February 4th, 2009
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Just coming off of a visit, we’ve been talking about the boys’ sister a lot. While she is always part of our life (hanging on the wall in pictures, in prayers at night), like any issue brought to the surface, my older son has been incorporating her into imagination play. And, of course, he’s also been asking a lot of questions.

The biggest question, the one that caught me off guard, was on the trip home. It went something like this as we wound through the mountains.

BigBrother: Mommy, LittleBrother is my brother.
Me: Yes.
BigBrother: LittleBrother lives at our house.
Me: Yes.

BigBrother: Munchkin is my sister.
Me: Yes.
BigBrother: Why doesn’t she live at our house?

Imagine the mental brakes in my mind slamming on and us careening off a cliff. That didn’t quite happen in real life but I was taken back just a little bit. Hopefully I didn’t pause too long before offering my response.

Me: Because she lives with her mommy.
BigBrother: Oh. Okay!

Obviously, he’s three. His ability to understand the complexities of adoption and the reasons behind relinquishment are rather limited. I feel that my answer both answered his question in an age appropriate manner and satisfied his curiosity but also, given in such a direct way without any nasty tones, opened the door for more discussion down the road.

That, of course, is what birth parents who are parenting other children should aim for when explaining adoption to their parented children.

1. Answer the question in an age appropriate manner. To do this, you should probably consider this question: why is he asking? Are there deeper reasons than the surface question or does he simply want a direct answer? Once you’ve figured out that one (or, so you think), proceed with your answer in the most age appropriate manner possible. Don’t feel as if you have to dumb down an answer because you think or feel your child might not be able to understand. If your answer is met with confusion or an upset demeanor, explain it in a different fashion.

2. Satisfy that curiosity. Your single line answer, like in my example, may not satisfy your child right away. You may be subjected to a long line of questioning. And while you may become exasperated with the why after why after why, please do not show your exasperation at this time. While it may be fine to eventually end a series of “whys” with “because I said so” when asked why the grass can’t be orange and the sky can’t be pink, this is not one of those times. To cut your child short at this point would indicate that discussion on this topic is not open and, therefore, the topic is in somewhat bad. That is the opposite of what you want to accomplish by discussing the relinquishment of your other child(ren) in the first place. While it may be hard for you, keep answering questions until that curiosity is satisfied (or until they fall asleep!).

3. Keep that door open. While I mentioned it in both of the above points, it needs reiterating. Keeping the door open for discussions of this nature is your responsibility. As parents, we all have moments of frustration or exhaustion that leave us not wanting to deal with certain things. If your child happens to want to discuss adoption while you are experiencing one of those tougher days, either try to put away the exhaustion and frustration for a little bit or simply explain that you’re feeling a little tired and will discuss it with her tomorrow. And then? Actually discuss it with her tomorrow. Furthermore, continue to bring up your child’s relinquished sibling with regularity. Bringing the sibling into everyday conversation with create a familiarity so that the subject is not so taboo.

There are tons of other things that you can do to help create a safe environment in which to discuss adoption. The main point is that you must be patient with your child as he processes your answers.

If you have any other ideas, feel free to add some here!

Photo Credit.

2 Responses to “Explaining Adoption to Parented Children”

  1. bnconner says:

    This is a beautiful depiction of all that I hope I can be to my kids. Thanks for writing this, Jenna!

  2. houseofdevaughn says:

    hi, my name is Kim. I am a birth mom. I gave my newborn boy up for adoption in 1994 when my daughter was 3. We talked for long hours all through her growing up, but I felt there was a bible story to simulate the idea of having to give up her brother. Because it was both of us that had to give him up…
    Moses had an older sister, while the babies in Israel were being killed, a brave mother put her son in a basket and told the older sister to watch as he went down the river. Pharoh’s daughter found the basket holding th baby, took the baby to raise him as her own. When the older sister saw this, she went to the daughter and said there was someone who could nurse him, she went and got her mother.
    So, as I released my son, in an open adoption, as we watch from afar, it is much like this story. Watching and getting news of his growing. My daughter shed many tears with me, over our loss, and their gain. But to always have an open door to cry, to laugh, to love him without denying his existance. To know that someday we will be fully reunited with him…when he is ready. In the mean time my 19 year old daughter loves him and is thankful to have full access to ask questions of me and what happened so many years ago. It has caused us to be closer than I could have ever imagined.

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