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Helping Your Adopted Child With Fears of Abandonment

I Would Never Abandon My Child. Why Is She Afraid I will?

Imagine yourself in sunny Florida boarding a ghost mobile for a ride through Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Adults and children clutch the safety bars of their vehicles as they twist their way through the darkened house. Screams of horror break the silence as ghosts adorned in elaborate finery waltz methodically to Bach.

About halfway through the ride, you hear a child in the ghost mobile ahead of you start to cry. His wails pierce the blackness and your heart. When the ride is over, you can’t help but tune into the family dialogue.

“What was it that upset you, Johnny?” the mother gently prods. “It’s okay to feel scared. Just remember I’m here with you. You are safe.”

What child doesn’t want to hear these words and know these truths throughout the journey of life? For the adopted child, the need to know, “I’m here…You’re safe… I won’t leave you,” is one that eclipses all others. You see, one of the deepest of issues for an adoptee is the fear of abandonment by you, his parents.

Abandonment by me?! you are probably thinking. That is the last thing I would ever do to my child. I love her dearly!

For most adult adoptees I know, however, the fear of abandonment has been an emotional battle all their lives.

“I have had issues of abandonment for as long as I can remember,” one man said. “Fear of rejection is always there.”

Another said, “I assumed when I found my birth family that the fear of rejection would stop. But it didn’t.”

Where does this fear come from and how does it manifest? I imagine you asking. And what can we as parents do to help our child navigate the ominous waters of fear of abandonment and come out healthy on the other side?

Entering Your Child’s Haunted House

The dictionary defines fear as “a distressing emotion caused by impending pain, danger, evil, or by the illusion of such.” Listen to the word pictures adult adoptees use to describe the abandonment they felt as children:

• being left behind at the side of a road

• a baby in a basket out in a field alone

• a birthing room with no one there but me

• a child looking into a window on a cold winter’s night at a happy family

• on the outside looking in

• being left behind while others go on with life

• an infant crying for her mother.

Fear and abandonment are inextricably woven together and tied into one big knot in the psyche and spirit of the adopted child.

Think for a moment about the normal childhood fear of abandonment needing to be conquered by all of us. It is an illusion and not based on truth. However, for the adoptee, there is an added twist to the fear which makes it extremely difficult to overcome. The fear is not an illusion–it is a reality based on relinquishment from the birth mother. In addition, the birth mother herself is real (because she exists), yet an illusion (because the adoptee can’t see her). When you ponder these paradoxes, is it any wonder that adoptees struggle with fear?

One adoptee said, “I need tangible evidence that someone is there for me. I always assumed what I couldn’t see (e.g., the birth family; people who had moved away) didn’t exist. It makes me feel so stupid. I should have learned this when I was two years old.”

Another woman said, “When people are gone, I think they are gone permanently.”

Thus, one of your challenges as an adoptive parent is to convince your child that you will always be there for her even when she can’t see you. You will need to learn creative ways to do this that are unique to your child’s temperament and situation.

One adoptive mother recently shared how she taught this concept to her daughter. At bedtime, she would say goodnight, but then after the door was closed, she would carry on a short conversation with her until she settled down for sleep. This way the child learned that even though she couldn’t see Mommy, she was still there.

The Need for a Journey Mate

When Johnny’s mom reassured him after his scary ride through the haunted mansion, she was being for him what Drs. Paul Warren and Frank Minirth, a pediatrician and psychiatrist, refer to as a journey mate.  In their book, Things That Go Bump in the Night, they address every child’s basic fears and teach parents how to calm them at each developmental phase.

Every kid needs a journey mate–someone stronger and wiser to help her learn how to conquer the fears of childhood and move on toward maturity. Someone who knows when to validate an emotion and when to respond lightheartedly. Someone who oozes with empathy and encourages her to aim high. Someone who is there for her, no matter what.

Ideally, the journey mate is a healthy parent–one who has worked through her own issues of abandonment and therefore does not project her unresolved pain onto her children. When you are able to be emotionally present for your child, you can become his journey mate and teach him how to board up his internal haunted mansions of primal fear.

What Parents Can Do


An effective journey mate needs the ability to empathize with her child’s feelings. To empathize means to intellectually identify with or vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another person.

Now, in order to empathize, use your imagination. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, demonstrate to your child that you are making every effort to comprehend, both intellectually and emotionally, what it is like to be adopted.

  • “I can’t imagine how confusing it must be to have two sets of parents… a biological and an adoptive (empathy). I would be confused too (identification).”
  • “You must feel mixed up on birthdays when you remember your adoption and birth mother (understanding). Many adoptees feel this way (sympathize).”
  • “It must be scary to say good-bye to us (empathy).”
  • “Is it embarrassing at physical exams when you have to say you don’t know your medical history because you were adopted (to tune into)?”
  • “Being adopted really hurts at times, doesn’t it (empathy)?”
  • “I would imagine that you must have many questions about why your birth mother placed you for adoption (put self into child’s shoes).”

Empathy will be your key into your child’s fears of abandonment. Don’t be afraid to specifically verbalize your thought-provoking statments as I have done in the above examples. It will connect you and your child in a deeper way. Just as the frightened child in the ghost mobile felt free to talk about his fears to his parents, your child will learn to verbalize hers and come to you for comfort and reassurance. When she does, her fear of abandonment will be revealed for what it is: merely a scary ghost in the dark recesses of her past.


Another tool a journey mate needs is the ability to help her child correct her misconceptions about the trauma of adoption. (We will discuss this tool in detail in chapter 14.) The goal is to reengage her hopes that her own efforts will make a difference in the story of her life so she can transcend her feelings of victimization and stop feeling like a “sitting duck” for further traumas, like abandonment.

Each adoptee’s life is a story being written. Early on, trauma entered the story threatening to foreclose the sense of her own story with expectations of danger and bad endings. She needs to learn that she can, as Hemingway once said, “be strong at the broken places.”

You may want to have her draw a picture of her life based on this metaphor by Maxine Harris in The Loss that Is Forever:

When a tree is struck by lightning,

if it survives,

its growth is altered.

A knot may form where the lightening hit.

The growth on one side of the tree may be more vigorous

than on another side,

The shape of the tree may change.

An interesting twist or curious split has replaced what might

have otherwise been a straight line.

The tree flourishes;

it bears fruit,

provides shade,

becomes a home to birds and squirrels.

It is not the same tree it would have been had there not

been a lightening storm,

but some say it is more interesting this way.

Few can even remember the event

that changed its shape forever.

Because of your empathy as a journey mate, you have entered a ghost mobile with your child and are riding through the scary corridor of abandonment. Keep in mind the end result, for there may be many unexpected curves yet ahead. But when you and your child come out on the other end of the ride to the wonderful light of day, he will look at you sitting next to him and realize that he wasn’t alone after all. You were with him through every twist and turn of the way.

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The Special Needs of Adopted Children

What Are The Special Needs of Adopted Kids?

Adopted children have special needs that adoptive, first, and foster parents must learn  in order to become their child’s #1 cheerleader.

Use this list as needed and as age-appropriate for discussing special needs with your child. You might say, “An adopted person wrote a list of her special needs. Would you be interested in seeing it? I’m curious if you identify with any of the needs that are mentioned.”

Remember, with young children, keep it simple-rephrase into kid speak, and stick with the words: SAD, MAD, GLAD ANGRY.

Scripture verses are included for those who want them.


  • I need help in recognizing my adoption loss and grieving it. (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
  • I need to be assured that my birth parents’ decision not to parent me had nothing to do with anything defective in me. (Proverbs 34:5)
  • I need help in learning to deal with my fears of rejection–to learn that absence doesn’t mean abandonment, nor a closed door that I have done something wrong. (Genesis 50:20)
  • I need permission to express all my adoption feelings and fantasies. (Psalm 62.8)


  • I need to be taught that adoption is both wonderful and painful, presenting lifelong challenges for everyone involved. (Ezekiel 17:10a, Romans 11:24)
  • I need to know my adoption story first, then my birth story and birth family. (Isaiah 43:26)
  • I need to be taught healthy ways for getting my special needs met. (Philippians 4:12)
  • I need to be prepared for hurtful things others may say about adoption and about me as an adoptee. (John 1:11)


  • I need validation of my dual-heritage (biological and adoptive). (Psalm 139:16b)
  • I need to be assured often that I am welcome and worthy. (Isaiah 43:4, Zephaniah 3:17)
  • I need to be reminded often by my adoptive parents that they delight in my biological differences and appreciate my birth family’s unique contribution to our family through me. (Proverbs 23:10)


  • I need parents who are skillful at meeting their own emotional needs so that I can grow up with healthy role models and be free to focus on my development, rather than taking care of them. (II Corinthians 12:15)
  • I need parents who are willing to put aside preconceived notions about adoption and be educated about the realities of adoption and the special needs adoptive families face. (Proverbs 23:12, Proverbs 3: 13-14, Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • I need my adoptive and birth parents to have a non-competitive attitude. Without this, I will struggle with loyalty issues. (Psalm 127:3)


  • I need friendships with other adoptees. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
  • I need to taught that there is a time to consider searching for my birth family, and a time to give up searching. (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
  • I need to be reminded that if I am rejected by my birth family, the rejection is symptomatic of their dysfunction, not mine. (John 1:11)


  • I need to be taught that my life narrative began before I was born and that my life is not a mistake. (Jeremiah 1:5a, Ephesians 1:11)
  • I need to be taught in this broken, hurting world, loving families are formed through adoption as well as birth. (Psalm 68:6)
  • I need to be taught that I have intrinsic, immutable value as a human being.
  • I need to be taught that any two people can make love but only God can create life. He created my life and I’m not a mistake.  (John 1:3)

Your greatest challenge as a parent is to first identify the special need that has arisen and then to help your child verbalize it. This gives him some sense of mastery and control over something that feels out of his control. Helping your child heal is largely centered on honest, productive dialogue between you and your child.

Once you as a parent gain such a depth of understanding of your child’s special needs, you will be able to give him the support he needs not only now but throughout all of life. His special needs, in turn, will become deep wells of personal strength and empathy within him as he grows older.

Friends, be sure and add your email address at the right hand corner. Blogs are only once a week…you will not be inundated with unwanted mail. I’d love to stay connected with you.

This list may be reproduced, only when credit is given to the author and the book: Copyright, 1999, Sherrie Eldridge, Random House Publishers-TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW.

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What Happens When Adoptive Parents Reflect On the Miracle of Adoption

Singing A Song of Celebration During Painful and Pleasurable Times of Adoptive Parenting

Without a doubt, you know that an absolute miracle transpired in your heart when you adopted your child. Trying to describe it would be impossible, for it is like a million emotions exploding simultaneously—like fireworks! Debbie describes it well: If I had to pick just one moment of absolute, unadulterated joy it would be the moment I saw her photo pop up on my computer screen.  I kept saying, ‘That’s her, that’s my daughter, my daughter, my daughter!’ And somehow, in all the crazy excitement of the moment, I felt my heart fold itself around her half a world away.

This miracle needs to be reflected upon and celebrated often, especially when times get rough.

It is my belief that becoming a parent through adoption parallels becoming a parent biologically, except for the fact that are some more wondrous parts for parents through adoption, as well as some more painful aspects. Let’s talk about the pleasurable part first!

Conceived Again in Your Hearts

Think about the fact that every person on the face of this earth is conceived physically and the parental awareness of that conception might be pleasure or displeasure.

However, the adopted child is conceived again in your hearts, at a specific time and a specific place. Twice conceived! What a wonderful assurance for both parent and child. The first time the thought entered your mind about adopting a child, that likely was adoption conception. You may be understandably thinking that those thoughts enter the minds of many. Surely, but they wash away, like sandcastles in the tide. For adoption parents, the thoughts return, not in an obsessive and upsetting manner, but as consistent heart impressions. You know you want to parent a child. Your motivation is not to fulfill your need to become a parent, but to fulfill the needs of a child who needs good parents.

This brings us to a sensitive point about adoption conception, but one which must be addressed concerning sincere people of faith. Barb Testa Butz,  former leader of “Moms through Adoption” at Willow Creek Church, Illinois says, “I find that churches often have a confused view of Adoption ministry, somehow viewing the act of adoption as a ‘ministry’ vs. born out of the desire to become a parent. I think the Scripture verse about caring for  widows and orphans gets misapplied oftentimes, and ‘rescuing’ orphans through adoption becomes viewed as a ministry. If we are to
care for widows and orphans, is the church called to start a ministry to
marry-off those widowed? Of course not! Neither are we ‘called’ biblically
to adopt orphans — it is personal heartfelt choice. Rather, we are called to serve those who are widowed and orphaned, whether financially,
spiritually, relationally, or emotionally. Adoption is a wonderful
option for those who desire to parent another child. Too often, I hear folks
view it as a ‘ministry,’ as though we are ‘rescuing’ kids in need. I am not
in the ‘savior’ role for any child, just a parenting role here on earth. The Bible does not call us to adopt, but to love and to serve — and we can serve countless more orphans through committed financial support to
trustworthy organizations than by adopting only one or two.” ( )

Unlike the various parental reactions to the news of physical conception, adoption conception is always a joyous occasion, even though a couple may not arrive at that conclusion at the same time, which may cause stress. There may be a “dragger” and a “draggee!” Perhaps one person experiences adoption conception and it takes a while for the spouse to become convinced. This was the situation with Laurel and her husband. “I had a dream and in the dream was picture of children—two Chinese girls and a boy. Laurel and her husband had already adopted two little girls from China. Thus, when Laura woke up, she wondered, “Who is the boy?” Her mind began reasoning that it’s nearly impossible to adopt boys from China. Then a friend  who knew nothing about her dream, said, “So, are you planning to adopt again? Yesterday, I heard about a boy from China who is available for adoption. Let me give you the web site.” Laura went to the site, read the information and printed his photo, but no lightning bolt of insight hit her, even though she began praying for him. After two months, she was convinced about adoption, but her husband wasn’t. Then, the adoption agency called to say that the boy was now unavailable and the paperwork was returned to China, which made adoption almost impossible.  Months later, her husband told Laura that he thought they should adopt the boy. In an incredible turn of events, that night the head of another adoption agency called to say they’d been doing research and Michael had just been added to their list for available adoptees. Before long, the little boy from China that Laura first dreamed of, was a member of their family. ( )

For Melissa, it happened when she learned that an acquaintance, still a child herself, was expecting a child facing the hardest decision of her life. Melissa wept for the birth mother and the unborn baby she was carrying. At that moment, the thought of adoption entered Melissa’s heart and seven months later, that baby was placed in her arms by a loving birth family.

Placed Miraculously in Your Arms

Prior to that adoption day, a child has neither a home nor parents who are prepared to parent. Sleeping in a long crib with other babies, she may never leave the nursery. On adoption day, the orphanage worker hands her to the parents, wrapped in a tattered bedspread that the orphanage worker must keep. Without a stitch to her name, her parents reach out as the bedspread unfolds that small body and the hand-off takes place At last, they can touch her soft pink skin and hold her close. Their dream has come true. The child that was conceived in their hearts is now in their arms. After the long train and plane rides home, she settles into her own crib in her own room, surrounded by the loving gifts of friends awaiting her homecoming. To look at her months later, she’s sitting on a soft carpet, dressed in a dainty pink and white lace dress, circled by admirers. What a beautiful picture of adoption—a child who had nothing is embraced by parents who have given her a name, an identity, a forever home, unconditional love, a nurturing family, and security.

Cari and Phil Alt from Indianapolis said after bringing their daughter home from the Ukraine, “Bringing her home and realizing this is OUR baby and she is here to stay is joy unspeakable! She is not from my womb but I feel she was and is ours! I walk into her nursery and feel overwhelmed, knowing a few weeks ago she was somewhere way around the world, and now she is here.”

Rebecca’s family from New Jersey adopted a twelve-year-old child. “The first day we met was incredible – it was as though she had been waiting for me, as though she knew me when she saw me, as though she could understand the words I spoke to her, as I knelt before her.  When I asked her if she wanted to come home with me, be a family with me, love each other, she didn’t waver in her gaze but stretched her little arms out to me, asking to be picked up.  In my embrace, she wrapped her arms around me, grabbed handfuls of my hair, searched my face again, and cuddled into my neck.”

Kristen and her husband from Nevada adopted a newborn domestically. “I felt every emotion, from A to Z, the moment we got the call that our precious daughter was born. The first time I held her and our tears mixed, I knew she was mine. The memory of watching my husband holding her and looking so happy still brings tears of joy.”

Connected Forever to Your Soul

There are so many parents I have interviewed that have expressed the belief that “this was meant to be.” They know, without a doubt, that this child was meant from all eternity to become a member of their family. Adam Pertman, father through adoption and CEO of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute says, There’s always the feeling in my soul that this was meant to be.

As an adopted person, I will never forget the realization as a young adult that my biological parents and my mom and dad had been handpicked for me. In my mind, to this day, there were no coincidences and no mistakes. 

There is a wonderful plan behind it all that I can’t see, like looking at a beautiful tapestry from the underside. Someday I will see it in all its splendor. I love the sovereignty of it all.

By the way, parents, this is a point you want to emphasize with your children—that this was meant to be. No mistakes! We adoptees secretly believe that our lives are a mistake because of the circumstances surrounding our conception or relinquishment. Others feel like “aliens” who were just dropped into their mom and dad’s home. Your child will wholeheartedly be able to celebrate adoption with you when he knows “it was meant to be.”

Lest we get carried away with euphoria and verge on the precipice of romanticism, let’s remember that not all adoption days are filled with joy. Some are downright painful and parents must remember that this is no reflection on them. “The first night our baby came to us,” Julie sobbed, “I dreamed she pulled a silk scarf over her face. I woke startled, but she was asleep in the bassinet beside our bed. I didn’t fall in love with our baby at first sight. She cried and cried, and I couldn’t comfort her. For the first 100 hours we were together, she cried or slept—exhausted.

Elizabeth D. Branch describes their experience on the first day with their their-and one-half year old daughter: “How do you love an adopted child? Will you love her as much as your biological children?” With a resounding yes, of course…However, you never asked yourself if she would love you. This is my story. This is where my bubble popped, and our difficult journey began. The next morning, our first morning together with our daughter, my husband walked into the living room where I was playing with her. She took one look at him, then hung her head down and started to cry—not just sniffling, but deep, terrified shrieks of fear. We were confused, thinking it was a one-time thing. Unfortunately, this behavior continued for the rest of our trip.”( )

Some adopted children are extremely needy when you receive them and no matter how hard you have worked at being ready to connect on a meaningful level, your child may not be ready to connect with you…yet.

Adoption authority Gail Steinberg says in an article from OURS Magazine:

Newborns and parents don’t always fall in love at first sight. Thankfully you have a lifetime to work on it. There’s no race. What matters is your commitment to attach no matter how long it takes. ( )

Also, let me add here that in the best case scenario adoption day, it is STILL stressful, even though a wonderful thing is occurring. We will talk more about that later, but first let me share a story that reminds me of you and your relationship to your children. Perhaps it is one you can share with your children someday!

Once a man named David was traveling with his university’s drama club. On one particular stop, a yachting club sponsored their play and after the performance, gave a dance at their clubhouse on the waters of a lovely lake. A member of the club was appointed as a host for David. When the orchestra at the yacht club took a break, David’s host took him out to the veranda, saying that he wanted to show him something. David followed him through the clubhouse door that opened on to an unlit balcony over the lake. Bright lights from the yacht club’s ballroom streamed through the doorway and the moon was making soft hues on the rippling waters below. David couldn’t figure out why this man had invited him out to the balcony, but within seconds, the man thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out something, and held it in the light from the doorway for David to see. Looking David straight in the eyes, he asked if he had ever seen anything like what he held in his hand.

On his open palm lay about ten little pale stones. As David gazed at the stones, each one was shooting fire-ruby lights, emerald lights, amethyst—they were indescribable. It was as if tiny living rainbows had been captured and put into pale translucent prisons, from which they were sending forth rays of fire. David was amazed and couldn’t stop looking at them. When he asked his host what they were, he was told that they were Mexican opals. The man said that he liked them so much that he carried them loose in his pocket because he liked to put his hand down and feel them, even if there is not time to take them out and admire them. The man then added that he carried them everywhere he went.

Like the man at the yacht club, you consider your child a jewel that you carry everywhere you go, not necessarily in your arms or in a baby trecker, but in your hearts…deep in your hearts, no matter what their age, no matter what their successes or failures.

When our first grandchildren were born, identical twin boys, I put my index finger near them in their bassinets and said, “Welcome to the world, Austin and Blake! You are so precious to me. You don’t have to do anything to make me love you. I adore you just because of who you are.” Suddenly, a tiny hand grasped my index finger. I have given the same message to each of our six grandchildren and I carry them as my jewels in my heart, wherever I go.

This is where inspiration and vision for your child’s future begins, and the place you must return to often, especially when discouraged, for it will build faith and hope.


When you get some free moments, pull out your child’s baby book, or life book, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, curl up in an easy chair and allow your mind to remember the wonders of your child’s adoption. Even if it was a painful experience at first, reflect upon how you grew strong through it and how you and your child came through it successfully.


Establish a “reflection ritual” with your family. Explain to them how important it is to remember the miracles of adoption and talk about it with one another often.

  • Set the time for your conversation with your family about “reflection night.”
  • As a family, determine the date of the first reflection night and brainstorm on something special each person might bring to the evening: bake cookies, find a poem about adoption, share your first memory, find a contemporary song about adoption, etc.

Now that we’ve assessed your stress level, determined ways to get started on taking better care of yourself, and begun remembering the absolute wonders and miracle of adoption, let’s prod a little to make sure there are no hidden defenses in your hearts so that are totally open for renewing your passion and purpose.

We have just talked about that blissful, amazing honeymoon stage of adoption. Savor it while it lasts, but realize that it’s only a fraction of the big picture, kind of like a slivered almond.

I’d like to challenge you in the next chapter to be open to hearing the voices of parents who were receptive to hearing about adoption realities, those who resisted, as well as those who didn’t have information available. Perhaps you can identify yourself in the mix?.


Recognizing that the wonders of adoption involve pain as well as pleasure, the best thing for you and ultimately your children, is to first of all, recall the joys thus far of adoption parenting. Currently, it is popular to make a life book for your child, recounting his/her story in order to celebrate and remember often. What about a lifebook celebrating your life as a parent, not necessarily for the edification of your child, but of you.


Reflect back on the thought “we were meant to be” and write a song that you can sing to your child from day one.

(Excerpt from 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed book: Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge).