There comes a time in every adopted child’s journey when they start to ask questions about their biological parents. “My children were born to other people,” writes Ann Brenoff, The Huffington Post. “It is natural that they should want to know about them, who they are, where they are, why they surrendered them.” How adoptive families handle these questions is very important.
Talking About Birth Parents: Having an Open and Honest Conversation with Your Child
“Some children may have endless questions about their birth parents and birth families,” says Nicole M. Callahan, National Council for Adoption. Below are some tips to help adoptive families better handle these questions.
Talk About Adoption Early
“Parents have to be proactive, intentional truth tellers,” says Jayne Schooler, author and adoption advocate. Adoption isn’t some scary secret you should hide from your child. This will only lead to frustration and resentment in the future. You should celebrate adoption for what it is – a perfectly normal way for loving families to grow.
“It’s important to keep in mind that adoption is not abnormal, nor should discussions about it be stressful for adoptive parents,” says Dr. Kathleen L. Whitten, Ph.D., author, developmental psychologist, and lecturer at Georgia State University. So, Callahan recommends talking to your child about adoption “early and often, and don’t wait for the child to bring it up every time.” This type of honesty will only strengthen your relationship with your child.
Keep the Dialogue Going & Allow the Conversation to Evolve
“Some parents may feel they are ‘off the hook’ if their child doesn’t bring up adoption very often,” says Schooler. “But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Parents should bring up adoption themselves, as the best way of letting their children know that they are always happy and able to talk about it.”
This type of conversation shouldn’t be a one time discussion. It should be a continued dialogue – one that evolves over time as your child grows. “You have to start out from the beginning with a clear plan,” says Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of NCFA and a former adoption agency director. “Lay the foundation by teaching children what adoption is, gradually share more age-appropriate information until the child reaches a full understanding, and continue the process throughout his life.”
Consider How You Communicate
“Adopted children will ask the questions about adoption that they feel they have permission to ask,” says Schooler. “Parents have to think about how they communicate and what kind of environment they are establishing.” It is important to make your child feel comfortable opening up and asking lots of questions about adoption, or anything for that matter.
Filling in the Blanks
One of the most difficult things for many adoptive families is a lack of information. “As there are many different levels of openness in adoption, there is also great variety in the amount of information that may be known about the birth parents,” writes Callahan. So, what do you do when you are working with incomplete information? How do you fill in the blanks?
“It can be very painful to be unable to provide our children with their early life stories,” says Dr. Betsy Vonk, Ph.D., an adoptive mother and a professor of social work and director of the MSW program at the University of Georgia. “If less is known about the birth parents or how the adoption came about, parents can explain some of the reasons why birth parents place their children for adoption. They can tell their children that it is usually a very hard decision to make, but that they don’t know exactly why their birth parents made that decision.”
Most importantly, “reassure your child that her adoption was because of a decision that had nothing to do with her as a person, and everything to do with her birth parents’ lives, concerns, abilities, etc.,” says Dr. Whitten.
It is important to be honest, but also positive. In many instances, how we speak is just as important as what we say. This is perhaps never more true than when speaking with a child about adoption. This is why Positive Adoption Language, first created in 1979, is the preferred language used by Adoption Makes Family.
Positive Adoption Language encourages respect for the emotions of all parties during the adoption process. For example, rather than referring to the biological mother as “first mother” or “natural mother,” we refer to the biological mother as the “birth mother.” This indicates the role of the birth mother as the individual who gave birth, which is an integral part of the adoption process. Terms like “first mother” and “natural mother” insinuated that the adoptive mother is “second” or “unnatural.”
Need Someone to Talk to?
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Adoption Makes Family was founded to meet the needs of birth parents and adoptive parents in a manner that is sensitive, compassionate, and personal.
- Brenoff, Ann. “8 Things Adoptive Parents Should Never, Ever Do.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 3 Nov. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/7-things-adoptive-parents-should-never-ever-do_b_6043650.html.
- Callahan, Nicole M. “Adoption Advocate.” Dec. 2011.