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Foster/Adoptive Kids Who “Shop” for New Parents

My foster daughter loves our family and genuinely doesn’t want to be in any other home. But literally everywhere we go, she says, “I wish I lived here.”

Or, “I wish I lived with them.”

Sometimes, she even asks people, “Can I move in with you?” She pretends like she’s joking, but considering the fact that she does it with every family we meet, I think she’s only party joking.

She watches adults in a way that’s unfamiliar to most of us. She evaluates how they parent their kids, how often they look her in the eye, what type of food they make for dinner, and whether or not their kids have their own bedrooms. If she likes what she sees, she daydreams about what it would be like to live in their life.

In the beginning, my feelings were hurt by this behavior.

I thought, “She doesn’t want to be with us. She hates it here. What can I do to make her like us more?” Isn’t that silly? It is! Because, in reality, her wishing has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her.

When you come from a life where your parents are drastically different than everyone you go to school with, you start to feel isolated. You start to wonder what it would be like to live in a “typical” family.

I think kids who are in foster care for serious neglect or abuse wonder this a lot.

Wouldn’t you wonder what it was like to have a dad who played ball with you instead of slapping you? Or a mom who didn’t sleep on the couch for days at a time? Or parents who didn’t smoke pipes in front of you? Or grandparents who didn’t beat you?

Could you imagine how much a kid would fantasize about having those types of parents if what they knew was the opposite?

It actually makes a ton of sense. The hard part is knowing when the behavior reaches a level of unhealthiness. It should be outgrown at some point, especially once stability has been reached within the family for a significant period of time.

I think for our girl, she’ll probably continue to “shop around” until her case is closed. Either she’ll go home and feel resolution in that, which will (hopefully) cease the shopping, or she’ll be adopted and it will stop. If it didn’t, I’d probably worry about her struggling to form real attachments.

For kids who DEFINITELY have attachment disorders (such as Reactive Attachment Disorder), the shopping might never stop. When your brain can’t attach to your caregiver in a typical way, you’re bound to keep looking for the rest of your life, in hopes of actually finding an adult you can attach with.

Kids who have RAD often don’t realize that their trauma/brain development is what’s causing them to think their caretaker isn’t worth attaching to. They keep shopping, but they could have Mary Poppins as a mother, and they’d still be unable to attach appropriately.

To those of you who foster or have adopted, have you noticed your child doing this? Do they “shop around” for different parents or make off-hand comments about wishing they were with other people?

I’d love to hear more stories, even if they’re different!

Happy parenting, friends.

Foster/Adoptive Kids Who “Shop” for New Parents

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). Foster/Adoptive Kids Who “Shop” for New Parents. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Apr 2019
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