The social stigma pervading the adoption scene has often painted a picture of adoption that involves keeping the facts of the child’s adoption away from the child. The facts are shrouded by an unnecessary shame and secrecy, and the child only finds out “accidentally” when they are much older.
In the rare occurrence that an adoption is kept secret from the child, it is usually because of the Adoptive Parents’ fear that the child will think that the Birth Parents did not love him/her, or even because the Adoptive Parents are fearful that their child will grow insecure with their family relationship. Though it seems damaging to withhold such vital information, the Adoptive Family only wants to make sure the child feels just like “everyone else” and doesn’t want to hurt his/her self-­esteem.
These fears are understandable, but it is becoming more widely known that this tactic usually produces the opposite effect. By withholding the facts from the child, the Adoptive Family blocks the child’s ability to fully understand the situation in a realistic way. Your child will absolutely understand your adoption situation, since parents nowadays are more knowledgeable about how to bring up the topic to the child.
When will your child first be told about the adoption process?
Adopted child with hands on window
Contrary to popular belief, the child should be told anytime from the ages of one to four, and their background will be told to them repeatedly.
Your child is never “too young” to be told about the adoption process. This will make it significantly easier to understand later on, when the child will undoubtedly have questions and concerns about it. It’s also important to keep in mind that the earlier they know, the sooner they can rationalize their feelings, accept their adoption story for the beautiful miracle that it is.
In terms of how the Adoptive Parents will talk to your child about why they were adopted, there a variety of things that the Adoptive Parents will say to the child— all of which involve being open and honest about the process, especially from an early age.
The Adoptive Parents should never say anything negative about the child or make assumptions about the Birth Parents. Especially when the child is young, parents should consider saying variations of, “your Birth Parents love you very much, but weren’t ready/able to be parents when they had you.” They should emphasize how the decision was made out of love and was made for the benefit of the child’s future. They should stress how happy and excited they, as the Adoptive Parents, were when the child was born, and how much all parties involved love the child.
There should, also, never be one discussion about the child’s adoption, but, instead, should be an ongoing dialogue to make sure the child fully understands the situation and is comfortable. The social stigma surrounding adoption may affect the child even at a very early age. Therefore, the Adoptive Parents should always be on the lookout to address negativity towards adoption that the child may have absorbed and be ready to talk with them about it in a positive way.
What to Expect
Adopted child playing in a tunnel
One very important thing to understand is that, no matter how supportive and open the upbringing was, it is not uncommon for the maturing child to still experience some emotional struggles about the adoption. This is particularly common going into adolescence, when many things that the child took for granted will be challenged. They might experience some feelings of shame or sadness, given that they are made increasingly aware of society’s stigmas about adoption and of their place in the social order.
There are various studies that have proved that the child’s process of questioning their relationship to adoption are not necessarily a result of a lack of love or support, but is simply a natural part of their mental development.
All of this is to be expected, and is all but unavoidable, no matter how lovingly the child was told otherwise. There are some things they must work out for themselves, and oftentimes the best thing the Adoptive Parents can do is be constantly available and supportive of them.
In some cases, where there is no open adoption in place, the child may want to meet their Birth Parents. The best thing the Adoptive Parents can, and should, do is to help the child through this by not withholding information or birth records from them. In most cases, even when the Adoptive Families disapprove of their child meeting their Birth Parents, the child will usually go and try to find them anyway, with or without the Adoptive Parents’ help. However, being open about the situation may help, and by providing information, may even help them grow secure enough in themselves to not seek out their true parents. In any situation, however, Adoptive Parents should show support for the child in order to help with their process of self ­discovery.
In Open Adoption Situations
Open adoption situation
If you are involved in an open adoption situation, then you, the Birth Parent, have valuable input to contribute when it comes to telling your child about the adoption. The Adoptive Parents can work with you to determine what makes everyone feel comfortable and what best matches the needs of the child.
If you are in the position where you can talk directly to your child about it, it is the best policy to be honest. Of course, when they are younger, they might not immediately understand the details and logistics: what they will understand, however, is the emotional component. Letting them know that you love them is of course the most important thing. It might be a difficult road for them, depending on their personality and their social situation, but your support will mean the world to them, since it will greatly help them ignore people who tell them negative things about adoption.
In general, there are very few absolutes for how you, either Adoptive or Birth Parents, should engage with your child on this topic of adoption. Just know that you might not always know what to say to them— and that’s okay. They might even ask some questions as they grow up that might be difficult or cause anxiety. Just remember that the child is ultimately striving to feel loved and secure, and they will do this by being endlessly curious about the circumstances of their adoption. Helping them understand those circumstances as they grow older will help them develop a strong sense of self and will enable them to embrace life normally.