Knowing how much to say about adoption to your child can feel confusing for parents. Most parents at one point or another question how much is too much or whether or not they’ve said enough. Nobody wants to deprive a child of details she may long to know or dissuade her from discussing feelings she may be experiencing without knowing how to express them—but at the same time, sometimes those talks result in tears and frustration, leaving parents wondering if they’ve crossed the TMI line.
For some adoptive families, putting everything on the table on Day 1 is the only way to go. They complete the whole process with a life book, a detailed social history, and 24-hour access to more information whenever requested. On the other hand, others tend to choose to hold off until the right time. Going so far as to plan years into the future—and even practicing—to have the “Son, you were adopted” discussion while hoping to continue life as it was pre-family meeting. Many families meet somewhere in the middle, responding to questions initiated by the child, letting the child lead the discussion and the amount of information she feels ready to hear vs. what the parent thinks she is ready to hear.
So many factors also play into the decision of how and when to make adoption talk part of your family dynamic, including domestic vs. international, private vs. foster to adopt, age, reasons leading up to the adoption, birth family history, legal and criminal issues, siblings, environmental issues, health issues, and all the other real-life non-adoption issues that impact all families.
I don’t claim to know the perfect way or pretend to have all (or any) of the answers as to the best approach. I do know, though, that with or without me, my children do think about adoption, do think about their birth family, do have questions as to me and my husband’s motives to adopt, and do try to classify their lives vs. those of their biological family counterparts. I know this because I have a close relationship with my girls and we talk—about everything. From Day 1, my husband and I have tried to honor their lives before becoming part of our family as well as their right to be individuals with feelings different from our own as well as the very intelligent, curious, and investigative beings that they are (a characteristic of which we are especially proud).
Adoption is not a taboo discussion in our home, nor is it something we shy away from. We celebrated from the start adoption as the vehicle that brought us together and acknowledged the people, the process, and real-life decisions and results that led to making our family our family; however, there is no adoption tribute displayed on our living room wall or flashy meme on our social media. We don’t use adoption as part of our lives to explain everything that is going on in our lives. Our life as a family has been shaped by many non-adoption influences as well.
I have come to accept that our way of handling things will be met with approval from some and resentment from others. There was a time that the resentment camp held me as an emotional hostage as an adoptive mom who may or may not be screwing up her adopted children by doing too much of this or not enough of that. They had me second guess what I was doing and how I was doing it. But, lo and behold, I’m an optimist at heart (which is not necessarily applauded by some, believe it or not), and I’m a hands-on doer and learner from said doing and as such, have kept my focus on my children rather than the opinions of others. In doing so, and in forging healthy parent-child relationships on our terms, the rest fell into place—as it tends to do in healthy relationships.
Recently, and I don’t recall why, the subject of the girls’ birth family came up in random discussion, and so we put the rest of the world on pause and had a good conversation about things. As my girls are now tweens and the subject matter continues to go deeper as their understanding of our situation matures, I decided to take the opportunity to ask the source, “Are you comfortable talking about all of this with me?” And the answer was a straight up, “Yes, of course!” Without sharing the details of our talk, they both assured me that their ability to talk with me has been a huge comfort, and they appreciate the fact that as their mom, I’m a resource they can turn to and not just in an encyclopedia or Google search kind of way, but the kind that is willing to laugh with them, cry with them, hug when needed, and wonder about so many mysteries along with them. The truth is, there will be easy questions and easy answers, difficult questions and difficult answers, and not every conversation will be a pleasant one. We are a family and we are in this together.
So have you said enough or not enough? I firmly believe that you can scour the Internet for the perfect answer and will find 500 conflicting ones—some of which will make you feel great about your choices and others that will have you reaching for your phone to seek counseling ASAP. You can ask experts and read articles until you feel like an expert yourself only to then go and have an epic toddler/tween/teen/young adult blowout about something totally unrelated, sending you back to the experts and the books STAT. But quite possibly the only true gauge is to stay in tune with your child and to know where you both stand is to engage and be engaged through every stage of development. I have come to learn through experience that children don’t expect you to say all the right things or have all the answers (well, except maybe the night before a project is due or a big test, what’s for dinner, where you’re going that weekend, and whether or not they can see a friend). Just listen to your child’s questions, watch his reactions, pay attention to his behavior—and as his parent, be his very best resource—and let him be yours.