How to Tell Your Kids They’re Adopted, and How Not To

Start early, be honest, and keep it simple.

article image

Our all-time funniest experience in hearing about how to tell kids they’re adopted happened when we were at a meeting of prospective adoptive parents. It was sponsored by an organization that helped place children for adoption. We already had adopted three children and had developed our own way of telling our kids they were adopted. We were there to see about the possibility of adopting another child.

The case worker, whom I’m sure meant well, proceeded to tell these prospective parents how to explain adoption to their children. But before she did, she asked if we would tell how we explained it to ours. I started out, “We let them know they grew inside another lady’s tummy.”  She quickly interrupted. “Oh, no. You mustn’t tell them that. They will get the idea that it’s something the mother ate and it grew in her stomach. No. No. Don’t do that. They’ll be afraid to eat for fear of getting pregnant.” My husband and I gave each other knowing looks and stifled our chuckles as she went on. We wanted to be courteous. Besides that, we couldn’t wait to hear what would come next.

She went on, “Tell your baby that there is a tiny nest inside the mother and the egg grows into a baby there.” What?! A nest inside the mother? Oh, please. Can you just see what a child could imagine from that, knowing full well what a bird’s nest looks like? Wouldn’t they envision twigs and leaves and a baby egg nestled into it? No, we stuck with the in-the-tummy version. Kids have already seen pregnant women with big tummies. They can handle it. We can explain the anatomy details when they’re old enough.

Our Method

We started telling them they were adopted as soon as we brought them home. We didn’t want them to discover it one day when they were older. It could be devastating to them. We wanted them to grow up knowing. All of ours were babies, so as I rocked them, I would whisper tender little messages to them, like, “Daddy and I are so happy we could adopt you. We wanted you to be our baby. We love you so much.” We didn’t overdo it. We just reiterated it now and then so they would become accustomed to the word “adopted.” Mostly, we just reassured them of how much we loved them. That was the easy part since we were so happy to have each one enter our home and hearts.

As they grew older I began to explain what being adopted meant. I told them that a very kind lady had a baby growing in her tummy, but she couldn’t keep the baby and needed to find a new home for her baby. I explained that she loved him so much she wanted to make sure he would be safe and in a loving home with parents who would take good care of him.

We felt that our children needed to know that we could not give birth and wanted with all our hearts to be parents. Honesty is the best approach. We shared with them how we had fervently prayed to be guided to the baby God wanted us to have. Then we would tell the story, in a simple version, of how we were lead to him or her.

As they grew they began to ask a few more questions. Sometimes they wanted details we didn’t know. When we adopted our children, three boys and two girls, adoptions were closed. We never knew any of the birth mothers, nor did they know us. We knew only their names.

We were always open to give them every detail we had when they asked. That’s a key part. Don’t give more information than they’re ready for. They usually let you know when they want to know more. We could tell them where they were born and, when they asked, the name of their birth mother as listed on the adoption papers. We wondered if the day would come when they would want to find their birth mother. I’ll share more details about that in a future article, but until then the following experience will suffice.

They Talked to Each Other About Being Adopted

One day, our two youngest boys, ages 12 and 9, were talking about being adopted. They were alone in the family room. As I was walking toward the room I heard them broach the subject, so I stopped and listened in. They didn’t know I overheard them. The 9-year-old said to his older brother, “Some friends asked me if I want to meet my real mother. Do kids ever ask you that?” I was frozen in place, eagerly awaiting his response.

He said, “Yes. Friends have asked me that a few times.”

The younger one, “What do you say?”

“Well, it’s easy. I just say, ‘I meet my real mother every day after school. She’s the one that’s there in the kitchen with the cookies and dinner.’ That usually ends it.”

The younger one said, “That’s what I’m going to say, because Mom is our real mom. That’s all that matters.”

OK, so about that time I was wiping away the tears. Oh, how I loved those little boys. And oh, how I love them now. Bless them both! Between them they’ve given us a total of 11 grandchildren. Now I have the opportunity of telling their children the story of their parents’ adoption. After all, it’s part of their story, too, and they deserve to hear it from me. All of our grandchildren do. And they love hearing all about it. I always end with how blessed we are to have them all in our lives. They, and their parents, know how much we love and cherish each one of them.

Keep it Simple

We learned that keeping it simple was the key. Kids don’t need more information than they are ready for. Listen to them and listen to your heart, then you’ll know how much to tell and when.