At some point during their childhood, your child will begin to ask about their adoption and their birth mother. Once they know they were adopted, and hopefully, that is right from the start, your child will suddenly realize there’s another person in the picture. Questions will come up.
These don’t have to be difficult conversations if you have always referred to adoption in their lives as they grow up. Knowing how to best approach these questions will make it easier for you to speak more comfortably on the topic whenever it comes up. Keep reading to learn Lifetime’s tips on how to talk to your child about their adoption!
When Should We Start Talking About Adoption?
It’s highly recommended to talk to your child about adoption from infancy. Then your child can learn about his or her unique adoption story from you when you think they’re ready. Some adoptive parents choose to begin telling their children stories as toddlers.
Waiting too long to share about their adoption can harm your child’s self-esteem and level of trust in your honesty. The ideal age to share your child’s adoption story is very early on and at any maturity level.
Open Adoption or Closed?
Once you begin sharing their adoption story, questions will follow depending on age. The complexity of the questions and the feelings behind these questions will vary, especially between open and closed adoptions. There are many excellent children’s books about adoption to read to them starting early in life.
In a closed adoption, there is no contact between the birth mother and the adoptive family. This lack of contact can lead to bigger questions:
“Why did my mom give me up for adoption?”
“Will I ever get to meet my birth mom?”
“Do I look like my birth mom?”
This can be more challenging for you, especially if you’re not sure of the answers.
A closed adoption can also lead to stronger feelings of abandonment in your adopted child, along with more creative imagination in what your child assumes might be true about his or her birth mother. If there’s anything about you, other family members, or life in general that your adopted child doesn’t like, it’s tempting for them to believe that everything would be better with his or her birth mother.
In an open adoption, there is some level of ongoing contact between the birth mother and your family. The advantage of this arrangement is that it takes away some of the mystery that your adopted child would face if he or she never got to meet the birth mother. The questions might be different, too:
“Did I have a different name when I was born?”
“Do I have any sisters or brothers?”
“In what ways am I like my birth mom?”
These types of questions might be easier to answer, either by yourself or with their birth mother’s help. By having contact with the birth mother, your adopted child has a more tangible link to his or her origins and another source for answers, which could make adoption topics more comfortable to bring up.
Conversations About Adoption and Birth Mothers
Here are some strategies for having conversations with your child about their adoption story and birth mother:
- Talk about the concept of adoption early and regularly. Present adoption as another way to form a permanent family. Make sure your child understands the concept before making it personal.
- Speak positively and regularly about your child’s birth mother. This shows your child that it’s truly OK to talk about this person and that the subject can be upbeat. Focus on whatever traits the birth mother has that reflect positively on your adopted child, especially the love it took for her to seek adoption in the first place.
- Avoid making the adoption seem founded on luck or how special the adopted child is. Although well-intentioned, this can leave your adopted child feeling obligated to keep earning your love or living in fear of losing it. Instead, focus on how grateful YOU are to have your adopted child.
- Show your openness to the conversation. Your child will wonder how you feel about the adoption and about not being the biological parent. The more you welcome your child’s conversation, the more you demonstrate your openness to talking about whatever is on your child’s mind, and whenever they feel a need to talk.
- Allow your adopted child to experience a range of emotions. Some adoptive parents expect their child to feel eternally grateful for being adopted. However, he or she will experience other feelings as well. Your child may grieve the loss of his or her biological family and can experience a normal parent/child conflict in your home. Your child needs a safe place to feel and say whatever is inside.
- Welcome support from other adoptive parents. If possible, connect with other adoptive parents in similar situations. Share the questions and challenges that come up as you raise your child. You can all benefit from each other’s experiences and wisdom.
Talking openly about your child’s adoption is important for you and your child, regardless of whether your adoption is closed or open. Strategies for having these conversations should focus on staying positive, accepting your child’s questions, and being approachable.
Maintaining healthy communication helps your child know how much you value his or her feelings, thoughts, and questions. Open dialogue also assures your child that you welcome your child’s conversation about adoption. Talking about adoption can seem uncomfortable at first, but the benefit of the open communication between you and your child will last a lifetime!