Talking to Adopted Children About Their Birth Parents
Adopted parents need to understand that is completely natural and 100% normal for adopted children to wonder about their birth parents. Virtually all adopted children at some point experience what is plain and simply “curiosity” and nothing more: Do I look like my birth parents? Why did they choose adoption? etc.
Your child’s birth parents are a major part of their adoption story – which is an important piece of “who they are”. So it is important to talk with your adopted child about their birth parents openly, honestly and positively.
However, for many adoptive parents, talking about a child’s biological family can be a sensitive – and even threatening – topic. But in order for children to move forward into the future, it is important for them to have a grasp of what happened in their past.
As a specialized adoption therapist, I have helped many adoptive parents discuss their child’s adoption story with them in a healthy way. Below, I have compiled some guidelines and suggestions for talking to your child about his or her birth parents.
(1.) Talk About Adoption when Your Child is Young
Early discussions about adoption benefits both the adoptive parent and the adoptive child. Early talks — starting as young as infancy — will help your child to learn adoption language and enables them to begin grasping her own adoption story.
Introducing the subject of a child’s birth parents at an early age – even before he or she fully understands the details of conception and birth – will reduce confusion and make it easier to answer questions as your child gets older.
If you can, share pictures of your child’s birth mother or biological parents and explain the important role they played in helping create your family.
(2.)Therapists Recommend Talking Often About Adoption
In addition to discussing adoption early, do it often. This enables a child to get used to the words and concepts of adoption as naturally as possible, before they really even know anything different.
Repetition helps a child absorb the concepts surrounding adoption. It should not be the overarching topic of conversation at all times – but should be addressed whenever their adoption is relevant or significant to whatever’s going on.
And remember that both parents in a two-parent family need to coordinate and be consistent in their stories about the child’s birth parents and adoption circumstances. This removes any stress or confusion for the child.
(3.) Keep Adoption Conversations Honest and Developmentally Appropriate
While the details surrounding your child’s birth parents may be difficult to discuss, psychologists and therapists agree that children have a right – and a need – to know their full adoption story.
And, in reality, your child will learn his or her full history eventually, whether it’s through a friend, family member or research they do when they get older. Being dishonest with your child about their birth parents and adoption can serve to damage their trust, as well as make them feel like you are rejecting or ashamed of their story or identity.
When you answer children’s questions about their birth parents, try to use a storytelling technique and language that can be grasped by a child of their age. This requires you to think carefully about how to discuss difficult issues without lying.
For example, if you know your child’s mother had no relationship with the father, do not lie and say “your mommy and daddy loved each other very much.” Instead you can simply say that the mother and father had to live in different places.
Sometimes the information surrounding the child’s conception or adoption may be too emotionally difficult for a child of their age. For example, developmentally they may be too young to process information about situations involving criminal activity, drug abuse, etc. So only give them what they can understand – and revisit the information about their birth parents in more detail when they are older.
(4.) Honor Your Child’s Birth Family
In order to ensure that your child has a healthy and positive view of adoption, celebrate their adoption story and honor their birth family in the ways that you can.
Often, maintaining a relationship with your child’s birth parents is something that is requested through the adoption. Although in some cases it is beneficial for everyone involved, it can be quite complicated. Today, most birth mothers request at least a semi-open adoption, and it is important that adoptive parents follow through if such an agreement was made.
Incorporating your child’s birth family’s culture and traditions into your own family holidays is another way of remembering and honoring their birth family.
If you have an annual celebration for your child’s adoption day, and birth parents are involved, you could consider incorporating your child’s birth parents into the occasion. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other special holidays and events are also opportunities to discuss – or even include – the child’s birth parents. Again, this can become complicated and should be well thought out.
Experienced Adoption Therapists
As with any parenting situation, communication is at the core of your child’s healthy development: personally, socially and psychologically. This includes direct, honest and open communication about their birth parents.
Your child’s birth parents are an important part of their personal history, as well as an integral aspect of your whole family’s story. Be assured that talking about your child’s birth parents in no way reduces your role as parents – nor will it change or compromise the relationship you have with your child. Quite the contrary, discussing her birth parents will build trust between you, and serve to bring your entire family closer together.
Understanding who his or her birth parents are will ensure your child understands his or her full story – and foster pride and confidence in their origins and identity.
If you are experiencing any issues related to your child’s adoption – including discussing their birth parents – please do not hesitate to contact me. I am a specialized adoption therapist –and I have helped many families successfully navigate the unique issues related to adopted children.