Five Surprising Adoption Effects on Adoptive Parents

Couple experiencing adoption effects on adoptive parents

Adoption is often viewed with anticipation, excitement and high hopes for people awaiting the arrival of the child they wish to welcome into their family. They have gone through the process and have been told what to expect. Yet, their expectations often don’t include the adoption effects on adoptive parents.

In open adoptions, adoptive parents have typically met the biological mother, so they feel like they have a better perspective. In some cases, they may have even fostered the child prior to adoption. Regardless of the circumstances leading up to adoption, there are always surprises.

As an adoptee, seeing the situation from the other side, it has been interesting and eye-opening for me to interview adoptive parents in the process of writing this article.  Based on the interviews I conducted, here are five surprising effects of adoption on adoptive parents.

The Adopted Child Doesn’t Connect with Their Adoptive Parents

Most people who adopt do so with the hope of creating the atmosphere and feeling of a close family. They take the child in as one of their own and anticipate that the addition of the adopted child will somehow fill a void or make their family complete.

Imagine the surprising adoption effects on adoptive parents when they find that they can’t easily connect with their adopted child.

Adoption is trauma.

The biological mother has given up her child and the child instinctively feels this void, whether on a conscious or subconscious level. In some cases, that’s enough for the child to create an emotional barrier between themselves and anyone who would try to get too close.

So, try as they might, some adoptive parents will not be able to fully connect with their adopted child. In such a case the adoptive parents may end up feeling like the situation is futile or as though they are living with a stranger. They may even question their decision to adopt.

Fatiguing, Expensive and Emotionally Draining

These are some of the most surprising adoption effects on adoptive parents according to another friend of mine who adopted a 2 year old girl who had been severely neglected since birth.

As a result of the initial trauma, the child developed Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The child lies and steals, misbehaves and is disrespectful. She can’t focus on a task for more than a couple of seconds, to name just a few of the manifestations of RAD.  

As a single parent, trying to give her daughter the love she needs and the help she requires (every kind of counseling you can imagine) my friend has found herself at wits end.

Never in a million years did she expect this. She feels all alone and unsupported, and yet, she perseveres, hoping to find a balance in which she and her daughter can someday become a happy family.

Subtle Surprises

When I asked my adoptive parents, a.k.a., mom and dad, about surprising effects of adoption, they initially said there were no surprises. They told me that my adoption was a great experience in every sense, however, I know for a fact that there were a couple of surprises along the way.

For example, my mom has always told the story of how it took 9 months and she gained 10 pounds that she never lost when carrying and delivering each of my two older brothers, and the same thing happened when they adopted me!  It took 9 months to get me and she gained 10 pounds in the process, which she never lost.

Then, when I was 46 years old, I wrote a book about being adopted, explaining some of the feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem I had experienced throughout my life.  

After reading the initial rough draft, my dad called me and asked, “How can any daughter of mine possibly have had any challenges?”  He felt confused and was genuinely shocked!

As happens with many adoptions, the adopted child ends up with a poor self image (low self-esteem, self-worth and self-love). This can be a huge surprise for adoptive parents and can have the effect of making them feel like they didn’t do a good enough job, especially if they have provided love, support and every opportunity possible.  And yet, it happens.


More often than not, couples decide to adopt because they have not been able to have their own biological children. They may have tried multiple procedures and over the course of many years, only to be disappointed and so they decide to adopt.

They go through the entire process and finally have the adopted child to make their family complete. The couple is happy. They relax because they finally have their family. And then what happens?  BAM! The wife becomes pregnant! It happens more often than you might think.

The effects of an unexpected pregnancy shortly after adopting a child can range from elation to overwhelming. It just depends on the couple.

The Adopted Child Fits In With the Family Better Than Ever Imagined

My friends Scott and Julie fostered a young girl for a couple of years before adopting her into their family. They already had two children of their own. When asked about surprising adoption effects on adoptive parents, they told me of their experience.

One of the most surprising effects for them was the fact that their adopted daughter was fitting in with the family as if she had always been there.

Within the first year, she was calling them mom and dad and telling them every day how much she loved them. She was excelling in school, just like their other children. She laughed and played and fought with her siblings as if she was a natural part of the family.

For Scott and Julie, the surprising effect of adoption was that it was so natural, but not all adoption effects are happy or positive.

It’s probably safe to say that in all cases, there are surprising adoption effects on adoptive parents which can range across the board from happy and welcoming to completely devastating.  

What you experience will be influenced by who you are and who the child is. However, when you come from the place of love that you adopted in, then you’ll almost always find a way to create a sense of family for yourself and hopefully for your adopted child.

I’m Paula Dieck, an adoptee and an empowerment coach. I work with people, just like you, who are struggling with life-changing transitions. If you are facing unforeseen adoption effects, reach out to me here.

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