"How to share adoption with your child who is adopted"
People often ask me, “Does Scotty know he’s adopted?” I want to respond, “Of course he does. I’m not going to drive home from his high school graduation ceremony and announce, ‘By the way, son, you have no biological connection to your daddy, brother, and me.’” My answer, though, is a simple, “Yes,” but I am happy to go into more detail. It’s an honor to debunk disrespectful assumptions about birth families and to advocate for adoption.
That antiquated Band-Aid-ripping method seldom turned out well for adoptees of previous generations. Plus, children may associate secrecy with shame. Thankfully, social workers, dialogue, education, and open adoption have changed family conversations to the benefit of the adoption triad.
My husband Jeff and I (and our older son Houston) brought Scotty home from the hospital. Obviously, everyone we knew was aware that I hadn’t been pregnant. Everyone we knew had supported and prayed with us through years of infertility treatments followed by the domestic infant adoption process. Thus, adoption became part of daily household banter in my home and in the homes of close family and friends. I take that same joyful, casual, supportive approach with Scotty, who is now eight years old. Jeff and I tell Scotty the truth, but in age-appropriate terms. We are consistent with five points:
1. We love and appreciate your birth family.
2. Your birth family loves you.
3. Your birth parents gave you to us because they were not ready to be parents and they wanted you to have a secure home, a big brother, and a wholesome childhood.
4. Your birth family members are good people.
5. You can talk to your birth parents any time.
The message is clear: love, respect, connection. Ours is an open adoption. I understand that many situations may merit more or less explanation, but parents must remember that how you speak about your child’s birth family is how you speak about your child. As Scotty gets older, his questions may get deeper and our answers will likely become more specific.
We all know that children often figure things out on their own. That can be dangerous, because if parents withhold correct information, children may fill in the blanks. My husband was adopted in 1963. His parents told him he was adopted from day one. Still, he grappled with the concept. When he was five years old, he announced to a buddy, “I’m adopted.”
The friend asked, “What does that mean?”
Jeff answered, “It means I grew in my daddy’s tummy instead of my mommy’s.”
Even when parents do a good job of explaining circumstances, children still get confused. Thus, consistency is important.
A few of my friends who are adoptive mothers share their methods:
We answer questions honestly and at their level. We speak a lot about how God creates each person with a purpose. We emphasize that God created them to be a part of our family and to do great things! We can’t wait to see what those things are! We explain their stories and how they are the greatest gifts we have ever received.—Cheryl
We read a lot of books! We also honestly answer questions as they come up. —Julia
We tell our children (and everyone that asks) that God builds families in 2 ways -biologically and through adoption. Both ways are incredibly special and unique and result in tremendous blessings.—Heather
Adoptions are all different and difficult and I wish it were a perfect environment. If a situation or a life story would be hurtful to a child, then for us it’s not discussed or the story may change a little to ease the pain. We tell our child that when you physically can’t have a child of your own, adoption is the answer if you want to be a mom.
We read books and answer questions as they come. [Our daughter] is four, so the questions are just now starting.—Jessica
Adoption conversations aren’t easy, but if we start them early, show respect for the triad, and err on the side of kindness, we’ll never have to rip off those Band-Aids. Our children will know they are loved by birth and adoptive parents.
Jody Dyer owns Crippled Beagle Publishing in East Tennessee. Her book The Eye of Adoption: A Turbulent True Story of Heartache, Humor, & Hope was voted a “Best Read of 2013” by Adoptive Families Circle magazine and includes an in-depth interview with Scotty’s birth mother. Jody’s work is available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, a variety of retailers, and www.jodydyer.com.