Often in parenting, we are faced with questions from our kids that are hard to answer. Ever tried to explain to a 2-year-old why the sun goes down at night in a way she’ll understand? Or been blindsided by the inevitable “where do babies come from?” query from your child? Sometimes, kids ask us questions we just can’t answer. Currently my almost 3-year-old is convinced for some reason that I know literally every adult that exists in the universe. When we’re out and about, she’ll often ask me “What’s her name,” and I’m like, “Your guess is as good as mine, kid. Never seen her before in my life.” Other times though, our children who joined our family through adoption ask us tougher questions. Questions we wish we could answer, or that we wished we knew the answer to. Dealing with the unknown is often part of adoption and part of an adoptee trying to piece together his or her identity.
For many adoptive parents, even with open adoptions, there are often things we just don’t know. For example it is, unfortunately, not uncommon for a birth father to be unidentified or to not want to communicate in any way with the adoptive family. When we talk to our kids about their adoption, we often talk about their birth mother. Explaining her role in how they came to be our child is somewhat straightforward, at least, until kids are old enough to start questioning why they were placed. But if we have no information about a birth father, 50% of his genetic material is a mystery. Your child will inevitably have questions about this person who helped create him. Is he good at math like your child is? Does he like basketball? What color is his hair? Not having the answer to any of these questions can be heartbreaking for adoptive parents, and equally difficult, if not more so, for the adoptee who has to hear “I don’t know” repeatedly.
So how, as parents, do we navigate these unanswerable questions? The first solution seems simple but may not be so easy: find the answers. If you have any contact with any members of his birth family and your child has specific questions, ask the birth family if they know anything. Even a sliver of information is better than nothing. And even if they can’t answer the question, your child will know you made the effort to help him resolve this part of his identity. If you have a closed adoption, or your child’s birth parents are not responsive to communication, talk to your adoption agency. What information do they have that they can release to you? Do they have a means of contacting birth family? The Internet can also be helpful in this regard as so many people these days have social media profiles. However, you have to understand, if you are attempting to have contact with birth family you did not previously have contact with, there is a chance they may not want to have contact. It can be difficult to hear, but approach them in as unobtrusive a way as possible and let them know you are in this for the good of your child.
If there are still unresolved questions, talk to your child about what she thinks the answer might be. If she knows she is tall and that her birth mother is very short for example, odds are, her birth father or someone in the extended birth family is tall. Take some time to do a study of a little basic genetics. If birth mom and birth dad both have brown hair but your kiddo has red hair, then somewhere in their extended family someone else had red hair too. While adoptees can often create fantasy versions of their birth family that doesn’t match up with reality, in some cases, it can be good for adoptees to be asked: what do you think? If you’re not an adoptee, understanding the importance of this might be difficult. I can look in the mirror and see an awful lot of my Dad. My singing ability can be traced back to my maternal grandmother and her father. My hair is insanely thick like my paternal grandmother. Knowing all of these things has helped shape my idea of who I am. Something as simple as not knowing where they got their freckles from can be difficult for adoptees and sometimes can make them feel as though they are in some way incomplete.
As parents to adoptees, we have a duty to help them navigate these questions through whatever means necessary. Sometimes that means doing something uncomfortable, like emailing a birth parent who hasn’t responded in years. Sometimes it means doing something that is time-consuming, like helping an adult child have their original birth certificate unsealed. But more often than not, our duty to our children is simply to be with them. To let them know that they are heard and seen. That their questions are valid and important. To let them know that while we may not understand what their experience as an adoptee is like, because we love them so very much, we are happy at any hour of any day to listen to and learn from them. Even if we can’t answer all the questions, they will know the answer to the most important question of all: that they are loved beyond measure.