How do you talk to an adopted child about their adoption story?
When it came to this particular topic concerning adoption, my husband and I simply discussed the matter and decided pretty quickly that we would openly talk about our girls’ adoption stories from a very early age so that there will never be a time in their lives when they are not aware of their adoption stories.
We came up with five ways we felt this could best be accomplished and, so far, we are seeing beautiful results in teaching our daughters their adoption stories in this way.
1. Tell them their adoption story when they are very young.
We desire for their stories to be familiar to them from the time they can even begin to slightly understand their adoption stories. We didn’t want this to be something that we formally tell them when they are old enough to understand the complete story. We don’t want the fact they are adopted to be a surprise to them. Instead we want them to begin having an understanding about being adopted at a very early age.
Our oldest daughter is 4.5 years old and it is amazing what she understands about her story. From the time she was about 2 years old, she knew that she “used to be in Mrs. Tracy’s tummy” and that was the extent to what she knew. She didn’t need to know any more than that at the age of two. She probably didn’t understand what that simple statement meant at that age either, but that was the foundational phrase we wanted to use to build her adoption story for her. We wanted her to never remember a time she didn't know that simple fact.
The way we introduced this statement was when she became curious about the pregnant belly. I cannot remember whose pregnant belly she asked about but I used her curiosity about the pregnant belly to have this simple conversation with her at around the age of two years old:
Me: (in reference the pregnant belly) Little Bug, did you know that you did not grow in Mommy’s tummy?
Little Bug: Why? (The “Why Stage” comes in real handy here!)
Me: You used to be in Mrs. Tracy’s tummy!
And that was all the information she needed at the age of two. I look at this phase of talking to my girls about their stories as the time when we are planting seeds to further discussions in the future.
2. Tell them details that are age-appropriate.
Those discussions will come! I can remember feeling nervous about this, wondering what I would say when Little Bug was ready to hear more.
We decided to simply tell her age-appropriate details, nothing more and nothing less. There are details about her story that are not appropriate for her to know at the age of four. However, as she gets older and grows into a young lady she will be able to handle learning about some of the more difficult and sensitive details about her story.
For now, we tell Little Bug the four-year-old version of her adoption and it goes something like this:
Mommy and Daddy prayed that God would put a baby in Mommy’s tummy. But God kept saying, “No!” Mommy and Daddy were very sad, but we trusted God. God created you and you were growing in Mrs. Tracy’s belly. Mrs. Tracy decided that we would be the best parents for you and when you were born she gave you to us so we could be your Mommy and Daddy. God knew all along that you would be our special baby girl.
That’s all she needs to know at the tender age of four. As she gets older, we will continue to build and expand on this foundational story that has already been planted in her heart.
3. Allow the child’s curiosity to spur adoption conversations.
We don’t press Little Bug to talk about being adopted. Most of our adoption conversations have been initiated by her. We don’t feel the need to constantly bombard her with “adoption talk” and instead take the approach of talking about her story whenever her natural curiosity desires to know more.
4. Don’t hide anything.
As our daughters grow up and may or may not want to know every little detail concerning their adoptions, we will hide nothing from them. It’s their story. They have a right to know and who better to tell them than us? I kept handwritten journals while we were going through both adoption processes. Those journals have very intricate details about things that happened along the way that I knew I would forget had I not written everything down. I imagine myself handing over my journals to my daughters one day and letting them read them at their leisure as they continue to put the pieces of their stories together, one by one.
We desire for them to both understand that in our family, their stories are not taboo; we are all willing to talk about anything, anytime. All they have to do is express interest in learning more and they will have access to every piece of information we have access to.
5. Focus on the redemption found in adoption.
Every adoption has a painful side. That is the very reason the adoption was necessary. Adoption is the result of some kind of crisis, most likely. There is also a beautiful side to adoption and we will choose to focus on that with our daughters. This does not mean we will neglect the painful aspects. That is not it at all. We will talk about the painful aspects of their adoptions but we will also be sure our girls understand God’s redemptive love that is evident in their adoptions for both us and their birth mothers. We will choose to focus on that.
Our Plan in Action
While at a Reunion in Beersheba Springs I was sitting on the couch and Little Bug was standing in front of me. As I was siting there I heard Little Bug start telling my mom’s classmate, “Mommy prayed for me to be in her tummy, but God didn't."
I immediately put my full attention on her to see where this was going to go.
Never before had I heard Little Bug use those words to tell her story. They were basically the exact same words I have been using for a couple years now to tell her her story!
The classmate said, “Well, you were in somebody’s tummy, weren't you?!”
And Little Bug enthusiastically replied, “I used to be in Ms. Tracy’s tummy” and then, with a big smile she turned to me where I was siting on the couch and said, “but this is my mommy!”
That was the extent of the conversation and Little Bug was on to something else but I sat there for a couple minutes, just amazed.
I don’t know what kind of emotions Little Bug may have to deal with later on in life due to her adoption, but I do know I have desired from the beginning to make her adoption be something positive and special in her life because that is the truth. It was something positive that happened in her life and I believe one day she will see the complete picture of why being adopted was such a positive event in her life.
I think for her four year old little mind, we are on the right path. The simple story God laid on my heart to tell her when she was just a toddler has taken root in her heart and I am beginning to see those results now as she is initiating adoption conversation to others.
Elaine blogs at God’s Faithfulness Through Infertility about infertility, adoption, Babywise, parenting and her new adventure of homeschooling her two daughters who were adopted via domestic infant adoptions.