My son has known he was adopted from the moment he was old enough to understand it. I believe he was three when he started asking what it meant, how it happens and how it continues to work. Knowing these questions would start early on with him (his personality pointed towards this as well as him being transracially adopted and “looking different” than his parents), we started thinking about how we would address them as they arose before we even decided on adoption.
My husband and I discussed what we could manage regarding special needs/medical limitations. We discussed distance between ourselves and the birth parents and how that would work in an open adoption. We discussed the elements of transracial adoption and how we would be able to raise a child of color justly. We also discussed how we would handle the adoption related questions.
As adoptive parents, we all want to be certain our child truly understands adoption and its place in his/her life. Adoption is part of them and it always will be. It’s where they had their beginning and to dismiss it is unfair, unkind, and truthfully, can be quite damaging to them as children and as adults.
When do I start? How do I prepare him or her? How do I know what to say? It can be intimidating, terrifying even. Your child’s emotional/mental health is in store and how you respond to their questions isn’t something to be taken lightly. Here are some things that helped us as we entered this stage of our son’s life:
Age Appropriate Information. Remembering a three-year-old cannot comprehend the ins and outs of the legal aspects of adoption, you clearly wouldn’t start there. Always keep the information you give to your child something that they can understand and learn from—too much information will just go over their head and potentially shut down future questions.
Children are People Too. Just because they are little and can’t understand heavy information, they still have feelings. Emotion is a huge part of adoption and their adoption story will be chock full of emotion from many different angles. Be respectful of their emotions and do not disregard them as they are presented to you.
Don’t Be Sensitive. This isn’t about you. This is about your child. They will say things that are hurtful unintentionally. They will touch places in you that you forgot even existed. Just remind yourself that adoption is ALWAYS about the adoptee. Your job is to guide, protect and love.
Kids Respond to Illustrations and Stories for Understanding. Sometimes, it’s good to remember that storytelling is good for understanding. Give examples of people you know in real life who were adopted, use visual aids and even games to keep the communication going are great ideas. It’s important your child understand the answers to his or her questions. Kids are very interactive and visual little beings. You use whatever resources you have and do not be ashamed to ask adoptees in your life for assistance. They know better than anyone what it is like to have been adopted and will be your greatest asset as you navigate this with your child.
Honesty is the Best Policy. Lying to your child is never a good idea, and adoption is no different. Honestly responding to your child’s questions and explaining things on their level is the best way to ensure your child continues to ask questions. If you lie to them, they will (at some point if not right away) shut down and push it to the background. This is not healthy for them as they try to manipulate their feelings and understanding. This is a huge injustice to them. Please, always remember that no matter what, you must always remain honest.
Remember the Love and Remember the Sadness. Last but surely not least, remember to explain the love that was involved in his or her story, but do not ever keep the sadness from them. The sadness and trauma of adoption can be very, very real. If you pretend the sadness does not exist, when those feelings arise in them, they will deny they are real. Inevitably, they will resurface later and in a bigger and more harmful way. The sadness of adoption is EVERY bit as much of the truth as the love. It’s important your child can express that to you.
As you enter this stage of their life, the questions are a million and one. Adoption needs to be a part of that. If adoption is discussed and their story is told to them early on, adoption will not be a taboo topic in your home and within your family. It shouldn’t be. Adoption isn’t all of who they are, but it is a big part of their story. It’s important to tell it.