Navigating Genetics and Awkward Lessons for Adopted Kids

"Put your mom's eye color on the Punnett Square," the teacher demanded, pointing an angry finger at the genetic chart Madie hadn't filled out.

For those of you who don’t remember biology, the Punnett Square illustrates the potential ways an offspring can inherit a gene from biological parents.

For those of you who have never thought about it, Punnett Squares can be an awkward lesson for adopted children with limited knowledge of their biological heritage.

Madie, undeterred, responded confidently, “My mom has Heterochromia.”

The science instructor squinted, struggling to recall that heterochromia refers to the presence of different colored eyes in the same person. “What?” she queried.

“Stick that on your Punnett Square,” Madie thought.

Middle school science teachers love this unit as an exciting way of imparting fundamental genetics concepts, often dubbing it “About the Genes that Created Me.”

Adopted children see this science unit as a time where they squirm uneasily, trying to determine whether to admit not knowing hair color or eye color of their parents or whether, as a student, they should fabricate whether dad was left-handed or not.

Even those in open adoptions often need more answers. Adoptive parents should assist if their child admits to needing such information for a Punnett Square.

“I hated those assignments,” Mandie admitted. 

“I didn’t hate being adopted. I just hated recessive and dominant traits, and what is the probability you will have one? I remember sitting in science class and looking at that stinking diagram.”

Mandie is one of the resilient adoptees who chose random eye colors in her next science class, pretending to know her mom had one blue eye and one green eye.

Garrett was also resilient and leveraged his adoption to his advantage.

“I just forgot to do the coat of arms assignment,” he admitted. “It’s a family crest thing for social studies, and you have to do coloring with color crayons. I hate coloring. Maybe if we could have used markers or even colored pencils, I might have been a little more inspired. But crayons? Really? They feel weird in my hands, and they get unsharp. So, I told the teacher that as an adopted child, I didn’t feel comfortable doing an assignment about ancestors I didn’t know.”


The teacher, empathetic to the student’s discomfort, felt remorse for making him feel bad. On the other hand, Garrett felt triumphant for successfully avoiding an assignment — cue the demonstration of resilience.