When Your Adopted Teen’s Birthday is Hard

It’s birthday season at our house. Three birthdays in less than a month’s time. I’m learning that for adopted teens, birthdays aren’t all frosting and balloons. Perhaps, as their bodies mature into potential baby-makers and progenitors of their own, they’re becoming more aware of what it means to give birth.  And give it away.

We don’t know much about the situations our daughters’ birthmothers experienced, or why they chose adoption for their child. I wish we had answers to give our daughters.  I hesitate at speculation.

So, I offer the usual assurances, making the decision all shiny and bright.

She loved you very much. She wanted what was best for you. She knew she couldn’t give you the life you deserved. She wasn’t able to take care of you. You were never alone. God has a plan for your life. You are wanted and loved. We are your forever family.

But they’re all band aids on a deeper wound.

It’s understandable that my daughters think about their birth mother more around their birthdays. Is she thinking of me? Does she miss me? Why did she give me up? Will I ever meet her?

I think about these women too. Do you know what today is? Do you think about your child? Do you regret your decision? Do you know how amazing your child is? If you could, what would you tell your daughter on her birthday?

And then I pull out the frosting and balloons. Trying to make the day all pretty and happy for my girls.

My husband was the first to speak his mind. He and our daughter were riding in the car a few days before her birthday. She was contemplative, unusually quiet.

“Whatcha thinking about?”

“My birth mom.”

“What about her?”

“Does she think of me?”

“You know. I have to confess. When I think of your birth mom, I sometimes get angry.”

“You do?”

“Yes. It makes me angry that she gave you away. You are amazing and she’s missing out on it. I’m so grateful to be your dad, but it makes me angry that you’re not with her because I know how much it hurts you.”

“Thanks, Dad.  Me, too, sometimes.”

Empathy can go a long way in understanding your adopted teen.


How do you know if your adopted teen is struggling on their birthday? What can you do for them? Sherrie Eldridge offers some good advice in her book, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew.  I’ve modified it to be teen specific:

  1. Recognize distress signals: Look for clues, changes in behavior, heightened emotions and sensitivity, being hyper critical, withdrawal, anxiety, depression, minimizing the importance of their birthday – “It’s no big deal.”
  2. Establish special birthday rituals: Special family dinners or outings, adoption day celebrations. We decorate the house with balloons and streamers to surprise the birthday girl when she wakes up – and we keep them up for several days after the birthday.
  3. Ask questions: What do you want to do for your birthday? It’s OK to feel sad or angry about your birthday. If you want to talk, we want to listen and try to help.
  4. Give your teen special attention: Be it a neck rub, a hand massage, listen to some of their music together, watch one of their shows together, shoot some hoops in the driveway, go out for coffee or frozen yogurt. Just love on them a little more than usual.

How about you? How are things going for your adopted teen’s birthdays? What are you finding that helps them? That helps you?