Most experts feel that parents should be open about the adoption right from the beginning, as early as the child is able to understand. It is definitely not a good idea to wait till the child is older as the chance that he or she might learn of it accidentally from someone else is very likely. Since it is a very sensitive issue that impacts the child's identity, you may want to spend some time thinking about how to broach the topic. Here are some suggestions that we have put together to help you along in this delicate task.
The Right Age to Tell
The verdict by most experts is to begin to talk about adoption as early as infancy. This way the child gets used to adoption terminology and the adoptive parents get used to talking about it without any hesitation. A child's grasp of adoption will change as he grows up but if he keeps hearing about it since infancy then it will not shock him when he does comprehend. The child may begin to understand only by about age 5 or 6 but if he is prepared from early on in a developmentally appropriate manner, then he will be ready for it.
Before you decide to tell your child, practice your story with your partner so that both of you are on the same page. Talk to other adoptive parents about the likely questions that your child may have about the adoption. It may be a good idea to role play your responses to likely doubts and questions so that you are comfortable with the process else, any hesitation on your part may be misinterpreted. So be loving, calm and clear while communicating. Read books on adoption to give you an idea about how to deal with these conversations with your child.
What and How to Say
Ideally the talk about adoption should happen in a very natural, calm manner and should be an on-going process. When the child is younger you can use a storytelling narrative and tell her about how she was chosen, how special she is and the joy she brings into your lives. You can have a little photo album starting from the day you saw her in the orphanage, her first day at home etc., and talk about it with your child. You could also use teachable moments to talk about adoption. For example, a movie that you are watching or a book that you are reading that has adoption in the story line or if she asks you questions about pregnancy, then you can use her story as a context to explain it. As the child grows older you can add relevant information and encourage her to ask questions. The adolescent age is when they begin to have an identity of their own and may want more information on their biological parents. At this stage it is important not to allow your own insecurities to color your inputs but be as honest as you can. It is natural for the child to wonder about their biological parents. Don't feel that it diminishes your role in his or her life.
Equip Your Child to Respond Appropriately to Friends and Relatives
Not everyone will be sensitive and tactful. Help your child deal with questions, not all of which may be positive. You can role play the responses to your child and set an example by drawing boundaries when you are responding to people's questions about adopting your child. Equip the child with coping skills and give them feeling words to express their emotions.
Help Your Child Process Mixed Feelings
As your child grows older especially during his adolescence he is already dealing with a lot of emotions that come with the age. He may be overwhelmed with feelings of rejection or pain at being given away in adoption. Validate and help him process his feelings of grief and loss by being a good listener and not jumping in with advice. Offer your emotional support but correct any beliefs that you think are unfounded. Sometimes your child may hesitate to talk to you about his biological parents for fear of hurting you. Make sure you alleviate his fears by letting him know that it is normal to be curious and that he is not being disloyal to you.
Love is not based on biology. You can explain to your child about how we love our friends even though there is no biological connection. This will help them relate to the fact that absence of biology is not an issue in building relationships. It would do well to remember though that as a parent you know best about your child and you are the expert here. Ultimately it doesn't make a difference if you are a biological or adoptive parent for love has the upper hand and loving your child is what matters.