The Story of Us: Talking to Your Children about Adoption

It was not that long ago adoption was an act of family building shrouded in secrecy. The truth about a child’s origins often remained locked away with other skeletons, only ever being revealed in unintentional and traumatic ways. A shift has occurred in recent decades however, resulting from a better understanding of the psyche of an adopted child.

A 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents in the United States found that today, 99 percent of adopted children ages 5 and older are aware of their adoption status. It has become extremely rare for parents to keep the details of an adoption from children as they grow. The secrecy is gone, replaced now by the question of when and how to tell.

Make the Truth a Part of Your Family Narrative

Adoption does not have to become a taboo subject. If you tell your child’s adoption story just as you would have told the story of their birth, they will grow to understand it simply as part of who they are. Making the subject commonplace within your home and always remaining open to questions will help your child to feel a sense of security surrounding their place within your family. Leave the conversation open, and revisit it whenever there seems to be a need to do so. When those outside your family ask questions, answer them; allowing your child to see you embracing the truth, instead of hiding from it.

Keep the conversation age appropriate

Experts recommend talking to your children about adoption starting as early as infancy. There are several children’s books on the subject you can incorporate into the nightly bedtime routine, helping your children to grow with the knowledge that they are adopted from an early age. Keep your conversations on the subject age appropriate, and allow your children’s questions to guide any additional information you may choose to share. As your children age, their curiosity and capacity for understanding will also increase. They may recognize other examples of adoption in the world, or through television and movies, which can lead to more questions as they seek a better understanding of who they are. Continuing an open dialogue will ensure they come to you as they are ready and willing to learn more.

Integrate Information about Their Birth Family

A long term adoption study which began in the 1980’s revealed many of the benefits of open adoption. Children who had contact with their birth parents were shown to report the highest level of satisfaction with their adoption arrangements, and low levels of confusion surrounding parental roles. Even when contact is not a possibility though, sharing as much information as you can about your child’s birth origins will help them to maintain a more established sense of self.

Share Your Struggles

Adoption is not the standard path to parenthood, and is often fraught with many additional hurdles along the way. It is also not uncommon for adoptive parents to have first faced years of infertility and loss prior to turning towards adoption. As your children grow older, these are stories which you should be proud to share with them. Not only will they hear how truly wanted they were, but they will also learn perseverance and strength from fully understanding the example their parents have set.

Learning about adoption can be a badge of honour for children wear, growing up with the knowledge that they were chosen and wanted before they ever even came to be. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about how you built your family, remembering that it is as much a part of their story as it is yours. Create an open and honest dialogue, and watch as they flourish in that complete understanding of who they are.

Leah Campbell is the author of Single Infertile Female: Adventures in Love, Life and Infertility and blogs at Single Infertile Female.

Melanie Notkin is The Savvy Auntie

Melanie Notkin is a speaker and lifestyle expert living in New York. She is a best-selling author and the founder of SavvyAuntie.com, one of Forbes Top 100 Websites for Women in 2011 and 2012. Notkin spoke to us about her Savvy Auntie brand and the special role Aunties play in the raising of children.

How did Savvy Auntie come to be?

Savvy Auntie grew out of my own need for resources on how to be the best aunt to my nephew and nieces that I could be. From the moment I first heard I would be an aunt, I felt enormous love and responsibility for these children. Parents have a multitude of books, websites, blogs, etc. designed just for them, but we, the besotted, beloved aunts had nothing to help guide us and no community to connect us. In the summer of 2008, I launched Savvy Auntie, the multi-platform lifestyle brand designed for cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids.

At what point did you realise being a mother may not be in your own future, and how did you come to the point of embracing your role as an Auntie instead?

I don’t think of aunthood as an ‘instead of motherhood’–type role. Many Savvy Aunties go on to become mothers but never lose their connection with their nieces and nephews. While I don’t know that I will ever become a mother myself, unfortunately, I know that my role as aunt is a gift. It’s a gift to the parents who know that their children are loved and in safe keeping when they are with me. It’s a gift to the children who have another loving grown up in their lives who offers them another perspective and different experiences. And it’s a gift to me, of course.

I consider myself ‘childfull;’ I choose to fill my life with the children I love.

You talk about the term PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids) – how common do you think PANKs are in today’s society, and why might we be seeing more of them?

There are 23 million PANKs in America, or 1 in 5 women aged 18+ who have a strong bond with a child in their lives. There is a growing trend for women getting married and/or having children later than ever before. And so yes, quantifiably, the number seems to be on an upswing. But I also see more and more women embracing their aunthood and taking on a more active role in children’s lives, whether nieces and nephews by relation or by choice.

What role do you think the Savvy Auntie plays in modern families? How do both parents and children come to rely on them?

As parents are stretched between work, parenthood and everything else, the Savvy Auntie plays a valuable role, whether it’s simply giving relief to the mother of a newborn so she can shower and rest, or contributing generously to a niece’s or nephew’s college savings plan. In fact, 34% of PANKs expect to help pay for a child’s education, while 45% of PANKs offer economic assistance to parents by providing kids with things their parents cannot or will not offer them. And 43% of PANKs often buy things for kids that parents won’t buy them. Collectively, with a baseline of just one child per PANK, this group spends $9 billion a year on their nieces and nephews.

Of course, it’s not just financial gifts. Nearly 7 in 10 PANKs say they are a role model to their nieces and nephews. From the time they are very young, the quality play time aunts offer a young child can help develop the children’s cognitive, emotional and social skills. I’ve dubbed that time QualAuntie Time. And as children get older and need advice or comfort, the ConfidAunt steps right in.

What are your visions for the future of your Savvy Auntie Brand, and how has social media helped you get to this point?

The Savvy Auntie brand includes SavvyAuntie.com, a Webby Award nominee for Best Family Site and a Forbes Best 100 Website for Women. My first book, Savvy Auntie – The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow 2011) was a national bestseller. The 6th Annual Auntie’s Day is Sunday, July 27, 2014. And the 5th Annual Savvy Auntie Coolest Toy Awards will be revealed in time for the holiday shopping season. But I am very excited by the Savvy Auntie social media platforms where that I get to connect with tens of thousands of women on a daily basis. There is a wonderful and engaged Savvy Auntourage, over 93,000 strong, on Facebook.com/SavvyAuntie and many aunts connect with me directly on Twitter @SavvyAuntie where I’ve been tweeting since 2007.

There’s a lot more to come with Savvy Auntie and I cannot wait to share those projects with this amazing tribe of women as we get closer.

Are you a savvy aunty or a PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids)?