We Told Our Children They Were Adopted from the Start

Tonight, my husband read the story of Moses from the Bible to our children. It’s one of their favorites, and even though they can recite it by heart, they still listen every time as if they’ve never heard it before. As they knelt on the floor, peering up at their daddy, I started to smile because I knew the moment was coming: the moment they would turn from eager, hushed listeners to animated, vocal responders.

“And the princess adopted Moses and raised him in the palace with her.”

At this point, both of them jump up, hands waving and clapping, and with smiles that explode on their faces, exclaim, “Moses was adopted, too! He’s just like us!”

Many people, in hushed voices, have asked if our children know they are adopted. Once glance at our diverse family would indicate that even if we hadn’t already, we should probably get on it sooner rather than later. But we knew from the start that we would tell our children that adoption was how we chose to grow our family and how they came to us. Here’s how we did it:

1. We included adoption from their start.

To be honest, even though our daughter was placed with us the day she was born, I wasn’t quite sure how to get the conversation started, so I took what I believe was the easiest but the most direct route possible: I created a banner out of all of the notes that people sent to us after finding out about our adoption. I printed each note on bright, beautiful paper and hung the notes in our daughter’s nursery over a handwritten sign I created with an adoption quotation. After she came home, I read the notes to her regularly, even though she was an infant because not only did I want her to hear the words, I wanted to always be comfortable talking about it with her. We also included in her book rotation stories of adoption, particularly those baby and children’s books that used the word “adoption” and “placement” and made specific references to first families. That made the language of adoption a part of our family dialogue and a part of our daughter’s routines so that when questions came (and as they have continued), the language would already be established. I’ll be honest, though, as a disclaimer; it was easy to introduce to her because I was in the delivery room when she entered the world, so adoption language has just always been a part of her world.

2. We encourage adoption dialogue.

When our son was placed with us at 18 months old, we simply carried on the routines and traditions we started with our daughter. We intentionally rehung in his room the sign I had made, purposefully continued with the same books and continuously read to him the notes sent to us after his placement. From his first day with us, we used adoption language and explained to him that daddy and sissy were adopted; and even though some of the higher thinking was lost on him at his young age, we still communicated that he was adopted, too.

Within the four walls of our home, adoption is talked about freely, and questions are answered honestly and thoughtfully. We’ve already fielded several “whys” from our daughter regarding her brother’s and her adoption placements; we have answered them respectfully and lovingly, while honoring privacy and respecting the fact that our son is too young to know his own adoption story yet. We don’t share details that are his to know first and to choose to share himself. In that, our daughter knows those questions are okay to ask, even if we don’t always have all of the answers. Our hope is that when our son is old enough to inquire and discuss, he will feel the same freedom as his sister because he knows it is safe to ask any questions he may have.

3. Adoption is celebrated and respected as it relates to our children’s (and my husband’s) personal history.

Adoption is no taboo word in our home. My daughter, who is now five, has been explaining our family dynamic from the moment she could form complete sentences. “Daddy was adopted, Sophia was adopted, Christian was adopted,” (insert sad face and jerked thumb in my direction) “but mama’s not adopted. It’s okay, mama, we’ll adopt you.” She and her brother genuinely feel sorry for me because I’m left out, and she once questioned my mom as to why she didn’t adopt me. (I don’t remember how my mom responded, but by the look on her face, I think she felt badly she didn’t!)

I’ve followed my husband’s lead regarding adoption language and responses to information shared with our children, particularly when it involves more sensitive topics. He wrote a song after my daughter’s adoption was finalized. We acknowledge our family’s differences in culture and skin tones, and we celebrate the diversity within our party of four. Our children have baby scrapbooks that are designed specifically for children who have been adopted, and our family Bible (a gift from our social worker after our son’s adoption was finalized) includes birth and adoption dates and information for both of our children.

For our family, addressing adoption with our children from the time before they could understand established for us a culture of respect, honesty, and openness that could have been negatively affected had we chosen to withhold that from them. We have chosen to cultivate an environment that embraces and honors our children and their first families as well as how they were brought to be a part of ours.