Do Adoptive Parents Love Like Bio Parents?


First, let me short-circuit any alarm that this question might raise, perhaps particularly in the minds of newly (or aspiring) adoptive parents. I love my kids – and I do think of them as “my” kids, even on the worst days. I know my husband feels the same way. We would do anything for them, even take an extra turn taking out the trash or cleaning up the dishes when we just can’t summon up the energy to enforce the chore chart. Which, depending on your point of view, makes us loving or lazy parents. Take your pick.

I’ve often thought about this question as I’ve been elbow deep in dinner dishes, and I’ve decided that, just as my feelings for Chris and Sarah (and theirs for me) shift from day to day, it’s very likely that it would have been the same way for a biological child. It might have been easier to connect and bond with a child who shares my DNA, I don’t know. What I DO know is that for the past fourteen years, I’ve tried to act loving even when my feelings didn’t measure up. Because that’s what you do when you truly love someone.

This is a lesson we’ve been trying to teach the kids as well. Like many teenagers, they have conflicting feelings about their place in the family at times. (And at times, those feelings seem to target their sibling, with whom they share a genetic link.)

Now, loving under these circumstances requires a certain kind of stubborn stick-to-it-iveness that is very different from the warm-and-fuzzy devotion that kept us plodding through that sleep-deprived haze of the first year.  It can be a bit like hugging a cactus, actually. Is it the same as what biological parents of teens experience? I don’t know.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

When the kid snarls at you (like many teenagers do), or wishes aloud that they didn’t have to live with you (ditto), there can be underlying dynamics that are unique to adoption that make the barbs especially painful, and the instinct to love that much harder to find on a purely human level.

That’s when I’m most grateful that the love comes not in feeling loving, but in the doing.

It’s about being empathetic and not give in to misgivings that “I’m not enough” when a child inexplicably bursts into tears at a scene near the end of “The Good Dinosaur”: “I’m sorry you’re sad. I wonder if this scene of the boy and his family reminded you of your birth mom. Is that it?” (Emphatic nods. Extra cuddles.)

It’s about stifling the eye roll when an outraged child accuses us of expecting them to be “perfect” and refusing to join in the family Rosary one night. “Of course we don’t expect perfection. That’s WHY we pray the Rosary. We all need all the help we can get. Now, go and sit by your father and listen quietly, or join in if you wish.”

It’s about not giving in to resentment when your teen reminds you that she is OUT OF HERE the moment she turns eighteen, “Yes, I know you would rather live with ____.” (I know some bio parents who have had similar conversations.) “In four more years you can make that choice. In the meantime, you need to fold the laundry.”

I’m not sure that it honors the nature of the bond between adoptive parents and their children to insist that we love adopted and bio children “the same.” Can you really love any two people the same way? Isn’t it possible that the family dynamics are colored by the circumstances that brought them together?

Having never had biological children, I can’t say for sure. In any case, I’m not sure that loving any two members of my family “the same” is something to aspire to. I think a better question is: Am I loving my child (bio or adopted) the way he needs me to love him today?

Please, God . . . help me to do just that.



This entry was posted in Adoption by heidihesssaxton. Bookmark the permalink.

About heidihesssaxton

Heidi Hess Saxton is an acquisitions editor and founder of "A Writer's Life" and "Life on the Road Less Traveled," resources for Catholic writers, caregivers, and parents of adoptive, foster, and special needs children.

4 thoughts on “Do Adoptive Parents Love Like Bio Parents?

  1. I can’t compare and contrast the experience of parenting both adopted and bio children firsthand, as my only bio children were miscarried before the end of the first trimester. But I am still pretty confident that the love I feel for my son as well as the love I strive to provide him with is pretty comparable to what it would be if he were biologically related to me. The fact that he was placed with us when he was a week old probably has a lot to do with that. We were spared RAD and other factors that can make adoptive parenting a very different experience from biological parenting. I totally agree that each relationship has its own dynamic (and as you say, the circumstances that brought people together will shape that dynamic). But I am confident that the amount of love I have for my son couldn’t be any greater if he had joined my familly in a different way. That being said, there is much room for improvement on how I express that love to him during the trying moments of motherhood!


  2. I have often contemplated this same question. My husband and I adopted our three children and are considering adopting a couple more. I believe this love is different, but that does not necessarily follow that I think it is flawed. That immediate bond that so many bio parents have is often absent. That intangible knowing how another will react or instinctively know the best way for this child to learn because of some hard to describe biological sameness is missing. Two of our children are often a mystery to me, they react to things completely opposite to how I would think or react. And they have been with us many years, so I keep thinking, I should have seen that coming, yet I am still caught off guard. Our third child is just more like me. Hard to explain but true. And I knew it instantly. How I cannot say, she is no more related to us than the other two and yet just somehow more like us. Does that mean I love her more or them less? No, just differently. Each person brings their own special gifts from God, a unique value. While I am often surprised by two of my children, I can choose to be pleased by the unexpectedness of them or dismayed. I choose joy.

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  3. Pingback: Do Adoptive Parents Love Like Bio Parents? | A Mother on the Road Less Traveled

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Glenda! This can be a “taboo” subject for some adoptive parents, but I think it’s important to talk about because those who DO struggle need to know they are not alone! Thanks for chiming in. Heidi


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