Guest Blogger Eden Fried shares personal stories and professional recommendations regarding talking to your child about adoption.
In third grade I had a really close friend who was black with white parents. It was the most exciting thing in the world to me. A black girl with white parents… she was just like my black brothers with white parents – hooray!
(That was my third grade thought process).
Beyond the third grade school girl bonding and connections we established over shared hobbies and playtime games, I thought it was just about the coolest thing in the world to meet another girl who was adopted. She didn’t think it was so cool when I asked about it, though. Mostly because no one (other than me, of course) had told her she was adopted.
You know typically you’d change the subject really quick or just awkwardly walk away to spare yourself the embarrassment of realizing what you’d done in a situation like this. But remember, I was eight years old. So naturally I carried on.
“But you’re black. And your parents are white…” I said to her as if to say duhh, OF COURSE you’re adopted.
We were at school in our third grade classroom in Buffalo. Something abrupt (probably my teacher intervening) cut our conversation short. I got distracted and forgot the conversation entirely. She didn’t.
I’m not really sure what happened after that but I have to imagine her and her parents had some interesting conversation that night. The following day, my mom (whose adoption agency, Adoption STAR, was just blossoming into its second year) was called into school for a meeting with the parents. That’s all I remember.
There’s a first time for everything, right? Well, that was the first time I “out-ed” someone’s adoption.
Looking back, I feel badly about it all. But I don’t think I could have prevented it or changed a thing. Why? In my life and in our household, adoption wasn’t taboo and it was always (always, always) spoken about.
I have six adopted siblings and, for the first five, I can’t remember the day I was told (or they were told) they were adopted. (I do for the sixth but mostly because I was an adult present at her adoption finalization court hearing – another story entirely.) Each of us always knew about adoption. Adoption was a part of our story – and that was a completely normal thing to talk about.
I don’t mean to infer that my 3rd grade friend’s parents were wrong. I don’t know their full story, and what I do remember are skewed, childish eight-year-old thoughts. What I do mean to say is that today adoption professionals urge parents to speak openly, candidly, and positively about adoption with their children (both adoptees, and non adoptees).
My parents lived by that belief as they raised us and, even when my siblings and I were non-verbal infants and toddlers, they would engage us in one-sided conversation, chatting about adoption as if we could respond.
Here are a few recommendations from adoption professionals on how to keep the lines of communication open and talk with your child about adoption.
1. It’s recommended to talk to your children about adoption from day one
As an infant and toddler – your child is constantly learning and developing an understanding of the world and people around him or her. Take advantage of this time in their life when they’re constantly absorbing what’s around them and speak about adoption. This will make you more comfortable talking about it when your child does grow up and ask questions (this time will come eventually) and it will also educate your friends and family around you that it’s (a) okay to talk about adoption and (b) how to speak about adoption with positive adoption language.
2. Read adoption story books for children
There are tons of positive adoption books for children out there. Make sure to include some of them in your growing library and consider throwing some of them into your bedtime story rotation. Reading can be an extremely educational and therapeutic tool to teach your child about adoption and to normalize their story. Even when you don’t think they’re absorbing anything, they are. Kids (even young ones) are miraculously brilliant – so keep reading.
3. Use Positive Adoption Language
Words are powerful. They can hurt or they can heal. As a parent, you should be sure to use positive adoption language with your child (and always) to reinforce healthy and positive beliefs about your child’s adoption story. The words you choose to use as a parent will affect how your child feels so make sure you speak wisely. Instead of “real parent” say “birth parent”. Instead of saying “you were given up” say, “your birth parents made an adoption plan.” To educate yourself on adoption language, get in touch with an adoption agency and speak to a social worker.
4. Speak Kindly and Lovingly about Your Child’s Birth Family
Your child has roots and branches, a birth family and an adoptive family. Take pride in your child’s unique family tree and honor them by speaking about them often. Even when your child doesn’t ask questions or doesn’t know their birth family personally, your kind words about your child’s roots can go a long way in fostering a strong foundation for trust, honor and respect for your child’s birth family
Furthermore, your child will develop a natural curiosity to learn more about where they came from. Your willingness to speak about their birth family from a young age will create an environment of trust and respect for your child to freely ask questions as he or she wishes.
As adoptees grow older, many may fear hurting their adoptive parents by asking too many questions. Your openness and willingness to speak about your child’s birth family will pave the road for unhampered communication between you and your child about who they are and where they came from.
5. Know that it’s okay for your child to feel sad sometimes and happy others
Your child may experience a slew of different emotions through the years and as he or she develops into a young adult and begins to understand his or her adoption story with greater maturity. Adoption is bittersweet (for all involved) and it’s completely normal to experience a range of different emotions about it. As your child expresses emotion regarding adoption in various ways, it’s important for you, as the parent, to remain supportive and to acknowledge your child’s feelings. Let them feel pain, grieve and heal and always lean on your adoption agency for support and resources.
6. Continue talking about adoption even when your child seems to care less
Perhaps you’re convinced that you’ve spoken about adoption enough – you’ve done your duty. That’s not the case. It’s important to continue talking about adoption even when your child seems to be confident and self identified, and even when your child doesn’t engage in the conversation at all. Talking about adoption (even when your child doesn’t) reinforces the notion that you’re open to talk (if and when your child wants to). Additionally, your child is listening even when you think he or she is not. Kids have big ears. There’s no need to force adoption into every conversation, but don’t force yourself not to say anything either. Let the topic come up naturally in conversation whether you’re speaking directly to your child, or whether he or she is in the other room and you’re chatting with your partner. In any case, adoption should be a common household word.
If you have tips on how to talk to your child about adoption, let us know! Leave them in the comments section below.
Eden Fried is a book nerd, an exercise junkie and a freelancer writer and blogger. She’s the daughter of Michele Fried (Founder & CEO of Adoption STAR) and sibling of several adoptees. She’s not adopted and has never adopted, but she’s been touched by adoption and that’s been enough to fuel her lifelong passion and advocacy. Follow Eden’s journeys by checking out her blog or drop her a follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn (because who’s not on social media these days?).