When Adopted Kids Ask, “Am I Unlovable?”

Posted February 13, 2009 by

Oh, how sweet those little faces looked as babies. They lit up when we entered the room, they smiled when we made funny faces, and they laughed, a deep belly laugh, when we played. Our hearts were full, theirs were not.

Adoption has many great benefits. Children are placed in homes where they are safe and cared for and deeply loved. And couples that can’t have kids or who want another to complete their family can do so. Emotionally, too, there are many holes in their hearts that are filled by adoption.  All but one.

Where is the hole?

A child is made to be loved by his biological dad and mom. Any change in that can cause holes in his or her heart. I used to think that our love as adopted parents could fill that hole. And what I have found is that it can — but not completely. There seems to be a continuous search for my adopted kiddos to know they are loved. It manifests itself in different ways for each child, but there is no denying that the rejection they experienced physically now affects them emotionally.

They wonder “Why was I not good enough to be kept; am I unlovable?” Then there are the questions of “Where do I fit, who do I look like, do they miss me like I miss them sometimes?” No matter how much we try, we cannot answer those questions. No amount of logic fills the void.

Don’t misread me here. This doesn’t seem to consume them. The majority of their hearts are whole. There are just moments when this mom’s heart aches for theirs as I get a glimpse of that void.


Matt and Julie Hellstrom are Parent Bloggers for EP

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  1. Happy Lad Report

    for the benfit of depressed father, my wife and i have six children the youngest are twin boys now aged 18 who we fostered at 3 months old. They were diagnoised with adhd and 7 seven other disorders at 5 years of age, the entire family,school our neighbours and friends have all worked hard to help these lovely boys get on with life.
    It has been a journey full of adventure, good days bad days highs and lows but the most difficult part was when one of the boys about 2 years ago began to turn again my wife and it got progressively worse as time passed. He really despised her and even though she showered him with love he clearly felt that she was a low form of life.
    We found this time extremly distressing and difficult. We sought advice from anyone and everyone but nothing worked,he would not talk to us and his twin brother could not get through to him either and they are very close, we were at our wits end until one day about 6 weeks ago he forgot to take his medicine for his adhd,that evening we noticed a changed young man, much calmer more cheerful and plesant to everyone including his mam. Thankfully this has continued to the present day and he is a joy to be around.
    What i am saying to you is dont give up on your boy their is a reason for his behaviour and if you can find it then you can turn all your lives around.
    I wish you the very best and hope things improve

  2. Adoptee Report

    I was adopted as an infant. I know nothing of my birth parents and honestly don’t think I would have cared had I not been rejected by my adoptive parents. I have paranoid schizophrenia which I am certian I inherited from my birth parents, it did not become evident until I was 34 years old. I am guessing my birth parents had this illness as well. My adoptive parents have never had to deal with it, and I don’t think they would have handled it well. It is hard to get over the pain that I believe my adoptive parents are not capable of loving me. I am a beautiful loving person that deserves love. I am having a hard time getting over I will never be loved and accepted by my adoptive parents. It is really hard to let go of that pain and sadness.
    That is just the way it is. I am grateful for a husband and children that love me and that is what I cling on to.

  3. Laura Report

    I’m an adult female who was adopted at 4 months of age. I still struggle with issues I believe are partially related to adoption, specifically the inability to form good attachments, predominantly with women. I worry how this affects my relationship with my daughter, but I don’t find too much online about this topic. As an adoptee, I encourage parents to be firm and loving toward their adopted children, without trying to protect them from the pain of having been “given up.” It’s their burden and you can never fully understand it, but you can let them know you love them and will be there for them. Beyond that, give them tools for self expression that are creative and not destructive. They need to channel their grief and sadness in a socially acceptable way.

    On another note, I’m annoyed by all the religious under- and overtones in the postings. It’s inappropriate and not a view shared by everyone, not to mention it demeans those who are having trouble accepting what the religious zealots are calling “God’s will” by insinuating that their lack of faith is what’s causing them anguish.

  4. Debbie M. Report

    Adoption is born in loss. There are seven core issues that affect all three in the triangle (child, biological parent and adoptive parent). Loss, Rejection, Guilt and Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy, Mastery and Control- The Kinship Center in California has a wonderful training and support materials for adoptive families and the struggles they may experience with these 7 core issues. Adoption is a journey not a one time event. These issues can arise at developmental stages and can be difficult as adolescents search for their identity. Lynda is using a wonderful tool, Lifebook, just the process of creating one is a healing process for the child. Bless you all who’ve adopted children. Be strong.

  5. blessed mother Report

    All three of our children came to us through adoption.My son was 2,both girls were 2 and 3 weeks old.The process of our faamily coming together is a time that completely changed me forever.What an emotional journey!!My son is now just short of 13 and the girls are 6 & 10.It has been a very hard 11 years for us and especially my son.He has constantly struggled with behavior issues,lying,sneaking…. It has been a very hard thing to even keep our marriage together.but thanks to being able to read your stories it helps me to remember what brought us to this place.It is easy to lose focus of the fact that I am the most blessed of women.All I ever wanted was to be a mother. Just because it is hard doesn’t void any of the blessings that come from parenting. I find myself in a big struggle with my son and in the midst of it comes these aha! moments, and i amcompletely undone. I cannot even imagine my life without any of the joys or struggles that come with my children. It also reminds me that this is how God feels about us,wishing we would choose differently, but loving us anyway.

  6. Father Report

    Dear Depressed Dad,
    I feel for you and pray for you and your family. Though I have a strong faith in God, I am only human. But, that faith I have in Jesus helps me through our tough times. My wife and I have a “rainbow” family; and we have all been through tough times, but we’ve gotten through them – together, as a family ought to. We first adopted internationally (for fear of children being returned in a domestic adoption.) We adopted twins from Bolivia. Then a few years later we adopted a two day old from the U.S. He is bi-racial. Lastly, we adopted a sibling group of three children. Unfortunately, about a year after adopting our third child I was in a car accident and lost one of our twins. So, we now have a family of five children – all adopted. My point in relating all this to you is that the only difference from adopting to giving birth is the actual birth process. As I take my children to the doctors’ office I see many children with their birth parent(s) there for the same reasons: ADD, ADHD, etc.
    Unfortunately for the children of the world today those are previlant in children – whether adopted or birth. I feel it is more society today than the fact that these children wonder ‘why?’ that is giving them their problems. I mentioned God and Jesus earlier. I know it is very important to have children know and feel God in their lives. God has a plan for all of us, and because we are each ‘blogging’ here shows us what one of His plans for all of us is: adoption. My wife and I see this as a ministry. God is asking us to take care of these children; do you not believe that He had that intended from the beginning? I do. We, of course, have ‘situations’ with each of our children. Some are more extravert, some intravert; some better in classes, some are slacking. I grew up in a birth-family of four children – the situation was not much different than my family of five adopted children. There are times of anger, times of sadness (our loss of my twin son, and the pains his twin feels periodically), times of joy, laughter, etc. but aren’t these apt to be present in even the ‘average’, ‘normal’ family life?
    Again, I pray and ask that you take a moment to ask God for His guidance and strength as you do His work for your daughter.

  7. Debbie Report

    Our son is 13 yr old and adopted internationally. In reading the entries above, the point about “the hole” is very very true, at least in our case. We were lucky to have taken adoption training prior to going through the process. In the first session, the lecturer stressed that an adopting family is a triangle – the child, the birthparents and the adopting parents. None of those three connections/legs will ever go away and if we thought by adopting this child, they would never want/think about/wonder about their birthparents, we should end the process right then and there because it was not being realistic. That lesson was etched on my brain and we have always ensured we honored our son’s birthparents, even though we had little to no information. He would bring up the question of why he was given up not often but just enough to let us know it was on his mind. He also seemed to be somewhat self-conscious of the fact that he was adopted, ackward socially and overall a little unsettled. Luckily for us were able to travel to his birth country this past year and through even more luck we were all able to meet his birthmother. What we saw after that one hour meeting was a child who had answers to his questions as to why he was not with his birthmother. It was an emotional meeting for all but for him, we could see that it truly helped to fill in the hole. He is a more content, happier child and we believe (although he hasn’t directly told us this) that it is because he had his questions answered. I know that not all families have the opportunity we did, but what I would recommend at a minimum, that you ensure that you are honoring the birthparents and if possible, help your son or daughter to obtain as much information about their birthparents that you can give them. Trust me – as the adopting parents it is really hard to do because you are inviting another parent into your child’s life. However, we found that it is true that third leg of the triangle will never go away in your child’s mind and heart and if you accept that and find a way to work with them to find out whatever you can about the leg, that might go a long way in helping your child and your relationship with them.

  8. Julie Hellstrom Report

    Dearest Depressed Father – I hurt for you. Last summer, my daughter too hit the wall just the same. I felt I woke up in someone else’s life. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, counseling for her and me, devoured Total Transformation, and it has started to come around.

    My husband and I made a couple of key decisions that were critical in starting this change. 1. Solid, understood house rules and consequences (and her medical diagnoses did not change these expectations, thanks James Lehman!) and 2. Don’t parent out of emotion or most importantly fear. They smell it a mile away and use it to their advantage.

    Sad if she chooses to leave, it is still her choice. Her actions or reactions do not define us nor do they need to control us.

    I am not sure of exactly why but I can say when my husband and I put our marriage first, we calmed down and she seems to have benefited from this. Don’t give up or give in, I believe kids are asking “who’s in charge here and do you love me?” Listen to your Total Transformation cds over and over, they truly empower you.

  9. Julie Hellstrom Report

    Hi Lynda – I love your book of life idea. I too started one for each of my kids and have included pictures of bio family when available. I never thought about it being a lifelong book, that’s cool, that they can add to when (or if as my oldest says)they are able to have a mature relationship with the birth parents. Your gentleness speaks evidently in your post.

  10. Julie Hellstrom Report

    Hi Uncledeed – I do believe that love is the great healer, too. When we first got our kiddos, I believed that love and prayer would heal all things, so no expectations of a “hole”. What I’ve learned is that I need to be aware, as CeeCee says, that there could be a hole. For me being realistic is most beneficial in being an effective parent and it makes me kids feel safe and heard.

  11. Depressed Father Report

    My wife and I adopted our daughter at one day old. From that day we immediately began bonding with her. I have two older children from previous marriages that do not live with us. She was a joyful and wonderful child. She was sometimes “head strong”, but a pleasure to have around. Now thirteen years later, she has become a disrespectful and non-loving teenager. She completely despises my wife, who loves her dearly. We have tried talking to her only to hear how miserable her life is. She has seen three psychatrists and numerous therapists. She has been diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and possible bi polar disorder. She is on medication which seems to help sometimes but the anger is still there. It is tearing our lives apart. Sometimes I feel that my wife is pulling farther and farther away from me. I am afraid that when my daughter grows older she will leave home and we will never see her again. She asks why we didn’t adopt another child, we told her we tried but it is difficult with our ages. I pray to God each day to guide me to find ways to help our daughter through these trying times in her life.

  12. Lynda Telford Report

    We have adopted children and are in the process of adopting more children. Each child we have adopted came with different views just like you and I. We have adopted new born to teen age. They all have very different situations however one thing in common is that someone said goodbye so they could be with us.

    When we talk to the children right from day one we let them know even if they do not fully understand that we chose them and we are so happy to have them in our lives.

    Then we go on to make a book of their life if they have something to put into it prior to being with us and then continue from there. If they were new born we start the history hoping that at least there will be a picture of birh parents to add. If not we talk about how life is a journey of relationship building and that one day they will hopefully have a mature relationship with their birth parents and they can add to the book at the middle part of it.

    I must tell you there was only one child which we had issues with and it happened long before arriving at our home. It was a mother issue and it continued with me and I to this day still can not connect with this child because of the damage which had occured to her in the first 10 years of life.

    To have a relationship breakdown there has be part from both sides which they own and must take responsibility for, but if they can not do it they get stuck in the blame game and they can not move forward.

    Someday I hope this child will find their way and and just maybe instead of being in that so called hole of why, they might find that what they were looking for was standing there the whole time.

  13. Loving Mom Report

    MY son, husband & I became a family when my son was just one day old. The transition from being a married couple to that of parents was easy, effortless & joyful for us. Bonding was natural & immediate. Our son was happy & well adjusted socially, emotionally & mentally. We thought our family was going to be free from the negative issues that can sometimes accompany adoption.
    As our son enters adolensence & his teen years, the “hole” is definately there, deep down inside of him, in his subconscience & in his emotions. He is not yet aware (or does not want to face this awareness) that his continuous need for reassurance, for love, for “stuff” comes from his need to fill the void left by being separated from his biologoical mother. Yes, I see the “hole” in his heart, in his behavior, in his life. I pray that he finds the strength & support to uncover & face this hidden pain so that he can be content & satisfied in himself.
    God does have a plan for each one of us & I hope he can see God’s plan for him.

  14. CeeCee Report

    It’s important to recognize that hole, and I think a lot of adopted parents don’t. With my son, I didn’t see it soon enough. I adopted two kids from Eastern Europe–a boy at age one and a half and ten years later a girl at age seven.

    My son always seemed like a happy, well-adjusted kid. He seemed content to know that God put him in “Rosa’s” tummy because Mommy couldn’t carry a baby and then God led us 10,000 miles to find him and bring him home. But we never recognized or talked about a loss in his life.

    In high school, he became a different person. He never got into drugs or anything like that but he became an unhappy, mopey and low-achieving person.

    Reading some essays he wrote for English I started to appreciate how the adoption was effecting him emotionally. He wrote of hating his birth mother–hating her for giving him up. When he was 18 he had a rose tattoed on his back to symbolize the mother he never saw (Rosa).

    He’s 19 and a freshman at college now but continues to pull away from the family more and more. He just got engaged to his 19 year old girlfriend, I think because he so badly wants to fill the hole and sees this as the way to do it.

    At this point, I don’t know what I can do for him. He is cold and rejecting at home, rude and manipulative. I hope we’ll be close some day again, but at the moment it’s hard to picture it.

    My daughter has been a very different experience. With her being older at the time of adoption, her original loss was apparent to all right from the start, and something we could recognize and talk about from the beginning.

    Also, she recognized from the first day that she was adopted but had a greater appreciation of that fact in a positive way since she had clear memories of the alternative–not a happy birth mom and dad, but the orphanage.

    She is 14 now and doing very well–a loving, happy member of the family. There is still a little bit of sadness about the unknown birth family that surfaces now and then, but it’s not an every present cloud and it doesn’t result in any rejection of us (or of herself) like it seems to do with my son.

  15. uncledeed Report

    A beautiful, spirited girl came into our life eleven years ago adopted from another country. She was chosen by all the matters making life cycle,love and compassion. We chose not to add to the number of kids already present at our age. A rescue for all of us we named her Noa.
    She has heard our version as we ask her for her version of adoption. She has questions and we all ponder answers. Aside from the point origin, birth, she seems fully satisfied with her views. She asks why so many other kids already in families can’t adopt into better circumstances of happiness. Hole filled. She visits the past at times with curiosity and comes back to the day with her vision looking forward. We assign to adoption the expectation that these holes will appear. They also appear with ‘bio’
    kids who may feel insufficient love, aside from the fact they too had nothing to with their origin. We cannot change history but we can create an effect on tomorrow’s history. Who has not contemplated why they were born. And
    our appetite for love was assigned to us. So, fill in the hole with what is needed. Love.

  16. kim86 Report

    I am certainly not an authority on adoption. I am the
    mother of two children and both are adopted through
    entirely different circumstances. What I believe with
    all my heart and how I explain adoption is encased with
    my belief in God. I have always explained to my kids
    (and as they mature I have given more insight into this
    to them) that God has a plan for us all. You, MY CHILD
    are loved by God and God placed you with us. YOU were
    intended for me and I for you and you just got to me
    in a different way than some come to their parents.
    This does not diminish the role of the birth parent
    either. They are part of this journey. Adoption
    is truly a visual, tangible, expression of God’s
    love for us all.



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