Talk to Your Kids About Their Adoption…Part 2
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Last month, I wrote an article about WHY parents should talk to their children about their adoption in an open and supportive way, and I promised a follow-up article on HOW to talk to your kids about adoption. I apologize that it’s taken SO LONG to get this article published!
In March, I became a topic expert contributor for adoption on www.GoodTherapy.org and I wrote my first article about how to talk to your kids about adoption. You can read the original article HERE but I am also re-posting the article in its entirety.
5 Ways to Talk to Your Children about Their Adoption
It’s not uncommon for parents to have some anxiety about talking to their children about their adoption story. This can be especially true if your child’s adoption story has some negative aspects to it, such as abandonment or CPS involvement. When we become parents, the instinct to protect our children from all hurt and harm is extremely strong. We agonize over the events in our child’s lives that brought them to our family and wish that we could have been there from the first moment. For many parents, the idea of sharing information with their child that they believe will be hurtful can result in a child’s adoption story simply never being discussed. It’s not uncommon for me to see parents in my office who never intended to keep secrets from their child but as the years progressed and the information remained unsaid, it became more and more difficult to have an open and honest discussion about adoption. What are some things your family can do to open the dialogue and make the conversation easier?
- Start talking about their adoption from the moment they come into your home.
If you bring your child home at birth, this isn’t too early to talk about adoption! In fact, this is the best and easiest time to start talking about adoption! Talking to your beautiful, gorgeous, and perfect newborn about their birth story, their birth family, and your own adoption journey that brought you to them, allows you to practice telling this story before your child is old enough to understand. Overtime, you’ll become so comfortable talking about adoption that the topic will flow in and out of conversation without notice. Best of all, there is never a “moment” when your child first hears about their adoption because they’ve heard about it since the day they were born.
- Make a Life Book
Ideally, you can gather pictures and memorabilia about your child’s birthfamily before your child is even born. If you are matched with an expectant mother prior to the child’s birth, take pictures of her (if she is comfortable with it). So many adopted children have never seen a picture of their mother pregnant with them! Find out as much information about her family and the father’s family. Unfortunately, many children are adopted as older infants or even teens and the opportunity to develop a relationship with their birthfamily is limited. Gather as much information as you can! Take pictures of your family’s trip to China and bring home souvenirs. Pester your child’s caseworker for everything that has happened during the CPS case because they may not otherwise remember to tell you that your child’s aunt is a talented pianist. Take this information and put it into some tangible form. It’s doesn’t have to be a “book”- it can be a special memory box! In this digital era, I’ve seen some really amazing digital photo LifeBooks. Allow your child to have access to their LifeBook, to take it out and look through it whenever they choose. Having their LifeBook around will likely prompt your child to talk about their adoption. At the very least, working with your child on his LifeBook or seeing them take it off the shelf will give you an easy opportunity to start talking about adoption.
- Have memorabilia in your home about from your child’s first (second, third, fourth…) family.
This is the same idea as having a LifeBook without the book! Have photographs up on your refrigerator or framed in your child’s room. Hang that beautiful Russian ornament that you purchased on your first trip to visit your child on your Christmas tree each year. Does your child have an award they earned prior to joining your family? Frame it and hang it on their bedroom wall! If your child was in foster care prior to their adoption, get as much information as you can about their other foster families and have those memories displayed in your home, too. This sends a clear message to you child that it is OK to talk about their adoption, their previous families, and their first family. Many adoptees worry that their adoptive parents will be hurt if they talk about their first family, but if you have a picture of your child’s birthmother on your refrigerator, your child will likely feel comfortable knowing that it’s OK to bring her up.
- Talk less. Listen More.
This is a great rule about parenting in general! Sometimes we need to stop talking, step back, and just listen. If you’ve done a good job with tips 1 through 3, you’ll have laid the groundwork for your child to feel comfortable bringing up their adoption. Listening can be hard because our instinct as parents is to fix the problem. Adoptive parents can’t fix the pain of adoption, but they can provide a space for their child to identify and process that pain. I’ve had many adoptive parents breathe a sigh of relief when they realized that they can stop working so hard to protect their child from pain. It’s an exhausting and never ending process! We can’t shield our children from pain. Their story is simply that- their story. As parents, our job is to present the information in an age appropriate manner and then support them as they process it.
- Face our own Fears
Take a moment to consider why it’s hard to talk to your child about their adoption. We can’t talk honestly with our children about adoption until we are honest with ourselves. Greif and loss is an inherent aspect of adoption for ALL triad members. Many adoptive parents pursue adoption after infertility and it is crucial for parents to honor the grief associated with the loss of their infertility. It’s OK to acknowledge that adoption was your “second choice.” Grieve for your loss, for not being able to carry and birth your child. And then grieve it again, because grief never really goes away, it just moves to different places in our body. When you find yourself really reluctant to talk about a certain part of your child’s adoption, or you want to say “That’s too confusing for her to understand” take a step back and consider what’s underneath that reaction.
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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin and Bastrop Texas specializing in adoption and attachment.