My wife and I like to call it “The Infinite Circle of ‘Why?'” It’s when your child is in that phase where his response to literally every single answer you have for him is, “Why?” The following is a somewhat typical exchange I had with my daughter, Madeline, a couple years ago when she and I got trapped in this familial phenomenon.
Madeline: “Daddy, why do you have to go to work today?”
Me: “Because my boss will yell at me if I’m late or if I don’t go.” (Smiling at the charming innocence of her question)
Madeline: “Why will he yell at you?”
Me: “Because he pays me to do a job, and if I don’t do my job he will be mad at me.” (Calmly explaining)
Madeline: “Why will he be mad at you?”
Me: “Because he wants me to do my job.” (Teeth beginning to grind)
Madeline: Why does he want you to do your job?”
Me: “Because he pays me to do it.” (Hopelessness settling in)
Madeline: “Why does he pay you to do it?”
Me: (Hands cupped over my face, breathing deeply and mentally tapping out)
At this point, I pretty much realized there was no end in sight to her line of questioning. So I sheepishly turned to the almighty television in a feeble attempt to distract her long enough so I could grab my laptop and get out the door. During my morning commute, my mind began to wander. “Maybe we should stop interrogating criminals with police officers, and just sit them down in an empty room with a prison guard and a toddler asking them “Why” for five and a half hours? See if that doesn’t get some results in the form of a complete confession and perhaps even a tearful mental breakdown on most occasions!” Cruel and unusual punishment? Maybe.
Potential interrogation tactics aside, what do you do as an adoptive parent when the inquisitive nature of your child collides with a natural curiosity of their adoption? The best piece of advice I think my wife and I ever got was from an early training course we attended while we were going through the adoption process. We were told simply, “Answer the specific question only and don’t give any more information that the child is not specifically asking for at that time.” The reason for this is simple. When a child is genuinely curious about something, she will ask you about it. But that’s all the information she really wants. He doesn’t want to hear a litany of examples and proof to back up your statements. Her constantly developing brain can really only handle the answer to the question initially asked. Any more than that may confuse her.
The problem with this theory is that I tend to ramble on and on until, eventually, not only do I confuse toddlers and school-aged children, but everybody else, as well—including adults and senior citizens. Even the occasional dog gives me that head-cocked-to-the-side, ears-pointed-upward look of confusion. This is when I have to remember the well-known acronym most of us learned from school: Keep it Simple, Stupid (KiSS).
When Madeline asks what it means that she was adopted, we try to say something like, “You grew inside your tummy mummy and then came to live with us.” We like the term “tummy mummy” because it’s easy for a young child to remember. Also, especially with young kids, sometimes they just want to know that they were born just like everyone else and not created out of magic pixie dust or something else more fantastical like that.
We also thought it was a good idea to start the conversation early. Adoption is different today than it was 50 years ago. In those days, it was frequently kept a secret. Today, a much healthier and logical approach has fortunately taken over, which is to be open and confidently proud of the adoption situation you share with your child. My wife and I like to say that we started talking to Madeline early because we don’t want her to ever remember a time when she didn’t know that she was adopted. We just want her to look at it as a wonderful part of who she is.
As Madeline grows older, of course, she will demand more questions and more details with them. Our plan is to keep answering her specific questions and no more than that, while being as open and honest as possible with her at all times. In comparison, it seems infinitely easier than being trapped in the “Infinite Circle of Why?”
I wonder if anybody else out there takes or has taken a similar approach? Are there other methods of success that adoptive parents have had in discussing adoption with their children? It would be great to be able to share stories and help others form our collective experiences.