The way you talk to your child about their adoption story will impact them forever. This can be a wonderful thing – they could feel special and loved by both sets of parents, or they could feel guilty and ashamed. A lot of how they feel will depend on you. This is a big responsibility and can sometimes be overwhelming. Here are some tips on how and when to talk to your child about adoption.
Talk to them from day one
If your child was old enough to remember the day they were told they were adopted, you’ve waited too long. The common reason that parents wait to tell their child they’re adopted is that they are concerned that it will confuse them. Sometimes they want to establish that “real parent” bond. But waiting to tell them will do just the opposite. One day thinking you’re a biological child and the next day finding out you’re adopted can be devastating for a child. Many adoptees I have spoken with felt lied to, and to this day have trouble trusting people. Hiding the fact that a child is adopted feeds into the concept that adoption is somehow shameful, and in turn will make the child feel ashamed.
All of these problems can be made a whole lot easier if you talk to your child early on. I’m talking from day one. Talking to your newborn baby about how they came from their birth mom’s tummy and she wanted the best life for them, so she chose you to be their parents is a lot more important than it seems. It will give you a chance to practice your storytelling skills so that you can be prepared when they’re old enough to have questions. If they always know they were adopted, they won’t feel lied to because they’ll have the truth that they deserve.
Be open and honest
Maybe your child has some not-so-nice parts of their adoption story. That’s okay – it doesn’t have any reflection on their worth. They still deserve to be told the whole truth. This doesn’t mean you have to tell your child they were conceived from an abusive relationship when they are three years old. But it does mean that you need to explain the truth to them in an age-appropriate way, giving what details they can process at their current stage of development.
Your kids need to be able to talk with you about their adoption without hesitation. Clamming up when they have questions or comments will make it hard for them to open up to you. Sometimes you might feel uncomfortable, but the more you talk about it, the more normal it will seem to you too. You don’t need to force conversations about adoption; they will come naturally as your child grows. Focus on the fact that they are loved and wanted.
Allow them to process their feelings
Maybe someday your child will tell you that they hate you, that you’re not their real mom, and that they wish you had never adopted them. That’s going to hurt. But punishing them for feeling angry about their adoption will only intensify those feelings. Your child needs to respect you, and it’s okay for you to require that. But try to recognize that this anger or fear is not about you as an individual, they are just processing their feelings about their adoption. Be a listening ear. Talk with them about how they feel. Every adoptee needs to work through hard feelings at some point or another. Be there for them when it’s their time.
Every family is different, and every child is different. Maybe your child needs totally different things than are written here. The ultimate key to talking to your child about adoption is simply to do so with love.
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