How To Tell Your Child’s Adoption Story

Explaining a child’s adoption story can be overwhelming for the adoptive parents. Some don’t know when is a good time to tell their child, while others are unclear on how to tell them. For starters, there is no right or wrong way to discuss adoption with your child. However, it is best to start introducing positive adoption language as soon as possible. Your child should be familiar with adoption language because it is a part of their story & their identity. Down below are a few tips to help you tell your child their adoption story.

How & When to Explain

Make sure to take your child’s age and maturity into consideration. The story should be simple and age appropriate. Give them details that you can elaborate on as they get older. The details should be truthful, so that you don’t contradict yourself later. Share the excitement with an upbeat tone. Understand what your child is asking. Let them know that it’s okay to ask questions and talk about their adoption at any time. Don’t be afraid to revisit topics you may have explained at an earlier time. This will happen as your child’s curiosity grows and their understanding develops over time.

Ages 0-4

            This is the best time to start sharing your child’s adoption story. Let’s face it kids love being the center of attention. They’ll be more eager to listen to their own story. Whether it’s the story of their birth or the story of the magnificent time they made your family whole, they want to hear it. The meaning of adoption doesn’t quite sink in yet, so keep the story basic. Let them know they were born the same way everyone else is. They grew in their mother’s tummy, but she couldn’t parent at that time. Explain that you wanted to be a parent very much, so you adopted him/her. Include that their birth and adoption were both awesome events that will never be forgotten.

Ages 5-11

            Within this age group, the concept of adoption and having two sets of parents becomes clear. As your child gets older and mentally develops you may notice them experiencing more complex feelings of loss and feeling different. Make sure to have open dialogue with your child. It is essential to see how they are putting the story together. Your child’s stage of development, emotional & intellectual maturity may determine how they piece the information together. Answer any questions regarding their birth parents appropriate for their age. If any misconceptions of their birth parents form, offer alternative views to address the situation.

 

Ages 12-18

Around this age children in general begin pulling away from their parents to form their own identity. Children who have been adopted may have a difficulty forming an identity if there is any information lacking. Parents can help by understanding the need for this information. Help them attain the information they are searching for. Also, give them the freedom to explore it. As for any age, make sure to keep the line of communication open. It is vital to hear what your child is saying and what they are asking. Allow them to share their feelings with you. Help them with any struggles they may be having regarding their adoption or their birth parents.

 

Time is of The Essence

When talking to your child about their adoption story timing is everything. It’s best to start as early as possible. Don’t let your child’s adoption story be a family secret. If you didn’t tell their story when they were young children, start telling them soon. It is important to let them know that they can come to you with any questions they may have. Always leave an open line of communication regarding their adoption or birth parents. As children get older, their questions may become more complex. Be open and accepting to whatever they may want or need to know.

Adoption: Changing Perspective & Broadening My View

When I first began working in the field of adoption, most of my personal experience had been from the viewpoint of adoptive parents. Growing up I had family members and friends who had adopted children both internationally and domestically including foster care. So, I had seen what the process was like from that side of the experience. It wasn’t until I fully dove into the world of adoption entering the field as a professional at age 24, when my perspective began to change. It wasn’t that I discovered what I thought I had known wasn’t true, but I saw a much broader experience which included expecting and birth parents as well as adoptees.

I stepped back to see the bigger picture. I have had the joy of witnessing thousands of families brought together through adoption over the years. I saw children growing up and families come back to expand their family a second and third time. What impacted me the most was also seeing another side of the experience as thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies entrusted the agency to help walk them through all their options. These women were confronting one of the most difficult decisions in their lives and they needed support no matter what they chose in the end. I was hungry for even more knowledge to continuing broadening my view. I sought out adoptees willing to share their stories, mostly through online forums, and I listened. It can be challenging to listen, I mean really hear what is being said especially what it’s not all rainbows and sunshine but it’s so important.

Now as an adoptive mother, my perspective continues to change and develop having first hand experience with open adoption. Seeing my daughter’s mother’s experience and growing together through open adoption has deepened my perception. I don’t just see adoption from the viewpoint of adoptive parents anymore as I did when I was younger. When I’m moving through life with my young daughter, I push myself to see from her point of view. What is it like for her growing up as a transracial adoptee? Are there things I find celebratory like Mother’s Day and her birthday that might have a complex duality for her as she grows up? When we text, videochat or visit with her birth mother it’s evident how complex adoption can be. My daughter’s birth mother has become a part of our family and we love her deeply. If someone sat us down and asked us both to “walk us through your adoption experience,” we would have starkly different answers. If you charted our journeys on the same timeline, my moments of greatest joy would most likely correspond to her deepest times of sorrow.

To realize it’s not just about me is humbling.  Much of the time, I’m the least who matters because the impact for my daughter and her other mother is so much deeper because of the loss they have experienced through adoption. I’m not saying that adoption isn’t a beautiful thing. It has amazing and joyous aspects for everyone involved. But what I do want to press upon prospective adoptive parents is that isn’t all that adoption is. The journey for every member of the triad is shockingly different.

Simply put, adoption is bittersweet. I don’t mean that to say one side of the equation is always feeling happy while the other side is always feeling down. It’s not a seesaw. The exact moment I’m feeling so joyous to hold my daughter in my arms and introduce her to her new family I can feel devastation for  her other mother who is most certainly in pain. When we video chat, Momma J may experience happiness and excitement when our daughter shows off her newest superhero move and at the same time heartbroken that the circumstances weren’t different when she made the decision to place. My daughter is still too young to voice too many adoption related thoughts but when she is a little older her birthday might be a time of celebration and sadness. Opposite feelings can be meshed together at any one time adding complexities to our lives.

As I continue to grow as a professional and as a mother through adoption, I am committed to a simple life motto: Know Better, Do Better.

So if you are just beginning the process as a prospective adoptive parent, I would encourage you to challenge what you already know by seeking out voices of birth parents and adoptees and take it all in. Every story is unique but there are often common themes connecting each experience. It won’t be easy, but it will enrich your journey and better prepare you to raise a child who comes into your home through open adoption.

The more stories you hear from adoptees and birth parents the more opportunity your viewpoint has to stretch and grow. I found myself thinking differently, with a higher level of empathy for others touched by the same process but in very different ways. Personally, the biggest impact first hit me while I navigated the waiting process. Instead of focusing solely on the loss for prospective adoptive parents, which would have been my primary focus before entering the world of adoption, when hearing the terms “disruption” or “disappointment ” I found myself thinking about the happiness the child’s mother was feeling in her decision to parent.

You might notice your thoughts during your process shifting too. After rushing to the hospital for an emergency placement, you might find yourself struggling when asked to wait in other room for an extended period of time while the biological family is bonding with the baby. Understandably, you just can’t wait to hold the child in your arms. It may help to remember that in that moment, the child’s mother and family are squeezing in precious time before preparing to say goodbye.

As you are hopeful in counting down the revocation period until you can celebrate becoming a forever family, remember that “forever” decision is weighing heavily on the woman who is making sure she is certain that adoption is the right choice.

I’m not asking readers to completely shift their beliefs about adoption. I would just encourage prospective adoptive parents to actively seek out adoptee and birth parent voices whether it be online or in-person to gain a better understanding of all the sides of the adoption experience. Keep in mind, someday soon you hope to be a parent of an adoptee and in a life-long relationship with parents who have chosen adoption through openness and so learning about those experiences now from those who lived it will only help you when that time comes.

Talking With Your Kids About Adoption

Having that first talk about any subject matter with children is difficult. The “adoption talk” can seem daunting. However, it does not need to be this way. There are certain steps you can take in the adoption journey, especially when explaining it to children. We are here to alleviate some of that stress for you because we know it not an easy subject matter.

Do it Early and Do it Often

Being able to talk about your child’s adoption story early and often is important. By utilizing adoption terminology as early as when they are an infant, they can slowly become accustomed to the words as they grow older. By reverberating their adoption story from a young age, this can help them better understand where they came from.

It’s also important to anticipate – children ask a lot of questions. By being prepared for questions they may ask, you, as parents, can feel better equipped to answer them. If you are in a two-parent family, it’s also good to be consistent with your child’s adoption story. This prevents confusion and miscommunication. Coordination is key.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is also important to realize the developmental aspect of it. In other words, keep the talks “age-appropriate.” One of the most common questions kids start asking is about being in their “mommy’s tummy.” At that age (around three or four), kids are obviously still figuring out the world around them. By utilizing story-telling language to explain their journey to this world, it can aid in the child’s understanding.

It is also seen through developmental and behavioral psychology that repetition for a child is crucial. Certain aspects of life must be explained repeatedly to a child, and that’s okay. That’s normal. Explaining their adoption is no different in that way. It is a complex concept, and sometimes the information is emotionally laden for a child. Talk when they are ready or bring it up.

Be Honest and Let Them Express Their Feelings

Understanding adoption as a parent is hard. Understanding adoption as an adopted child is even harder. It’s important to be honest with them when you need to be. They have a right to know their story, but it’s important to realize that what you tell them when they are six years old is a lot different than when they are thirteen.

As parents, we want to make every boo-boo better, every bad day a good one, and every sad face a smile. Children are little people; they have bad days, sad days and everything in between. Help them express those feelings when beginning to tell them their adoption story. They may feel anger, sadness, betrayal, along with many other negative emotions. It’s always good to find outlets for those feelings – drawing is helpful, as well as writing. As they get older, an adoption journal may be beneficial.

If they ever feel a need to express those emotions, utilize it as a teaching moment. Ask them why they feel that way, and go from there. Give them an opportunity to sort through their thoughts. Of course, every child is different, and we learn from that.

Adoption can be tough to talk about with your child, but there are ways to alleviate that stress building up. By taking a few of these tips, you may find it easier to explain their adoption journey. We love our children, and ultimately want what’s best for them. We learn from them and feel what they feel. Remember, you’re all in this together. Family is family, no matter where or how it started.

I thought I couldn’t either…

If you are a birth mother that’s involved in a post placement, hopefully you are beginning to make peace with your decision. If you’re in involved in an open adoption, you realized the family you chose was a great a fit for your child. For some birth moms they gain more family through the adoptive parents. This can make your decision feel worthwhile as time goes on. Getting updates, letters, and pictures help tremendously on keeping you involved in your child’s life. Let’s not forget about the chat with the adoptive mother about the characteristics you and your child share. I am four years post placement and I must admit I am not the same person I was when I placed. I am different in the best of ways. I have matured and always keep an open mind. I love speaking to my son’s adoptive mother about all the crazy, cute things he does.

Unfortunately, from the outside looking in people don’t see the bright side of your story. Most people still have the negative misconception of adoption. The belief of all birth mothers are on drugs, homeless, or worse is untrue, unfair and yet people still believe it. The belief that you “gave up your child” because you didn’t want to be a parent is another common misconception. It cuts deeper when it comes from close friends & family that share the same misconceptions. What hurts worse is hearing the all-time line “I could never do that”. Once upon a time, we didn’t think that we could “do that” either. Fortunately, us birthparents thought with our heads instead of our hearts, so our child could have more opportunities in life. The further you get through post placement you begin to figure out good ways to dodge certain questions and even better ways to respond to them. I have chosen to discuss the two best ways to respond to people regarding your decision to use adoption.

  • Silence!

There is no better way to combat negativity or ignorance than with good, old silence. Especially with the statement I mentioned before the “I could never do that” line. I have heard this time after time and I always respond with silence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about anything. Keep in mind, that most people that say this have never been in the circumstances you have experienced. Also, this statement implies they are solely speaking with their hearts rather than their head. Placing your child because you wanted him/her to have a better life, both parents, or a loving & compassionate home is a great thing. It means that you are thinking past your own feelings and emotions for the good of your child. So, if your boyfriend’s sister wants to mention something about your adoption, ignore her to the high heavens. Some people may never truly understand.

 

  • Think about it, smile, & be kind when you speak.

I have had a few instances where some people weren’t being negative at all. They are generally surprised by our courage and call us brave. They are eager to learn more about your situation with adoption rather than shunning you. I have encountered people that wanted to hear about the brighter side of adoption rather than the side they are accustomed to. It’s okay to answer the questions you are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to set the record straight and dispel the misconceptions. These conversations can be very therapeutic and make you feel empowered. You will be shocked at how some people look at birthparents as heroes. Your child is a blessing that made someone’s family whole.

 

 

Coping with post placement isn’t about struggling with your own emotions regarding your decision. It mainly consists of learning to deal with people who think you should feel a certain way. People have told me that I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m not ashamed. People have told me I will regret my decision in the long run, but I don’t. After all this time, I couldn’t imagine being without the adoptive parents I chose for my son. I wouldn’t change that for the world. Embrace your strength as a birthparent and everything negative will become a breeze in the wind.

Reasons To Choose Or Not To Choose Adoption

Deciding whether to parent or make an adoption plan can be a difficult decision. There are many factors that play into finding the right fit for your situation. Am I financially ready to parent? Will my family & friends support my decision? Better yet, does my partner support the idea of adoption? These are all very important questions to consider. Although it can be overwhelming, take your time to research and weigh all of options. Down below are reasons to choose or not to choose adoption.

 

  • I’m not emotionally ready.

Like all new experiences adoption may seem scary at first. This is a normal feeling to have and you will overcome with time. The best thing to do at this point is get all the research you can. The internet is a great source of information. Read adoption blogs by expectant/birth parents. Research the advantages of open adoption. You will discover that open adoption can be a happy journey. Most adoptive parents respect their birth mothers enough to view them as additional family members. Both adoptive & birth parents join together in the best interest of the child.

  • The belief of taking responsibility for your own actions.

Fact of the matter is making an adoption plan takes great responsibility. By setting aside your own needs and wants to consider what is best for your child is taking full responsibility. You may have already considered your financial status, your educational future (if deciding to further your education), and support from your partner or family. These things factor into whether you should choose an adoption plan. The next big step is choosing a family that will give your child a loving, safe, & secure environment. Not to mention choosing a family that aligns with what you would like to provide your child. Completing these tasks mean that you love your child and that you are taking responsibility for their care & happiness.

  • My partner doesn’t like the idea of making an adoption plan.

Your partner may not feel comfortable making an adoption plan. If at any point he doesn’t feel ready to parent or able to financially/emotionally support the child, adoption may be an option. Discuss the concerns that may arise. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an adoption agency to go over your options, rights, and questions.

  • I was raised that if I get pregnant I keep the baby.

Family values can either persuade or dissuade your decision on adoption. It is important to remember that this is your choice to make. What works for one person may not work for others. Everyone’s situation is unique in its own way.

 

  • Wanting someone to love you.

There is nothing that can compare to a child’s love. However, having a child that will love you isn’t always in the best interest of the child. You have to prioritize the child’s needs over your own. Placing them with a secure and stable family is the most important aspect.

 

Consider these aspects when deciding if adoption is right for you or not. Make sure to do your research on adoption and other options that may be available to you. Talk them over with your partner and/or someone that you trust. If you choose open adoption, be aware that you are not leaving your child, but expanding your family. Find an adoption agency that best fits you and talk to a social worker about any concerns.

 

 

Family Films About Adoption That Teach You A Little Bit More

How does one portray adoption on the big screen? To do it with care and finesse is difficult, but attainable. There are movies that do not portray it in the best light. However, there are others that pinpoint major themes in an adopted child’s journey. Not only that, but they also accurately highlights the birth mother’s journey and adoptive family’s journey. These three movies, although possessing a comedic element, depict adoption in a unique, but relatable fashion.

Juno (2007)

Juno is a story about a high school girl (Ellen Page) who experiences an unplanned pregnancy with her crush (Michael Cera). Throughout the movie, Juno’s wit never fades as she’s faced with multiple decisions regarding her baby. We also see every step of her pregnancy. She chooses a family that seems like they fit the “American Dream” ideal pretty closely. While getting to know them, she learns that the adoptive father isn’t ready to have a baby, and thus, asks for a divorce from his wife (Jennifer Garner). But all ends well, as Juno realizes that as a single mother, the wife would do an excellent job raising her baby.

Elf (2003)

Although a bit more unrealistic, this story follows the life of “Buddy (Will Ferrell),” the estranged baby from New York that makes his way into Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve. Upon his return the North Pole, Santa realizes that an infant had crawled his way into the sack. They grow to love the child and raise him as their own. However, Buddy, like many adoptees, soon realizes that he is not like the others. After a discussion with “Papa Elf,” Buddy embarks on a journey to find his birth father in New York City. Although his reception is not initially a warm one, Walter (Buddy’s birth father) learns to love his elf son. In the end, Buddy maintains a healthy relationship with both his birth father and adoptive elf father.

The Blind Side (2009)

This beautiful story of adoption follows the life of Michael Oher, a present-day professional football player. Throughout the movie, we see the struggle of Michael and his birth mother. Many nights, he is left on the street without food or a place to sleep; that is, until his adoptive mother finds him. After staying a few days in their beautiful place, Michael feels out of place. He retreats to his birth mother, who only turns him away once more. Throughout the movie, the viewer develops a sense of empathy for Michael, who struggles to find his identity in this world. In the end, Michael is adopted by the loving birth mother (Sandra Bullock) and her family, and experiences a new take on life. He even develops a relationship with his birth mother so she can stay in his life.

Saying Things You Think Are Helpful, But Actually Hurt

worried-girl-413690_1920              Adoption can be a difficult road to navigate. For birth parents, this can be a rocky road with highs that we appreciate and lows that can reach the deepest valley. Some of us are lucky enough to have a support system that is set in place. Other birth parents either make their own support system or have learned better ways to cope with the grieving process. I am a birth mother that is 4 years post-placement. You never truly “move on”, but you can “move forward”. As I look back on my adoption journey, there were times I thought I was coping well. You know, when you miss your child, but it doesn’t paralyze you or depress you. You miss your child in a healthy way and want nothing but the best for them like any other parent would. Adoption is mentioned in a conversation and today you feel confident enough to mention you had an adoption placement. Then someone says this thinking they are being supportive, “You will have more kids later in life.”

            Before I continue, most comments I heard during my pregnancy & after my adoption placement were from people with good intentions. These comments were from close friends and family who thought I needed encouragement. When they said these things, I had to remind myself that they didn’t mean any harm, but it doesn’t stop these statements from being painful. I’m going to list some statements and explain why they hurt. I’m also going to give an expecting parent’s point of view with a comical twist. As time goes on, you learn to forgive people and laugh.

“Why are you upset, you’re doing a good thing?”

Response: “Gosh, let me stop moping around. All this good I’m doing is the prescription I needed.”

We are upset, because who truly wakes up and says “I’m going to give my child to a stranger today.” Trust me, no one in their right mind says that. We love our children so much that we trust the adoptive parents to provide a better life for our children. We are filled with joy to complete a family that once thought having a child was a distant dream. However, it doesn’t stop our mind, body, and soul from missing and loving our child.

“You know it’s going to be hard, right? You’ll end up regretting it.”

Response: “Really?! That never crossed my mind. I almost thought it was going to be easy. Thanks for the advice.”

A nurse said this to me during one of many third trimester check-ups. She knew about my adoption plan and worked with other expectant parents choosing adoption. I was truly shocked when she made this statement. I wasn’t shocked by what she said, but by who it was coming from. As expecting parents, some of us don’t have the best support system and that’s if we have one. My doctor was supportive and kind. He told me about support groups he thought would be great for me. He confirmed that the agency I chose was not only a credible agency, but a good agency in general to work with. For once I was feeling good about my decision. It is a shame that one comment made by the nurse could fill my mind with so much anxiety. She made me feel like I didn’t understand what I was planning to do. When in reality, I had already weighed my options and adoption was the best decision for my child to live a better life.

“You’re stronger than I am. I could never do that!”

Response: “I would have never guessed with the three kids standing behind you.”

This statement carries a powerful sting. For most birth parents, if our circumstances were different we wouldn’t do “that” either. Adoption isn’t for everyone the same way as abortion isn’t for everyone. When people say, “I could never do that” it makes you feel like you did the unthinkable. I spoke with other birth mothers who mentioned this made them feel sub-human and unworthy. We are worthy and very human, which is why it is painful to hear.

“So you don’t want your child?”

Response: (Blank stare)…..Really?!

Naturally as parents we want our children. We want to raise them, care for them, and provide for them. Even after adoption, birth parents feel the same way, but we understand that we can’t. Every birth parent comes with a unique story that leads to adoption for one reason or another. It doesn’t mean we are bad people. It does mean that we are selfless enough to think past our emotions to provide what our child needs, which is a good family.

When someone finds out you did an adoption and the room falls silent with uncomfortable stares.

In my head: Maybe they’re waiting for the punch line.

I think this is the worst reaction. As quiet as silence can be, it speaks volumes. Silence and stares can feel like a guilty brick being thrown in your direction. And let’s be honest, who wants to catch a brick. Most people who don’t say anything, typically don’t know what to say. It’s like the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” This is true, but people tend to ignore what was said and move on to the next topic, so they don’t feel uncomfortable. If anything, at least converse with the birth parent. Talking about our adoption is a form of therapy. It is us accepting our situation and being able to live with it.

Time Heals, People Change, and Forgiveness Allows Understanding

As cliché as it sounds, time does heal all wounds. Some days are harder than others, but you learn to cope with the hard days. The biggest piece of advice I ever heard was to allow myself grieve. On my sad days, I allow myself to cry, scream, yell, etc. Once upon time, I would bottle it up believing if I cried I was slipping backwards. In turn, when I did cry I was a neurotic mess that could barely get out of bed. We must grieve in order to live a healthy life. Allow yourself to feel the emotions you feel. It’s okay and it’s normal. We must learn to forgive ourselves in order to live a healthy & happy life. I even forgave the people who said these things to me. This too came with time. To anyone that has or had an adoption, life does get better. The situation you are in makes you stronger. After a while, comments like these will roll off your back and make you laugh. Joy and laughter are key components in the grieving process. Without them life is just bland no matter how you look at it.