Even the most peaceful of adoption stories tend to have some hard truths inside, and talking with our kids can be difficult. As parents we want to shield them from things that may hurt their feelings or give them a sense of insecurity. For a lot of adopted kids the story of why he or she was placed, or the reason behind the family custody battle, or even the absence of one bio-parent in an otherwise open adoption are hard truths that they will have to live with—but that doesn’t mean that we get to hide from the conversation.
Know your kid’s informational style
Recently my daughter was goofing around and ended up sliding down our stairs. She knocked the wind out of her lungs and was certain she was paralyzed (“I can’t feel my back!”) and terrified to move. Knowing her as we do, we explained the way that lactic acid forms, and how staying still after an accident like that would end up leaving her even more sore than if she gingerly got back up on her feet. She needs emotionless facts, science–charts and graphs, if you have them. Discussing “hard facts” of her adoption story without drama, speculation, or emotion is the best way for her to deal with them. Asking her to have empathy for a bio family member who may not want contact, for example, just leads her to hysterics. Maybe one day she will get to that point, maybe she won’t, but I can’t ask her to process and feel her life any differently than she does.
Be age appropriate
While no expert would ever recommend lying or hiding the truth about your child’s history, keep you child’s age and ability to process in mind. A child with a family history of abuse may not need to be told every detail of relinquishment to foster care right away—let you child guide the conversation and ask the questions. At the same time, don’t be tempted to minimize you child’s history if it’s brought up; acknowledge that harm was done and that you child deserved much better.
Repeat after me: “It is okay to be angry.” Some aspects of our kids’ history are terrible, and some relationships are really hard. Acknowledging the unfairness can go a long way to helping your child feel secure and safe.
Their story is their preference to share
Sometimes the hard truth to be shared is not with the child, but with an outside audience. As an adoptive parent you learn quickly to identify those seeking sordid details, rather than get to know your new family member. Kids have a harder time understanding that their entire story may not be best shared with the world at large—and that’s part of their learning curve. Let them take the lead on sharing, and ask them often how they feel when they talk about their history or first family. Remind them that they are not being disloyal by not talking about every single aspect of adoption with every single person. When my daughter was younger we used the analogy of a special birthday present—you don’t have to bring that special present to school and let kids you don’t even know play with it; there are lots of other toys to share. Bottom line, their story means they get to request no more talking about it or LOTS more talking about it
How have you addressed difficult adoption subjects or stories with your kids? Do you feel like you need to share every detail with the world? Let me know in the comments your best practices!