One of the topics we’re often approached about is how to talk to your child about adoption. You see, there comes a time in every adopted child’s life when they want to know more about where they came from – who their birth parents are. It’s a delicate subject and one that must be treated with the utmost love and kindness.
“With open adoption on the rise, we’re learning how valuable it can be to share what we can with our kids,” writes Angie Gallop, Today’s Parents. “Having a sense of history can be enormously powerful for kids.”
How adoptive families handle these questions is very important. So, let’s dive right in…
How to Talk to Your Child About Adoption
“Today’s adoptive parents face a big challenge.” writes Barbara Russell, Adoptive Families, “Helping your children achieve a level of comfort and confidence with their adoption. And the most effective way to accomplish that is by talking about adoption to your children.”
Start the Conversation Early & Keep It Going
Some parents may feel they are ‘off the hook’ if their child doesn’t bring up adoption very often,” says Jayne Schooler, author and adoption advocate. “But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Parents should bring up adoption themselves.”
It can be a difficult conversation to start, but it is an incredibly important conversation to have. The longer an adoptive parent waits to bring up the topic of adoption, the harder it gets for both parent and child. Starting the conversation early is the best way to normalize adoption and reaffirm with your child that adoption is a beautiful way to start or grow a family. Adoption should be celebrated.
“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.
Then, keep the conversation going using age-appropriate language – allowing the conversation to grow and mature with your child. “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.”
“We’re asking children to try to understand complexities about their adoption stories that sometimes adults can’t understand,” adds Debbie Riley, MFT, executive director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Sometimes the information is too emotionally laden for the child. Developmentally, he might not have been able to process it.”
Be patient, answer the questions you can, and be sure to stick to the facts. Remember, “Developmentally appropriate storytelling doesn’t give you license to replace missing facts or soften harsh ones,” says Russell. As adoptive parents, you may want to make it better and take away the loss and pain. But thi will only make conversations more difficult in the future.
Talking About Birth Parents
“For many adoptive parents, it is easy to talk about their first meeting with their child, the first day they brought her home,” says Nicole M. Callahan, National Council for Adoption. “But the questions that adopted children have do not end—and may not necessarily even begin—with the day their adoptive parents brought them home. Some children may have endless questions about their birth parents and birth families.”
It’s only natural for adopted children to wonder about their birth families – “who they are, where they are, why they surrendered them,” explains Ann Brenoff, The Huffington Post.
- Why Were They Adopted? It is also important to “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.
- Don’t Fill in the Blanks. It is important to recognize that you may not have all of the answers – and that’s okay. “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. But it’s important to avoid trying to fill in the blanks. Remember what we mentioned early – stick to the facts. “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,” 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. “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.”
- What Do You Call the Birth Parents? How we speak is just as important as what we say. This is why Positive Adoption Language is the preferred language used by Adoption Makes Family. First created in 1979, Positive Adoption Language encourages respect for the emotions of all parties during the adoption process. “Positive adoption vocabulary helps to ensure that adoption is viewed as a wonderful way to build families,” says Angela Tucker, The Adopted Life. However, “adoption terminology can be tricky – many terms evoke strong emotions, are used incorrectly and aren’t always completely thought through.” 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” or “tummy mommy.” 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.” However, at the end of the day, he term you use is entirely up to you, and heavily dependent on your unique situation. It is important to remember that there is no right or wrong answer. You should choose a term you are comfortable with and, if you have an open adoption and a good relationship with the biological parents, it can be nice to get their input as well.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Adoption Makes Family is here to help! We are a non-profit (501-C3) licensed adoption agency based in Maryland. Our adoption counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your convenience. Adoption Makes Family was founded to meet the needs of birth parents and adoptive parents in a manner that is sensitive, compassionate, and personal. If you would like our advice or just need to talk, please give us a call at any time on our 24-Hour Hotline.
24-Hour Hotline 410-683-2100
If you have any questions, you can contact us by phone at 410-683-2100, by e-mail at email@example.com or use our online contact form.
- 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.
- Davenport, Dawn. “What Does Your Child Call Her Birth Mother?” Creating a Family, 1 Nov. 2014, creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/child-call-birth-mother/.
- Davenport, Dawn. “What’s in a Name? Birth Mother? First Mother? Real Mother?” Creating a Family, 26 Apr. 2015, creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/whats-birth-mother-mother/.
- Princeton, Jessie. When You Find Out My Son Is Adopted, Please Dont Refer To His Birth Parent As His “Real Mom”. Thought Catalog, 15 Feb. 2015, thoughtcatalog.com/jessie-princeton/2015/02/when-you-find-out-my-son-is-adopted-please-dont-refer-to-his-birth-parent-as-his-real-mom/.
- Russell, Barbara . “Talking About Adoption with Your Adopted Child.” Adoptive Families, 22 July 2016, www.adoptivefamilies.com/talking-about-adoption/talking-about-adoption-with-children/.
- Sisson, Gretchen. “What do we mean when we say “birth mother”?” All-Options, 28 Nov. 2012, www.all-options.org/what-do-we-mean-when-we-say-birth-mother/.
- “Talking to Your Child About His or Her Birth Parents.” American Adoptions, www.americanadoptions.com/adopt/talking_about_your_childs_birth_parents.
- “When Should We Tell Our Child That He Was Adopted?” Parents, https://www.parents.com/parenting/adoption/parenting/when-should-we-tell-our-child-that-he-was-adopted/.