Adoption and Identity: nature, nurture and the life long journey to self

One of the areas in adoption literature that has always fascinated me is the development of identity and sense of self among adopted children. I find the topic of identity personal, and something that most of us can relate to. You may never experience complex trauma, separation, or attachment difficulties, which many adopted children go through, but at one point or another in your life you probably stepped back and considered how do I identify myself? Who am I? What life factors have contributed to my self-image?

Even as I write this, there is a collection of words occupying my mind that describe how I see myself. Yet, the question that surfaces through this pile of words is ‘what word does not pop into my mind that I want to identify with? For example, I have wanted to learn how to play the piano for some time now, but the word piano, pianist, or music never surfaces to describe who I am. My question is quite trivial when you consider the questions that can come up for an adoptee, or the questions that remain unanswered – Where am I from? Do I have any biological siblings? Who are my birth parents? Did my birth parents love me? These questions will evolve through an adoptee’s life stages, and depending on how they are approached by the adoptive parents will become part of the child’s identity. These questions can also manifest themselves in behaviours, and illness depending on the support an adoptee received from their network.

Over the weekend I had some free time, and decided to listen to a webinar hosted by the Adoption Learning Partners called ‘Adoption and Identity: nature, nurture, and the life long journey to self.’ Michelle Madrid- Branch and Carmen Knight facilitated the webinar. In the webinar Michelle guides the listeners through a very personal adoption story - from being placed in the U.K. foster system by her mother, to being adopted in the United States, and forming her intercultural family by adoption. Michelle shares the questions, feelings, and physical alignments that surfaced during her journey, and also provides examples on how parents can help their children find their own identity – which she explains as an adoptee’s own truth that is not influenced by their surroundings.

Without giving too much away, I want to share with you one of the examples that Michelle provides on how parents can help their children develop a positive sense of self, that I have not come across in readings before. Michelle is the author of the very popular adoption book “The Tummy Mummy.” Mummy is what children call their mothers in the U.K., and this is how Michelle refers to her birth mother. She explains that the adoptive parents should encourage children to call their birth parents whatever they wish. By doing this you are tell your child that you are open to them constructing their own truth about their birth parents, and are willing to answer any questions that may surface. Michelle provides other examples, and applies them to her children. If you want further insights on how you can help your child develop a positive identity, or if you are interested in hearing more about Michelle’s story, I encourage you to listen to this webinar.


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