“Why didn’t my birth parents keep me?”
I can’t even remember the first time I asked that question . . . or how many times I must have asked it. It must be the most commonly asked question among adoptees, and likely the question most feared by parents. It is THE question, if you will. The endless, looming why?
And can you blame us for asking? In retrospect, I am forever thankful for the relationship I had with my adoptive parents—for the comfort I felt and the trust we had that made me comfortable enough to ask them that tough of a question.
The first time I asked it, I didn’t even think about how that must have made them feel. I wonder if it made them doubt themselves? Or if they doubted my loyalty to them at any point? It made me cry, not knowing the reason why, and my parents’ reply made me cry even more. It wasn’t good enough.
“Your birth parents loved you SO much, that they chose to give you to loving parents who could give you a better life than they could.”
That answer was probably good enough the first few times, but as I got older and understood more what that could mean, another why took that one’s place.
Why couldn’t they give me a good life?
Like your child, Why? is going to grow.
So what’s the best way to handle this big question?
Now that you know that’s just part one of the question, rest assured that you can answer your child in phases.
If your child is around kindergarten, or even the first few grades of elementary school, chances are, it’s best to protect them. Give them as much of the truth as you can, as it is age-appropriate.
Maybe your child’s birth parents, like mine, weren’t in a good place to raise them. Maybe they weren’t married, maybe he had a drinking problem and maybe she was already struggling to take care of one. Explaining that to a child who has just learned to tie his or her shoes isn’t a good idea. At that age, kids need to be learning healthy attachment, how to love people, how to play and how to read. Developmentally speaking, it is not the time.
Start by framing their story in love. Like my parents said, “They loved you so much . . . ” and having that phrase be phase one of my story made all the difference, even in my adult life. As I learned more about Jesus and his display of sacrificial love, I realized that humanity needs a lot more of sacrificial love. And I was humbled when it hit me: That’s how I was brought into this world: one act of love, intertwined with sacrifice.
Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s not that easy. My child’s birth parents didn’t choose to place them for adoption.”
That might be true, but love must be the takeaway. While you definitely don’t want to lie to your child, I’d say it is just as important for them to have a childhood. Consider beginning with, “Your birth parents are/were in a really difficult place in their lives and couldn’t make the best choices. They need to spend some time taking care of themselves and getting to feel better. We are your parents and we love you, no matter what. We will always be here for you.”
As your child gets older, don’t shy away from the truth. If addiction was involved, tell them. If they have siblings out there, tell them. If they’re in jail, tell them, as it is age-appropriate. You know your child’s emotional capacity better than anyone.
At the same time, be careful not to speak for your child’s birth parents, either. Either through open adoption communication or through a reunion later in life, it’s important that their birth parents have the chance to share their own story. Give your child facts, but still protect the private lives of the people who brought them into this world.
Adoptees may not be happy with vague answers, but if it protects their childhood, it’s worth it.
Don’t let your child’s why hurt your feelings, either. Can you blame them for asking you those questions? Your adoptee came into the world in the midst of a broken situation. You are your child’s closest ally and protector. It is up to you to love them fiercely, cry with them when your answer doesn’t seem like enough, and enlighten them when they are ready.