As an adoptive parent, what do you say when your child asks, “why did you adopt me?”  For me, the answer is always the same: Don’t lie. Of course, there are age-appropriate ways to tell the truth, but it’s important not to patronize your child and tell him or her the wrong thing. They’ll detect it. If not right then, eventually. And then your trust will be gone.

So what do you say? My recommendation is to avoid things like, “We chose you,” or “You were wanted,” or similar lines that really have no substantive backing. As far back as I can remember, my parents told me I was adopted. Even before I fully knew what it meant. They said they weren’t able to have children, so they decided to adopt, plain and simple, and I appreciate their candidness to this day.

I never had to be told it had to do with sex, not being able to conceive, all the things that you want to avoid talking to very young children about. I figured out what it meant over the course of time, as I learned about those things in other contexts. It’s always a good idea to take cues from your child—they will often give you hints about what they know and what they are really asking. If the conversation really starts to go down an uncomfortable path, you can always say something like, “I promise to explain that to you at another time, but right now is not that time.” Kids will usually respect that.

Not all parents adopt a child because of conception issues. Some choose to adopt because they want to provide for a child who would otherwise not have a home. They may not want to add to the population, but have a desire to give their love and home to a child in need. Perhaps the adoptive parents are a same-sex couple that wants to raise children. They want to build a family of their own, and adoption is the way they choose to do it.

Whatever the reason is, truth and empathy are the characteristics that need to prevail when answering the question. Children are curious, and they want to trust. Adoptive children especially, they need to trust. And while that doesn’t have to mean that the answer is elaborate with intricate details, it does mean that hiding the truth or outright lying should be avoided at all costs.