Labor day sits in our rear view mirror. Now our thoughts focus on a new school year. As our children’s education shapes the family schedule we are mindful of the need to also teach our children how to navigate what it means to be adopted. We understand that talking about adoption matters. A lot.
Fortunately, we have moved beyond the inaccurate beliefs of the Baby Scoop Era which we highlighted in last week’s blog interview with adoptee Anne Heffron. We understand adoption is a lifetime journey not an event, an imperfect, not a painless solution. Our biggest challenge is how to best school ourselves and our children for that experience. This means adoption must become a routine element in family conversations, one that pops up organically instead of as an intimidating and heavy we-need-to-talk-about-this topic.
Anne’s story reminds us that we must always ensure our children know adoption is a welcome subject. We need and want to hear all of our children’s adoption-related thoughts and concerns. Not just the pretty ones. Not only the happy ones. But also the conflicted emotions, the mixed bag of feelings that co-exist with one another. We are able to handle challenging circumstances and strong enough to support both our children and ourselves. Together we can weather the challenges of adoption, of life.
It is essential for kids with trauma histories to know there is nothing in their story can make them unlovable to us. They are not their story. They are so much more than that.
Their ability to survive trauma amazes us. Kids demonstrate great courage when they drop their walls and open themselves to attach to our families.
Equally important for children to know, our love for them is unconditional. It is not extinguished when they make poor choices. And they will. We all do.
Our children are not their choices. They are not “bad” children. Like all human beings, they will make some poor choices which they will regret–and hopefully, learn from. But our love will remain steady.
We remind ourselves that adoption-world is a universe of Both/And. Both biology and adoption, both nurture and nature, both joy and sadness, both grief and gain, both loss and love. Our children need all of the elements of their story; we cannot cherry pick the facts to present only a rosy picture to make it easier for them-or ourselves–to hear. We cannot edit out the parts that distress us to discuss or which we’d prefer to shelter them from learning. Our kids need every piece of their story.
We must ensure that we reveal the elements of their story to them with compassion and kindness and honesty. Parse it pieces over time. Plant age-appropriate seeds of information which can be elaborated over time as our child matures. All information shared must be the truth.
Do not be tempted to “clean up” history. Do not minimize reality. They lived through it. At some level, they “know” the truth. Their bodies remember. Repackaging a child’s story with “white” lies and omissions will backfire. Somehow children always stumble upon the truth. We want to ensure they receive information from us not from a stranger or loose-lipped friend or relative whose motives may be less than pure or kind.
I repeat: talking about adoption matters. The best way to ensure that we are the ones to deliver the facts of our children’s history is to start casually mentioning adoption when they are very young. Sprinkle these seeds in various types of conversations.When snuggling babies and tots simply say, “We’re so happy we adopted you.” They won’t understand the meaning of the word “adopted.” But, they will understand the affection behind the statement. This positive link helps to make adoption a less charged word when they’re older and begin to understand the reality of being adopted.
Routinely talking about adoption will make it easier for both parents and child to mention it. This eliminates the need for a BIG conversation when the child is older. More importantly it prevents parents from backing themselves into a corner waiting for just the right moment to “tell” a child he’s adopted. Usually this leads to either the conversation never happening or postponing it so long the child experiences the “delay” as a betrayal. Neither is a good situation. So please, ensure that adoption is mentioned and not treated as taboo or a dirty secret that needs to be hidden.
Other good moments for planting conversation seeds are when you observe children demonstrating a skill: “Wow, you are so artistic. I wonder if your birth mother or birth father were skilled at drawing.” No need for an in depth conversation. Let the kids decide if they want to elaborate or discuss it further.
Books serve as excellent conversation starters. Visit, “Writing to Connect” which reviews “regular” books (those NOT directly linked to adoption.) It evaluates them through an adoption-attuned lens to identify unexpected, subtle opportunities to serve adoptive families & spark important conversations.
The family library should include some adoption-connected books which they can easily access. (If they never request them, periodically remind them the books are there.) Check out our resource page for an extensive list of adoption-connected suggested books for children and adults.
Some great adoption specific titles are:
Check our resources page for many more book suggestions. Also visit “Writing to Connect” which reviews books and highlights how to find adoption-related conversation points in every day books.