Adoption is an incredible, life-changing event in the lives of many. Out of adoption comes the blending of families and the gift of children for parents, and parents for children. Regardless of the type of adoption (domestic, foster care, or international), there is a tremendous amount of knowledge that needs to be gained and shared throughout the process.

For children, being adopted is a second chance. However, there is also significant loss. Adoptive parents must be “loss managers” for their children. They need to be able to help their children process and grieve the loss of their biological families and histories. Adoption is also very complex, and as the child grows up, adoptive parents might be confronted with difficult questions. A proactive thing that adoptive parents can do is to gather as much information about their children as they can.

As an adoptive parent, I have been asked many questions from my children. I am able to answer some of their questions, while others, I am not. Thinking back to when my husband and I adopted our three children (three separate adoptions), I wish I had asked just a few more questions, or written down a couple of more facts, that would help us as they grew up.

Based on my own experience and the experience of others, here are a few suggestions of information to gather and keep for a child who is being adopted:

1) Their story. This seems simple, but it is very important for children to understand why and how they came to be in their adoptive families. Jotting down important dates, the names of key players (professionals) that helped with the process, and interactions/involvement with birth parents (if applicable) is vital to being able to share a child’s story with him or her. Some families keep a “life book” for their children. A life book is essentially a scrapbook made up of pictures, letters, and important moments in a child’s life both before and after they are adopted.

2) Medical information, including birth records (if possible). I cannot stress this one enough! Having faced some medical and related challenges with my children, there have been moments when I’ve walked away feeling as though I should have known more information about my children’s biological histories. It is quite frustrating when doctors ask what the medical history of the family of origin is, and the adoptive parent has to state that he or she does not know. It is especially alarming if the child is facing a serious medical problem.

Adoptive parents should write down as much medical history of both sides of a child’s family as they can. If given the opportunity, it is appropriate to ask the biological parents or professionals they are working with if they are aware of any medical history within the biological family that might come into play in their child’s life. This information is not just important during childhood, it is also important in adulthood.

3) Cultural history, unique characteristics, or special traditions of the biological family. Culture is not just about ethnicity. Culture also involves language, traditions, diet, and other unique factors that make up society. Consider learning as much as you can about your child’s cultural history.

If you are able to, ask the biological family about family traditions, stories, lineage, and even special recipes that have been passed down through generations. If you’re adopting a child from another country, or even a different part of your own country, gather facts and information about your child’s country (or region) of origin. This information is quite valuable in helping your child learn his or her cultural background.

4) Names, dates of birth, and relationships of biological family. In other words, gather this data so that your child has a sense of his or her own biological family tree. If given the opportunity, do not be afraid to ask questions about extended family members. Adopted children may wonder about their biological families, and sharing as much as we (adoptive parents) can about their birth families will help our children understand their own life stories. By passing on this information to your children, you are allowing your child to feel and have a connection to his or her birth family.

5) Pictures of biological families. Although I mentioned  this in suggestion number one, it is worth mentioning again. It is wonderful to have pictures of biological families. Children may wonder where they get the color of their eyes or other unique characteristics that make up who they are. When a child is able to view their biological families via pictures, they are able to see a bit of themselves. Pictures of siblings and other extended family members are also important to gather.

The suggestions in this article are just a few to get you thinking about important information to collect and keep for your adopted child. Adoptive families are wonderfully diverse, so your child’s needs may vary. What information have you found important to have on hand for your child?