“Do Your Children Know They Are Adopted?”
Yes, my children know they are adopted. But their understanding of what that means evolves as they age.
This is Part Six of a series on Adoption called Everything I Want You to Know About Adoption. To see the links to each individual post in this series, click the “adoption” tab on the nav bar at the top of the blog, or click here. I am in the process of answering a series of Adoption FAQ’s. If you have a question about adoption, feel free to ask. I promise to answer it in this series.
We’ve always used the word “adoption” openly in our family. Since we brought our first adopted son home from the hospital as a newborn, we’ve told him the story of how God brought him to our family. I also speak openly to other adults about adoption in the presence of my children. But what I choose to say to them and in front of them depends on their age and their levels of understanding.
From the beginning, I’ve told Elijah some version of this:
“After your brother Noah went to heaven, Mommy prayed really hard for a baby boy. But baby boys can get really sick if they are on Mommy’s belly. So, God took my baby boy (YOU!) and put him in your birthmom’s belly, so you could grow and be healthy. When it was time to come out of your birthmom’s belly, she gave you to me and you became my son.”
That story was sufficient for Elijah’s understanding until he was about six-years-old, and we were in the process of adopting Elliana. Observing us going through the adoption process, watching us prepare to go to Guatemala to get her, and seeing that she had a birthmother who could not take care of her triggered a new set of questions about his own adoption.
Suddenly, in his little kindergarten brain, Elijah had a light bulb moment. And out came a flood of questions…
“Where are my birthparents?”
“Why can’t I see them?”
“Do they have more babies?”
“Do they take care of those babies?”
“When can I go see them?”
“What do they look like?”
I sat across from him at a tiny table and chairs in the corner of my kitchen and patiently answered each question. Then, for the first time, I dug deep into his memory box and pulled out pictures of his birthmother, his birthfather and his birthmother’s two biological children (from a previous relationship). We talked about how Daddy and I met them. We told him all the things we loved about them. We talked about how he’s got his birthmother’s beautiful blue eyes and his birthfather’s dark hair.
And when he asked if he could go live with THAT family instead of our family (*ouch*), I took the pictures lying on his little table and carefully separated them. I put the birthmother in one corner, her children who do not live with her in another corner, and the birthfather in another corner. And I simply said, “Honey, they are NOT a family. They do not live together. That is why you live with us. Because we are a family and they wanted really badly for you to have a real family who could love you and take care of you forever.”
Sobs. Big giant sobs.
“But why can’t they take care of me?”
“Because they don’t have enough money to take care of you, sweetie.”
Through big tears in those big blue eyes, he asked so innocently, “Well, how much do I cost?”
I chuckled and cried all at the same time, then pulled him up on my lap and said, “About $16,000.”
And then I kissed his little face a thousand times.
That night, after our first real “adoption talk” Elijah cried and cried as he tried hard to process the reality of a mom and a dad “out there somewhere” who could not take care of him. I cried, too, knowing this reality was breaking his little heart. And knowing this was going to be the first of many difficult conversations through the years, not only with Elijah, but also with Elliana.
I don’t know exactly what I will say in every future situtation, but overall, I know I will continue to follow a few simple rules (for lack of a better word) that I’ve set for myself in dealing with my children “knowing” about their adoptions:
1. I tell their story, but I am very careful about revealing the details. Children are adoptable because there is some sort of “bad” situation precluding the birthparents from taking ample care of their children. If their birth history was untainted, they would still be with their birth parents. I try to discern how much of that “bad” I reveal. I think it’s vital to filter information concerning drug use, promiscuity, extreme poverty and abuse, just like I would with any mature situation. Even more so, because it’s their story.
2. I make a big deal about other children we know who are also adopted. We are blessed to know many other adopted kids. I like to think they share a common bond over this and will love and support each other as they grow.
3. I continually emphasize that God has a plan for their lives, and being in our family is part of that plan.
4. I make it a point to emphasize all the good things about my children’s adoptions:
a. “If babies are in my belly, my baby and I can get very sick. So, adoption is a perfect way for God to give us children without anyone getting sick.”
b. “Daddy and I prayed for babies, and God led us to YOU.”
c. “God loves adoption. It’s very important for Christians to take care of children when their birthparents cannot.”
d. “Your birthparents loved you so much that they chose to give you life and find a family to care for you when they realized they could not.”
5. Most importantly, I pour my efforts into making my children feel secure, both in their relationships with God and in our love for them.
Some things I do NOT do:
1. Engage in any type of negative conversation about adoption in general or THEIR adoptions in particular—especially with other adults. I never discredit the character of their birthparents. I never lament the high cost or the difficulty of the process. I refuse to discuss in their presence the corruption of the adoption system or what might have become of them if they had not been adopted.
2. Disclose too much too soon. I would never go into graphic detail about a tragic news headline, an unfortunate financial situation involving a neighbor or friend or the sexual misconduct of a teen. How much more would I protect the hearts and minds of my children when it involves THEIR story?
3. Over-emphasize the fact that they are adopted. I don’t sit and rock them and say, “You are my beautiful adopted child.” Adoption is part of their history, but I don’t need to make them feel odd because of it.
4. Allow my biological child to pull the “I’m more special because I came out of mom’s belly” trump card. Every once in a while, she tries this—usually in a joking way. But Jon and I will have none of it. We nip it in the bud every single time.
Maybe I’m not doing it the right way. Maybe there are many adoptive parents who would beg to differ with my methods. Certainly, I have many more difficult conversations in my future. But I am confident that God will continue to cover all my weaknesses with His amazing grace and equip me to navigate those waters when the time comes.
Come Back for Tomorrow’s Adoption FAQ: “I Want To Adopt, But My Husband Does Not. What Can I Do?” Have a question for me? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail.
You are right, every child's story is unique and should be told as the child's understanding increases.
My older nephew has a very sensitive heart and my sister has been very careful with him. My niece on the other hand, is much more matter of fact. It is interesting to watch.