Does a Mother Love a Child She Has Adopted in the Same Way She Loves a Birth Child?

This article called "A Different Kind of Love" by Kate Hilpern was brought to my attention by adoptee author, Daryn Watson.  It appears to have been published in 2007; however, it still bears commenting on as this topic is an important one to consider before adopting a child.

Part of the mythology of adoption of the past was to sell it as exactly the same as biological parenting. If a couple during the 60's was struggling with infertility and considering adoption, the last thing they wanted to hear was that "well, you can adopt, but just realize it's not going to be the same in many different ways." (talk about a buzz-kill!). So the differences were glossed over and adoptive parents of that era raised kids without the proper education and understanding.  The adoption agencies knew what they were doing and wanted to reassure prospective adoptive parents that it would be no different than giving birth.

Even as recent as 12 years ago when my husband and I went through foster-to-adopt training at our local Child Services agency, there was no discussion about how adoptive parenting is different than biological parenting. I am seeing a greater awareness now as adoptive parents have greater access to proper training and blogs written by adoptees and adoptive parents who understand.

During the era when I was adopted, sameness was the party-line.  "It will be JUST LIKE parenting biological children."  (Except, that it's not at times).  Adoptive parents from my parents' generation were set up for big disappointments when they learned that:

1.  Their kids didn't quite fully bond with them or have much in common with them
2.   Their kids were curious about biological parents, genealogy and wanted to see people who looked and acted like themselves.
3.   Their kids felt like "black sheep".
4.   Their kids dropped out of school, got in trouble with the law, abused drugs/alcohol and/or attempted suicide.
5.   Became adults who later became estranged from the family.

Of course, the majority of adopted children from the Baby Scoop Era became fully functioning and normal adults; however, with the heavy load of expectations on the parents' part that their children would react and be like a biological child, I'm certain there were many disappointed and confused adoptive parents who blamed themselves for not understanding what went wrong or why it felt different.   I know there were/are many adoptees who grew up feeling like there was something wrong with them for feeling different or for not being close to their adoptive families.


Personally, I believe love is love.  When we love, we use our brain, our emotions, our actions and our commitment to the person to demonstrate it.  Love is an action.  So I believe the first sentence in this article is misleading.  A mother may or may not love in the same way; however, what is really being asked is, "Does she love a biological child more?"

As is true for this article, I imagine you would get different answers across the board, depending on who you asked, the same way you would get different answers coming from mothers of all biological children or mothers of all adopted children.

Ever read The Child Called It? David Pelzer's biological mother loved her other children more than she loved David (truly, it's fair to say, she may not have not loved him at all).  David was the scrapegoat and a target of abuse, such as being put in a bathtub full of bleach and locked in the basement regularly, while his biological father turned a blind eye to his abuse.

It is very common in abusive and neglectful families, for a particular child to be a target.  Being non-biologically related to the father is a risk factor for all children across the board for a greater risk of abuse.  Being perceived as different makes one a target for bullying at school and at home.  So there is that; however, I do not believe we can make a leap to declaring that mothers love in a different way, depending on whether a child is biological or not.  

I can attest, there are times when my relationship with my adopted child "feels different" than my relationship with my biological child; however, I would never say I love one more than the other.  I feel bonded to both and protective of both (my son calls this "being over-protective") and fully committed to the welfare and safety of both.  To me, parenting children in a healthy way (choices and actions) is more important than your given "feelings" in any moment.  Feelings come and go, just like in marriage, but the commitment to the relationship is what really matters in the long run -- not "feelings of love" on any given day.  Sure, emotions and feelings help us to bond; however, the act of parenting itself, helps us to feel bonded over time.

There are times when I feel closer emotionally to one child more than the other, but this can change, depending on what stage they are in.  Currently, my biological child is an almost 22 year old adult and my adopted child is 11 and a pre-teen.  I have noticed a change in our relationship based on what they personally were experiencing during different stages of development.  

As infants and toddlers, I spent a lot of time holding them, reading to them and purposefully forging a bond.  The difference is when doing this with my adopted child, I was more consciously aware that this attachment was precarious due to the trauma of relinquishment.  I was aware of my daughter having a psychic wound and was responsive to that.

I agree with Nancy Verrier that adopted children are more apt to push their parents away due to the wound of relinquishment (and other abuse/neglect they experirenced if older when adopted). Children who have been hurt can be more difficult to parent, which in turn can make them more difficult to love. This is true whether they are biological or not.


I wanted to discuss some of the differences I have experienced thus far as an adoptive parent that I did not experience when parenting my biological child.

1.  Feeling as if I were an Imposter

These feelings occurred in the first year of my daughter's life.  I felt quite a bit of guilt and grief for what I knew my daughter and her birth mother were experiencing due to separation.  It took time for me to accept the fact emotionally that I was my daughter's primary mother.  Of course, this was not a factor with parenting my biological son. Being his mother happened over nine months of bonding during pregnancy and the emotional bond was instantaneous at birth; whereas my daughter's grew over time.

Nancy Verrier discusses the difference in bonding:

"Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, believes that all children who are separated from their mother suffer a trauma that will affect their bond with their new parents, regardless of the age at which they enter that new family. "I wouldn't say that I love my adopted daughter or my biological daughter differently - I would do just about anything for either of them - but I would definitely say the bond is different and I know now that is inevitable," she says. "An adopted child has had their bond with their mother broken once, so they're not going to let it happen again."

2.  Fear that we would not bond.

Having lots of training in child development, I knew there was a window of attachment, and although I spent hours and hours holding her, reading to her and playing with her, there was a bit of a worry that she would not attach in a healthy way.  I did not have this worry with my son.  My decision to not work for the first year and a half after our daughter was born and only working part-time for her pre-school years and elementary school years was made because of my belief that adopted kids will do better in a home when the parent is spending more time with them (rather than at daycare).

3.  Concern over inherited conditions

This speaks for itself; however, since we knew the biological parents, we did have some opportunity to learn about conditions that ran in the family.  I did not even think about this with my biological son at first.  My main worry centered around potential pregnancy conditions that was I reading about in "What to Expect When You Are Expecting." Then concern over whether to work or stay home with him (I opted for part-time work).   However, later after my daughter was born and I began my search for my own birth family, I had the sudden awareness that my son was missing 1/2 of his medical history.

4.  Answering Lots of Questions about Birth Family and Adoption

I consider it a privilege that my daughter asks me questions surrounding her adoption and birth family and that I am able to provide her with answers, relationships and information.


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