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Why Do Some Parents Experience Adoption Guilt?

What do you expect to feel after you complete your adoption?

Joy, most likely — as you should. Starting a family through adoption is a beautiful thing. You also might expect the stress of becoming a new parent — the sleepless nights and a lot more crying than you are used to. 

Even the difficult parts of parenthood are a welcome challenge after completing an adoption placement. But when an unexpected emotion shows up, it’s not nearly as easy to handle. 

That feeling is called “adoption guilt.”

Guilt? Really? You may be skeptical. Why would a parent feel guilty following such an amazing process, when your heart is so full of love?

Adoption guilt is more common in parents than you might expect. Here, we’ll examine several reasons why this can happen, why it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and how you can respond.

What is Adoption Guilt?

Guilt is a loaded word. It carries the assumption of wrongdoing. It is tied to complex feelings of shame. While “adoption guilt” is the most common way to refer to the feeling we are discussing, it’s not actually the best name for it.

You are not guilty of anything as an adoptive parent. What you’re feeling — as we’ll explore more below — is closer to empathy. It is not an emotion produced by any wrong actions, but by a deep understanding of everything that had to occur in order for your child to come home through adoption.

Why Does Adoption Guilt Happen?

Here’s a difficult truth: Adoption involves loss. Prospective birth mothers make one of the hardest choices possible when they choose adoption for their babies. This is a choice that comes from love. They want what is best for their babies, and they know that, for any number of reasons, that will be achieved through adoption.

In doing so, they are left with both hope and grief. There is deep love and heartbreaking loss. 

“Adoption guilt” happens when an adoptive parent recognizes the sacrifice a birth parent made. It’s difficult to reconcile how the best thing in your life — your newborn baby, who you love more than the world — was made possible because someone else chose to experience loss for the sake of love. 

Why Adoption Guilt Isn’t a Bad Thing

Guilt is, typically, a bad feeling. It tells you that you did something wrong. “Adoption guilt” is not necessarily a bad thing to feel, for several reasons.

First, you did nothing wrong. You actually did something amazing by fulfilling your dreams of becoming a parent and providing a child with a loving home full of opportunity. 

Second, it means that you understand and fully appreciate what it takes for adoption to happen. In a way, it’s something that every adoptive parent should feel as they honor the brave choice of their child’s biological parents.

Finally, adoption guilt can spur positive growth. It can lead to increased commitment to important relationships.

How You Can Respond to Adoption Guilt

What should you do with this difficult emotion? Stop and recognize that it’s there for a reason. When you feel adoption guilt, you honor the reality of your child’s birth parents. Then, take that and use it for good.

Most modern adoptions are at least semi-open. This means that sustained contact with your child’s birth family is likely. Still, it’s easy for commitment to wane over time. When you remember the loving sacrifice your child’s birth parents made, you can use it as a motivator to remain committed to open adoption communication.  

Additionally, you can pass on what you understand about the birth parent’s love to your child. Speaking about adoption early and often is healthy for a child’s development. It’s important to emphasize that their biological parents always loved them. They were always wanted. 

Speak with a Professional Today

Adoption guilt and other complex emotions can be challenging to cope with on your own. It may be wise to seek out professional counseling and additional resources as you progress in your journey.

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