Your child came to you with questions about their adoption. Or, you may know this conversation needs to happen and you’re not sure how to bring it up. You know there are a lot of emotions your child is dealing with, and you want to be there to support them. They might feel confused, different from other kids, and wonder where exactly they fit. You know you need to have this conversation, but how? Here’s the thing. This is hard. There’s no real roadmap for this, because things are so personal and individual to your child, your family dynamic, and your unique set of circumstances. As an adoptive parent, I want to help you feel more confident about this. However, I want to be clear right away that I won’t have all of the answers in this one post.
First thing to know as an adoptive parent: You’ve got this!
This is big stuff. Having conversations about your child’s adoption can be scary. Overwhelming. Anxiety-producing. As an adoptive parent, you want to make sure you are addressing the emotional needs of your child properly, as they are related to the adoption and biological family curiosities. Please be sure to take care of your needs as well. If you haven’t taken the time to process your own feelings and prepare for this conversation, please talk to someone who understands what adoptive parents are going through. Once you are ready to talk about it, or when your child starts asking questions, prepare yourself with the knowledge you need to move through with grace and gratitude. You CAN have these conversations with your child and have them go well. It doesn’t have to be so scary, and can even be beautiful. Here are a few tips on having successful conversations with your child about their adoption.
Tips for Adoptive Parents from an Adoption Therapist in Orange County, CA
The best time to start talking with your child about their adoption is now
Regardless of what conversations you have or have not had, the best time to start talking about this is now. I know it’s tempting to put it off, the anxiety which comes with big conversations is valid. But, the best time to have this conversation is now. Starting now means that you can have this talk at different stages of your child’s life. Then, you can continue to touch base with them. A friend of mine remembers being told “you were brought special” and “we got to choose to be your parents” from a very early age. This helped her normalize both the experience and the conversation.
A note about adoption trauma:
Even children who are adopted at birth experience trauma. They may have even experienced trauma prior to birth, en utero. Some people think that the baby gets used to the voice and noises in the womb of their biological mother, so it can be a trauma going home to a different family. Not having that familiar sensory memory around in this big, bright, new world. Attachment disorders are very common for adopted children. Many parents think “but they don’t remember.” Or “I don’t want to talk about it because they don’t remember and I don’t want to create a problem.” When we deny a child’s reality we can be creating trauma or reinforcing trauma. Don’t be afraid and don’t put off getting help. Therapists who work with adoption families have a lot of experience helping with these issues and behaviors before they get bigger and more ingrained.
You may not have had any conversations with them, beyond a simple explanation. That’s ok! Now is the best time to open up space to talk with your child about their adoption. They may be showing signs of moodiness and other attachment issues, or not. Regardless, you can have this conversation!
Keep adoption talk and explanations developmentally appropriate
Start talking about it as young as possible in age appropriate language. Speak as if it’s totally normal and beautiful. Many parents feel like they are protecting their child by not talking about it, but I’ve worked with too many teens that find out in their teens that they were adopted or their dad isn’t their bio-dad. Understandably, they feel so betrayed that it does major damage to the relationship. If we are calm and don’t make it a big deal they will follow our lead. Many times kids at school will ask them if they are adopted. Teach them how to talk about it with their peers, so they aren’t caught off guard if they tell a friend and then it seems everyone knows.
Your child might be 4 or 14. Regardless, there are ways to have these conversations in a way they will understand. For younger children, keeping it simple and to the point is best. Explain that you love them and are there for them; that you are so happy to have them in your life. For older children, you can have more in-depth conversations. They may be feeling like an outsider. Or, they may feel confused about whether they want contact with their birth parents or not? There is no perfect way to approach these conversations. But remembering to keep it age-appropriate will help you successfully talk about your child’s adoption.
Talk about different kinds of families and differences within families
Reinforce the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some people have two moms or two dads. Others have a single parent who cares for them full time. Even others have parents who are divorced and remarried. There are so many ways to be a family, and everyone’s family is different. Explaining this to your child will help them feel less alone and less confused about where they fit.
Remember that kids already feel different. They may not look like their family, have different temperaments, different likes, and just always feel like an outsider. Whether they talk about it or not, they will be wondering about their “bio parents”. Wondering if their biological parent likes this food or that. Are they good at art? Do they play an instrument? “Who do I look more like?” So many things those of us who know our biological parents take for granted. They need to be able to talk about these things with their parents, so they don’t feel like they have to keep a secret.
Make sure your kid knows they can talk to you. If they are too worried about hurting your feelings because they have questions, this is not a healthy dynamic long-term. Or, if your child is wondering about their biological family but doesn’t think you can handle the questions, then they will be carrying these on their own. Again, starting this early on and reinforcing it often will help.
“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”― Catherine M. Wallace
Use books for adoptees, adoptive parents, and families of all types
Books are one of my favorite ways to broach difficult subjects. Especially for younger children. There are so many wonderful books on adoption for children and adults. This list of books on adoption from the Orange County Public Library, Tustin Branch can be a good starting point for children’s books on adoption.
For parents, we recommend reading Connected Child, The Connected Parent, Born from the Heart, and The Whole-Brain Child. These books will help you understand the issues faced by adoptees. Plus, they often have some information on what attachment issues for adoptees can look like.
Seek Counseling for Adoption in Orange County, CA
You’ve had the conversation(s). But, your child is still struggling with their adoption and you are at a loss on how to help them. Or, you realize you need to have more support for yourself to keep navigating this process. Now might be the time to consider counseling for adoption. Counseling for adoption can help adoptees and parents navigate all the complex emotions which come with adoption. Many families in our Orange County, CA counseling office have:
- Decreased family stress
- Helped children to feel better
- Improved communication
- And decreased disruptive behavior
Begin Counseling for Adoption in Orange County, CA
You want your child to thrive and live their best life. Counseling for adoption can help them move through the complex emotions which come with their experiences. The unique trauma associated with adoption CAN be navigated in a successful way. Our team of therapists would love to help you figure out how to communicate about adoption with your child. We offer support from our Orange County, CA-based therapy practice. To start your therapy journey, please follow these simple steps:
- Click here to schedule your first session or set up a free consultation
- Meet with a member of our team
- Start counseling for adoption
Other Services Offered at Moxie Family Therapy
Counseling for adoption isn’t the only service we offer at our Orange County, CA based-practice. We also offer support for women, teens, children, young adults, and college students. This includes therapy for trauma, anxiety, therapists, and clinical supervision. We also offer couples therapy, LGBTQ therapy, and online therapy. Learn more about our services by visiting our FAQ, or visit our blog today!