Adoption can be a complicated issue to discuss and should be viewed as a lifelong conversation that evolves over time. Many adoptive parents worry about how to talk with their children and teens about adoption in a way that is honest, supportive and developmentally appropriate. Because I work in the field, discussion about adoption has always been a very natural, normal part of our every day existence. Beyond the work connection, our status as a conspicuous adoptive family has afforded additional opportunities to discuss and normalize adoption. My blonde hair and fair skin provides a sharp contrast to the dark hair and olive skin of my two children, so questions and comments from outsiders are not uncommon.
By the time my children were in elementary school, there had been numerous conversations about why birth parents might choose to make an adoption plan, and why adoptive parents choose to build their family through adoption. We had talked freely with our children about their birth families, and had responded to their questions and concerns as openly and sensitively as possible, keeping in mind their age and level of understanding. A concerted effort had been made to maintain ties to their cultures and birth countries, and they had always been around adoptive families who look like us.
All things considered, my husband and I feel like we have managed to discuss adoption with our children in mostly healthy and positive ways as they have grown. That does not mean that it has been all smooth sailing or that there have not been difficult and heart-breaking moments, like when my then 8 year old daughter asked (with tears in her eyes) why her birth mother “gave me away”, but decided to “keep my brother”. Was he a better baby? Did their birth mother love him more? Did my daughter do something wrong? This discussion was initiated from the back seat of the car as we were pulling out of the McDonald’s drive through after a lovely, peaceful day of playing at the park. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I must admit that I was caught off guard.
What my children have taught me over the years is that talking about adoption is not a one-time event. As typical middle school students, my kids stay busy with activities, friends, and homework, and adoption is not a topic that consumes our daily lives. Yet, I am not naïve enough to think that there won’t be more questions or bumps in the road. New questions and concerns will arise as they mature, and their feelings about adoption may not be roses and sunshine all of the time. On occasion, they will undoubtedly experience feelings of confusion, anger, grief and loss. This does not mean that thoughts of adoption will occupy their every waking hour, or that our adopted children are doomed to a life of misery. What it does mean for us, as adoptive parents, is that we need to be aware and prepared to respond openly and honestly, using positive and appropriate adoption language. We must be mindful that how children understand adoption will change according to their age, and that our words and strategies will need to be adjusted accordingly. While we may not have all of the answers, one of the best things we can do for our children is keep the lines of communication open so that during times of confusion or distress, they will feel comfortable reaching out to us for support.
If you would like to learn more about how to talk with your children about adoption, consider joining us for our Annual Family Connections Conference, “Talking About Adoption: What to Say and When to Say It” on May 19th from 9:00 am – 1:00 pm. There will be something for the entire family!
During the conference, we will explore the following critical questions and more:
· What will my child understand about adoption at different ages and stages?
· What if I don’t have the answers?
· How much should I share if my child’s birth history is difficult?
· How should I respond to intrusive questions from others?
· How can I empower my child to answer questions and tell his story?
For more information or to register, visit the Education and Training page on our website and look for Family Connections Conference, www.adoptionstogether.org.