Although adoption brings up unique parenting challenges, all parents struggle with balancing difficult emotions with our child's best interest. Processing strong emotions, connecting with our child's experience, and accessing support can help us keep our child's interest ahead of our own when that is indeed what is best for them.

By Emily Edlynn, Ph.D.
April 30, 2021
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An illustration of a mom and her daughter.
Credit: Illustration: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong.

I want to start by acknowledging how difficult it may be to openly acknowledge this jealousy and then seek support. I am by no means an expert in adoption, but I can appreciate that the dynamics of balancing a child's adoptive and biological families brings up an array of conflicting emotions. The logical part of you knows your child's interest in her birth parents was expected, while the emotional part wants to kick and scream about it.

Feelings Are Not Wrong

The worst thing we can do for our emotional health is to deny certain feelings. Denial and repression of an emotion only strengthens its power and can have negative consequences over time (such as an increased risk for depression). So, your feelings are never wrong, and it's important that you process them appropriately. You have taken the first step of naming the jealousy and the wish that your daughter did not want to contact her birth parents.

Next, you need to process these emotions on your own before interacting with your daughter about the situation. Whether you confide in your husband, trusted friends, a therapist, or an adoption specialist, or do your own journaling to explore, it's important to uncover roots of the jealousy. Ask yourself some questions: What beliefs underlie the jealousy and how likely are these beliefs to be true? Do you worry this contact threatens your relationship, which would understandably activate you to try and protect it? What exactly are your fears and worries?

Allowing ourselves to feel difficult emotions and understand the often irrational thoughts rather than dismiss or feel shame about them, helps us move toward responding to an emotionally charged situation with more reason than reactivity.

Values Drive Behavior

When working with children on managing difficult emotions, I always validate that what matters most is not whether or not they feel certain feelings, but what they do about it. We can feel angry without hitting people. We can feel scared without staying home all the time. You can feel jealous and wish your daughter did not care about her birth parents without interfering with her wishes.

After you have processed your emotions, focus on your values as a parent. What is important to you about raising your daughter? You have already demonstrated that you value openness and honesty by ensuring your daughter knew from the beginning that she was adopted. Which other parenting values does this current situation touch on? For example, the common values of independence and empathy may come into play here: supporting your daughter's independence with making important decisions; modeling empathy by showing an understanding of your daughter's emotional needs, even when they differ from your own.

What Is Your Child's Best Interest?

An integral part of parenting is staying focused on our child's best interest, but sometimes it can be hard to figure out what that is. My guess is adoptive parents have fears about how trying to contact birth parents may negatively affect their children or the adoptive parent-child relationship.

There is some evidence that contact between adopted children and their birth parents does contribute to a child's happiness and sense of well-being, and that adoptive parents' attitudes about this contact affect the child's experience. Since aspects of the adoption can vary greatly, however, it is hard to know if and when the research fits real life.

In my opinion as a child psychologist, though, the research makes sense with what we know about development. Often, adopted children feel a need to connect with their genetic roots as part of identity development and integrating a sense of self. These are indeed important aspects of growing up to be a psychologically healthier adult, so whether or not the experience brings pain, closure, or confusion, your daughter's urge and readiness to do it deserves respect.

It might help you to hear directly from her why this step is important to her. Think of some questions to ask to better understand her perspective. What is she expecting and hoping will happen? What are her fears? Opening this dialogue and connecting with your daughter's experience may help you contain your own emotions, focusing your energy on supporting her. Know that this foundation of trust and safety that you can give her equips her to better handle the uncertain outcome, and to keep turning to you for support.

Use Available Resources

Adopting a child involves a lifelong journey of navigating tricky situations unique to adoption, which is why adoption agencies often offer an arsenal of resources. I encourage you to avail yourself of these resources, including connecting with other adoptive parents to share your experience, learn from theirs, and benefit from the support of a community. This support can shore up your emotional resources to respond to this dilemma, as well as prepare you for facing future challenges.

The Bottom Line

Taking these steps and using some of these strategies, you can move from honoring your emotions to responding in the best interest of your child. We all tread that path throughout parenting struggles, and as an adoptive parent, you have likely been doing so since even before finalizing the adoption. Hopefully, you can rely on your past experience as an adoptive parent to feel confident about getting through this current moment on your lifelong journey. No matter how the experience unfolds for your daughter, there is no doubt that her "best interest" is having you by her side for support.

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Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.