Fantasies Of Adopted Children

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fantasies of adopted children

Many children, both adopted and nonadopted, fantasize about ideal parents somewhere who would always smile upon their every action and never punish them. It's common for adopted children to fantasize about birthparents, particularly during preadolescence and/or adolescence.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Barbara Stilwell, "Many children have fantasies that they have another set of parents somewhere who are superhuman beings .?.?. These fantasies arise when a child becomes angry at his parents. They dissipate when a child learns that he can love and hate the same person."

If the adopted child doesn't fantasize birthparents are handsome and wealthy people, the opposite may be imagined. The birthparent may be thought to be a prostitute, a drug addict or a highly undesirable and thoroughly evil person.

The adoptive parents need to present a view of the birthparent as a real person, with virtues and flaws; however, there are some indications that adoptive parents may be overly positive when they speak of birthparents, particularly the birthmother, to the adopted child.

In You're Our Child, authors Jerome Smith and Franklin I. Miroff said adoptive parents should thoroughly explore their own motives in adopting a child.

For example, if a parent associates undesirable behavior on the part of the child with the "bad seed" notion, such a parent is vulnerable and may make verbal attacks and innuendoes about the child's "real" parentage, which will cause further breakdown to the parent-child relationship.

Researchers Katherine A. Kowal and Karen Maitland Schilling, who studied adult adopted persons, revealed that adopted youth reported their fantasies about birthparents increased during adolescence and subsided subsequent to this turbulent period.

Parents should be able to express understanding of this wish for more certainty from their child. Adoptive parents also might wish to know more about the birthparents than was originally shared with them. They might both "wonder" together.

According to Kowal and Schilling, increased fantasizing during adolescence was also accompanied by a worsening quality in the relationship between the adoptive parents and adopted adolescent. The researchers were unsure whether a decline in the quality of relationships as perceived in their study could be generalized to other adopted adolescents or was limited to adopted adolescents who later sought to locate their birthparents.

It's also important to note that the fantasies of a child adopted as an infant differ from the fantasies of a child adopted as an older child, even though when a child remembers his birthparents in retrospect, he may tend to romanticize or idealize them. Often, however, because the older child remembers them, he may show less curiosity and need to locate them as an adult than adults who were adopted as infants. (See also ADOPTIVE PARENTS for information on adoptive parents and their fantasies about their future child.)


Katherine A. Kowal, Ph.D., and Karen Maitland Schilling, Ph.D., "Adoption Through the Eyes of Adult Adoptees," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 55 (July 1985): 357-358.

Jerome Smith, Ph.D., and Franklin I. Miroff, You're Our Child: The Adoption Experience (Lanham, Md.: Madison Books, 1987).

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