All children, adopted or not, have secret places within where they can fantasize about perfect parents. They travel to these places when disillusioned with their own parents. Freud called this the family romance theory. When the non-adopted child learns around age seven or eight that his parents have both negative and positive characteristics, their fantasies dissipate.
It’s not that simple for the adopted child. The adoptee really does have another set of parents out there somewhere. Fantasies can continue throughout adulthood, unless recognized and dealt with. The birth mother can either be envisioned as a queen or a bag lady. The birth father, a king or a beggar.
You may not be aware that your child fantasizes like this, and perhaps not all adopted children do, but listen to the words of adoption specialists Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter in Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self: “In our experience, all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search, nonetheless. It begins when the child first asks, ‘Why did it happen? Who are they? Where are they now?’”
I learned this concept quite surprisingly one day while caring for my two-year-old twin grandsons. Whenever I have the privilege of spending a day with them, they often bring up the names of all the people in their extended family. Their minds turn often to those people who love them. “Papau, Sheia? Koa? Mimi? Gompa?” they ask, as if to say “Where are they now? What are they doing?” My grandsons have no trouble blending the two sides of their extended family. To them, there are no walls of preference, only people who love them and whom they love.
So it is with the adopted child. Somewhere, deep within her heart are the questions “Where is my birth mother right now? Where is my birth father? I wonder what they are doing.”
It is vital to keep in mind that there is no “we and they” mentality in the adopted child’s world. Birth parents have always been and will always be a part of her world, whether acknowledged or not. It is we, the adults, who sometimes erect walls of competitveness and possessiveness in relating to our child.
I realize this is difficult information for some parents of closed and semi-closed adoptions. You may find it threatening to open conversations about the birth family. However, it is essential if you are to be in tune with your child’s secret world. For specific help on adoptee fantasy, purchase a copy of Dr. Ronald J. Nydam’s book Adoptees Come of Age (Westminster John Knox Press).