Modern Day Parenting

On bullying, adoption, and raising healthy kids in the 21st century

Halloween and the Adopted Child

Analyzing the psychology behind an adopted child's Halloween costume choices

There is a curious pattern to almost all of the characters that my daughter K --who was adopted at 3 months old-- has chosen for her Halloween costumes.

At age three, she wanted to be Superman. At age four, she dressed up as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. At age five, she was Hermione again. At age six, she paraded around as Princess Leia. As a seven-year-old, she held court as Queen Lucy from Narnia. At age eight, she was once again Princess Leia.

All of her characters have been heroic in nature. They have magical powers or the ability to do things that regular mortals cannot. And none of them have had strong biological parental figures.

Superman, her first hero, was adopted. He saves people from disaster time and again. Hermione is a brilliant young woman who has magical powers, unlike her parents. Hermione helps Harry save the wizarding world from Lord Voldemort. Princess Leia was adopted and is a leader in the rebellion against the evil galactic Empire. Lucy is a young girl who was sent away from her parents during World War II and discovers a magical land where she is destined to be a good queen.

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K, who is well aware that she was adopted, has never wanted to dress up as a duck or a fairy or a pumpkin. Nor does she want to be a puppy or a kitten. And certainly not a ghoul, a vampire, a mean witch or a goblin. She is not interested in bloody makeup or scary masks.

From the time she was old enough to express her wishes, she has wanted to dress up as superhuman characters that have a history of being separated from their birth parents.

Coincidence? I think not.

It is not uncommon for adopted children to fantasize about their birth families. Every child yearns to be special and different, but this need can be magnified with a child who was placed for adoption. I think K’s choice of Halloween costumes reflects a subconscious fantasy about who she is and what she will become.

She does not want to dress up as someone scary or evil, because she already fears abandonment and rejection. She is terrified of the possibility that she is “bad” and has no interest in putting a face to the fear. K’s dream is to discover that she has secret powers, that she is not just good but superhuman. She wants to save the day and earn the love and praise of everyone.

But this year, there has been a change to the pattern, and I was thrown for a loop in my theories about Halloween and the adopted child. K told me, in no uncertain terms, that she wanted to be a Stormtrooper.

A bad guy! Was this a fundamental change in her views? Was this about her pre-adolescent rebellion? I was fascinated.

And then K told me why she wants to be a Stormtrooper. “I want to stick up for the Star Wars fans who were picked on for dressing in their costumes at the Star Wars convention. They stood up for me when I was bullied, so now I’ll stand up for them.”

Katie is referring to the Great Star Wars Cyberbullying Incident of 2012, when a news station in Miami made the mistake of running a slideshow of photos of Star Wars fans that contained cruel, mocking captions. Many of the people targeted in the photos were members of the 501st Legion, which is a charitable organization that raises massive sums of money for needy and sick children.

The members of the 501st Legion dress up as Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, and other "bad guys" but the work they do is purely for good.  When word of the cyberbullying slideshow spread, thousands of protesters flooded the Miami news station with unhappy comments, and the station ultimately took down the slideshow and apologized.

K's costume choice for this year suddenly made sense to me. In her mind, the Stormtroopers are the heroes of the 501st Legion.  As an added bonus, she is thrilled with the idea that she is bucking gender norms by wearing a costume traditionally associated with boys. 

For now, my theory about K's approach to choosing Halloween costumes remains intact, and it is intimately tied into her status as a child who was adopted.

This post was originally published on Carrie Goldman's blog, Portrait of an Adoption, on October 12, 2012.

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Carrie Goldman is the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear and she writes a parenting blog called Portrait of an Adoption.

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