You’re waiting for the light to change in rush hour traffic, or racing out the door for work and school, or sitting in the waiting room at the pediatrician, or leaving the locker room after practice–when a question regarding your child’s adoption comes at you fast and furious as if hurled like a perfectly packed snowball aimed straight at your unsuspecting face–hitting its target, surprised expression and all. So much for parent radar. Maybe it’s a question that you hadn’t anticipated answering for some time to come, or maybe it’s a question that you had anticipated, but weren’t quite sure how to respond to. Maybe you flat out just don’t have an answer. And maybe it’s a question that you’d rather not address surrounded by a swarm of parents and wide-eyed children in a crowded room that seems to have suddenly gone very quiet.
I have perfected the art of taking the silent yet deep gulp in situations like this. Whether we’re alone or in the most public of spots, I’ve figured out how to maintain my composure for even some of the most heart wrenching questions that my daughters have unleashed–not because I’m afraid to answer them or because I don’t want to, but because I want to make sure that I respond in a way that is honest and true, and that won’t set their hearts into a downward spiral or get their hopes up too high only to set them up for a future disappointment. All of this is maybe not the most appropriate of settings (aka with the neighborhood gossip standing two feet away, hanging onto my every word).
We have always been open and truthful, my husband and I, with our girls because there is no secret worth holding or lie worth telling when it comes to adoption. We do abide by the widely accepted advice to share such information in an age appropriate manner, but sometimes those lines become blurry when you have smart and curious kids.
Remember that this is about your child and not about you, so if and when an unexpected question comes up that maybe you’re not completely prepared to answer, make it about her and not you. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your answer simple and then to wait and see if that response is satisfying or will lead to additional questions. It’s also okay if you’re truly not sure how to respond to let her know as much. I have, actually, said “Let me think about that for a minute.” It’s better to compose your thoughts, recall facts, and provide a solid answer than to push out a sloppy and possibly incorrect one.
She is counting on you to be the link between life before adoption and life as she now knows it. You are her mom or her dad, but you also play the role of historian–not just from the day that she came into your world, but for the time before that. That’s a pretty complex responsibility to have that I think for first-time adoptive parents, especially, doesn’t hit until the questions start to come.
So what can you do to help be ready, no matter the when and the where? First, know her adoption story and be familiar with any details you may have of her birth family and situation, as much as you know your own family history so that when the questions do come, you don’t come across as though her history means any less or is any less important than your own. Recognize her personality so that you’re prepared to know which details may or may not be too little or too much for her to process or understand at her age. Assure her that she is always welcome to ask as many questions as she likes and that nothing is off the table. And if the subject is one you do not have the answer to, it’s okay to let her know that, too. She’d rather have your truth than a fairytale.
Be thankful that, no matter how difficult the question or ill timed–she feels comfortable enough to share with you! While you embrace her (while possibly moving a little out of earshot from the crowd and the neighborhood gossip), also embrace the fact that you are in this together and that so long as you respond in a timely manner and one in which she feels comfortable with–you are helping her to feel more confident in her ability to better understand her feelings at that moment and to own her past, present, and future.