Talking to Kids about Adoption
Consider this a step-by-step guide to talking to kids about adoption.
We know this is something that adoptive families often fear, and we’re here to assure you it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or awkward, any more than anything new is, the first time you do it.
It’s important for children who are adopted to hear their adoption story early and often, and for their Mom and Dad to be the ones to tell it to them (over and over again.)
So here are the steps you need to take to prepare for the first time you tell it:
Step One: Sit down.
You’ll want to be in a comfortable position. This isn’t a conversation most parents are going to want to have while driving, or while on public transportation, of course. If you’re a person who prefers standing to sitting, we understand, but you don’t want to send the message to your child that this is something just to be thrown out in passing, so please, sit down and settle in, so you convey that this is something worth taking time to share.
Step Two: Notice what you’re feeling.
We know there’s a lot going on, but take a few moments just to be mindful of your biorhythms and all those physiological symptoms that sometimes betray your true emotions in times of stress. Are you nervous? Are you feeling flustered? Are you worried about what to say? Is your forehead creased with tension? Is your voice quaking? It’s okay to feel whatever you feel, but try to relieve your anxiety with some good deep breaths, so your child doesn’t get the wrong idea about what you’re about to say.
Prepare to tell the truth in an age-appropriate manner.
Your child’s birth story belongs to him or her (yes, all of it) but it is your job as his or her parent to tell it in an age appropriate manner, which means giving your child all the relevant information in ways they can understand. This means combining positive adoption language with appropriate facts and delivering this information to your child in a sensitive and loving fashion that enables him or her to feel positive about himself/herself.
Step Four: Deal with your own stuff your ownself, please.
If for any reason you are finding you feel angry about having to share your child’s adoption story with him or her, please get some help with this. You need to vent, but not to your child. Anger is a clear signal that you are struggling with some part of your role in this story, and it’s incredibly important that you get those feelings heard by a qualified counselor and resolved so your child is not impacted by your own issue(s).
Step Five: Hold your child close.
Physical contact helps most people feel secure, so hold your child in a comfortable position and don’t forget to support the baby’s head. After all, the Entrustment Agreement every parent signs at placement with Abrazo promises that they will start telling the child they’re adopting his or her adoption story from the Very First Day, so hold that baby close, and speak from your heart.
Step Six: Tell the adoption story with all the love you can.
Don’t know how to start? Try saying something like this: “(Insert child’s name), Mommy and Daddy love you with all our hearts, and we always will. And (insert birthparents’ names) love you, too, and that’s why (insert birthmother’s name) carried you in her tummy, and why your birthparents made this special plan for you to grow up in our family, forever. This was a very hard decision for her/them, and they would have love to have raised you themselves if they could. They are part of our forever family, because they’re related to you by birth and we are related to you by adoption, so just know that we will all always belong to you forever.”
Now exhale. And inhale, and exhale again. That wasn’t so bad, was it? So do it again. Tell your child his or her adoption story over and over again, as he or she grows, adding a little more detail with each passing year, so there will never (ever) be a time when your adopted child remembers not knowing the truth of his or her origins and how he or she became part of your loving forever family.
As your child enters preschool and school years, he or she will likely want more physical details; where was I born? I know what my birthparents look like now, since open adoption means we see them on occasion, but what did they look like then? What did he/she like to eat/do for fun/do for work? Adopted kids should ideally grow up with access to photos of their birthparents at the time of placement, and with adoption memorabilia that is available for their review at will (so they don’t have to let you, their parents, know every time they might need to “check in” on their birth information.)
In their adolescent/teen years, adoptees may need more specific information about the circumstances of the conception, the socio-economic challenges the birthparents faced at time of placement, the birthrelatives’ reactions to the pregnancy/adoption, and/or the lifestyle/cultural factors that may have played into the birthparents’ placement decision.
How can you know if you are doing a good job of talking to kids about adoption? Here’s one answer: if they’re rolling their eyes because you’ve told this story plenty of times, you’re doing something right. Kids who are at ease with their own adoption story often find it boring, because it’s nothing new, and if it’s nothing new, then you deserve a blue ribbon, Mom and Dad! Some children love their adoption story because it’s theirs, and because each time it’s told with love, and if that’s your child’s response, then you get a red ribbon, because your telling of that story is like the perfect valentine. And bonus points if your child asks you questions, when you tell it, because that means you’ve created a safe and loving environment in which your adopted child feels safe enough to express curiosity about his or her origins, and that’s a bonus for him/her.
If you haven’t started talking with your kids about adoption but already have adopted children in your home already, then please remember: “better late than never,” and start telling the truth… this week. If your child responds with anger or sadness at not having been told sooner, then validate their emotions (say “I hear what you’re saying, and I understand why you feel this way”) as best you can, and then do whatever you can to fill in the blanks and get them the extra information they need to feel they can trust you to tell them the truth from now on.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you for taking this information to heart. We know adopting is not easy, nor is parenting, however that job title become yours. Never forget, though: hard as it may seem, talking with kids about adoption is one of the most important tasks of parenting an adopted child… and these talks, done right, feel better than you know, for you and for your child.