As a mother through adoption, I am keenly aware that questions about adoption and related topics can come at any time. For my children, it seems they always hit me with questions when in the car, and never when I feel ready to give a thought-out answer. The quest to have all the right responses is ideal, but can be very challenging. From my adoptive parenting experience, I have learned that while I may not have the most insightful answers at the right moments, there are things that I consider when addressing difficult subjects with my children. Here are a few:
1. Do not be afraid of your children’s questions. In our home, the word “adopted” is a natural part of our language. We do not speak about adoption every day, but when the children were as young as one and two years old, we starting speaking positively about it. As they have grown older, they have started to ask questions about their birth parents. We have learned not to fear these questions. They are a natural part of an adoptee’s curiosity about his or her biological family and life story.
2. Yearn to be open and honest, while also keeping in mind your child’s age and comprehension. I have learned with my children that sometimes they do not necessarily want a long and sometimes overcomplicated answer. Instead, they just want to hear the words, “yes” or “no” to their questions. With that being said, we do answer their questions in an honest manner while also taking into consideration their unique stories that led them to our home, and their emotional and developmental abilities to comprehend what we are saying. It seems that the simpler our answers are, the better they understand what is being said.
3. Do not minimize your child’s need to know his or her own history. Our personal stories and histories are a valuable part of who we are. Although the topic of how or why our children were in need of adoption might feel uncomfortable to speak about, we do owe it to them to fill in the gaps of their life timelines. If we do not inform them of factual information in a loving and honest way, they could make up their stories, or feel mislead about their own histories. As a former case manager, I saw this in a teenage girl that I worked with. Former case workers did not fully explain to her why she was in foster care, and why her birth mother was unable to care for her. The teenager filled in her history with wrong information about her past. She felt betrayed through the years for never knowing her full story.
4. Seek out other families who were formed through adoption, and if needed, the help of adoption professionals. There are crisis moments in adoption. Weddings, anniversary dates of significance, graduations, medical problems, and the adoptee having his or her first child are just a few life events that can trigger loss. Sometimes the best advice comes from families who have walked through these times. If needed, do not be afraid to seek out professional help.
5. Do not force the issue, but do not hide it, either. In other words, allow the child to seek out information when he or she is ready. I cringe when I hear prospective adoptive parents say that they will tell their children when the kids are a particular age, or even a young adult. For children to grow up and find out that they are adopted after never knowing throughout their growing years, the news can be devastating. It also can set a path to the child feeling like his or her history was a lie, and wondering what other information might have been kept a secret. It also destroys the trusting relationship between parent and child. Adoption should not be kept a secret!
6. Explore and utilize children’s books, movies, and related resources. There are many books, movies, and videos available. Social media, websites, and blogs also provide valuable information from the perspective of adoptive families, birth parents, and adoptees. One of my favorites is a Golden Book titled, “A Blessing from Above.” This book is geared toward younger children, and though it may be more applicable to private infant adoption, it can be used as way to introduce adoption to a young child.
7. Remember to acknowledge the loss and grief. One of my children has a birth parent who is deceased. Upon learning this, my child started crying, asking questions, and talking about missing the parent. Even though my child came into protective custody as a newborn, and the birth parent was already deceased, the feelings of loss were very real. I gently acknowledged this, and allowed my child to talk for several days afterward about losing a birth parent. It is not comfortable watching children grieve, and we have a tendency to desire to fix it quickly. However, there is much loss and grief in adoption, and the more comfortable and realistic we are about it, the better off our children will be.
8. Be authentic. Be yourself. Our children lean on us to show them how to interact with others, and how to develop positive relationships and habits. We show genuine concern with these things, and our feelings about the sometimes difficult subjects in adoption also merit the same authenticity. Our children notice how we interact with other families, what we say about adoption in general, and our feelings about birth parents. In essence, we are their teachers, and they need for us to be credible.
There are so many facets to adoption. Approaching difficult subjects can be a challenge, but doing so with care and concern will go a long way in helping adopted children feel comfortable with who they are. What are some other things you consider to be important?