Growing Up Adopted

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Olga addresses “the adoption paradox”—that on average, children who are adopted have wealthier, more involved parents but also more behavioral and attention problems. A reader broaches the nature vs. nurture debate in this context:

I admire people who adopt and am glad there are people who put their resources, time and love into a child that is not theirs from a biological point of view. However, that child’s biological inheritance is a wildcard and the adoptive parents may not have an easy ride in that respect.

Another reader, turning to nurture, insists that Olga’s piece “missed a very important problem”:

I am the single parent of two internationally adopted children who are now adults. They both had issues in their early public school years—not related to behavior or attention problems, but directly related to bullying.

Bullying is a topic that has been covered extensively and the effects of bullying on children are well known. Does it not seem obvious that a young child who is reacting to being bullied may appear to have attention issues and/or behavior issues?

When my children were young, they very innocently shared their adoption stories with their peers only to have those stories thrown back in their faces in a very cruel way. Taunts like “you don’t belong here,” “nobody wanted you,” “where’s your real Mom, maybe she’s dead”; these and many others were common.

My younger child also got some cruel lessons in racism the very first day of first grade. Not one teacher was ever aware of what was going on. Although teachers told me, in a very condescending way, that they were always aware of what was happening and had a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying, the truth is they were clueless and not at all helpful.

In the end, when my children had completed 4th and 6th grade, I took them out of school and home-schooled them. They both finished up their schooling, finishing high school in three years, and went on to college. In college they both achieved very high grades, got academic scholarships and were admitted to honor societies. My oldest is now a graduate student who intends to become a history professor and my younger child is completing a degree in communications.

For the most part we have gotten past the hurt and emotional damage caused by the bullying, although I do believe this leaves some lifetime scars. They are also at peace with their adoption stories, knowing that a part of their history will always be missing.

What do you think, especially if you’re an adoptive parent or were raised by adoptive parents? Drop me an email and I’ll post your perspective.