Each year, there are 120,000 children adopted in the U.S. Of these, 100,000 are adopted domestically. Adopted children make up roughly 2% of the total child population. There are unique emotional and psychological challenges that adoptive families must face. Instead of the usual bilateral relationship between parent and child, adoptive families have what is called the triad of adoption: the relationship between birth parents, child, and adoptive parents.

Adopted children face situations that other children simply never experience. For example, medical records based on family history may not even be available to them. It is very common for adopted children to feel rejected or abandoned by their birth parents. This may occur at any point in life, leading to grief, relationship problems, and questions about identity. It can be difficult for the adopted child to come to grips with their image of self when they think they have a large blank spot in their developmental history. Additionally, they may feel guilty over grieving for their birth parents, especially if they have a loving adoptive family. They can feel like their feelings are a betrayal of their adoptive parents.

Adoptive parents face hurdles as well. They may develop a fear of being rejected by their adopted child. This can result in a tendency toward overprotection. If the adoption is open, they have to develop a relationship with the biological parents that may be difficult. If it is closed, then they might have a difficult time explaining the questions the child might have about their biological parents.

Biological parents often experience grief and feelings of inadequacy upon giving up a child. They can feel a lack of control. They feel they must grieve for their lost child, but they lack a way to do so. If they are in an open adoption, they have to navigate a tricky parent-but-not-parent relationship with their biological child.

If an adopted child decides to seek out their biological parents later in life, there are mixed results. Sometimes, rewarding relationships can form. Some reunions are less successful. Most say that just the knowledge is important to giving them closure. It fills a void in their identity and helps them grow as people.

Additional Resources

How Stuff Works, How Adoption Works:

Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Facts and Statistics:

Child Welfare Information Gateway, Adoption Statistics:

Historical International Adoption Statistics:

Child Welfare Information Gateway, Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons:

The Adoption Triad Connection:

Adoption Support, 7 Core Issues in Adoption:

Mental Help, Psychological Issues Faced by Adopted Children and Adults:


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