Before you begin the adoption process, you should formulate a plan for how you’ll talk about adoption with your son or daughter. How you’ll approach the topic, and when you’ll begin integrating into your daily life. The most vivid memory I have of my adoption story was when I was 15. Growing up, I always knew I was adopted; yet, I didn’t explore the conversation with my parents. It wasn’t that I didn’t have questions or that my parents hadn’t mentioned it before, though. Rather, somewhere along the way, my child brain learned to avoid the topic. That it was bad. That, somehow, it meant I was less loved and wanted than what was actually true. I’ve lived with that inner message for the majority of my life, and still battle it every so often to this day. Granted my adoption was closed, but I still wish I had emulated more security with the concept of adoption.
Talking about adoption with your son or daughter may feel intimidating. Immediate concerns of when is the right time can arise, coupled with how much detail to include. Worries surrounding how they will react and how you should appropriately handle this intermingle as well. All of these emotions and thoughts are natural. You are not alone. It’s going to be okay. Here at Adoption Choices of Colorado, our team is ready and willing to help you.
When to Talk about Adoption
Research recommends that starting early is optimal. It establishes a familiarity around the topic, and opens the lines of communication between you and your son or daughter. Before the age of five especially, adopted children need to know that they are adopted and are living with their forever families. When curiosity heightens after that, further detail can be added. It’s important that the concept of adoption is introduced before the questioning stage occurs, and that you, the adoptive parents, are the first ones they hear it from. Having them learn, even by happenstance, that they’re adopted from a friend or another family member is devastating.
A preset foundation will largely influence how further conversation will go in later years. It will also let your son or daughter know that it’s ok to talk about adoption with you.
What to Say
Depending on their age, your son or daughter may ask anywhere from, “Mommy, did I grow in your tummy?” to “Why was I given up? Was I not wanted?” Be sure to keep your explanations simple, direct and honest. Age appropriate, too. If there is sensitive information regarding their background, save that for when they’re older and have the ability to understand it. Explain that you chose to adopt them and include any details you know about their birth parents – even if it’s only that their birth parents weren’t able to support them. Definitely emphasize the reasons you chose to adopt them, and the process it took to welcome them into your home.
Accentuate that there is nothing wrong with them. That adoption is permanent, and that you are their parents now. Reinforce that adoption is a positive thing, and that their adoption doesn’t affect how much you love them.
Encourage your son or daughter to share their thoughts and feelings, and to ask any additional questions. Remember to be sensitive if they immediately react out of confusion, anger or hurt. The concept of being adopted can be difficult to fully grasp and accept. They may need time to process the information before responding. Should anxiety or insecurity arise, give lots of reassurance.
If you start early, your child won’t remember exactly when they are told. But, if you choose to wait and tell them when they are older — it’s their time. Silence phones and turn off the TV. Distractions or hesitation can cause the assumption that adoption is bad, and can hurt their identity. Adoption is a vulnerable subject. Make it as comfortable and open as possible by giving them your undivided attention. It’s a major moment in their life.
If you are struggling with how to approach the conversation, don’t be afraid to seek help from an adoption competent counselor.
Your Adopted Child’s Needs
Deep down, all adopted children have insecurities that intertwine with their development and identity. Each one correlates into how they see themselves and how they interpret their world. It’s completely natural.
First, they want to feel like they belong. This one is huge. Adoption, unfortunately, comes with precursory feelings of rejection and abandonment. When adopted children first begin to experience the associated emotions, they need to know without a shadow of a doubt that you are there for them wholeheartedly. Some will test your limits as reassurance they won’t be abandoned again. Others may withdraw to see if their presence is missed. This behavior can be seen as defiant or rebellious, but that’s a gross misinterpretation. Beneath it all, your son or daughter is trying to sort out an insecurity – to see if they belong. Communicating openly with your child about how happy you are to have them will help diminish the feelings of abandonment and enhance the sense that they are meant to be with you.
Second, they want to be loved. Another precursor adoption has are feelings of shame and worthlessness. It’s vital for adopted children to know that they were loved for them, and that they aren’t a replacement for a child who never was. Losing a biological child is the worst experience a parent can go through; but, adoption is not a substitute for grief. Even if that’s your motivation for adoption, allowing yourself time to grieve is better long term for both you and the new child. Otherwise, your adopted child’s life may question your love for them, and if they are competing with the child that passed away.
Third, they want to be accepted no matter what. Allow them to be whoever they are – without judgement. Gay or straight, black or white. Applaud their identity, support their hopes and dreams, and encourage their growth. As adoptive parents, you play an essential role in how your child feels about themselves. You can help shape or shatter your son or daughter’s self-worth with your words or actions. Saying how proud you are of them you goes a long way.
Talking about Adoption with Your Son or Daughter
Best rule of thumb: be open, honest, and start early.
Introduce the word during infancy and go from there. Don’t wait for your child to come to you. Open the lines of communication yourself. Show them that it’s normal and ok to discuss their origin. Their self-esteem and identity will benefit from it as they develop, and they will thank you later.
Adoption Choices of Colorado
For more information on adoption please contact Adoption Choices of Colorado. We can be reached via our website or phone 303-670-4401.
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.
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“How to Tell Your Child She’s Adopted.” Parenting, 24 July 2014, www.parenting.com/article/how-to-tell-your-child-shes-adopted.
“How to Tell Your Child They Are Adopted.” The Importance of Communicating with Teenagers – Family Lives, www.familylives.org.uk/advice/your-family/fostering-adoption-kinshipcare/how-to-tell-your-child-they-are-adopted/.
Johnson, Lesli. “10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 Mar. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/lesli-johnson/adoption_b_2161590.html.
“When to Tell Your Child About Adoption.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/adoption-and-foster-care/Pages/When-to-Tell-Your-Child-About-Adoption.aspx.