
• “I feel like something’s missing.”
• “I often feel like I don’t belong.”
• “I blow up easily and hurt others.”
• “I sometimes fantasize about my birth family.”
• “I am confused about my identity.”
• “I push myself to be perfect.”
• “I am terrified of rejection.”
• “I struggle with self-esteem.”
• “I get uptight whenever I think about meeting my birth family.”
To join the group, you must be an adoptee! Here’s the link:
Beth Willis Miller is the facilitator and does a wonderful job of reaching out to fellow adoptees. Thank you Beth for all you do!

Don’t Tell Anybody My Secret….I Was Adopted

“Was I a bad baby, Mom?” young Stephen asked after his parents told him about his adoption.
“Was there something wrong with me?…Is that why they didn’t want me?…Was I a bad baby?”
His parents, startled by Stephen’s poignant questions, gathered their composure and reassured their son that the “giving up” didn’t have anything to do with him. Yet when they explained that his birth mother was only thirteen years old when he was born and not ready to parent, he still silently wondered if there was something wrong with him.
As a teenager, he was filled with guilt and shame over what he imagined his birth mother had gone through because of him. He said, ” I was convinced that my birth mother must have been raped and therefore I was the result of some horrific event–an event that may very well have destroyed the life of a young girl. I felt that I was not worthy of happiness if my pain had caused severe pain for my young mother.”
Later in life when he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, he was convinced that his belief about himself was true after all: he was defective, a mistake.
What Stephen was dealing with was shame. Toxic shame. Shame that shouts deep into the soul, “There is something wrong with you!”
Many adoptees struggle with shame. Without intervention they will likely believe the reason for their adoption was because they were a bad baby/child.
“I hope my child isn’t silently struggling with shame,” I can hear you say. “If he is, how can I intervene and help him resolve it?”
In order to accomplish that task, it is important to understand exactly what shame is, where it originates, how the adoptee’s beliefs are affected by it, how they cope with it, and what can be done about it.

What Is Toxic Shame?

The dictionary defines shame as:
• the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, or ridiculous
• disgrace
• humiliation
• the mortification of being singled out for rebuke
• mortification of being humbled in the sight of others
• devaluation

If your child was relinquished for adoption as an infant, then one of her first experiences in life was being separated from everything safe and familiar: the presence of her mother. An infant cannot process the complex reasons behind this separation, of course, and interprets it as primal abandonment. At a core level, this perceived or actual rejection produces shame.
If your child was removed from her birth family at an older age, she may have put on a brave front and acted as if she could take anything. Her “I can handle it” demeanor, however, may only be a ruse to hide a deep sense of failure: They took me away from my mommy because I was bad. I should have been better. This belief is often tragically true even for children who were clearly victimized by their parents’ physical or sexual abuse and were removed for their own protection.
Because of their deep-seated fear of rejection, many adoptees try to manage that pain through people-pleasing or rebellion. If I do everything right, then they’ll love me and keep me. If I refuse to need their approval, then they can’t hurt me when they reject me.
How about your adopted child? Do you notice her being overly compliant, eager to please? Or does she tend to act out, setting herself up for the rejection she believes she deserves? Perhaps she is a combination of both, like the person who is “sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.”

Warning Signs for Shame

Warning Signs for Shame

If your child is compliant or rebellious, or flips back and forth between the two, consider what she might be trying to tell you in the only way she knows how:

• “I feel overwhelmed.”
• “My cup of fear is brimming over.”
• “I am trying to manage my fear of rejection.”
• “I must prevent further hurt, no matter what it costs me.”
• “I am convinced that it is only a matter of time until you discover there is something wrong with me.”
• “I am afraid there has been something wrong with me all along.”

In other words, the thoughts that motivate your child’s behavior may be shame-based. Unless you can uncover her illegitimate shame and replace it with the truth, she may suffer great psychic pain, live in fear, or create constant chaos in the family. Not all adoptees experience shame to such a degree, of course, but if your child seems more compliant or rebellious than the norm, then you’ll want to consider what may be driving her.

Exposing Toxic Shame

Many adult adoptees I’ve spoken with now realize that they were saying to themselves as children: “My birth mother gave me up because I was a bad baby, so I must do whatever I can to be good. If I don’t, my adoptive parents will reject me too.”
Their belief manifested in these “pleasing” behaviors:

• “I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed in me. I worked overtime at being the model child.”
• “I felt compelled to pay back kindness when others gave to me.”
• “I acted shy.”
• “I was ultra-sensitive to other people’s feelings.”
• “I was afraid of being seen as bad or selfish.”
• “I tried to be perfect.”
• “I let others push me around.”
• “I made it a point to find out what others expected and then to adjust my behavior accordingly. When they said ‘jump,’ I asked ‘how high?’”
• “I beat myself up constantly.”
The compliant aspect of the adoptee’s behavior is often difficult for parents to discern, for it can seem like everything is fine outwardly, when in reality there is emotional turmoil inside. As mentioned in a previous chapter, you must discern whether your child’s “strength” is coming from a place of health or hurt.

Why is she stealing from the neighbor's house? We've given her everything.

Why is she stealing from the neighbor’s house? We’ve given her everything.

In contrast, adult adoptees looking back on their rebellion said they once reasoned: “My birth mother gave me up because I was a bad baby, therefore, I will act like the loser I really am.”
Behaviors that indicate these beliefs are:

• stealing
• wanting to run away, or actually doing it
• rage
• setting fires
• physically attacking adoptive parents
• promiscuity
• becoming pregnant out of wedlock
• rejecting others (“I won’t be the one rejected first.”)
• hurting others (“I’ll hurt you before you can hurt me.”)
• acting tough (“I can take anything life dishes out.”)
• eating disorders
• suicide. (Contact for clinical help)

If your child displays both compliance and rebellion, then she may be popular at school, voted prom queen by her peers, but come home with the statement every parent dreads: “Mom, Dad…I’m pregnant.” Or she may be winsome and charming with others while impossible to live with at home.

What Parents Can Do

Learning about your child’s toxic shame might feel overwhelming and unconquerable, but that is not the case. Here are some things you can do to bring your child’s illegitimate beliefs about himself out into the light of day and then help him dump his toxic shame where it belongs: in the garbage, far, far away from his precious soul.

Teach Him How to Detect Shameful Thoughts

When your child is young, you can challenge declarations of toxic shame on your child’s behalf.
“Me bad baby, Mom? Is that why they gave me away?”
“No, sweetheart, they gave you away because they weren’t able to be parents. It’s hard to understand, isn’t it?”
As your child grows older, it’s not enough for you to know the symptoms of toxic shame; you must teach your child how to identify them as well. Thus, when you hear a shameful thought, challenge it.
“Mom, I am such a loser.”
“I detect shame in that view of yourself, do you? Remember what shame is? It is believing there is something bad about you as a person. Those are the kind of thoughts you must challenge within yourself. I hope when these kinds of thoughts come to mind, you will say to yourself, ‘That thought is not true. I am an incredible person.'”

Write a Welcome Letter

Another way you can help heal your child’s toxic shame is to write her a letter, affirming her “welcomeness” into the world and into your family. Your child needs to hear again and again “You are/were welcome. Even though we weren’t there on the day you were born, our hearts were saying, ‘Welcome to the world, little one.’ We longed to have you as our child long before you were born. You are a gift to us.”
You could make this letter the first entry in your child’s life book, reminding her whenever her birth or adoption story is told of her place in the world and specifically in your family.

Affirm Your Child’s Value

I remember one time in the midst of my counseling process, when my counselor put an arm around me as I was walking out after a session and said, “You really are wonderful, you know.” Her declaration took me by surprise. I had never heard those specific words directly applied to me.
Your child needs to hear your specific affirmations of his value. “You are an awesome guy.” “You are wonderful!”
If you are a person of faith, you will also want to teach your child that she is part of God’s creation and that God doesn’t make mistakes. “God created you and loves you just as you are. So do we.”

Laugh at Yourself
Renowned author and speaker John Bradshaw says in Homecoming: “Toxic shame forces us to be more than human (perfect) or less than human (a slob). Healthy shame allows you us to make mistakes, which are an integral part of being human.”
The best way you as an adoptive parent can help free your child from toxic shame is to learn to laugh at your own foibles and mistakes. Because your child may believe she is a mistake, she needs you to model for her that being human is okay. Show her your humanity. Tell her when you blow it. Help her see that people don’t deserve to be rejected just because they’re alive. Teach her the joy of forgiving, being forgiven, and forgiving herself. Before you know it, she will be following suit.

Copyright,1999, Sherrie Eldridge, Chapter 11 Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew.

Adoptees Ready to Launch?

Eaglet--"I don't like this nest anymore. I wanna be me. I know I can fly."

Adoptee Eaglet–“I don’t like this nest anymore. I wanna be me. I know I can fly.”

Children want and need to become their own persons. Adopted kids seek autonomy, too, while at the same time needing a safe place to verbalize the conflicting emotions that being adopted often evokes.
The task of individuating for the adopted child is unique as well as complex, for it involves the dual-identity once again. With each step the adoptee takes toward independence, she becomes more conscious of her pre-adoption past. For her to “separate” from you might feel more traumatic because she has already been separated against her will from her birth parents and they never came back (unless is was an open adoption, of course). That initial shock predisposed her to struggle with healthy separation more than the non-adopted child does.

The Struggle Toward Autonomy

There are various signs along the way that will alert you to the fact that your child is trying to take another step toward becoming his own person, different from you. He may make challenging statements like, “My real mother would let me do this.” He may begin to think more about his birth family: “I wonder if they are still alive.” “I wonder if they would like me.” “I am interested in finding out more about them.” “I wish I could meet them.”
Fundamental questions about his identity may surface. “Who am I?” “Who am I in relation to adoption?” “Is there a purpose to my life? If so, what is it?” Emotions may surge. Robin, sixteen, said, “When I became a teenager, my need for independence arrived overnight and I withdrew from my family and became promiscuous. I was irate at the curfews my parents set.” Teens may launch out and try different friendships (other than the kind you would desire), in search of the kind of relationships they really want.

Is it scary out in the big world?

Is it scary out in the big world?

Prepare yourself for other comments that indicate your child’s movement toward autonomy:
• “Why is my skin different than yours?”
• “People in a real family match.”
• “You are not my real family.”
• “You are just my adoptive mother.”
• “You are sort of my daddy.”
• “I wonder what my real parents look like.”
• “Real families are defined by blood ties.”
• “I’m pregnant.”
Sometimes statements like these are hurled in anger because anger is usually part of an adopted child’s process of facing the parts of her life and herself that she has lost. If your child becomes hostile at times, you may be tempted to doubt yourself and your parenting capabilities, but resist the temptation! Remember that the upheaval has nothing to do with you or your parenting, but everything to do with your child coming to know herself more completely.

What the Adoptee Is Trying to Communicate

Realize that beneath surging emotions, startling statements, and identity issues are questions related to your child’s pre-adoption past. He is trying to integrate it with his present-day life. He has a multifaceted identity to weave, and he oftentimes has trouble communicating that.
Here are a few examples of what your child might be trying to communicate when he makes comments like the ones above:

• Families are defined by blood ties./Where do I belong?
• You are just my adoptive mother./Who is my birth mother?
• You are not my real family./ I am realizing I have a dual heritage.
• I wonder what my birth family looks like./ Do I look like anybody?
• My real mother would let me do that./I have a fantasy mother.
• My birth mommy gave me up because she loved me./ Will you give me up too? Is it really good to be loved?
• My other mommy gave me away because I was a bad baby./ Did my birth mother love me?
• You are sort of my daddy./I am realizing I have two daddies.
• I don’t want to tell my adoption story at school this year./I want to be “normal”–not adopted. I feel sad.
• I’m pregnant./I am trying to connect with my birth mother in the only way I know how./I have unresolved feelings of loss.

If only parents could be so confident in their parenting that they could let these statements roll like water off a duck’s back. But the truth is that these bold declarations often hit them in their most vulnerable spot. Fisher and Watkins, in Talking with Young Children About Adoption, describe this vulnerability: “For many adoptive parents this vulnerable spot is the fear that, lacking the tie of blood, the child will not merely differentiate from the parents but will leave them in some final way. The parents fear being orphaned by the child.”
Could this fear somehow describe you? If you did some honest soul searching, would you have to admit that you are scared to death of losing your beloved child?
Let me assure you that your fear is normal. Understanding this about yourself is vital if you are to be that emotional haven for your child and encourage his healthy and necessary movement toward individuation.

What Parents Can Do

Reassure Your Child

Because the normal childhood process of individuating might be rocky for your child at times, she needs added reassurance from you that you will be there for her if she feels overwhelmed. Just a few words that will acknowledge her emotional reality will comfort her: “We know new situations are often difficult for you. We just want to remind you that you can call us whenever you feel overwhelmed or lonely. We will be there for you.”
Reassuring words can be communicated in less direct ways as well. When our daughters were growing up, our family used to leave notes on one another’s pillows when there was a special message to be communicated.
Touch can be another way of demonstrating your understanding. An arm around her waist, a touch on his shoulder, a wink of the eye will communicate what words sometimes cannot.

Remain Calm

When surging emotions and startling stat are hurled, try to keep your cool. This will communicate unspoken strength to your child and will help him gravitate toward wholeness instead of rage. If he can draw you into the cyclone of emotions, the chaos has won.
I am reminded of the illustration of one person trying to help another that is in a deep pit. The helper doesn’t get down in the pit. Instead he holds onto something strong, reaches down to the one in the pit, and gradually helps him out. “I realize you are having a difficult time right now. If you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.” “How might I help you? Remember, I’m on your team.”

(Adapted from Chapter 7: Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew

« Older Entries