The Education of Empty Nesters

by Luanne

Usually when I sit down to write a blog post it writes itself. It’s not that hard to look back at how adoption issues touched my family when we were younger. It’s not difficult to figure out where I stand on contemporary adoption issues, especially after doing some research and reading other blogs and articles.

But I’m not sure how to write this post because the territory feels so uncharted. I’m talking about being the parent of adult adoptees. Maybe this blog post is to sort out this role in my head.

Like all parents, adoptive parents grow into their roles and those roles change as the children get older. The parent of a baby is different from the parent of a young child is different from the parent of a teen.

But what about the parent of an adult? Isn’t that where we’re supposed to wipe our hands, satisfied that we did the best job we knew how to at the time? We can say have a good life, call me a couple of times a week, and I’ll see you on the next holiday!


I’m starting to think it’s not quite like that for the parents of adult adoptees.  At least it hasn’t been for us.

While my kids were growing up, my husband and I knew adoption was a big issue and that doctors and counselors and teachers didn’t credit it with being as “big” an issue as we felt it was—for adoptees, not for parents. These adults seemed to look at things through the lens of parenting, not of growing up as an adopted person. Sometimes hubby and I would grumble to each other that so-and-so didn’t really get it. And sometimes we would wonder if we were over-estimating the influence of adoption on human emotions and identity and personality formation.

What’s strange is that although we did recognize that adoption was a key element to who our kids were, we still just didn’t get it. But that’s also because our kids didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that adoption had an effect on them, and they didn’t realize that it could be behind—or partially behind—some problems that they had.

What had to happen first was that our kids had to grow up. Then, as adults, they began to learn more about themselves.  But they can’t do that completely on their own during the most stressful years—the years just past high school and college where people decide who they are and what they will do with their lives.  Hubby and I had to learn this new territory with them. We couldn’t do it for them.  We couldn’t even help them do it. But we had to go through our own process alongside them and be there for them in any way necessary. We have to go through process. I’m correcting the tense because we’re still going through it.

This stage for the adoptee might not come until decades later for some, but I would argue that in many cases that is because the parents weren’t taking this journey with their child. In today’s adoptive families, there is often times so much more knowledge and understanding than there was in past decades. That means that a lot of parents of children today will be parents of adults in not too many years, wondering as hubby and I have how to negotiate this new territory.

Maybe we need something in place that helps guide older teens and adult adoptees in their 20s—and their parents as well—in learning the role of adoption in their own character development and relationships.

Do you think it’s possible to create support for newly adult adoptees and their parents?


  1. I think it is possible to support our newly independent/adult kids. It is probably easier if it has been there all along and there have been open discussions in the family about all kinds of things, including adoption. I suspect it’s awfully hard to exert influence at this stage if there wasn’t previous support and understanding.

    • That’s a great point. It needs to be open communications for a long time before. It must be really hard going into that period if relations have been strained, too. Do you think there is a way for social service organizations, for one, to help at this stage? Why are adoptees (and sometimes their parents) “on their own” through this period when they can’t get to this period until they have already reached the age of majority?

  2. Not exactly the same point you make but related: here in England the government announced yesterday that for the first time children and young people can stay with foster carers until the age of 21, instead of 18. “Time and again we hear from young people who are extremely anxious about having to leave their carers when they turn 18 and effectively no longer having somewhere they can call home, especially when the average age for young people who aren’t in care to finally leave home is (at least) 24.”
    ‘Extremely anxious’ says it all really. I am really interested in your thinking about older adopted and look forward to starting in touch,

  3. I think supporting older adoptees and their parents is a great idea! Of course, I think more post-adoption support in general is a good idea too.

    Not all states kick kids out of foster care at 18. Some do wait until the kid has graduated high school. Apparently a few have upped it to 19, if the kid is still in some sort of school. I hate how foster care works in this country.

  4. Luanne – I think that often the full ramifications of all the different ways adoption can color life, can’t happen until adulthood because the maturity and lived life experiences hasn’t been there before. As a child you are insulated within the family, and branching out does require deeper thinking, expanding thoughts, reality checks, and so many new experiences. Adoption adds layers to each ordinary challenge in ways different for all, but common to all, if that makes sense. Just keep connected and open to the next experience, and try to ensure you push away any insecurities you might have because I’m pretty sure they would be honestly invalid if you asked for an honest answer…

    • Yes, I think I get what you mean by “different for all, but common to all.” Sometimes things even look like completely different ways of responding to circumstances can even have a common thread, I think. It’s all quite difficult.

  5. You’ve touched on a subject that is often overlooked within post adoption discussion and support. My 20 & 17 year old girls are just beginning to consider the wider implications of their identity as adopted young adults. Fortunately, my eldest has been able to access specific counselling that is assisting her as she journeys into adulthood, relationships and career. The implications for her sister are different with her uncertainties about identity and where she fits in the world. For us as their parents we feel barely equipped, we’ve read lots of books about the consequences of adoption and early childhood trauma on children, but their appears to be little known about the implications for young adults.
    We appear to be in uncharted territory, for all of us.

    • Thanks, Al. Yes, “barely equipped” is a good way to put it. And young people starting out in the adult world are even less likely to read books specific to adoption as a way to understand their own lives, from my experience. I like to read about the experiences of older adult adoptees, but these are generally not international adoptees or transracial adoptions, so the journeys are still different. I wish adoption was more of a consideration for all counselling services, etc.–and not something they just give lip service to (if that).

  6. So glad to have found your blog. My son is only 4.5 yrs old so we’re not any where close to dealing with an adult adoptee; it’s comforting to know there are many who have walked this path before us. My hope is that, as time goes on, there will be more post-adoption support as well as support for adult adoptees. I know we won’t be able to solve our son’s issues if/when he has them, but I’d like him to truly know that we’ll always be there for him when he gets older and issues arise. Thanks again for posting this. Look forward to more.

    • Melanie, you are so smart to be reading up on adoption issues right along. Things will crop as your son gets older and you want to be as knowledgeable as possible. I wish we had had the internet available to us when the kids were little!

  7. An idea that I’ve thought about a lot is reunification. I once read that sometimes, the ideal time to do it is when the kids are teens/young adults and still in the home. Since it can be a difficult experience, supposedly it can be ideal to do it when they’re still physically close enough to the adoptive parents to get the support they need. I’ve always thought we might take this approach.

    • Shannon, I’m so sorry that I didn’t see this comment until now! I think that makes sense. What is unfortunate is that the time where the adoptive parents and the big wide world intersect most for kids is when they graduate high school. And that can be a really stressful time for adoptees anyway. That’s a problem that can’t be easily figured out.

  8. Luanne, This resonated big time with me as an adoptee who searched / found at age 27. I was a kid in the 60s-80s. Professionals told my adoptive parents that it was no big deal being adopted. Everyone was so less aware and educated back then.

    • “Professionals,” in general, have been very remiss when it comes to issues of adoption, in my opinion. I always felt that they thought hubby and I were making a bigger deal of adoption than it really was, and now I see we didn’t make a big ENOUGH deal of it. But who would have listened? Thanks for reading and commenting, Paige!


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