Feeling Part of Extended Family

Everyone on my mom’s side of the family has the same nose – the “Foster” nose. I always noticed this as a child, how similar they looked. Mostly, I think I noticed this because I did not look like them. I am Indian, they are of Polish descent. I was always very thankful to have my brother around – even though we are not biologically related, he was also adopted from India, so we looked similar in basic ways, such as skin color. I always wondered how difficult or lonely it might feel if I was the only one in my entire extended family who was adopted, whether I looked similar to them or not. These thoughts were certainly more prevalent when it came time to draw a family tree in elementary school classes!

I wrote about identity in my last weekly blog, and some of that discussion will continue here. While the experience of adoption is unique for every child, it is common for many adoptees to struggle with fitting in when it comes to extended family, especially if adoption is not a common way of creating families among your social circle. Here are three things you can do to begin to foster a sense of belonging for your adopted child:

REAFFIRM SIMILARITIES! Instead of commenting about similar appearances, take note of similar personality characteristics and share them with your child.

“You and Grandpa Jack both have the same sense of humor!”

“You and your cousin Kelly are like two peas in a pod, you both love to draw!”

“You must take after your Aunt Paige’s athletic abilities!”

“You and your Uncle Dave sure do have a knack for fixing things that break!”

COORDINATED COLORS! When family picture time comes around, consider having all of the kids (siblings, cousins) wear matching outfits, or coordinate the colors that everyone wears (adults and kids). This is usually a lot of fun, and it fosters a sense of inclusiveness for everyone in the family. To anyone who sees the picture, it makes the statement, “We are a group, we belong together!”

UNIQUE FAMILY TREES! Let your creativity shine when making a family tree! Instead of the traditional tree, which can be confusing for children if they are trying to decide how to incorporate their birth family or cultural origins with their forever family, think outside the box. Consider having your child as the tree trunk, her adoptive family as the branches, and her birth family as the roots. Even more original is the idea of a family plant or bush – the roots can be each family members’ country/countries of origin, the bulb can include the names of each family member (whether biological or adoptive), and the branches, leaves, and flowers that grow above the surface can be tangled and intertwined together as they grow.

Take the time to listen to your child’s needs and consider the best ways to help him or her feel part of extended family. Expect that a sense of belonging may fluctuate at different developmental stages, and just be there to listen and provide comfort. As always, continue to express to your child how much you love him or her!




About Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist who provides mental health support focused on adoption, trauma, and racial identity work. She is the author of the "Adoptees Like Me" book series.