Sometimes I wonder if I talk about adoption enough—or too much.
I started talking about adoption even before my daughters understood the word. I wanted to be comfortable. I would sometimes just repeat a phrase like “I am so happy I adopted you” or “I can’t believe adoption works.”
As my kids got older and could understand, I made a photo album for them. I used a binder type book where I could add or delete pages. I used photos to explain the story of how we became a family. I wanted it to seem a normal way to be a family.
So I started with photos of how their dad and I became a couple. We found each other and became a family of two. I then added a line about how we wanted a baby to love and we looked far and wide, up and down, near and far to find them. Then I put in the first baby picture we had of them along with photos of when we, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncles and friends met them.
In those days, we did not have a photo of their birth parents. I may have been nervous to include them if we did. But, now days, I would include a photo of their birth parents if one was available. I would add a caption that this was the lady whose belly they grew in. That she looked far and wide, up and down, near and far to find a mommy and daddy (mommy, daddy, mommy and mommy or daddy and daddy) for the baby. That she chose me. I would use her first name, but you can use any way to address her that feels right to you (your birthmother, first mommy, lady in whose belly you grew, etc.) As your child grows, they will decide what to call her. (You can change the subtitle to the photo as they grow).
I added a photo from the court house where we finalized the adoption, and even though my child was too young to know the meaning, subtitled the photo, “This was the day we finalized the adoption and became your parents forever and ever.”
Then there were a few photos of my daughters smiling, sleeping, being held by me and their father.
The first photo album was about 4 pages—just enough to tell the part of the adoption story of how we met and how we became a family.
Over the years, I added more photos of them doing the things they liked and of people they liked to be with. We also had talks when they raised questions or when I saw an opportunity.
I have never been a fan of how the media covers adoption. Often it is a news story about the behavior of an adopted kid—and, yes, they always include adoption as an adjective. Why does it have to be the “adopted” kid of_______? Why not just the kid of___? They are evidently attributing a behavior to the adoption status. Then there are movies and books that include the adoption or death of a parent. I always found these scenarios upsetting and wonder to this day why so many kids’ movies have this theme.
I would raise the issue with my daughters, even if they would not raise it with me. I would say something like, “Remember when _________, what did you think?” I would let them express their reaction and then express my thoughts. I felt it important to raise the issues and let them know we could always talk about anything.
I would also reflect with them when someone said something insensitive, naïve or just plain stupid. I would frequently state what I thought and that most people didn’t get adoption. That they didn’t know what to say and sometimes used the wrong words for things (i.e. real mother, real parents, etc.). I would use these times to teach my kids the right language and how to teach others the words to use.
I acted as the ambassador of adoption with family, friends, teachers, other parents and more. I heard my daughters use the right language and educate others. I also saw them walk away or divert the attention when they didn’t feel like educating someone or a too-personal question was asked. I was and am always proud of how they handle adoption in their lives.
We talk less about adoption now, although it still comes up once in a while. I wonder what is too little or too much adoption talk. How many conversations should there be? For me, I know it was not a series of major discussions, but an ongoing dialogue through the years. I know I let them know they could always talk to me—and they did. They came to me when someone said something that hurt their feelings. They came to me when a friend kept asking questions. They came to me for assistance, either to speak for them or help them know what to say. Embrace these talks, whether you initiate them or your child raises the issue; they are an opportunity for a parent/child bonding experience. Express how you feel, and ask them how they feel. Help one another to process and incorporate adoption into your lives.
Every child is unique and will have his or her individual needs. But every adopted child needs to know that he or she is loved unconditionally and that their parent(s) are there for them always—in the easy times and tough times. Talking about adoption and helping them deal with people and society is part of our job as a parent to prepare our children for their place in the world.