By age 6 or 7, an adoptee is able to differentiate between alternative ways of forming a family. He now understands that most children join their family by being born into it, while others become family members after birth, and this is what adoption means. The concept of having two separate sets of parents -- those who conceived and gave birth to the child, and those who are raising him -- becomes clear at this age.
According to David Brodzinsky's research, kids ages 6 to 8 believe that adopted children are more likely than nonadopted children to be bright, happy, popular, and self-confident. However, by the time they reach 10 to 12 years old, children begin to recognize some of the more difficult and confusing aspects of adoption, including feelings of loss and of being different. Although maintaining a positive view of adoption, kids in this age group are more likely to experience occasional bouts of anger and sadness as well as increased uncertainty about themselves.
During the middle years, adopted children first struggle to understand the circumstances surrounding their birth, and think of the unchosen options that had been available to their birth mother. Their overriding question is, "Why?"
- If she didn't have enough money, why didn't she just get a job?
- If she didn't think a child should be raised by a single parent, why didn't she get married?
- If she didn't know how to be a mommy, why didn't she get someone to teach her?
These concrete solutions to the complex problems that a birth parent may have faced represent the child's efforts to understand the birth mother's decision. The school-age child may feel grief for the parents and family he never knew, just as adoptive parents may have grieved for the biological child they will never know. As the parent, you need to help your child understand that this sadness is just as much a part of his adoption story as the joy, and it is okay to feel both.
Children cope with these feelings in a variety of ways:
- Some are open and talk about their feelings.
- Some are defensive and use denial to cope.
- Some are angry and disruptive.
- Some think that adoption is no big deal.
It is important to keep an open dialogue with your child, both so you can understand how he has put this complicated picture together, and to offer alternative views that address his misconceptions. Just as the experience of adoption changes over time, talking with kids about it must also change according to their stage of development and physical, emotional, and intellectual maturity.