Managing Your Child’s Feelings & Questions About Being Adopted
Children who have been adopted inevitably have a lot of questions and feelings about it. They realize at an early age that they’re different than most of their peers. They often wonder about their birth parents – who they were, what they were like, and why they chose to give them away, rather than raise them themselves.
Reassure your adopted child that you’re in this for the long haul, and that you’re committed to being his parents.
Some children internalize the fact that they’re adopted in a negative way, concluding that they must have been so terribly flawed to cause their “real” parents to not want them. Other children view their adoption differently, finding a deep sense of worthiness in the fact that their adoptive parents loved them and wanted them so much that they chose them to be a part of their family.
As a parent, you may worry about how to handle your adopted child’s feelings and questions. You may feel inadequate – which, by the way, is perfectly normal and understandable – when it comes to navigating this uncertain territory. The good news is that it’s okay if you don’t do it perfectly. Rather, remember that the two of the most important things are 1) always be willing to listen to your child and 2) don’t take your child’s questions or feelings personally.
Tackling the Tough Questions
Children are naturally inquisitive. They start asking questions about babies and where they come from at a very early age. For adopted children, these types of questions don’t need to be handled with kid gloves; answer them truthfully and in an age-appropriate manner.
For example, you probably wouldn't give your five-year-old “the talk” about the birds and the bees. Likewise, you don’t need to go into a lengthy diatribe about the adoption process, and how her birth parents were only 14 years old and unable to provide a good home for her. You can, however, tell her that she has two mommies – the mommy who carried her in her tummy and gave birth to her, and the mommy (you) who takes care of her everyday and tucks her in at night.
Different Ways to Make a Family
One of the things that you can help your adopted child understand is that there are different ways to make a family. While many children have a mommy and a daddy, some children have two mommies and two daddies. Other children may live with their grandparents, or an aunt and uncle. And some kids have either a mommy or a daddy. In other words, there are lots of different types of families. Adoption is one way to make a family.
Questions About Birth Parents
Your child is going to have questions about his birth parents from time to time. The amount of information you have will depend on several different factors. Whatever you do, don’t make things up about the birth parents. If you don’t know an answer, it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know.” If you do know, try to answer the question in the most honest, age-appropriate manner.
One thing to keep in mind about these questions is to not take them personally. Some adoptive parents feel threatened when their adopted child starts asking about his birth parents. That’s normal and to be expected. Don’t brush the questions off, overreact to them, or assume that they’re about you in some way. Instead, set your ego and feelings aside, and focus on the needs of your child. It’s vital to your relationship for him to know that there won’t be any repercussions if he brings up this topic.
Dealing with Your Child’s Feelings
Every adopted child is different when it comes to the feelings she harbors regarding her adoption. Whatever your child’s feelings, accept them. Don’t judge them as “right” or “wrong.” Don’t try to tell her how she should feel. Instead, accept her feelings and remember that they reflect where your child’s at in terms of dealing with being adopted. She may feel one thing today and something entirely different a week or month from now. It’s a process.
Young children who are starting to grasp the concept of adoption may begin to feel some anxiety. After all, if their birth parents gave them away, maybe you will too at some point in time. They may worry that there’s something wrong with them, or that adults are unreliable.
Again, don’t take this personally. Instead, reassure your child that you are in a very different situation than his birth parents. You absolutely wanted a child, and wanted him as your child. Reassure him that you’re in this for the long haul; you’re committed to being his parents, and feel very fortunate to have him in your life.
As mentioned previously, adopted children realize that they’re different than most of their peers. And this can weigh heavily on them, especially in adolescence when kids want nothing more than to fit in. This difference is particularly pronounced if the parents are of a different race, ethnic background, or if they look nothing like their child (e.g. they have blond hair and blue eyes, and the child has dark hair and deep brown eyes).
Don’t try to tell your child how she should feel.
It’s important that you, as a parent, recognize the challenges your child may face. Other kids may tease her; even adults may give her an odd look as they realize that she’s not your biological child.
Have discussions about this issue and brainstorm ways that she can respond appropriately to unkind or insensitive remarks about her adoption. Help your child work through any feelings he has about being different. One way to do this is to remind him that being adopted means that his being in your life was no accident. You went out of your way – and took months or even longer in the process – to work it out so you could bring him home with you and make him part of your family.
As the parents of an adopted child, it’s important to understand that there will likely be some unique challenges along the way. Don’t dwell on them or blow them out of proportion, but do pay attention when they arise. You don’t have to handle everything perfectly – no one ever does. But as long as your child feels supported, loved, accepted, and heard by you, the vast majority of challenges will be significantly mitigated.