This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why do adopted kids go back to birth families?

On a support board, a lot of us adoptive moms are dealing with newly adult children who are going back to biofamily... with some pretty severe consequences as the children discover that most of the reasons they ended up needing adoption in the first place.  One of the ladies asked WHY the kids go back to birth family.  My situation is a little different in that my children were not removed from the home for abuse and/or neglect, but were placed in foster care by biomom, for a lot of reasons I choose not to go into here.  The reality is though that my kids still FEEL the same way that kids who have been removed feel - abandoned, unwanted and unlovable.

Here's my response to: Why Do Adopted Kids Go Back to Birth Families?

1.  The biggest is that they want to negate the rejection/ abandonment.  They don't want to believe that the family didn't want them, because that means the child is unworthy and unlovable.  Going back "proves" that their family really loves them.

2.  Extreme denial.  My kids can dissociate from reality, and distort it to the extent that they rewrite history, and BELIEVE the new version.  They don't remember, or want to remember, the real past - good, bad and everything in between.

3.  My children have very black and white thinking.  People are either evil or on a pedestal.  The kids literally don't see the shades of grey that describes all humanity.  Most people are wonderful, caring, supportive, relationship possibilities (best friend, girlfriend, new mom..)... until Bear or Kitty flips a switch and ALL they can see is the person's flaws.  My son is especially bad about this.  He goes through girls like Kleenex, discarding them when they show the tiniest sign of imperfection (I believe my son thinks that love means they are instantly and totally devoted to him, anything less and he's afraid they will abandon him, so at the first sign of independence, he rejects them before they reject him) or they get too close (and he runs before they can see his flaws and reject him).

The kids have idealized many members of biofamily, and literally don't remember any of their flaws.  When Bear went to live with his bio Grandpa, real life quickly took over, BioGrandpa became human (worse, a human who had some authority over Bear), and Bear couldn't accept that.  In less than 6 weeks, he was ready to move on.

4.  Escape.   "My adoptive parents and everyone else are the reason things aren't going right.  If I can get away from them then my life will be perfect."  Hubby and I tell our kids that they have to work on their issues instead of running away from them, because the issues are inside of them, and will follow them everywhere.  They don't want to believe us.

Obviously these characteristics are all linked to each other.  

5.  One thing I firmly believe is one should never criticize bio family to the children, something I learned from my mother, who never criticized my father in front of me, despite a nasty divorce.  Knowing my children are idealizing their bio family doesn't change my belief, but it is a little frustrating to know that my lack of reality checks makes some of their fantasies possible.

I think they want to go back to biofamily to live the fairy tale/ fantasy they have used to escape over the years.  That little Orphan Annie reality that my "real family" is perfect, rich, will never make me do chores or be held accountable for anything I do (not that I'll do anything wrong, because it was everyone else's fault)...

We have to let them go.

It's hard, but I think we have to let our kids know that we understand this desire to reconnect with birthfamily, and let them go. I tried to make it very clear to my children that the door was always open... as long as they understood that the house rules haven't changed.

When the reality sinks in, a lot of these kids will come home.

Unfortunately they usually come home with the results of living this other life style:
pregnancy, drug addiction, off their meds, criminal records, health issues... feeling entitled to the freedoms they enjoyed (and suffered from).

For some children, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - no matter which side of the fence they are on. We ran in to this with Kitty. Her perception of reality means the instant she walked away her memory of the other place become even more black and white. She instantly forgot all the good stuff (or bad stuff). When she lived here at home, she longed for the "freedom" of having no rules and structure - being treated like an "adult," without the responsibilities and accountability of  actually being one. When she was living with biofamily, she longed for the calm, supportive, loving environment (and the luxuries) of home.

Your decision is whether or not to let your child come back home - knowing they will bring this new baggage and possibly see your home as a revolving door or a way station.

We let our children know that very little has changed. They are expected to come home to mostly the same structure as when they left. If they can't follow the rules, then they will not come home. For our son in prison, he will need to go to a halfway house and get stable on his meds before we would even consider allowing him to come home.

It's not easy watching our children self-destruct, but I have to hope that when they get older and their brain is fully developed (about 25 years old?), that they will be happy, functioning citizens capable of healthy relationships with as few permanent scars as possible.

NOTE: When our kids approach times of transition (graduation, turning 18, moving out...) they tend to stress out and act out. This is a defense mechanism to distance themselves from us to try to make it hurt less. I try to remind myself of this, when mine are lashing out at me. 

More on Contact with Birth Family.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking the time to read this. I am writing specifically to you because of your blog that I stumbled upon.

I am working with Adopted Media, a television production company based in Hollywood. We are currently going into production on a Web Series titled ‘Adopted.’

This is a web series focused around a married couple that adopts a child. This is actually going to be a comedy with a very serious undertone expressing the beauty of adoption and the true love of family that comes through the process.

As someone who understands the decisions revolving adoption, I’m sure you can appreciate the need to spread the word on such a topic like adoption.

Most people don’t know very many statistics about adoption and we hope to engage viewers in our entertaining show, but also inform them about adoption. We intend to shed light on what someone like yourself may have experienced, are experiencing or will experience in the process.

More than 1/3 of Americans have considered adopting, but no more than 2% have actually adopted.

Approximately 250,000 children are adopted each year, but over 14 million age out of the system.

Why contact me?

Excellent question! As a blogger you understand that your voice being heard is EVERYTHING. You either want to influence someone, be inspired by someone, spread your passion about a topic, or connect to a similar discussion. Because of this outlet that you have and the people who follow you on our similar topic base, I am reaching out to you!

What can I do for a production in Hollywood?

Well, we too need to be heard and this is a story worth telling. Please blog about us and get your viewers (and yourself) to check out our campaign to make this film about a topic interest we share. Here is the link:

If you do not want to be a part of this, we totally understand as we don’t mean any intrusion and wish you the best.


Sure! Feel free to contact Adopted Media below.


Adopted Media


AbsenceOfGrey said...

Gosh Mary, I am dealing with this right now as well, but in a weird sort of way. A child I was a foster parent to has gone back to her birthmother and while I was not her eventual adoptive parent, I do love her and am very worried for her.

At the same time, my two adopted girls have started asking questions about their birth families, it is sad that I don't know more than I do. I wish I did. One has started saying she wants to go to her real mom every time she gets mad now, and to be honest it breaks my heart. I dunno.

marythemom said...

Hi Jessi Lynn!

"One has started saying she wants to go to her real mom every time she gets mad now, and to be honest it breaks my heart."

I honestly think that all kids find whatever of your buttons they can push! My adopted kids played this one a lot, especially when they were mad. Biokids said I wish I were in foster care! When that didn't work, the kids moved on to "I want to die!" or "I wish you were dead!" Adopted kids told me they wanted to kill me. *sigh* Hang in there, Sweetie! This too shall pass. Eventually.

Sending hugs and prayers!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this post, Mary. It seems that you're a very understanding person. Anyway, in times like that—when your adopted kids tends to go back to his/her biological parents—just let them be. Let them know their roots, so that it would be easy for them to sort things out. Most of the adoptees lacked security, and finding their real parents is what they know that would complete them.

Aiko Dumas

1st said...

My 17 year old son has recently found his birth father and is now very involved with him and extended large family. He says he is happy and feels he fits in. I wonder how long it will last and also if he will steal from them and lie and show anger towards them as he has his adoptive family.

Anonymous said...

With us it is that our now teenage adoptive daughter, adopted 5 years ago, has managed to call the attention of the authorities because of her violent defiant behaviour (frequent police visits at our house either because the neighbors called them or we had to). We have no choice but to put her up in an institution or another family, because in the country where we live they will not have her acting out her anger with us thinking it is not safe.
We will now be left with a tremendous bill at the end of each month that puts the rest of our family to the official poverty line. I am sure we are not alone dealing with this. I just wonder how much help it is to her being removed to some other place where she still acts out in anger and hurt. And although she says things like "fortget it, you not even my real mother and I will not let you be", it is not that she wants to see her biomom.It feels much like what you said about the anger relief these childen feel when they say this or act like this. It is not so much, that we do not agree that safety comes first, but more that we do not get the chance to stick with her. It is just that the problem is now elsewhere.

Fiona said...

Similar perhaps to one of the above comments - my adopted son (now 18) found his birth father 6 months ago and is now living with him and large extended family. He kept in touch for 3 months although only when he asked for money. For the last 3 months he hasn't responded to any messages, not even over Christmas. Found out from his ex girlfriend that he now smokes drugs, has been arrested for fighting, has no regular job and has changed a lot. I am concerned for him and also very sad that he is no longer in our lives. It seems now that we battled throughout his childhood to help him do the 'right' thing as in get the best education, keep healthy, not steal and lie, and now perhaps he's found somewhere that will accept and understand him more. I wish we had been more prepared for this eventuality.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

My 20-y-o adopted daughter just left today to journey 1000 miles across the country to visit the birth parents who VOLUNTARILY signed away their rights when she was only 4 years old. Unfortunately she may not be going to a worse situation since the access to services for adults with mental health needs is poor. My daughter has been physically violent to me since age 12 when she came to live with us; since she turned 18 no one can direct her in the safest direction. She moved out of an independent living facility to move in with a felon 12 years her senior, had one overdose, then today told me she was going to "visit" these people. My heart is broken in two directions - one that she left this home and the other that she is heading towards a different type of reality.

Anonymous said...

We adopted our son at birth. He is our only child and he was raised with love and two parents that adored him. At age 12 he changed from a happy child to a moody young man. It went downhill from there. We never spoke negatively about his birth parents. Our son became a liar and a thief staying in trouble. At age 15 he took a loaded gun to school. In college he smoked pot and drank, dropped out of college to join the military. At age 19 his birth family found him so the nightmare got worse. He spent 6 years in the Army, lives by his birth family now and has completely cut us out of his life. So now I am childless again. His birth family now has not only their children but now my only son. Adoption has not become a blessing for me but a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

i am so glad i found this. i sometimes feel like a failure. we adopted 4 siblings from foster care, three girls and a boy. the oldest was a fine student, ready to go to college but got pregnant by the stoner next door her senior year. i made the , unforgivable suggestion that she put the baby up for adoption, and bam, i am out of her life. second daughter left a month after turning 18, has had severe mental issues, and then the youngest daughter has followed suit. all have reconnected with mom, who still lives with the man who molested these girls. they all have RAD, i thought by adopting them we could give them a better life, but i guess only for a little while.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! We adopted an older child out of foster care who also had a huge amount of denial about her bio family. She created her "auto-biography", filled with so much obvious fiction, but to her it was reality. She moved in with her bio family five states away nearly a year ago. We have little contact and have sadly watched from afar as history seems to be repeating itself with lies, abuse, pregnancy, CPS involvement, etc. We provided her love, stability, a happy home, a welcoming and loving extended family, plus every opportunity for a stable and successful adult life. It is heartbreaking when you see it thrown away. Its been hard on our other children who feel rejected and wondered what they could have done differently. We are all learning to accept it, taking comfort in the fact that we did do our best. And we are blessed with friends and family who know how hard we tried and have been very supportive through all this.

Wilbour said...

Well our son who we adopted at 13 turned 18 and wanted to find his bio-mom. He was surrendered to CAS at 5 because his mom could not deal with a child who is Developmentally Delayed. He was in 3 different foster care homes for 8 years.

We did everything we could to raise him to be a competent person but at 18 that all changed. Within a week of contacting his bio-mom he moved in with her and severed all ties with us. He insisted on having his last name changed back to his original name. No one in his new home work as they are all on social assistance. They all receive a Government Pension because of their disabilities.

It’s too bad we have not heard from him since the week before Christmas. Now that he is an adult he is in full control of his situation and there is nothing we can do.

Oh we do hear from his bio-mom when he does not receive his $900 check from the Government . Sigh….

Anonymous said...

Wow,these posts really resonate regarding our son adopted at 12, turned 18, graduated high school with a diploma and has been traveling to and from biological family since graduating. He was arrested at 14 and put in juvenile hall, not once but twice. He had a wrap-around services life coach for 5 months, a stay in residential treatment after trying to commit suicide for the third time, 3 stays in a psychiatric facility and 14 suspensions from school. He lies, steals, manipulates, charms and uses everyone he comes into contact with. He struggles with peer relationships and is socially awkward. He goes on and off his medication, uses drugs, and only contacts us for money. Christmas without him today was both a relief and in some sick way, sad. He has vowed to change his adoptive surname and wants nothing to do with us despite 8 years of love, support, stability, consistency and opportunities. Much of his biological family lives on government assistance. We are a hard-working couple who is blessed to own our home, have a supportive extended family and travel the world. This lifestyle did not appeal to our son. We are thankful that we could give him 8 years of patience, support,love and devotion. Perhaps one day, he will appreciate this gift. If not, we have resolved to be at peace with his decision embrace those who abandoned him in search for answers.

marythemom said...

Anonymous, I don't know how long your son has been gone, but do not be surprised if he does not change his mind, probably a few times. Yes, your lifestyle may not be something that appeals to your son now, but I bet he still values it and part of him has set it as a standard. He may not feel he can handle it or deserve it, but he does still know it (and you) is there.

If you can, please try to think of this not as a rejection of you or your lifestyle, but as him trying to see if he feels better about himself somewhere else. It takes a long time for people to realize that they take their feeling of self-worth with them - it's not a feeling you get when you walk into a place or situation for the first time. We all want to feel we belong and fit in somewhere, that takes time. The media portrays it more like "love at first sight." Please take this as an opportunity for your family to rest and heal.

I wrote this post several years ago, but it amazes me how often it comes up. Bear moved out the day he graduated high school and went back to birth family. He burned through those relationships pretty quickly because he really is not capable of maintaining relationships.

Kitty moved in with biofamily immediately after graduation as well, then discovered that she just couldn't handle it, and came home. Now, almost 2 years later, we're going through the same thing again. Kitty is impulsively wanting to move back in with birth family. It is so hard watching them self-destruct and wondering where to draw the line. I know I should let Kitty go again, but I so don't want to be the one to pick up the (probably pregnant) pieces.

Wilbour said...

Well out of the blue, one year to be exact, our adopted son has said he wants to live with us again. Apparently he has made such a mess of a life with his bio-mom that she is going to send over an officer to pick him up and dump him at our house. This is the same mom who accused us of neglecting her son while he was in our care. I figure he has shown his true colors. Problem is the ladies here at this house are frightened by him. Oh did I mention how his bio-mom had to call me and tell me that he beat her and her daughter frequently?

Yah, I want this man living in my home. Yes he is an adult but is Developmentally Delayed. After all that he has put us through I am more than a little worried.

marythemom said...

I would not be willing to take him back. I would help him find a place to live, but not in my home.

Josefina said...

I have been reading and re-rereading this blog spot. We have just entered this process and it truly is one of the more difficult things we have been through. We adopted our son through DHS at age 12 - he was considered one of the best candidates in the state at the time. High intelligence, athletic, healthy, attractive. We had no children in the home and have been able to provide good opportunities for him. He just never could attach. He is loved by our entire extended family who feel abandoned by his leaving the day after he turned 18. I kind of expected it, as he had been threatening to do so for some time.

He is a relatively high functioning RAD. He was not detected as RAD by his outpatient therapist (who specializes in it) until after about a year of treatment - because he has a very good social presentation. But he has serious problems with lying, stealing, and seems almost delusional at times. In fact, until one really gets to know him, they would believe my husband and myself were the problem. He had most of our family convinced of this for some time, but finally they understood. The schools thought we were problematic for sometime, but finally they were on board, and eventually we had to enter intense family therapy in home after he ran away and lived on the street for a week at 16.

At 17 he thought he could drop out of school and go live with his sister (he has a half sister who lives in another state). That was not a possibility due to the education law in the state. He then continued threatening to run away and he was getting so difficult to live with we sought residential treatment for RAD. We all benefited from the treatment program and he did well for a period of time after his discharge. However, just a few months prior to his 18th birthday he regressed - stole money, etc. But he seemed to rebound.

The day after he turned 18 he ran away to live with his biological mom and her boyfriend. It has only been a little over a month, and we have only heard from indicating he needed money "for food". He gave us his new cell phone number and told us we could text him. His aunt tried to text him also. Neither of us received a response. We lent him a small amount of money only to see his biological mom posting on Facebook "my son's first tattoo" and there he is getting a tattoo.

His residential therapist (also one of the finest and most respected RAD therapists in the state) predicted he would leave home at 18 and "flounder" for a few years. His "real growth" would be in his early to mid twenties. She felt his prognosis was "better than 50%" - however we felt he would go live with his half sister. The biological mom is not a good influence at all and he is in survival mode there. We have kept in contact with her. His sister seems distressed about the situation, also.

He was a year behind in school because of the neglect before he came to us, but as I said, all his teachers said there was no reason to believe he should not be in the top 3% of his class. He is not even pursuing a GED at this point.

I fear as someone above pointed out- we will only hear from him when he wants/needs something. The therapist told us we needed to have "paths" so he can come home so we want to walk a fine line between being supportive and caring, but not enabling. Many people in our family feel so abandoned by him they want to write him off. It really is hard because it is an issue of self preservation as well. I am glad to have found this blog.

marythemom said...

It's a fine line we walk. I still suffer somewhat from the PTSD of living with my son. Even though he never hit me, I always knew there was the potential there - especially once he went off his meds.

If he'd wanted to return home while he was still in high school, we would have taken him back immediately - with a reminder that all our rules and structure still applied. By the time he was ready to come home, he was already in jail. I do not believe that he has "learned" anything from this time away, and I still blame the psychiatrist for not signing the legal guardianship papers - although maybe that was a blessing for us, as I do believe a lot of this was inevitable. Our son will always need a lot of structure, which even with legal guardianship, I do not believe we would be able to provide.

If you're on FaceBook there are some Parents of Adult Children support groups you can join. Comment with your email (I won't post it) and I can give you my FB information so I can add you. They're "Secret" groups so you can't search for them.

Especially since he is now a convicted felon and registered sex offender, even when his parole is complete and he is able to leave the state he was convicted in, I will not let him move back into our home. I will help him get connected to the services he needs, and will probably continue to offer some financial support.

Kitty is different. She's gone back and forth as to whether or not she wants to live with biofamily. I think she wants to for all the above reasons, but deep down she knows she's not capable of it.

marythemom said...

Not sure how the part about the FaceBook Parents of Adult Children support groups ended up in the middle of that comment. So I'll repeat it here.

Comment with your email (I moderate the comments so it won't get posted) and I can give you my FB information so I can add you. They're "Secret" groups so you can't search for them.

Anonymous said...

Advice? We adopted our daughter at age 15 and a few weeks before her 18th birthday she ran away to bio family. She has been hopping from various random "relatives" from day to day since then. This was all triggered by talks with bio mom who is about to get out of prison and has already broken her promises to my daughter, breaking her heart over an over once more. We have made it clear the door is always open to her to come home and she has visited but despite stating how horrible bio mom is, how life is so hard, how nothing is what she imagined it would be, she doesn't want to move home. She finally admitted she does whatever bio mom says and had told our daughter to leave us, and not to go back to us.
Now my daughter wants us to take her to dinner, go to movies, hang out. I am not feeling ok with this scenario. Visits at HOME yes! Rewarding her running away, stealing, and trashing her life? No. Am I wrong to say I will only visit with her at home and won't take her out? I just don't want to support the really bad decisions she is making and be a fool by letting her have the "no rules, no love" life but then still living the lifestyle she was used to having with us by going out and about. I think I would feel used and this has all ripped me apart emotionally as it is.

marythemom said...

First of all, how long has she been with bio mom? Kitty only lasted 6 days living in the house with bio mom, and then started the couch surfing (actually, in her case she ended up acting as an unpaid nanny to 3 kids, sleeping on the floor of her 15yo pregnant half-sister's baby daddy's family's apartment). After being gone a month, she still wasn't sure if she'd had enough. She was worried about her sisters, and she was enjoying the freedoms of living away from home. We had a family member coming to visit us from the state where Kitty was living. She was offered a ride. She went back and forth about whether or not to stay once she got here, and had decided it was just for a visit so she left most of her stuff behind. Once she got home, she decided to stay.

Kitty's perception of reality means the instant she walks away her memory of the other place become even more black and white. She instantly forgets all the good stuff (or bad stuff). When she lived here at home, she longed for the "freedom" of having no rules and structure - being treated like an "adult," without the responsibilities and accountability of actually being one.
When she was living with biofamily, she longed for the calm, supportive, loving environment (and the luxuries) of home.

Our situation was different, because living with biofamily meant living on the other side of the country, but my advice? Set limits. Read my fav book Stop Walking on Eggshells to help with this.

This post is about having a child still living at home acting as though they deserve all the privileges of an honored guest or family member without actually acting like or being part of the family, but I think it has some good suggestions of where to draw the line.

You're right about feeling used, and I have been there with the feelings of being ripped apart emotionally. Firmly deciding where to draw the line, and clearly stating it, helped me a lot. It helped our relationship too. Once we had ground rules, every single event wasn't an emotion-filled battle and we could focus on the "love stuff." I could still decide to take her somewhere, and she knew that it was a special treat because I loved her, not something she deserved that I'd been withholding just to be mean.

I guess part of this is what is your end goal? Do you want her to realize how awesome living with you is compared to biomom and move home? Do you want her to continue to have a relationship with biomom at all? Do you want her in therapy to figure out what's causing her to choose this destructive lifestyle? Do you want to wash your hands of this mess without feeling guilty about it? I'll tell you, I have felt all of these at one time or another, often at the same time!

I wish I had some fantastic advice. I'd take it myself (Kitty is planning on trying again, but "it will be different this time," because she's going to live with biograndma, not biomom. *sigh*).

I can tell you, use this time for healing and grieving. Do lots of self-care (

JP said...

My son will be 20 next week. I adopted him at 8 years old. He ran away at 18.5 after a meltdown in which he destroyed our dining room and scared me to death. He's since lived at several homes until he's asked to leave. None ever contact us. He did finish high school but I have no idea what he does now. He changed phones, blocked all of us from his FB etc. He has never known his bio parents so they are not who he is with. He does have contact with his bio brother but we know his adopted family and always have, he's not there. I finally sent him a message on snapchat ask I if he could just let us know he's ok. He accused me of stalking him (not sure how no contact in over a year is stalking). He said if he wanted contact he would have and then he blocked me. My heart is broken. He was difficult and delayed when I first adopted him but he progressed. By 14 he was doing wonderful. By 17 his grades tanked and he started smoking pot and drinking. Lying and stealing were always issues. He is my only child and I miss him so much. I just wish I understood.

marythemom said...

JustAnotherAmericanWoman - I accidentally deleted your comment. I'm so sorry. I'm going to post the highlights here:

"I am getting ready to adopt my stepson that I have raised since before he can remember (2years old). He calls me mommy.
His biomother was in and out of his life for the first 6 years of his life.

As soon as we gained primary custody and she lost control, she left.

We let him remain in contact with the biomother parents because we didn't want his life changing so drastically after she left. We found out they had been forcing him into her presence and causing him to relive all the abuse and neglect. He came home told us everything and told us he didn't want to go there anymore.

But at 12 years old he is now asking about what all he went through. Asking about the abuse he remembers and why she disappeared (drugs, sociopath, loss of control). He asks if I'm his mom what is she to him.

I'm going crazy because this is all coming right before we are about to file the adoption paperwork. We have been talking about it for years and he doesn't know that we are about to file so it's not anxiety about that.

I feel like he is getting to the age where he wants there to be a clear cut answer to why everything happened.

If he chooses to go back to her or bio family he will be in immediate danger, but I always told him that if he wants to we would let him. She is a heroin addict and homeless.

He already knows all the bad stuff because he loved lived through it so it's not like I can sugar coat it or just say I don't know cause I have been around for all of it.

I'm just so frustrated with all the questions instead of him just being happy that we are all together and the bad is finally gone. Please give me some advice."

marythemom said...

JustAnotherAmericanWoman - Here's my advice.

First of all, 12 is a hard age!

In addition to hormones, adolescence is the normal developmental phase where kids explore their identities. Their bodies and brains are changing. At that age, I remember trying on new personalities like they were hats. I moved a lot, so I could change everything about myself and no one would remember the previous "me." Am I an introvert or an extrovert? (Turns out I'm pretty much on the line, leaning hard toward extrovert). Do I like school? Am I good at sports? Am I going to be more like my mother? or my father? Will my parents leave me like my mom did if I do something "bad"?
Post about the Teen Years -

Then you add in his trauma history on top of that. You say that he knows about the bad stuff because he lived through it. I think you'd be surprised how much he really doesn't remember. My kids often rewrite their history (I think we all do to some extent - our memories can be pretty inconsistent). The brain protects us too.
For example, the pain of childbirth is pretty intense. In my head, I know giving birth hurt, but I don't recall the actual feelings. Having a kidney stone is supposed to be more painful than childbirth, but my brain has protected me from that too.

How the brain works as it relates to lying (including his brain lying to itself) -

I do highly recommend working with a therapist experienced in trauma and adoption issues. EMDR helps a lot with PTSD.

Yo mentioned that he knows if he goes to biofamily you would let him. That can actually be scary to kids. That you would let them go. My daughter, Kitty, is fascinated about learning more about her biofather (who doesn't even know she exists). She fantasizes about him in his shining armor riding in on his white horse to carry her off to his castle and make her a princess. While at the same time, she's afraid that this total stranger will come in and take her from her family and the life she's finally allowed herself to trust enough to want.

Here's another blog post with more inormation about contact with Biofamily -

So here's my recommendations (and please remember I'm not a professional):

- therapy.
- realistic conversations about his past that are age appropriate (avoiding being critical of biomom/ biofamily as much as possible - talking about her bad choices instead)
- lots of self-care for you (this is a lot to deal with for you as well).

If you want, I can connect you with some online support groups. Just post a comment here with your email address (I moderate comments and definitely won't post personal information, especially email addresses, here!), and I'll email you the information.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
marilynn said...

I reunite separated families for free and help people take back their names by getting their birth certificates corrected. I read the post and the clearly anguished comments and it is evident that everyone who wrote cares about the people that they adopted.

There are some lucky adopted people who have great relationships with the families they were adopted into but it generally requires not expecting them to be a whole different person in exchange for taking care of them. Look at that original birth certificate and say that real name over and over until you realize that is the real person and those are their parents that's who they are and that's why they leave and what they are longing to become again just themselves. If they could be themselves within the adoptive home maybe they would not leave to go live under detrimental circumstances. If they have to be someone other than who they are to come home to you its really not going home at all. I don't know try letting them know you do love them for who they are and they can be themselves and still get fed and have a nice bed, but no they can't be breaking house rules

marythemom said...

Dear Marilynn,

For myself, and most adoptive parents I know, we don't expect our kids to be a "whole different person in exchange for taking care of them." Taking care of them is part of being a parent. I certainly don't expect my kids to be a "whole different person." They came with personalities and dreams and I respect that. They also came with some serious issues and diagnoses that I want to help them with, because helping them is part of being a parent too.

I hope for my kids to have a better life than what they would most likely have had if we hadn't adopted them, but definitely not "in exchange" for me taking care of them. I want this for them, because I want a better life for them.

"Look at that original birth certificate and say that real name over and over until you realize that is the real person and those are their parents."
I disagree that the name on their original birth certificate represents the "real person." That makes it sound like that is the only part of their life that's real. Just like a woman taking her husband's last name, doesn't mean she's denying who she is or where she comes from. Their name and their birth parents are a huge part of their lives, but I'm real too and so is their new name; both of them are part of who my child is now.

"If they could be themselves within the adoptive home maybe they would not leave to go live under detrimental circumstances."
As mentioned in this post, I don't think being themselves has anything to do with them leaving home. It is a normal developmental stage for teenagers to explore their identity - who they are and where they came from. Most teens try out different things during this time (often referred to as "teenage rebellion"). The fact that for adopted kids this usually involves being around biofamily who are living in detrimental circumstances, well that part sucks.

"I don't know try letting them know you do love them for who they are and they can be themselves and still get fed and have a nice bed, but no they can't be breaking house rules."
I believe we do this.


marilynn said...

"I disagree that the name on their original birth certificate represents the "real person." That makes it sound like that is the only part of their life that's real. Just like a woman taking her husband's last name, doesn't mean she's denying who she is or where she comes from. Their name and their birth parents are a huge part of their lives, but I'm real too and so is their new name; both of them are part of who my child is now."

A woman who takes her husbands last name does so willingly as a consenting adult and most critically of all her husband's name will never appear on her birth certificate. An adult can change their name to anything they want but their true identity is documented and unaltered. I agree that adoption is a contractual relationship and agree that adoption does make people legal family. If the adopted person wishes to change their name to that of those who adopted them they can do so at 18 without altering their birth certificates to make it seem like they are the offspring of those who adopted them.

Would you have adopted if your name were never to appear as mother on their birth certificate and if they had to retain their original name and birth certificate despite being adopted? You seem nice I bet you would still have gone forward even if you could not rename them or be on their birth certificate as their mother. Wouldn't it have been enough to leave their identifying paperwork untouched and simply have an adoption decree that identified you as having custody? I am convinced we can get rid of this identity stripping forced on adopted people yet still have people willing to adopt.

If the answer is no, if you really needed to be on the birth certificate as mother and give them new names in exchange for the effort you'd go through raising them then you can't say they did not have to give something up in order to be raised. You don't see it as a loss you see it ass you being a real mom entitled to name your child but in reality that is not the case that's a real person with a real family who did not need to be renamed in order to be raised.

In the reunions that I've witnessed I often hear that the reason people want to go back to their own family is that nobody else on earth loves them for who they actually are not who they want them to be with this new name with someone else referring to them as "their child". Most people do keep up with their own family even when they are not perfect or they have problems because those people are their family. Really it's not that deep why they return to them its just authenticity, no pretending to be someone else's kid some other name some other world. No it may not be as nice or shining, as safe or warm but it's their family.

You can't say that its the same as marriage changing a name when they were not consenting adults to errasing their mother and father's names from their birth records. They were not consenting adults to severing legal ties to their family. Marriage does not sever legal ties to our own families it adds a contractually related family we refer to as in-laws. Adoption is a contractually related family and the law should be changed so that there is no severing of ties or legal relationships to parents, siblings and other relatives. Then the person adopted would not be giving up their identity and name and family in exchange for being cared for safely by loving people.

If you can't see the critical difference between marriage name changes and adoption name changes look at the comments to this post and see just how many people wanted to give up their adopted surnames to go back to their real names. If your trying to figure out why so many people pursue relationships with family despite being adopted then try exploring that critical dysfunction of being referred to as someone's child when your not their offspring the dissconect really does lie in that lie.

marythemom said...

Marilynn, I'm curious. Are you speaking primarily about private infant adoption, international adoption, adoption from orphanages, abandoned infants, adoption from foster care, younger child adoption, older child adoption...?

I can understand your point, but this is not a black and white issue. There are 100 reasons why a child's name and birth certificate might need to be changed.

An infant may never have been given a name in the first place.
Sometimes changing a child's name is to protect them from their past (kind of like the witness protection program), so that they can't be tracked by an abuser.

My kids were teens when we adopted them, and we did consider not changing their names at all. Why we did was different for each child, but it was mostly to give them a feeling of belonging to us. A claiming. So they would feel a part of this new family and not forced to feel like they were on the outside looking in.

I was not adopted, but I was a step-child. I know how hard it was to feel like an unwanted, unconnected outsider. Constantly having to tell people why my last name was different (usually ending up having to give them more personal information about my life than I wanted them to have). Feeling like my step-siblings were part of the family and I wasn't.

Besides her last name, Kitty also changed her first names. She chose a family name for herself and after much discussion with the therapist (to ensure she wasn't trying to compartmentalize and bury her past), we let her do it. She wanted to choose a new middle name too, but we insisted that she keep the first name that she was born with as her middle name.

Bear's adoption was finalized the day before he turned 15. We would not have changed his name at all except for one thing. He made it very clear from day one that if he did not have our last name, then he would not consider himself part of our family. He desperately wanted to be part of our family even though his ability to attach was severely damaged by his early childhood. Still, his birth last name was important to him, so we changed his birth middle name (he didn't even know what his original middle name was) to his birth last name.

As for having mine and my husband's name on their birth certificates, I admit, that still feels kind of weird to me. We didn't even meet them until they were 11 and 13 years old! My kids' bioparents voluntarily terminated their parental rights (well 2 out of 3 - no one was able to reach my daughter's biofather - if he'd even given his real name), so I guess in a way that means they wanted their names removed from my children's birth certificates. Someone's names had to be there and we'd accepted parental rights so it kinda makes sense for it to be our names. They basically annulled their relationship with my child. Unlike a divorce, they made it as though the relationship never happened.

"You can't say that its the same as marriage changing a name when they were not consenting adults"
I don't think I was saying it was exactly the same as marriage changing a name. I was talking about a name change not redefining who you are ("A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.").

As a side note on the "consenting adult" thing, parents make legally binding decisions for their kids all the time. It's part of being a parent. Actually legally binding decisions over which we have no control get made for people all the time, it's not exclusive to children.

marythemom said...

For me, the point of this post is that the kids are not going back to birth family because of their names or because they don't feel accepted, but because humans are 3-Dimensional people who want to feel love and acceptance from those we feel have rejected or abandoned us. Adopted kids go back to birth family because they feel compelled to fix those early relationships, not necessarily because something is wrong with their current relationships.

Plus of course, trauma and attachment issues can cause our kids to feel their problems are caused by their current relationships and if they can just change their circumstances or do something differently, then their problems will go away. Obviously, the issues are usually inside themselves so the kids just take them with them when they go. It's why so many of them come back. They realize that the grass on the other side of fence is no greener than at home.

Family is not about blood and biology or names on legal certificates. Family is about claiming and belonging, attachment and love.

As for people not being given access to their original birth certificates. That's a whole different post. I have no information or experience with that.

marilynn said...

Mary I feel all your love in your writing and in all the comments as well. I actually feel that tortured anguish of a parent disconnecting from their adult offspring. There is not a doubt in my mind that the experience is just as visceral for one that adopts and raises as one who reproduces and raises.

I was just hoping to get commentary to examine the reasons which are really clear and basic and not related to deep psychological trauma just facts and laws and a sense of authenticity and accuracy. For those bold enough who are not afraid of being unloved for being their original self its possibly like that old saying if you love something set it free if its meant to be they come back...if they are truly loved by the tose they were raised by they can change their name back to what it was originally and they can go live with or have a deep connection with their family for a while without fear of not being loved by the family that adopted them.

Because after all their family still loved them despite the fact their name was changed at adoption and despite the fact they lived with the adopted family.

Its not a popularity contest or who did more for them its who they are. I think I trust people who adopt more than they trust themselves - they love the person they raised they just articulate it in an "after all we did for you how could you go be with people who did nothing for you" sort of earned equity in property way. I was just hoping to maybe get folks to try saying I love you you you just like they do you grew up with me of course you want to spend time with them now but please visit me too I miss the real you and I don't care what your name is or who you live with it does not change I love you just like having a different name and living with me did not change they love you.

I'm saying its worth a shot its something your commenters have not tried. I just don't think they thought of it yet.

marilynn said...

Well I think you may be over thinking it. I have a lot of experience listening to adopted peoples reasons for leaving and going back to their family and non have said anything like what you said. I thought you might want to consider some other reasons. If you've asked the people you adopted and that's what they told you then you have it from the horses mouth.

marythemom said...

In the late teens and early twenties, the need to become independent is a normal developmental phase, and you're right, Marilynn, as parents it often does still hurt our feelings. I have 2 biological children as well as 2 adopted children and this phase was difficult for us all. I understand why they do it, it doesn't make it hurt any less.

I wrote this post, to help me (and hopefully others) understand a little better about why our adopted kids go back to birth family. It helps me have more empathy and less resentment about their behaviors to know why. It also helped me a little with the fear and frustration that goes along with watching a child deliberately go in to a situation that has little chance of ending well.

I do believe that my children know that our home is open and we love them no matter what (and whatever their name is).

I'm sure there are adoptive parents who think, and possibly even say, "after all we did for you how could you go be with people who did nothing for you". I think you and I both want to help them understand why their child might feel this way and that it has nothing to do with the adoptive parent's parenting.

"I'm saying its worth a shot its something your commenters have not tried. I just don't think they thought of it yet."

I think you're underestimating my readers. (I also think you might be projecting a bit of your own personal experience here?)

Just to clarify, my original concern about your comments was more about the fact that it felt like you were saying that the child's birth name and connection to birth family was what was "real," and that nothing that came after that was "real" or important. I've always said that we as adoptive parents need to honor and respect the child's connection to their history and birth family, but that is not the end of the story. Their adoptive name and relationship with their adoptive family is just as important a part of their identity. And just as real.

marythemom said...

"Well I think you may be over thinking it. I have a lot of experience listening to adopted peoples reasons for leaving and going back to their family and non have said anything like what you said. I thought you might want to consider some other reasons. If you've asked the people you adopted and that's what they told you then you have it from the horses mouth."

Of course there are a LOT more reasons behind adopted people's reasons for leaving and going back to birth family. There's not enough room in a post to go in to them all (although I've stated at least one more in the comments that I might go back and put in the original post).

Equally true is that while I have done some research in this area (including reading books and articles from the point of view of adopted children and the psychology behind why abused people go back to their abusers), the reasons I've given here have not been the reasons stated aloud by my adopted children. For one thing, they lack the objectivity and knowledge behind the concepts stated here. A lot of these are subconscious reasons and many are caused by their mental health issues and developmental stages.
For example, very few teens realize that the reason they are unhappy and push their families away is a developmental phase leading to independence. All they know is what they feel trapped, frustrated, controlled, as if they are being treated like a child...

When they mature, that is when they look back and realize that it wasn't their parents' doing, it was them. That's when they figure out that mom and dad really are smart people! My biological daughter pushed me away and ran as fast as she could from us (leaving for college). After a couple of years, her perspective shifted. I have a great adult relationship with her now.

It was hard watching all my kids make mistakes and do things I knew would end badly. I offered them advice at the time, but I let them do it anyway. That's what this post is about helping parents understand a little about why their kids are acting this way so it's a little easier to let them make those mistakes.