Debunking Adoption Myths

Society's portrayal of adoption often does not match the reality.


Adoption is a lifelong process that creates families with unique stories. Yet, there is a lot of misinformation about this process and the impact it has on those involved. Here are three myths about adoption often harbored both by adoptive parents and the people around them.

Adoptees are Lucky

Adoption stories are often written by the adoptive parents and they are focused on the process of finding and bringing a longed-for child home. These stories have a happy ending.

Yet by calling adopted kids “lucky,” we dismiss challenges they keep facing after the adoption. We miss the chance to acknowledge the trauma these children experience. Changing homes and guardians is difficult, especially for young children who do not fully understand why all this is happening.

While adoption can be a very positive thing for many kids, it’s still complicated. Some adoptees might feel quite a pressure to appear happy and grateful, to avoid hurting their adoptive families or giving adoption as a whole bad name. After all, in popular culture adoption is often shown as a reward for hardships, both for the child and for the adoptive parents who waited for this for so long.

Adoptive parents aren’t saviors and adoption isn’t a triumph over adversity.  Adoptive parents are just that – parents, as loving, as wonderful, and as flawed as any parent can be. Adoption is just the beginning of a unique story with its own ups and downs, challenges and rewards, sadness and joy.

For many adopted children, being an adoptee becomes a part of their identity, just like race or gender. Not because adoptive parents were, in any way, not enough – of course not – but because that permeates many things and experiences in their life.

Race Doesn't Matter

What do differences matter when you have so much love to give? Loving care helps to create strong bonds within the most diverse families. However, that also means you have a responsibility to keep difficult ongoing conversations about race and ethnicity with your beloved children and be their closest allies in a world that might point out the differences that don’t matter to you in a straightforward way.

Consider your extended family, social circle, and neighborhood and do everything you can so that the child of different ethnicity can feel comfortable and accepted. Be realistic and do this work because it is important for the wellbeing of your child. Instead of simply shielding him or her, prepare and empower.

Understand that even if you have done everything to celebrate their birth culture, to make them keep in touch with their community, and provide role models in whom they can see their reflection, it will still be hard for them. Racial and cultural connectedness is a complicated thing. Some of their peers will still drop phrases like “You aren’t really black/Asian/brown”, while some people will keep complimenting them on their English and ask “Yes, but where are you really from?” Don’t leave them alone in their quest for identity; be ready to support them.

A Fresh Start Means a Clean Slate

Even when adopted as babies, adoptees may challenge the narrative of their origin. As much as you want to give your little one a story that will comfort or empower them, if it isn’t the whole truth, they could start to search for the rest when they are old enough.

They may ask about their birth parents, why they were given up, to meet their biological siblings and to know their roots. This journey is likely to happen even in the case of closed adoption with no information exchanged and no further contact planned between adopted and birth parents. 

While growing up, adopted kids can have a lot of questions about their identity, about how they think of themselves. Children are more sensitive to nuances and detail than many adults give them credit for. They pick up the cues and hang on to accidentally slipped words. They wonder whom they have inherited their eyes from, why no one in the family seems to like the poetry they are obsessed with, and why math is their guilty secret when it was their parents’ favorite subject in high school. 

Try not to let it hurt you. That doesn’t temper their love for you in any way, but even if not being vocal about it, they will have a special place in their heart with all the thoughts about their birth family and the feeling of loss. Part of them may wish that things could have been different and that their birth parents could have raised them together with their brothers and sisters. Being in the company of people who share their features can give a strange sense of belonging.

Try to support this search for identity with a positive outlook. They may feel guilty for these thoughts because they do love you and are endlessly grateful for everything you gave. Your being upset or feeling jealous will only make things tougher for them.

The best you can do is to make your child feel safe, cared for, accepted, and loved no matter what. Remember, you are a family – nothing can cancel that.