As a child who was adopted by one parent who was married to my other biological parent, I personally believe the sooner you confront the topic of adoption with your child the better. While this can be a sensitive subject that requires delicate handling, there is no need to hide this reality from your child and the knowledge of being adopted will in no way undermine or diminish the love they feel for you.
Don’t worry if the disclosure of your child’s adoption status opens up other questions, just answer them the best you can and support your child as they understand this fact about themselves. If you’re trying to navigate this aspect of your family experience, here are some things to consider regarding how and when to tell your child.
- Tell the Whole Story. Don’t ignore the birth parents, if you try to omit the birth parents from the adoption story, you unintentionally send a message that there is something wrong with the parents or that you are uncomfortable talking about them. Regardless of the type of adoption you have pursued, (closed, open, etc.), being open and talking about the adoption can make it more comfortable for you discuss and it normalizes it for the child.
- Be Proactive. Don’t wait for your children to come to you. It is natural and should be expected that your child will have questions, especially about their birth parents and where they come from. Many children, out of respect for their adopted parents, won’t ask because they don’t want to upset their adoptive parents or they assume asking these types of questions might make their adoptive parents uncomfortable. Find opportunities to talk to your child about the adoption. For example, if your child is a gifted musician, you could say something like, “You are such a talented musician, I wonder if your birth mother was talented musically.” This opens the door for your child to ponder the question and gives them the opportunity to come to you with their own question, which in turn leads to a good and frank conversation beneficial to you and your child.
- Seek Support. If you are feeling uncertain about broaching the subject with your child, seek out other adoptive parents and talk to them. Finding a community of support is great way to hear and learn from others who have gone through the same process and can better help you navigate the process in your own family. If you are really struggling, seeking out a professional who specializes in adoption can also be very helpful from a clinical and support standpoint.
If, like many parents, you’re uncertain about where to start or how to broach the subject altogether, the answer is to keep it simple and be honest, open and transparent. For younger children, start by explaining that your child was not born to you, tell them that they were born to other parents, explain why you chose to adopt a child, and why you chose them specifically. Explain how much you wanted them to be a part of your family and, at an age appropriate level, the process you went through to bring them into your family.
For older children who have not been told they were adopted, you need to talk with them about it immediately. Adoption should not be kept secret; every child needs to have a clear understanding of where they come from and who they are. Adopted children who have not been told about their adoption status seem to have an intuition or “sixth sense” that they are somehow different. Without knowing the truth, this can lead to problems as they form their self-image and self-identity. Trust me when I say, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to discuss the issue with your child. In addition, the longer you wait the greater the likelihood that your child will hear the news from a third party. As the parents, this revelation should come from you.
If you have chosen to wait until your child is older to tell them they were adopted, understand that may become upset by this news and that this is a natural reaction. Allow your child to express their feelings, talk about why they feel sad, angry, confused or all of the above. Let them know that you understand those feelings, reminding them that you and your spouse love them, that they are your child, and that this is their family now and always.
Talking to your child about their adoption might feel really hard. However, the more you talk about it, the more comfortable you’ll become and the more comfortable your child will be in asking questions that are important to them about the adoption and their birth parents. Ultimately, this will only strengthen your bond and will draw you even more closely together.