Age-Appropriate Ways To Talk To Your Children About Adoption

Be honest and be real.

Rachel Galbraith February 19, 2017
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 From the time my son was born, we talked to him about his adoption story. I made it a point to have pictures of his birth mother in his bedroom. I wanted him to know her face from the very start. As we would read books, or play with toys, I would take the opportunity to point out her picture, say her name, and tell him how much she loved him. I felt it was important for him to know his history from day one. And even at a young age, it had an impact on him. He held her picture, kissed it, and knew her name.

I started explaining adoption to him in simple terms. Things like, “That is your birth mom. You grew in her tummy. She loves you so much and wants you to have all the good things in life. So she chose Mommy and Daddy to be your family. We are so thankful we get to be your family. We all love you so much! Your birth mom loves you, Mommy loves you, and Daddy loves you. You have so many people who love you!”

One day, when he was two, he came to me carrying her picture. In his broken two-year-old English he said, “Me grew her belly,” and it warmed my heart to know he was starting to understand. I also made a book of pictures from when he was born. I wrote it in “story form” like a children’s book and told the story of his birth that way. As a baby, he loved to look at his book and hear about all the people who love him.

I can only hope that a foundation of love will somehow soften the blow.

Right now, his adoption story is all about love. That is the groundwork I hope to lay for him. I recognize that someday, he is going to grow up and start to realize what adoption actually means. He is going to feel loss. He is going to ask hard questions. He is going to question who he is and want to know the real story. Of course, the real story is still a story of love, but there are so many other factors that play into adoption, and while love is nice, it may not ease the heartache. I can only hope that a foundation of love will somehow soften the blow.

As a four year old, he is starting to connect the dots. He looks at his birth mother’s picture and asks questions about her. We also look at pictures of his half-siblings and I tell him about them: their names, the things they like to do, etc. At this point, we are starting to add a few more layers to his story. Piece by piece we will talk about things as he is able to understand them. When he asks questions like, “Why didn’t I grow in your tummy?” I explain to him that after his brother was born my body stopped working and couldn’t grow babies anymore, and then transition into how thankful I am that his birth mother chose me to be his mommy.

When a child asks questions, it is important to be honest and straightforward in your answer. As a little child, they don’t always need every detail, but as they grow, new details can be added in until the full picture emerges and they are old enough to understand what it looks like. That is when the hard questions will start to come:

“Why didn’t she want me?”

“Why did she keep my siblings and not me?”

“Why isn’t my birth dad around?”

As a parent, our natural instinct is to protect our children from pain, but ignoring, or downplaying those types of questions is not helpful in the long run. It is important that we answer those questions with real answers. It is important that we acknowledge that life isn’t perfect; people aren’t perfect, and that sometimes, those imperfections hurt. It is imperative that as parents, we allow our children to feel whatever emotions come. We can’t change the past, but we can be sources of stability and comfort for our children during times of sadness, anger, loneliness, and searching. Hiding parts of their story in order to protect them will only come back to haunt us all in the end.

If you are blessed to have an open adoption, utilize the resource your child’s biological parents can be in helping your child understand why adoption was chosen. I was so thankful when my son’s birth mother told me she would always be available to answer his questions. I wasn’t there during her early days of pregnancy. I wasn’t living her life, or thinking her thoughts. I don’t know everything that went into the decision to place him for adoption, but she does. She knows every detail. I find comfort in knowing that she will be able to explain those things to him. I can tell his story over and over again, but it will mean so much more coming straight from her.

It can be difficult to know what to say; when to share, how much detail to give, and how to word things as we explain adoption to our children. Once again, my best advice is to lay the foundation of love and build from there. As your child grows, continue to build the story, adding layers and pieces of information until it has all come together. Your goal is for your child to know, and someday understand, who she or he is, where he/she came from, and how he/she came to be part of your family. If your child’s story is shrouded in secrecy or if your child starts to uncover details on his or her own, your child may feel as if the past is something dark, and in turn feel as if something is inherently wrong with him or her. Knowledge is power, and by allowing your child the ability to know and embrace his/her story, you are empowering your child with confidence. You are showing your child that life is nothing to be ashamed of. You are surrounding your child with love and security.

Don’t be afraid. You’ve got this.

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Rachel Galbraith

Rachel Galbraith is a busy mother of five children, one of whom was adopted at birth. She has a Bachelors Degree in social work, and has worked as a medical social worker, specializing in the field of women and children. She was privileged to play a small role in the adoptions that often took place on her hospital unit. Writing has become her own personal form of therapy, and she is excited to combine it with her love of adoption. In her free time, she has a love-hate relationship with distance running. She readily admits to doing it only so she can eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.


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