“When should I tell my child they were adopted?”
“What if they don’t understand or it makes them sad?”
“How should I tell my child that they were adopted?”
These are some of the most common questions asked by hopeful adoptive parents struggling to find the right answers. How you’ll share about adoption depends on the child, their age, and whether they have an open adoption.
Still, adoptive families worry about how to share their adoption story with their children. Here are some suggestions to help you determine the best way to share your child’s adoption story with them! Remember, if you’re struggling, you can reach out to your Lifetime Adoption coordinator for customized advice and guidance.
The old belief was that parents shouldn’t tell their child about the adoption. It was a family secret, as if they were ashamed to admit it. When the child inevitably found out, it left them feeling alienated from their parents, wondering who their birth parents were.
Keeping the adoption a secret was difficult to practice in real life, and also dishonest. It’s hard to maintain a lie this big forever because the extended family may knowingly or unknowingly let the cat out of the bag, or the child may grow up and find an adoption decree!
Adoptive families should not withhold their child’s history from them. It’s a part of their life; not disclosing this to them is like lying. Make honesty your first priority for telling your child their adoption story.
Most adoption professionals, including myself, recommend you talk about your child’s adoption right away. Adoptive parents should talk about adoption from day one, even in infancy. Start using adoption language in your day-to-day life, even if your baby doesn’t yet understand what you’re saying.
Talking about adoption early on means that when your child asks questions about who they are, you’ll already have the topic of adoption incorporated into the conversation. It will be as natural as your connection with them and an essential part of their understanding of themselves.
You might tell your child when they’re very young that they grew in someone else’s tummy and were placed in your home as soon as they were born. The point is that you should give the child a chance to embrace the idea of adoption from a very young age.
Today’s adoptions differ significantly from those in the past. Adoptive parents are now encouraged to celebrate their child’s adoption story.
Share in an Age-Appropriate Way
Depending on how old your child was when you adopted them, you’ll want to adjust how to talk about the adoption. If you adopted your child as a newborn baby, you could make their adoption something they’ve always known about themselves.
The information you share should be appropriate to your child’s age. Of course, how you explain adoption to a two-year-old differs from what you say to a ten-year-old.
Add a few adoption-themed books into storytime. Four books to read include:
- God Found Us You
- Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born
- I’m Adopted!
- The Story of My Open Adoption
As you read these books, incorporate details from your child’s adoption story. These books will encourage questions and natural conversation.
Like all stories, your child’s adoption story will grow little by little over time. Once they’re old enough to embrace their story, they’ll have all the parts they need. Your child’s questions about their adoption will change over the years and lead to many great conversations.
Have Ongoing Conversations
It is unrealistic to expect a very young child to grasp the idea of adoption right away. You may have to repeat it a few times throughout their childhood until they understand what it really means.
The adoption conversation with your child will be ongoing, not just a “one-time” affair. As your child grows, they will be able to understand complex concepts and their questions, and this conversation will change.
For example, a three- to five-year-old may ask why her birth mother did not keep her and worry that since her first mother left her, maybe my second one will too. When your child is a little older, he will better understand being adopted and may ask specific questions about his birth parents.
Support their Birth Parents
Your child might want a connection with their birth parents, so your goal should be to encourage acceptance and empathy. Grow your open adoption relationship with your child’s birth parents. Someday, your child will want to get answers to their questions directly from the source. Cultivating a positive relationship with their birth parents will make this much easier.
Avoid sharing information that will make your child resent their birth mother or think less of them. It is natural for a child to get hurt or upset as they try to grasp the implications of adoption. But if you talk about adoption openly, honestly, and caringly, it will significantly minimize any hurt.
If you don’t know the answers to certain questions, admit it. Just let your child know that it is okay to talk about adoption and that you are willing to answer any related questions. Opening the door to their questions will significantly build your child’s confidence in you and make it easier for them to digest the information shared.
The Benefits of Honesty
Maintaining your child’s trust in you isn’t the only benefit of telling them the truth about their adoption. Another way this information benefits them is that you’re protecting them from the shock of finding another way, such as accidental disclosure from a relative or family friend. You’re also allowing them to access their family medical history, which is vital should any health issues arise.
Adoptive parents who share with their child about their adoption offer the child the chance to learn more about themselves. For example, they can learn from whom they inherited their hair color or whom they most resemble. Finally, you’ll prevent the possibility of shame that may result from hiding the truth of their story.
Webinar – How to Tell Your Child They Were Adopted
You can learn more about how to share your child’s adoption story with them in our free webinar, “Talking about Adoption With Your Child.”
In the webinar, you’ll hear from two experienced adoptive mothers share what worked to help their child understand their own unique adoption story. Tune in and get tips on where to start and how to make adoption a topic open for discussion as a child grows up.
You can watch “Talking About Adoption With Your Child” at AdoptionWebinar.com.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 26, 2018, and has since been updated.
Founder of Lifetime Adoption, adoptive mom, adoption expert, and Certified Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P).
Since 1986, adoption expert Mardie Caldwell has been dedicated to bringing couples and birth parents together in order to fulfill their dreams.
“Many years ago, I was also searching for a child to adopt. We didn’t know where or how to get started. Through research, determination, and a prayer, our dream of a family became reality. I started with a plan, a notebook, assistance from a caring adoption consultant and a lot of hard work; this was my family I was building. We had a few heartaches along the way, but the pain of not having children was worse!
Within weeks we had three different birth mothers choose us. We were overwhelmed and delighted. Many unsettling events would take place before our adoption would be finalized, many months later. Little did I know that God was training and aligning me for the adoption work I now do today. It is my goal to share with our families the methods and plans which succeed and do not succeed. I believe adoption should be affordable and can be a wonderful “pregnancy” for the adoptive couple.
I have also been on both sides of infertility with the loss of seven pregnancies and then conceiving by new technology, giving birth to a healthy daughter. I have experienced first-hand the emotional pain of infertility and believe my experience allows me to serve your needs better.
It is my hope that for you, the prospective parents, your desire for a child will be fulfilled soon.”