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One of the adoption questions that we get asked most often is whether our boys know they are adopted. I think a lot of people want to know so they don’t say something in front of them and “spill the beans.” You’ve seen the Friends episode where Chandler accidentally tells a little boy that he was adopted, right? He and Monica were talking to the boy’s parents about their adoption experience because they were getting ready to start. Chandler bumped into the boy in the hallway and the rest is sitcom history. If you haven’t seen it, Google it. It is pretty hilarious. No one would ever want to do that in real life though, so I totally understand (and welcome) the question.
We made the decision early on to be very up front with our boys about their adoptions, in age appropriate ways. We worried that if we hid the stories in their early years, it would attach a certain level of shame to it once they finally found out. We wanted them to know that they should be proud of how they joined our family, even if it is different from their friends.
While they are only 5, 3 & 2 years old, there are still ways to introduce the idea of adoption and begin to share their stories with them. We have taken it slow, but have found ways to help them understand.First, we have maintained an open adoption with their birth mother (B) that includes visits. Anytime we prepare to see her, we remind the boys who she is and why we are going to see her. Our first post-placement visit with B was when CJ was just 3 months old. Even then, we told him we were going to visit his birth mom. Now, the conversations are a little more in depth (although not much more). Knowing her makes it so much easier when they ask questions because they can put a face to the story. I never knew if they really understood how she fits in our family until CJ told a friend that he came from B’s tummy. At that point, I knew we were on the right track.
Adoption-related children’s books have also helped in opening up conversations. The difficulty is that every adoption story is different, so the books don’t always match their story. That is ok. We just want them comfortable with the idea of adoption at this point. Down the road, when they are ready, we can get into more details. We don’t read these books excessively, but they are in the rotation. Again, it’s all about helping them to see that adoption is simply a normal part of our lives and an amazing way for families to come together.We have also made it very clear to them that they are welcome to ask any questions they have about their stories. Alex and Jake are a bit young to really have any interest, but we have had some great conversations with CJ (usually around our visits with B). When they come to us with questions, we answer as honestly as possible. Obviously, we are careful to give age appropriate responses, but we don’t hide anything simply because it’s hard or uncomfortable. For example, CJ once asked why we took him home from the hospital after he came out of B’s tummy. I told him that she wasn’t able to take care of him and had asked us to be his mom and dad. Totally true answer, yet I removed some of the details that he is not prepared to hear yet. One day, he will be old enough to know the whole story. Our hope is that by allowing them to talk freely about it now, they will always feel comfortable coming to us when they want information.
Finally, we celebrate their adoption anniversaries (the day their adoptions were finalized). We try to have a special activity or treat and show pictures from their court hearing. They may only care that they get to have ice cream that night, but to me, it is another opportunity to introduce adoption into our regular conversation.
There is no right or wrong way to handle talking about adoption with children. It is a complicated process and every family handles it differently. Some parents have very valid reasons why they hide some information from their kids. These are methods that have worked for us so far, but we know that they may not work for everyone. If you are an adoptive parent, my best advice to you is to handle this in whatever way feels right. You know your child the best!