7 Core Issues in Adoption & Permanency: Identity

Jul 26, 2020

If constellation members have acknowledged and identified their losses, examined feelings or fears of rejection, become aware of any issues connected to shame and guilt, and addressed their grief process, they have the opportunity to build a cohesive identity that includes their adoption and permanency status.

As a life-altering event, adoption/permanency affects an individual’s identity. The pursuit for self-identity is at the heart of the human journey. All individuals are on a quest to understand who they are, where they fit and share their stories with others to better understand themselves. Stories that are broken due to historical or personal events can make it difficult for people to understand and express who they are and solidify their life’s narrative.

Identity formation begins in childhood and moves to the forefront during the teenage years. Gaps in identity may be more pronounced when a child starts school or has a family-oriented classroom assignment (e.g., creating a family tree).

If you are adopted, you may have experienced adoption-related identity issues throughout your life and you may feel as though your identity is incomplete, as if you are missing some pieces to your puzzle. Your birth/first parents are your genetic parents, but they aren’t parenting you. You were born into one family and became part of another family from whom you learned values, religions, traditions, family stories, and views of the world.

If you were adopted and lack genetic, medical, religious, cultural, ethnic, racial, and other historical information about your birth/first family, you may want answers to questions that would help form your identity, such as why your birth/first parents placed you, what became of those parents, if you have siblings, and whether you resemble your birth/first parents or extended family.

Adoptive, foster and kinship parents may not feel like the “real” parents or feel entitled to be the “real” parents. Birth/first parents may be unsure of their role in their child’s life since they are not actively parenting the child day to day. People who were parents are no longer the “everyday parents” and people who did not give birth become “everyday parents.”

The losses in adoption and permanency create complexities and additional tasks for all constellation members that need to be addressed in order to achieve a healthy identity.

Constellation members may experience identity issues when:

Tweens and teens are forming their identity

Children feel insecure or angry and say, “You’re not my real mother/father”

Search and reunion occur

Personal or intrusive questions are asked

Medical issues arise

People ask, “Are those your real children?”,

“Are those your real parents?”

People ask the birth/first parent,

“How many children do you have?”

Birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day create questions about one’s connections