Share on Facebook  |  More Articles

Published Tuesday May 26th, 2009 at 7:38pm

Original Article by Angela Krueger

According to Sherrie Eldridge, author of Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wished Their Adoptive Parents Knew [Dell Publishing, 1999], adoptive parents often miss the idea that birthdays can be difficult for adopted children and adults. In both open and closed adoptions, an adoptee's birthday holds much significance. Not only does the day mark the beginning of the adopted person's life, it also reminds the adoptee of what she has lost.

Adoption is only made possible through loss, and birthdays can bring forward many adoption related issues for adopted people. Some of the questions adoptees ask themselves on their birthday are:

  • Is my birthmother thinking of me today?
  • What kind of emotions does my birthmother have on my birthday?
  • Is my birthmother wondering what I am feeling today?
  • What would my life be like if I stayed with my birth family?

An adoptee is not being ungrateful for the life provided by her adoptive family by asking these questions, it is just her way of dealing with the emotions only an adoptee can experience.

Signs That Birthdays are Hard for an Adoptee

Not every adoptee finds birthdays difficult, but for some the anniversary can trigger grief reactions, anxiety and depressed emotions. Feelings of sadness, anger and guilt at feeling these emotions on a special day, can cause turmoil in the adoptee. Here are other signs that an adopted child is having a hard time with her birthday.

  • Feeling a lack of enjoyment at the celebration after greatly anticipating the occasion
  • Making extra efforts to please the adoptive parents
  • Running away and hiding
  • Criticizing gifts and the people who gave gifts
  • Daydreaming
  • Feeling guilt about not appreciating the efforts made by others on the birthday
  • Sabotaging her own birthday party
  • Behaving out of character

Adult adoptees often look back to their childhood and recognize many of these behaviours in themselves at birthday time. It is also common for adopted children to have similar behaviours around the time of the anniversary of their adoption.

What Adoptive Parents Can Do About Birthdays

The first thing adoptive parents can do about helping their adopted child deal with birthday issues is recognize that birthdays can be difficult and to help set realistic expectations for the day. To help process the complex emotions that come at birthday time, adoptive parents can:

  • Watch for signals that the upcoming birthday is causing distress.
  • Celebrate birthday and adoption or "gotcha" day separately.
  • Check in with the adoptee to see how she is feeling about her birthday.
  • Validate the adopted child's feelings and provide what is needed to get through the day.
  • Look at the adoptee's lifebook and talk about the day the child was born with the information available.
  • Do something to honour the child's birth heritage such as making a special recipe or beginning a birthday tradition from the child's country of origin.

By bringing awareness to adoptive families that birthdays may be difficult for some adopted kids, strategies can be put in place to help cope with birthday parties and celebrations throughout their lives. For more information on how to help adopted children deal with their feelings about adoption, read Understanding Loss in Adoption and Helping an Adopted Child Grieve.


Eldridge, Sherrie. Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. New York: Dell Publishing, 1999.