The Story of Us: Talking to Your Children about Adoption

September 19, 2013

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.

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