Adoptees: Insiders or Outsiders?

I told you about my odd childhood, how I grew up feeling like an outsider  in my family. Well it turns out I’m in good company. Many adoptees feel the same way, based on the comments I heard from my Facebook friends who are adopted.

I guess I hit a nerve. Many readers said they also felt like they did not belong to their families, even when they were wanted, cared for, protected and loved, like I was, by their adoptive parents. Of course we also don’t belong to our original families.

The house where Lillian raised her family
I felt like an outsider gazing at the house in Northbrook, Illinois where my birth mother, Lillian,  lived with her husband and four children.

Each one of us has a unique story. Some adoptees grew up knowing they’re adopted and feeling second class compared to their parents’ biological children.

Some were told by their parents to never tell anyone they were adopted. In other words, being adopted is really bad and you better keep your mouth shut about it. What does that do for anybody’s self worth?

Like me, some people never knew as children that their parents adopted them. We grew up feeling different, not like our parents at all, and not knowing the truth, which could have explained the feeling of not fitting in.

While the comments from my fellow “outsiders” were plentiful, I also heard from a handful of people who completely disagreed. They said they never, ever felt like outsiders in the family. How is that possible? Since I can’t identify with the insiders, I can only speculate on how they and their parents pulled this feat off (and try very hard not to feel envious).

A few questions for those of you who don’t suffer from the outsider complex:

ŸŸ  Did your parents bend over backwards to make sure you felt at home in their home? How did they manage to do that?

ŸŸ  Did they tell you the truth about how you joined the family?

Ÿ  Did your aunts, uncles and cousins treat you like one of their own?

Ÿ Ÿ  What would you tell potential adoptive parents who want to make sure their adoptive child feels like a real member of the family?

I would love to hear your stories.


10 thoughts on “Adoptees: Insiders or Outsiders?

  1. I really never felt like an outsider really. I felt like an Artis ( maiden name ) My parents told me I was adopted at a young age (5) and present as if it was no big deal. They made me feel special because they chose me but no more special than my 4 other non adoptive siblings. I was always curious about my blood family and my mom would often read me my adoption papers that told me my bio parents likes etc.. I however was adopted into a family I look very similar to and who have accepted many different folks as family. My extended family such as cousins , aunt and uncles consider me familu with no question asked because in my family if you have the last name you are family…period. My parents were also very supportive of me having a relationship with my bio parents when my bio mom found me. I however at times struggled with why my bio mom gave me up but overall I felt accepted in my family.

  2. That’s wonderful that your adoptive relatives made you feel like a member of the family. It doesn’t always work out that way. Your parents must be enlightened. Am I right, Leslie?

  3. I am adopted. I have always felt like an outsider. My family was wonderful, is…wonderful. I have two sisters who are “natural” to my parents, and I think that is where my outsiderdom comes from. I felt different, behaved differently, looked different. I was always afraid now that they had two children of their own that I would be sent back, I mean who needs someone else’s reject once you have your own right? No one EVER said this to me, but it harkened around the back of my mind nonetheless. My family is helping me search now, and being very supportive. I don’t want a lot, just a chance to say hello, look into the eyes of the person who gave me life and say thank you. I want to know some health history, and then if she desires I will walk away. I have never been “grounded” my whole life. If I had a family tree it would be an air fern, a plant growing but with no roots.

  4. I “always knew” I was adopted – basically, as soon as I could understand the concept – so it wasn’t a shock or anything – but I always felt like SUCH an outsider in my a-family.

    As I grew up I started to understand the depth of the character mismatch. I used to tell people that I was “a dog raised by cats.” I just COULD NOT do things the same way my a-family did. I didn’t understand my a-parents and they didn’t understand me. I had some pretty deep self-esteem issues for a long time because of this.

    I found my bio family in 2012 and immediately fit in with them. My big emotions, my creativity, my scatterbrainedness – all there. I found out my bio maternal grandmother was a professional clown for many years. Both my a-parents had worked in bookkeeping or finance at one point or another. I realized I wasn’t a dog raised by cats, but a clown raised by accountants!

    I have also been puzzled by the adoptees who just fit in with their a-families, and I think it’s just luck of the draw, getting a kid and a family together that have the same character. Obviously it’s possible to be the bio child of a family and not fit in AT ALL but I think the chances of not fitting in are way larger for adoptees, because of being cut off from your genetics.

    I wish prospective adoptive parents would understand how very complicated adoption really is before they get a child. Kids are NOT blank slates. Sometimes it really is as if you’re being raised by a completely different species. I guess I am a very cat-like dog or accountant-like clown, and there are advantages to that…but it wasn’t an easy ride getting this way.

  5. I am adoptive mom of an almost 8 year old boy. We have an open adoption where my son has a relationship with members of his birth family, and I feel that they are my “in-laws” via my son and also have a very good relationship with them. But I have come to realize that no matter how hard an adoptive parent tries to do everything “right” nothing can change the fact that a child might feel a sense of loss, “otherness” or rejection because of their adoption.

    Part of what I am trying to do is to respect my child’s feelings and to let him know it is okay to ask questions, to sometimes feel sadness about being adopted, but to also know how very, very much we love him.

    We try to walk a line where we talk about adoption but do not focus on it too much. I do everything I can to follow my child’s interests so that he will always feel like we, his parents, understand what he likes and cares about. We know many non-traditional families and I make it a point to mention that all families are different and have things that make them unique but that the most important part of family is that it is a place where you are loved and can be yourself.

    I do feel that because my son’s mother picked us to parent him, that we have a lot in common with our child. I am so thankful to her because she was looking for a family that she thought would be a good fit for him–and we feel that he is the perfect child for us. We love him beyond measure. It is sometimes hard for me as well because I love my son enough to wish he never had to go through being adopted, but then of course he wouldn’t be my son. So it is complicated.

    I really enjoy your blog. I hope the process of writing about your journey is giving you clarity about your own identity and that you continue to grow on your path.

    I am sure Lillian would be very proud of the woman you are today.

  6. Hi Lynne,
    My story is so different because I never knew that I was adopted until 2 years ago. I’m 61.
    My parents have both passed many years ago and took my secret to their graves. However it wasn’t really a secret from anyone but me and my brother (their bio son). I have a very large Italian -American family – over 40 first cousins and 20 aunts and uncles, plus numerous family friends. They all kept hid this truth from me for 59 years until at a
    family wedding two years ago an over-served cousin got up the courage to clumsily tell me the truth. The immensity of their silence is overwhelming.

    I always felt part of the clan. Just a bit different though, but I thought it was because we were raised in the suburbs and they all lived in the city.

    I always felt and still feel Italian -American. It is such huge part of my identity that all my friends know my heritage. But my recent DNA test shows otherwise. Not Italian at all – but primarily Danish. This revelation was almost as jarring to me as finding out that I was adopted.

    I think that I’ve now found my birth siblings and I’m discovering the truth of my past. But that’s another story.

    I’ve gone through a total range of emotions the past two years. I’ve read so many posts from adopted persons who have always felt like “outsiders” and I’ve finally come to peace with the fact my parents hid the truth from me. I know that they loved me so much and wanted to protect me from having that feeling of being different.

    Even though this knowledge has put me into an upheaval at this point in my life, I feel so fortunate to have been raised as a true member of the close-knit clan. I believe that if I had known the truth as a child I would have felt like an “outsider” and that would have affected me throughout my life.

    Interestingly, now that I know the truth I feel more disconnected from my extended family but that doesn’t matter very much now that I’m 61. I truly believe that feeling is mine and not theirs. I can’t imagine their burden of being silent all these years to honor my parents’ wishes. It is apparent to me that they did view me a bit differently but perhaps it was their being pressed into silence.

  7. Hi Alice. Nice to meet another “outsider.” Many people feel the way we do so I guess it must be common with adopted children. I agree adoptive parents really need to be better informed about the implications of adopting a child before they do it. think people become obsessed with the idea of having children and perhaps are blinded by their desire to have a family. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog!

  8. Hi Beth. How nice of your family to help you search. They sound like great people. You’re lucky. If ever I find out who my father is, I’ll be happy just to have his name, know a few facts about his life and a few photos. That’s enough. How is your search going?

  9. Pat, you raise an issue that bugs me about secret adoptions – they’re only “secrets” to the adopted ones. Like you, everyone in my adoptive mom’s family knew my sister and I were adopted but they never let on. Finding out about my adoption after my parents were gone was quite a shock. I resented them for not telling me and I also resented not being able to confront them with questions. It also seemed strange that my sister and I never came across any adoption paperwork in our parents’ house. Have you met your bio siblings? Do you feel any connection to them? Thanks for reading my blog.

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