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Jude's avatar

Any advice on how to talk to young children about adoption?

Asked by Jude (32198points) May 1st, 2009

I have a 6 and 1/2 year old niece who my sister and her hubby adopted from China 5 and 1/2 years ago. Now, she’s at an age where she’s starting to ask about her birth Mother and being adopted. Any advice for my sister on how to handle these topics?

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23 Answers

Darwin's avatar

We explained it to our children thusly:

Every mom and dad has two important jobs. One is to make babies and the other is to help them grow up. Most moms and dads can do both of these things. However, sometimes a mom and a dad can do one but not the other. That is when a smart mom and dad make a team with another smart mom and dad that can do the job they can’t. That way, the babies get made with love and then are helped to grow up with love.

That seems to have worked with our two, both of whom are adopted. We also have read them Jamie Lee Curtis’ books starting with “Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born,” which is about adopting her daughter. She also might look around for a book by Marlo Thomas about how families are made in different ways and how everyone can be what they want to be.

We also put together a book for each of them of their first year with us and included everything we had about and from their birth parents and our trips to meet them for the first time.

chyna's avatar

@Darwin What a great parent you are!

cak's avatar

@Darwin – I gave that (the Jamie Lee Curtis book!) to a friend the day they brought their son home – their adopted son. He’s several years older now, that is his favorite book.

Your answer was wonderful.

Jude's avatar

@Darwin, Thank-you!

essieness's avatar

I was an adopted child, but not in the typical sense. My birth father left my mom and I when I was about one, then stopped seeing me altogether around four. He finally gave up his rights to me when I was about five and my “dad” adopted me. I never called my birth father “daddy”. I always knew I was adopted, but my family chose to keep it a secret from outsiders. Even my little brother didn’t know until I was fourteen and he was nine. I was the one who let it slip, and I got in big trouble for that.

I never really understood why we had to keep it a secret and honestly, it made me ashamed. I felt like I had this dirty secret that if anyone found out, they would think differently of me. Anytime I brought the subject up, as far as asking about my birth father or his family, my questions were quickly squelched. I knew my adoptive dad loved me more than anything, but I still wanted to know where I came from.

When I was eighteen, my birth father’s brother and wife contacted me and filled me in on details of my “other” family. I now have a distant relationship with that aunt and uncle and their children, but no contact with my birth father. That is my own choice.

So, all that said, I am of the opinion that adoptive parents should be open and honest about their child’s adoption. If the child has questions, the parents should honor him or her with answering those questions as best they can. Regardless of the adoption and the circumstances, that child is still a part of the parents who gave him or her away. Any attack on those parents or denial or changing subjects can make the child feel like he or she is being attacked personally. Or at least that’s how I felt. Although I knew my birth father didn’t want me, when he was belittled or my questions squelched, I felt personally attacked and disliked. I am a part of him… he left a bad taste in my mother’s mouth… therefore, I leave a bad taste in her mouth. In my kid brain, that’s how it worked.

Darwin's avatar

We deliberately chose to adopt through Lutheran Social Services because they pioneered open adoption (wow, it has been about 35 years since their first open adoption). We don’t see any reason to keep adoption a secret. We aren’t going to put it up on a billboard, but it is part of the making of our family, just like the stories of how mommie and daddy met and how great great great…grandpa first came to America from the Old Country.

Quite frankly, I believe that the idea of hiding adoptions came from the Victorian Era, when being a bastard or being a fallen woman were two of the worst things someone could be. I think it is long past time for adoption secrecy to end, and we are making progress, but I know we have a long way to go.

Judi's avatar

@essieness ; I wish every divorced couple with children could read your post. It is so cruel to speak negatively of a child’s birth parents, for exactly the reasons you so artfully articulated.

justwannaknow's avatar

Be honest right from the start. Do not bad mouth the birth parents but do not lie for them either. Regardless why the child was adopted out should be of no real concern for the adopting parents. all they should do is provide all the love and care they have to give and support the child in understanding the adoption process and why it happened.

casheroo's avatar

@Darwin Great answer, lots of lurve! What a wonderful explanation. And it’s so true. I don’t know why people would ever look down upon adoption, I think it’s so fantastic. I became pregnant at 16, and I was very set on adoption. (I ended up miscarrying) I still would have done it, and would have hoped for an open adoption.

augustlan's avatar

@Darwin I love you. <3

Jack79's avatar

I have always been honest to my daughter about everything from the first moment she asks. No storks for example (even though I make real life a little more interesting for her with things like Santa and fairy tales explaining the truth). Similarly, she knows about the operation that almost killed her and that me and her mum are never getting back together (she could have figured that out herself anyway).

I would have told her the truth from the first moment, like mention it casually the first time she asks that I am not her birth father but adopted her from China. I would make it sound exciting, and tell her how happy I was to find her, and how lucky that she was such a great daughter, describe my trip and everything. Regardless of what her biological mother is like, I’d make her sound like a wonderful person that would have really liked to kept her but couldn’t (did she die? was she too poor? why was the child adopted?). Whatever the reason for the adoption, I’d tell her, but say it in a way that would not hurt her feelings, focusing on the positive side rather than negative.

eg when I had to talk to my daughter about our divorce, I focused on how lucky she was that she’d have two bedrooms, two homes, and twice as many toys now!

Jude's avatar

Here’s a cute picture that my Sis sent today. My Aunt knitted up a bunch of “chemo hats”. One was for my Mom (who has since passed away from Cancer) and the rest for her girls, her sisters, and one for my niece, her granddaughter. We were all going to wear them when visiting my Mom after her chemo.. in support. Sadly, she didn’t live much longer after her one and only chemo. She didn’t lose any of her “sprigs” as she called them. Anyhow, when my niece pulled this hat out of the drawer, my sister explained to her what it was all about. Maddie decided that she wanted to wear the hat and wore it all day – even to the mall. She loved my Mom so much and they had such a strong bond..

my niece

augustlan's avatar

@jmah What a cutie. :)

chyna's avatar

@jmah You brought tears.

Jude's avatar

@chyna She’s such a sweet girl. To me, she is like an old soul. She was only 4 1/2 when my Mom passed away (she is now 6 1/2) and they had such a special relationship. Maddie’s got a memory like an elephant and remembers so much about my Mom – like when my Mom would pick Maddie up when she was 2 and sing Peggy Lee’s “La La Lou” (lullaby from “Lady and the Tramp) and dance with her. She talks about my Mom all of the time. I know that she misses her deeply.

Skippy's avatar

@Darwin We also followed what you have laid out with talking with our boys, and they understand it all. Mac (now 19) was 7 1/2 so he remembers some about “the birth woman” and has been happy about being with us – AJ (now 15) was only 3 so he didn’t remember anything but the last foster home he was in before us. They as siblings had only been together for a little less than 3 months total in thier lives, so all four of us had to learn to live together.

We opted to go thru our local county, since there are so many kids in America suffering between foster homes. ANY Adoption, is a good thing, a kid gets LOVE and that’s what it’s all about.

The boys each have 3 ring binders with the little we had from prior to coming to us, but we have continued to fill it with pix and momento’s of thier lives. NO I don’t scrapbook, just page sleeves with pix or construction paper with things stapled or taped on.

Darwin's avatar

@Skippy – My husband badly wanted babies, which is why we didn’t go with the county. Typically by the time the county is involved, children are at least toddlers. He raised his first wife’s son from when he was 5 and so wanted the rest of the experience. I must say he turned out to be really wonderful with babies. He can get almost every crying child to hush and settle down to sleep, and he was the one who taught me to change diapers, because he had helped raise his little sister.

However, we did stick with Texas babies because my husband had seen so many bad situations while he worked for a district court. Also, we were eligible to adopt mixed race babies (they are labeled somewhat oddly as “special needs” adoptions) so LSS was delighted that we came to them.

And I don’t scrapbook, either. I just stick photos, letters, adoption papers on a piece of card stock and then load the whole page into an archival sleeve, and stick them into 3-ring binders.

Skippy's avatar

@Darwin Lucky for you!!!! It’s always nice to find other adoptive parents that did go thru the county. Our boys were considered “special needs” since they wanted to keep the sibling group together. In Ohio, it gave us free health care until they turn 18!

Jude's avatar

Here she is with her favorite boy (that would be me behind the camera).

essieness's avatar

@jmah Aw, she’s a sweetie :)

Strauss's avatar

Our youngest was adopted. We had the fortune to bring her home from the hospital when she was born, and we are the only mom and dad she’s known. We haven’t told her, and don’t intend to until she starts to ask questions, or until she’s old enough to understand without feeling lied to or betrayed.

Darwin's avatar

OTOH, we never kept adoption a secret at all. We have always presented it as one of many valid ways to form a family and explained the reasons why babies might need to be adopted. Thus our kids do not feel lied to or betrayed, even though both of them came to us as babies who remember no other parents.

In fact, next Saturday we plan to go see my son’s newest cousin, the child of his birth father’s sister, and meet his Grandmother Rose, his birth father’s mother. Our kids have no problem in having a very extended family.

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