On my son’s fourth birthday, he and I were sharing a quiet moment together. As I snuggled him close, I told him about the day he was born, and listed all the people who love him. At the top of the list was the name of his birth mother. Upon saying her name, my son turned to me and said, “Mama? What does her voice sound like? I want to hear her voice.”
We have an open adoption. Her pictures are in his bedroom. We talk about her regularly, but she has been most comfortable communicating by text and email. We “talk” every few months, but sadly, my son had not heard her voice since he was born. I knew I needed to make it happen. In that moment, he was expressing something from deep within his heart; he needed his birth mother in his life.
The short version of this tender story is that I was able to text her and ask if she would be comfortable sending him a video or voice message. He isn’t that great on the phone yet, and I wanted something recorded, that he could listen to over and over again if he wanted to. She happily obliged, and within thirty minutes, our son was listening to the sweetest birthday message from his birth mother. He smiled his big, beautiful, trademark smile. I cried happy tears. I have always believed in the importance of open adoption, but this experience drove it home. Our children need to feel connected to their birth families.
For those who are lucky enough to have a very open adoption, keeping that biological connection is as simple as a text, phone call, video chat, or visit. But for those whose adoption is not so open, what can you do? I asked adoptive mothers from all adoption situations how they keep their children connected to their biology. Here are some of their ideas.
- Keep photo albums. A photo album is a great way to keep a child connected to their biological family. Gather pictures as you are able to do so. This may be pictures from the hospital on the day baby was born, pictures from placement, pictures the agency is willing to share, pictures of visits, and pictures that your child’s birth mother sends to you. Keep them all together in an album. Look at them often. Talk about the people in the pictures. Point out similarities your child may share with his birth family. We all love seeing family resemblances. Your child will cherish the knowledge of where he inherited certain features from.
- Make pillowcases out of old shirts. One friend has been able to obtain clothing from her children’s biological mother and father. She made pillow cases out of them and gave them to her children. It is a way for them to feel close to their birth family as they sleep.
- Create recipe books. Another way to keep a child connected to their birth family is to collect favorite family recipes and put them together in a book. Ask your child’s birth family to write a little about each recipe; why it’s a favorite, when they would eat it, and what traditions surround it. You can use these recipes on a regular basis. Your child will love knowing that he is sharing in their traditions.
- Plant a tree. A friend of mine was blessed to adopt her children from foster care. Soon after the adoption took place, the children’s biological father passed away. In honor of their father, they planted a tree in the back yard. As the tree grows, those children will be able to think of their father and keep his memory alive. In adoption, trees can be very symbolic. Roots represent a child’s biological family, the tree is the child, and the branches are the adoptive family. Planting an “adoption family tree” can be a meaningful experience for everyone.
- Attend cultural activities. For those who adopt transracially, it is important for your child to know and understand their culture. Seek out and attend activities honoring their ethnicity. Dance performances, story-telling festivals, food vendors, and plays are all ways to keep a child connected to where they have come from. It is also important to learn about things like appropriate hair and skin care from those who know. It is imperative for your child to grow up knowing how to properly care for themselves according to the standards of their culture and race.
- Make a CD. Ask your child’s birth mother what some of her favorite songs are and make them into a CD or playlist. If that’s not possible, collect songs from your child’s country of origin. Play them in the car or while you are relaxing at home so your child becomes familiar with them.
Obviously, these ideas may not work for everyone. But with a little creativity, most can be adapted to your own situation. Helping your child feel connected to their biological family, or at least, connected to their culture, will help them feel secure in who they are and who they can become.
We would love to hear your ideas on keeping your child connected to their birth family. Share them below!