Have you read a few diatribes about how you should educate your child about adoption so that adoptive parents (and their kids) don’t have to do it? Me too. But, honestly, this is easier said than done. Where to begin? Here are a few suggestions from this mom by adoption.
Kids are naturally inquisitive. Going shopping for a baby shower? Talk about how some babies are born to their parents and some babies (and kids) are adopted. Reading a book about families? Let your kids know that there are lots of different ways to build a family. If you know families who have adopted, feel free to bring this into your conversation, but be careful not to overshare their personal stories. When in doubt, err on the side of protecting a child’s privacy. The earlier you start this conversation, the more comfortable it will feel. Bonus: if you start when your kids are pre-verbal, you’ll have lots of time to practice before they start asking questions!
Use positive adoption language.
If you’ve started a conversation about adoption with your kids, don’t worry too much about having the perfect words. A quick search for positive adoption language will yield a ton of suggestions (probably too many). No one agrees on one right way to talk about adoption. In our house, the word that bristles the most is “real.” When I talk with kids about adoption, I talk about birth parents who couldn’t take care of any child at the time and adoptive parents who promise to love and take care of a child forever (and, if appropriate, foster parents who love and take care of a child before her adoptive parents can). All of these people (and the child!) are real. I also typically talk about a child who was adopted instead of a child who is adopted. Adoption is something that happened in the child’s life. It’s not who they are.
Correct misperceptions when you see them.
Misperceptions about adoption abound in popular culture. Many, many movies touch on themes of parental loss or abandonment and while there are some sensitive portrayals of adoption, many are just preposterous. Next time you are going to watch a movie with your child, check out Adoption at the Movies first and start a conversation afterwards about how the movie accurately or inaccurately portrayed adoption. Misconceptions may also arise in everyday conversation. I will never forget my then six-year-old bellowing from the top of a play structure to a “friend” she had just met, “No, adoption does not mean parents don’t love their babies and give them away! It means that birth parents couldn’t take care of any baby right then and so they get adopted into their forever family!”
Just like with many other topics, adoption is not one “talk” that you have with your kids. It can be an ongoing, unfolding conversation that invites questions and discussion. It doesn’t have to be particularly hard or scary and there are tons of children’s books that can help start the conversation. Two of my favorites are A Mother for Choco and My New Mom and Me. When in doubt, just start talking, ask if your child has any questions, answer as honestly (and age-appropriately) as you can and keep the lines of communication open. You’ll do just fine!