Deciding when and how to tell your child about being adopted can be a source of great anxiety for adoptive and potential adoptive parents. In addition to worrying about the optimal age a child should be told this fact, parents often worry about how to tell their child and what the reaction might be. Will their child be upset, confused, or (Heaven forbid!) resentful when they find out the parents they’ve known all their life aren’t their biological family? These highly volatile issues may intimidate some parents from considering adoption at all, but parents who educate themselves about taking the right steps, at the right time, for their particular child can insure a positive and healthy outcome.
I am certainly not a doctor or a psychologist, but I hope that my experience can ease some of the apprehension of the potential issues down the road. My daughter was adopted at birth, seven and a half years after our second son was born. Before she was born, we didn’t consider when we would tell her about being adopted. Our two biological sons reacted very positively to their new baby sister and life moved on, the same as if she had also been brought home from the local hospital. It was only after our friends started asking us when we would tell her that we began thinking about it. We agreed to wait to worry about it until we felt she was mature enough to understand the concept of adoption.
As it turned out, it was a long time before she was ready to hear anything. We read some books to her that were written specifically for children about adoption just to see if there was any reaction and to see if she understood the difference between adopted and biological children. She was just happy the babies in the book found happy homes. I also read some articles, books and searched online for information on the subject. Most of them gave the same advice: understanding your child is the best indicator of how and when to talk to your child.
Our daughter learned she was adopted on her fifth birthday. Wanting a baby sister, just like her good friend whose mother was pregnant, she asked if I could make her one in my belly too. It caught me by surprise but I felt she was ready to understand how much she was loved by her adopted family, regardless of why her biological family was no longer a part of her life. I explained it simply to her by saying “Your brothers grew in my tummy, but you grew in my heart.” She asked whose tummy she grew in and after getting the honest answer from me, she said “Well, I would still like a baby sister so can you grow another baby in your heart?” I was relieved she had no hurt or rejected feelings whatsoever. A few days later I wondered if she really understood what she had been told because she didn’t ask any other questions or mention it. About a week later, we knew she understood completely when our babysitter at the time said our daughter told her about being adopted. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to affect her life or attitude at all. She was actually pleased at the news and five years later, she is proud of where she was born, the fact that she is the only one in the family with green eyes, and that she grew in my heart, instead of my belly.
Admittedly, my daughter is an easy-going child who rarely makes an issue about anything (unless her brothers cheat in a game or hide her favorite loud toy) so perhaps we had it easier than most adoptive parents. The key was to understand who she was at the time and how to make it a positive experience for her. I’m sure there are many excellent strategies for this important conversation with your child and the key is to find what works for your family. More importantly, don’t let this fear hinder your decision to adopt a child because it is a lifelong joy to become parents. This is just one of the minor speed bumps along the parenting journey and can lead to a deeper, more thoughtful love.