Adoptive Parents and Grieving

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | September 22, 2023 

Grief is a major part of the adoptive process. Birth mothers grieve the loss of the children they supported in their own bodies. Birth fathers grieve the loss of raising their children. Adopted children grieve the loss of their first parents, and the many things that go with those losses including culture, identity, and so much more. And yes, adoptive parents grieve, too.

Adoptive parents choose to love a child that is not biologically theirs. As that love grows, they often grieve the years they did not have with their children. They grieve the ability to rock and soothe their child as a baby. They grieve time to attach to and care for their child at early ages. They grieve because they want the best for their child and are unable to go back and give to their child what they see the child needed (Rehman, n.d.). They grieve because they love.

Adoptive parents may also grieve specific things. They may grieve not having had the opportunities to observe life milestones like walking, talking, birthdays, and graduations (Nebraska Children’s Home Society, 2023). They may grieve that they will always be “second” parents, when they love their child so much they would have liked to have been there from the beginning (Grow, 2022). They grieve gaps they cannot fill for children, for example family history or photos (Sanders, n.d.). They grieve because they recognize their child’s pain and are unable to alleviate it.

Adoptive parent grief does not discount birth parent or adoptive child grief. It just acknowledges that adoptive parents, too, have losses through which they also need to work. Just as adoption is a process, so also, grief is a process. It’s a thing, a thing to be reckoned with, and also a thing that can build empathy and relationship, if parents choose to let it.

Recommended Reads

teenage girl looking out the window on a cold autumn day
Choices: How to Make the Right Decision
How many times do you find yourself second-guessing about you choices? What do you do with the choice...
Read More
Happy family, playing and mother having fun with children in a home in winter and bonding together.
Emotional Attunement and Children in Survival Mode
Navigating loss and grief can be a confusing process for children and teenagers. Here is a list of resources...
Read More

Grief is a major part of the adoptive process. Birth mothers grieve the loss of the children they supported in their own bodies. Birth fathers grieve the loss of raising their children. Adopted children grieve the loss of their first parents, and the many things that go with those losses including culture, identity, and so much more. And yes, adoptive parents grieve, too.

Adoptive parents choose to love a child that is not biologically theirs. As that love grows, they often grieve the years they did not have with their children. They grieve the ability to rock and soothe their child as a baby. They grieve time to attach to and care for their child at early ages. They grieve because they want the best for their child and are unable to go back and give to their child what they see the child needed (Rehman, n.d.). They grieve because they love.

Adoptive parents may also grieve specific things. They may grieve not having had the opportunities to observe life milestones like walking, talking, birthdays, and graduations (Nebraska Children’s Home Society, 2023). They may grieve that they will always be “second” parents, when they love their child so much they would have liked to have been there from the beginning (Grow, 2022). They grieve gaps they cannot fill for children, for example family history or photos (Sanders, n.d.). They grieve because they recognize their child’s pain and are unable to alleviate it.

Adoptive parent grief does not discount birth parent or adoptive child grief. It just acknowledges that adoptive parents, too, have losses through which they also need to work. Just as adoption is a process, so also, grief is a process. It’s a thing, a thing to be reckoned with, and also a thing that can build empathy and relationship, if parents choose to let it.

Recommended Reads

Family and Christmas lights
Don't Let Your Past Define Your Future Relationships
Don't let your past relationships define your future. Every new relationship is an opportunity to choose...
Read More
College Students overwhelmed, overworked, burned out, perfectionists. Teen tired girl, young woman sitting at table with books in college library.
Meltdowns: How to Get Back on Track
When life gets stressful, meltdowns can occur. To recover, the body, brain, and spirit needs to get back...
Read More

References

Grow, E. (2022, October 3). ‘I know I’ll always be second.’: Adoptive mom shares grief and loss behind kids’ international, foster care adoptions. Love What Matters. https://www.lovewhatmatters.com/international-foster-care-adoptions-grief-trauma/

Nebraska Children’s Home Society. (2023, January 12). Common long-term issues faced by adoptive families and how to solve them. https://blog.nchs.org/adoptive-families-challenges

Rehman, A. (n.d.). Grieving relationships we didn’t have. Grief Recovery Center. https://www.griefrecoveryhouston.com/grieving-relationships-we-didnt-have/

 Sanders, K. (n.d.). A past without pictures. Adoptive Families. https://www.adoptivefamilies.com/openness/older-child-adoption-no-baby-photos/

References

Grow, E. (2022, October 3). ‘I know I’ll always be second.’: Adoptive mom shares grief and loss behind kids’ international, foster care adoptions. Love What Matters. https://www.lovewhatmatters.com/ international-foster-care-adoptions-grief-trauma/

Nebraska Children’s Home Society. (2023, January 12). Common long-term issues faced by adoptive families and how to solve them. https://blog.nchs.org/adoptive-families-challenges

Rehman, A. (n.d.). Grieving relationships we didn’t have. Grief Recovery Center. https://www.griefrecoveryhouston.com/ grieving-relationships-we-didnt-have/

Sanders, K. (n.d.). A past without pictures. Adoptive Families. https://www.adoptivefamilies.com/ openness/older-child-adoption-no-baby-photos/