There is much debate on when is the best time to tell a child that he or she is adopted. I feel that a child should grow up with that knowledge, like many children grow up with a knowledge of their birth story.
Since being the Guide to the topics of foster care and adoption I have learned a lot. I have learned from other experts in the field, authors, and from my own growing experiences as a foster and adoptive parent. My greatest teachers, however, have been from those who live adoption and foster care daily – adoptive and foster parents, foster and adopted children, and members of the birth family.
Through these teachers I have learned that adopted children are reminded of their adoption more often than one would think. Because of this, I feel it’s important for children to know that they are adopted, and to feel comfortable about this fact.
When Many Adopted People Think About Their Adoption or Their Birth Family
On their birthday. Which may bring about thoughts of their birth parents, the wondering of why they were placed for adoption in the first place, and if they are remembered by their birth parents on their birthday.
Holidays. Again wondering what their birth families are doing on special days and if they are missed.
Growing up milestones. Graduation from high school, prom, learning to drive, and other milestones of personal growth. Another reminder of moments missed with birth family.
Marriage and birth of a child. I have heard from adoptees the wonder when it occurs to them that their child is the first person they know that is blood related to them.
Doctor appointments. When the adoptee must document on forms that they do not know their family medical history.
Due to these moments, I feel it’s important to help a child learn to talk about their adoption early and often so that they can process their feelings about adoption and what it means to live in an adoptive family. These moments may bring about some grieving for your child. It’s important to create an open dialogue and an environment that supports an open dialogue.
Ways to Help Children Become Open About Discussing Their Adoption
Tell positive adoption stories.
This is easily accomplished by providing numerous adoption themed children’s books and movies. There are several to choose from and many are suited for a variety of ages. Be sure to read them first to make sure that you as the parent are comfortable with the way that adoption is portrayed in the story. The same is true for movies, be sure to preview them first. Children’s books with an adoption theme and movies with an adoption theme may help children feel more open about discussing adoption. The books bring the conversation out into the open and helps the child get used to the discussion. This is something that can begin very early in the parenting relationship as there are a number of adoption books available for children of all ages. Also, tell the child their adoption story too.
Create a lifebook.
According to Joann Wolf Small, M.S.W.,author of The Adoption Mystique, children will develop their own reasons for their adoption if not given age appropriate details. A lifebook is a wonderful way to present a child their adoption story. Tell the child’s adoption story often and make sure that all important people in the child’s life are telling the same story.
Adoption is a family affair.
Another important point by Joann Wolf Small, M.S.W, is the fact that adoption happens to the whole family. The child is not adopted, but resides in an adoptive family. Small suggests using 'we' messages instead of 'you' messages. Instead of saying, "You joined our family in November." Say, "We became a family in November."
Allow the child opportunities to ask questions.
Some families find that the best time to have important talks with their children is in the car. This way the child doesn’t have to look the parent in the eye. This may help the child feel more free to ask harder questions or share deeper feelings and concerns. A journal may be another option to help a child find a safe way to talk about their adoption with you.
Know that you may not have all the answers or details.
It’s okay to not always have the answer. It's also appropriate for the child to know that there are some questions you can’t answer. Those are puzzles that may never be worked out, or ones that have to wait for another day.
Please know that these feelings may not be true for all adoptees. Many have no interest in their birth family and rarely think about their adoption story. That's perfectly fine. However, there are many adoptees who think on it often and have questions. I feel it's important to raise our children with the knowledge that they can ask those questions.