“Mommy, tell me about when I was born. Why couldn’t my parents take care of me?”
This question was asked by my almost five-year-old in an unexpected bedtime conversation. Her story is not mine to share. But I wanted to acknowledge how early these questions plague the minds of children who have joined a family through adoption and how unprepared I felt in this moment. Sure, we have talked to her about her birth story, but we had never once been asked: “Why?”
I looked into her eyes that carried a hurt I didn’t know she could feel at such a young age, and the floodgates of grief were opened.
We sat together as if time had stopped. Suddenly the work I needed to do and the messy house downstairs, that was pleading to be cleaned, could wait. What mattered in this moment was that a little of my daughter’s grief could be uncovered to initiate the healing process I didn’t expect to begin at such an early age.
One of the things I learned about adoption is that even though I see my daughter the same way that I see my son who I had biologically, it’s important that I don’t ignore the fact that my daughter has birth parents. Ignoring this fact is truly doing a disservice to my daughter.
So how do we talk to our kids about adoption?
1. Talk about it early.
From the moment we met, my husband and I began to tell our daughter her adoption story. Of course, we kept it age appropriate. But we never wanted to deceive her or have a moment where we had to sit her down and tell her something completely unexpected.
One way to encourage an early conversation is to create a life book for your child with pictures and explanations about the life they had before entering your family.
2. Be positive.
One of the worst things adoptive parents can do is to talk about adoption in a negative light. Be as positive as possible! For example, when I had to tell my daughter details of her story, it was easy for me to go down a negative path, but I knew it wasn’t my place. I tried to keep the conversation positive while still allowing her to feel the negative feelings she needed to feel.
3. Be honest.
Though it’s important to stay positive, don’t let it be at the expense of honesty! The “why?” question that my daughter asked me needed to be met with age-appropriate honesty — even if it’s hard. For her to develop a trust in me, she needs to know that her questions are valid and that my answers are truthful.
4. Be trustworthy.
Honesty and trustworthiness can be a little different. For example, some parents are honest with their children, but they also go around telling anyone and everyone their child’s pre-adoption story. Remember, that is NOT your story to share! Your children need to feel safe knowing that the details of her story are hers to share when she is ready.
I did not handle the conversation that night perfectly, but what I can promise my daughter is that I am trying. And when I do fail, she can count on an apology and for me to learn from my mistakes. Give yourself grace along the way and know that the most important thing you can give your child is genuine effort and an ally.
Tell us in the comments how YOU have answered the “why?” question from your adopted children!
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