How Adoptees React to Others Trying to Help Them Belong

Why Adopted and Foster Kids Believe They Don’t Belong Anywhere

Adopted and foster kids would prefer hiding under pillows than believing they “don’t belong” in the family, school group, university, or place of worship.

They might describe “feelings of not belonging” like this:

  • Uncomfortable: A square peg being pushed into a round hole.
  • Judged: A tattoo on my forehead that says: “Weird.”
  • Unknown: An alien who was dropped into my parent’s home.”
  • Mixed Up: Fingernails over-the-blackboard feeling.
  • Confused: Spontaneous sense of belonging with bio relatives but not with mom and dad.

Of course, adoptive and foster parents cringe at these beliefs. They will do anything to comfort their children and convince them that they belong. Here are a few parental attempts:

  • Clanging Bell Approach: Mention as often as possible to the child that they belong, with an affectionate tap on the head.
  • Silent Approach: Just ignore anyone talking about the fact that child may suffer with this. It will go away in time.
  • Quivering-Lip Approach: If I cry, maybe my child will know how much he/she means to me.
  • Educational Approach: Find a book on Amazon called “You Belong.”
  • Gift Approach: Buy a necklace that says, “You belong.”

None of these approaches work.

In fact, they hurt rather than heal.

The Roots of “Not Belonging”

The root cause not belonging is genealogical bewilderment, which is articulated by the late Dr. Betty Jean Lifton in her best-selling book, LOST AND FOUND. Order here:

Lifton says genealogical bewilderment comes from the fact that adoptees are confused about their origins.

In other words, “Who am I?”

She then adds another component: technical bewilderment, which means that adoptees are not able to cope with the confusion arising from the genealogical bewilderment.

What Parents Can Do

I know that the material above might be upsetting to parents. You never want to wound your children.

So, what is a parent to do with this information?

These are a few suggestions:

  1. Open an intentional conversation about common adoptee issues.  Your child will probably resist…but keep on…through prayer and time. We adoptees and foster kids don’t want to do anything to hurt or disappoint you, so we will clam up.
  2. Explain adoption dynamics in child-friendly terms. “Adoptees often struggle with things like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where did I come from?’”
  3.   Use visuals to facilitate teaching: I have an illustration…the Braid of Adoption that would be sufficient. With this, you can explain everyone’s place in the adoption triad.  –
    1. Red=adoptee or foster child (an amazing creation of nature and nurture …with incredible potential, rolled into one awesome person.
    2. Green ribbon= represents the first family, who provides first home (womb) for child and all the DNA gifts.
    3. Purple=adoptive/foster parents who nurture that gift of the bio parents.
    4. Gold=God’s power in and through all of us…for our good.
  4. *Braid for blog
  5. Clarify the two sources of identity: Bio family and adoptive/foster family
  6. Assure that you understand child’s confusion…who do I belong to? Who am I?
  7. Affirm love and respect for first family, thus giving him/her permission to talk with you about them in the future.
  8. Challenge: recognize feeling, remember not alone, choose to celebrate uniqueness of life.

For more in-depth information about the adoptee mindset, consider my third book: TWENTY LIFE-TRANSFORMING CHOICES ADOPTEES NEED TO MAKE






2 responses to “Why Adopted and Foster Kids Believe They Don’t Belong Anywhere”

  1. Sherrie Eldridge, Adoption Author Avatar

    Yes, Paige! Thanks for bringing in this important point. How we need fellow adoptee friendships. How would you advise an adoptee who has tried to find such a friend without any luck?

  2. Paige Adams Strickland Avatar

    I would add to encourage the adoptee to find peers with similar circumstances so that they can have a “social support group” of like-minded peers. One of the hardest things for me that made me feel so alone was having no one like me to talk to who would understand that this is way beyond, “Well, your mom and dad love you so”. It wasn’t enough to hear that. I needed, “Yeah, I know exactly how you feel. Same here”.

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