How Do We Explain Adoption To Our Child?

Prospective adoptive parents sometimes ask whether they should tell their child that he/she is adopted. The answer is an emphatic "Yes!" Years ago, it was common for adoptive parents to keep the circumstances of their child's arrival a secret from everyone, including the child. This was due to society's disapproving view of unwed pregnancy. It was believed that the child would be better off if he/she didn't have to deal with the emotional ramifications of being an adopted child. Some parents told their children the "big secret" when they became teenagers and others never explained.

Can you imagine being an adolescent and suddenly finding out that you were adopted? Imagine the emotional upheaval and identity crisis that would ensue. For good reason, secrecy is no longer the popular approach.

Prevailing thought holds that children by adoption should be told that they are adopted from an early age. Children should be taught that there are many different types of families; adoptive families, stepfamilies, biological families, single-parent families, foster families, etc.

None of the types of families are better or worse than the others — they are all just families and they are all built on love.

The question then becomes, "When should the child be taught about adoption?" Many variables affect the way adoptive families approach this subject. A few of the variables are; the parents' comfort with talking about adoption, their philosophy of child-rearing, the intellectual and emotional maturity of the child, attitudes of extended family and friends, and the degree of openness in the adoption.

Some families treat adoption in a matter-of-fact manner and the child knows from a very early age that he/she is adopted just as he/she knows many other facts about him/herself. Other families choose a celebratory theme when educating their child about adoption. For example, having an "adoption day" party each year on the date the adoption was finalized, similar to a birthday party. Still other families choose to teach their child about adoption by reading age-appropriate children's books about adoption and then relating the stories to their own family.

There are many excellent resources to guide adoptive parents in their search for wisdom in teaching their children about adoption. National and local adoptive family groups offer educational meetings, publications, family outings and even play groups for members. (See "Resources"). There are a multitude of books on adoption which are written for children of all ages. (See "Bibliography"). The more educated you become about adoption, the easier it will be to find the way to best educate YOUR child about the very special way you became a family.

I hope you enjoy the following poem. Its author is unknown, but I suspect it was written by an adoptive parent.

Legacy of the Adopted Child

Once there were two women who never knew each other,
One you do not remember, the other you call Mother.

Two different lives shaped to make yours one.
The first gave you a need for love and the second was there to give it.

The first gave you life and the second taught you to live it.
The first gave you a need for love and the second was there to give it.

One gave you a nationality, the other gave you a name.
One gave you the seed of talent, the other gave you aim.

One gave you emotions, the other calmed your fears.
One saw your first sweet smile, the other dried your tears.

One gave you up, it was all that she could do.
The other prayed for a child and God led her straight to you.

And now you ask me through your tears, the age old question through the years.
Heredity or environment, which are you the product of?

Both, my darling, both.
They're just different kinds of love.

- Author unknown