Talking with Young Children About Adoption and Birth Parents
When should you begin and how should you talk to your child about their adoption? Host Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, the national infertility & adoption education and support nonprofit, interviews Dr. Jennifer Bliss, PsyD, LCSW, & Director of Adoptions and Foster Care at Vista Del Mar and Family Services in LA, as well as Chantilly Wijayasinha MSW, MPH, and an adoption specialist at Adoptions and Foster Care at Vista Del Mar.
* Note this is an automatic transcription, please forgive the errors.
[00:00:00] Today we’re going to be talking about talking with young children about adoption and birth parents. Our guest today are Dr. Jennifer bliss. She has a doctorate in psychology and she is also a licensed clinical social worker and she is the director of adoptions and foster care at Vista Del Mar and Family Services in L.A.. We also have Chantilly Wijaya Singh. She is an adoption specialist at Vista Del Mar. She is a Masters of Social Work and a Master’s of Public Health which is a really interesting combination. And she as I said is also with the Domar and they both know a lot about the topic of talking with children about adoption. So we are so glad to have you both with us today. Dr. Bliss infantile. Yeah I want to start with you Dr. Bliss and it’s going to be with a really kind of a softball question when do you suggest that parents start talking about adoption with their child and at this point since we’re talking about young children let’s assume that the child is either adopted at birth are adopted at a infancy or as a very young child. Well that’s a really interesting question Don it’s probably one of the most common ones they get. And you know a lot of people think oh here is number oh wait till they understand what the word adoption means or when they understand their story. And that is a misnomer that we’re working all the time to try and correct because we want children never to have the memory the day they were told they were adopted which means we want to start this conversation before they’re even talking.
[00:01:38] Back with that. You know I usually use the common analogy parents say to the children I’d love you way before they understand with the words I love you mean nothing. Is that the adoption story you want to start talking with them as an infant and talking to them about this story. Heidi Kamath family over time they will always remember hearing that D’Auria always smiling a story will never have the first time they heard the word adopted in their memory. Also this gives the parents the chance to get competent with the story the media with the terms and the learns that they want to use some of the time the child is old enough to be asking questions about what the specifics are. The parent is confident and easily engaging in this conversation without stumbling over the word because they’re familiar with what they’ve been doing it for so long. That is so true. I always say the infancy is a gift it’s a gift to you because the child will do it. What you’re saying. So while you’re changing their diapers you can be getting used to the store you can work out the kinks and how you’re going to tell. You’ll get more confidence and telling it but you know tell the I often wonder why do and I am an adoptive parent so I’m including myself in this. Why do we fear the talk of about our child about adoption. Why do we stumble on the word birthparent I think because there might be this fear that there is another parent involved and that there is another connection. Whereas the love is still there.
[00:03:12] And even though you’re parenting the child there might be a fear that the child is looking to another and that there is a piece of the child that might not be provided by you and understanding that there are there’s so much that you can provide and that there’s this otherness that unknown and the fear of a child looking towards that other than you can be fear provoking. So that’s why another topic is openness and having information about the birth parent and being able to share information actually strengthens the bond between you and the child. Because you’re also you’re giving them that vessel or you’re the vessel for them to access their history and understand different parts of their identity. Yeah I am so glad you pointed out that because I also think it is a fear. I think that it’s fear fear that you said of beautifulest fear that there is a mother. I mean that’s true it’s fear that we aren’t the only the only mother or the only father the only parents in this child’s life. And I think it helps to own that. Your hesitancy and your stumbling steps to do with fear. Does it make if your go away but it does help you understand. So going back to the developmental thinking through the developmental stages of early childhood how how does that impact a child’s understanding of adoption. Now obviously we just talked about an infant so up to the age of 1 the child I think doesn’t have an understanding of the words that were even saying. But for the next the next developmental stages past pure infancy. How do those stages look. Let’s take it up to fate 6.
[00:04:57] How did those stages impact Dr. Bliss. A child’s understanding of what adoption is right. So as you said the stage is involved and the child is understanding the world. You know with every passing year or two they’re going to think of things differently ask different questions because different things will be important to them. So you know up until 2:00 you’re basically telling them stories about them. The story of how they became a family. You can do storybook because that’s going to be interesting and relevant and meaningful to them. And so you really have to think about where the child is and what’s curious to them. And then you you know you get into the three and four and they’re being pregnant people they know that that bellies are places that babies grow. And we want them to know that they also grew in a belly. I think that the whole you know antiquated notion that there’s stork or a cabbage patch or something where they came from anything other than a belly is actually something that would possibly be provoking her tell. They don’t want to think they’re an alien or dropped from the sky. So even in the ways of adoption we want to make sure children know yes you came from a family that’s important. So yes you came from Jessica’s belly and she was growing a baby that she wasn’t ready to be a mommy. So she searched the search and when she met her she said aha this is the family you were meant to be. So you know I’m making it concrete and answering their questions in a way that developmental and age appropriate.
[00:06:31] So Ana at what point do children begin to really grasp the full meaning of being adopted. It may be beyond them the young child’s stage. At what age do they begin to grasp that this is not the typical way that families are formed or that this means they have more than one mommy or one more than one daddy or whatever. Right. And so you know what. It’s hard to say to your child is going to ask these questions at five. This is the question they’re going to ask because it’s all little fluid it has a lot to do with the individual their own personality as well as you know how their own little brain work with not only the same as the child sitting next to them but it is thinking about generally preparing yourself for the types of questions. You know at you like we said under five we talk about haveli it was so and so’s belly and the basic concrete reasons as to why she need the plants. When you hit five and up maybe even a long younger for some children you might get them more. I would say the complicated are called deeper question that you might have to take a beat before you answer. Like didn’t she love me or things that as a parent might throw you off at birth. Oh my God this is a moment. One of those moments where I knew I had crossed the bridge as if this matters is the way I handle this right.
[00:07:56] Though if it happens to be a question where you’ve prepared for all the best I’ve said but one of the things I want to encourage parents to do is to give you a mission not to know all the answers in that moment and that be OK and it’s OK to say Max that is such a good question. Think about that and I’m going to come back to you with the good answer. And maybe Congress adoption professional or call an adoption counselor someone in the field that you trust to bounce ideas off of and come up with an answer that isn’t necessarily going to be a knee jerk response which might not be the best one and I encourage people within a day or two. You do want to circle back with your child and say Mother really good question you asked me when I was at the checkout counter at Target. I want to be able to answer this for you now because it has been on my mind. And I wanted to give you the best answer possible that’s a good point. Buy yourself some time if you’re not either one not sure how to answer or to since you’re really feeling uncomfortable when you’re responding your discomfort is more in your control. So you’re not sending a message to your job. Yeah that’s a great point. You know sometimes a gut reaction is not the right one because something a child is uncomfortable or an anchor or bad about something and that that feeling is prompting the question as a parent we might want to just beat the fears or you know make the sadness go away and we say something like Well I love you too much as anybody else. What there’s something that comes from a place of maybe knee jerk.
[00:09:33] It was you know you mean well but it’s not necessarily what they need to hear at first but most healthy version of an answer for them. So give yourself permission to honor their question and seek resources before you circle back. So what if you make a mistake. What if you are you think you do. You answered in a way that you think back and you go gosh you wish I hadn’t. I wish I hadn’t said it quite that way until recently what at that point thinking about you know upon reflection you think wow that wasn’t wasn’t right at my better answers. I wish I had taken Dr. Bliss’s advice and given myself time how to how to how to undo what you did. Well I think if it goes to the fact that it’s going to be an ongoing conversation it’s never just an open and shut topic and it’s when you’re setting the scene even from infancy all the way up. This is an ongoing conversation. So it’s never just shut. And that means that you can always revisit and it’s also a reminder that as parents you’re human as well. And you you have human reactions and you can say you know Mark I my first reaction and my first answer wasn’t the full complete answer and I I’d had time to really think about it and reflect and now I want to just circle back and talk a little bit more about I have more thoughts about it.
[00:11:05] So it’s always a growing subject and it’s OK and it’s encouraged to circle back and be able to show that you want to have a reflective process as well and that it’s forever evolving between the two of you. Yeah I actually think that it’s it’s there’s an advantage there in the sense that you can say you know you at max you ask great questions and you know I’ve been thinking about your question. And I didn’t think I’m not sure I answered it fully or I wanted to know if you had any other thoughts on her or this is what I was thinking. So that in a way it gives you the opportunity to make it an ongoing conversation as opposed to a you know what somebody people want which is a one and done which is just that’s not how these conversations work. This will be where we say it’s not one talk you are having it’s going to be one of many it’s just little bits of little talks not one big talk. And that’s that’s how children grow up with the knowledge without ever having remembered being told which is what Dr. Bliss said at the very beginning. All right. So we talked about talking with infants. OK. So what are some tips for infants. And you know up to the age of. Say when you’re infants and toddlers when you’re talking with them about adoption. Chantilly can you give them some tips of ways to do to broach the subject with your child. One of my favorite ways to talk about their adoption story is through a Lifebook. You can get them off online and just create a personal life story where you don’t even have a page saying oh this is you grew in your tummy mommy.
[00:12:59] And she chose us to be your forever family and you were born on this day and we were so happy to be at the hospital and we were waiting for you to come. And that’s when we became a forever home. And then you can even have a page with a picture of the birth mother in the book. So that way the story is always there and always unfolding and it’s ingrained into their everyday. When you’re reading them stories to go to sleep. And this is just part of their identity formation too but they might not it might not click. Like Bill understand they’ll know the word adoption. They know that they have a birth mother. But then they’ll be a later time where it actually clicks. And just as Dr. Bliss was saying earlier we don’t want it to be the day they found out that they were adopted this way if you have a Lifebook. It’s just kind of ingrained into their everyday and so they can just circle back and said Oh is this what adoption means. Like what does that mean. Well look we were reading this book and this is this is how you came to us and this is how we became. So yeah I think Dr. Bliss would probably have more to say about this. You know it just reminded me that the first two years when they’re very very young is a perfect time for adoptive parents to get into their lexicon. Positive adoption language because by default we might that it might not come naturally in the sense that you know start using the word. She made an adoption plan.
[00:14:39] She chose to place you and make sure within very short time during the adoption process and when you have a child in your home that you’re using positive adoption languishing your child only hears it. And so things like placing a child making adoption plan using the word biological parents and their birth parents instead of natural parents because you don’t want to by default and be afraid to suffer some kind of unnatural parent and make sure that your relatives and your close family friends are also aware. Because if your child knows they are adopted and talks about it with the ease that we hope they will even if that’s not an everyday conversation when it does come up we want the people around him or her to also view that positive adoption language. So for example you know we never used the word of their adopted daughter their adopted son. And make sure your relatives and for your child like that. Think of adoption as a verb. Yes says the way he became a family in the process by which year this little boy became your son. But it’s not an adjective that qualifies to have a child here. She OK. And then something that Chantilly mentioned as well that I wanted to circle back to is infancy and toddlerhood are when you should be having adoption oriented books children’s books picture in your in your library at your library at home I think it’s always good to own a couple.
[00:16:09] But you can also of course every public library has a number of them and that creating a family we have a great list of books that cover every aspect of every type of adoption and age and so start at the library if you want when your child is an infant find some books that you like. And an added advantage is many of the picture books also have a section at the back for parents. So you can get some information there too and we have a list of those at our Web site. Go to creating a family dot or go to adoption and then you can click on the picture adoption or the horizontal menu. And then there’s a box for suggested books. So I would strongly recommend that as well. Right now anything different Dr. Bliss that we would throw in as our children are moving into preschool and approaching approaching first grade. So is there anything different other than continuing to read books and continuing to talk. Anything that we should be adding in as they approach school age. Well really the questionnaire reminds me of a funny story with many of our adopted families that we forget that our children know only the normal that we present to them. So you know just be aware that your child that you tell them otherwise may not realize that not everybody in the family when they become planet. Midsouth obvious to us. But we had a key question where we are old as a pregnant lady in a grocery store having chosen a family for your baby. Any story that is up inside oh to talk about how different ways families are made right. The mind that went to school with compositions. Go where you don’t necessarily just realizing that not everybody is about them.
[00:18:13] So yeah I had a time and helped them with their storyline of what they feel comfortable saying and the difference between secrecy and privacy in a mission for them to tell and little as much as people are comfortable with. And the reality is that young children are often comfortable with talking about a lot because they they except what we say at face value. They’re not. They’re not developmentally able at that age to to look at the nuances or even to recognize this is sort of the last aspects of adoption. And so they take everything at face value and like you say they may well be viewing the fact that adoption is is the most common way of having a baby or building a family. So it would behoove you I think to include some different ways families are made books and there’s a lot of great ones. We also list them on that same resource page I just mentioned before but there are lots of different ways that families are made including you know a mommy and daddy having a having a baby and keeping the baby and raising it. That’s you know that’s perfectly ok too. So we can include for that our children have have a more and more full understanding of different options. Let’s talk about some of the common questions that young children might ask their parents about being adopted. I think it’s helpful for parents to think in advance what some of the questions are so they can think through what some of their answers might be. So until you want to throw one out an idea of some questions that young children might ask. Well one common question is Well why didn’t my birth mother choose to parent me.
[00:20:13] And in doubt you can respond by describing what the circumstances were for why she chose to play and say that she wasn’t able to parent you at that time in her life. So with that code describing the circumstances it really depends on the situation. But that’s why it’s important with your child to have parallel conversations with them about just circumstances of humans and people in general. So it’s not. I find that a lot of children who have moved from adoption have a much broader understanding and open minds because parents are constantly talking to them about how different families are formed and how people have different inclinations. So they might say Oh well look that family has two mommies and daddies and that family. Joseph is really really good at sport. Oh look Susie she kind of had a little a hard time concentrating that you might be in HD for although you can talk about how when some say as a child can also learn about really mature tough concepts before they really learn the word. So the child can understand what addiction might be before really knowing what addiction is and to have those conversations just about the humanity of how people have different circumstances that they’re presented with in a very open non-judgemental way so that when the conversation comes about their birth parents whatever if it was a financial situation or knew the circumstances around substance abuse or just being a single mom who didn’t have the support that that’s a gentle way to be able to describe it to them because they’ve heard about these situations prior to learning about it in the context of their birth parents what happened to your granddaughter. OK.
[00:22:23] I think that you know the basic question at Central he said I think most every single child who was adopted is going to come up with when they say that you want to be a mommy you know. And what is the root of that question is what I loved. And so I think it’s important to address that in the sense that you know as parents sometimes the inclination is to just to rush over that tweet and that oh she she was ready to be a mommy so she chose the but if he sent it help is asking her curious about the circumstances of it. You know with a loved what I wanted. And I think it’s important to convey to the child that it wasn’t an easy decision that no there was there was a lot of love in her heart for you. And it was really hard for her to decide on that. And she was sad about it for a while but she really knew that she loved you so much she wanted something for you that she didn’t have at that time. So even though it was hard for her she made an adoption plan that she found the perfect family. So you know don’t want it to be overlooked that children don’t want to feel that this decision was made flippantly. And and to honor that choice the birthmother made Dr. Bliss. We don’t know that information. This often happens in international adoption and sometimes foster parent adoption foster care adoption when we don’t know the story. We don’t know much at all what then. We want our children to feel loved. So should we.
[00:23:58] Should we tell our children that they loved that their birth family loved them very much. Do we know that well what we can probably say is you know I wish I knew more and it makes me sad that I don’t know more. But what I have learned is that birth parents really make that decision after making a long long time. And it doesn’t have to do with not loving you. It has to do with so many things that unfortunately you don’t have the answers for and so you know keep it generic. I think it’s good to express sadness that you don’t have more because it’s probably what they’re feeling too because at some point they’re going to wish they had more to. And I think that’s actually circling back to a lot of times parents in reaction to children coming to them and saying I wish I had this answer if they like Almanack for you or something. I love you twice as much. And this is a perfect example of sitting with them in the lack of knowledge and the discomfort and saying I wish I knew more to sitting with them with their lack of knowledge rather than trying to solve it. Yeah. And it’s not comfortable but it probably would help. Yeah absolutely. What about if your children. Because this is not also not uncommon for children to say to their parents are there the mom I wish I had grown in your belly. I’m sad. I want to have grown in your belly. Dr. Bliss thoughts on how to address that no I’m not sure there’s the one right answer.
[00:25:29] I think that again we’re looking at the roots of the emotions behind that question and that’s really sad that I didn’t grow in your belly. Let my friend go in their mommy’s belly. And so I think that we personally addressed the sadness behind it and that it’s OK to have grief around the realization at different points of what it means to be adopted. But I think that there also needs to be part of that conversation is that it doesn’t change the love that even if you had going in my belly I would love you the same as I did today. It doesn’t make a difference how much I love you. But it is that it’s OK to be sad about different parts of the adoption story. And I want to encourage parents to make their home a safe place for all different types of emotions about their child’s adoption story because at different stages there will be emotion. Not all of them are going to be easy and it’s OK if your child goes through a time where they grieve the fact that they are biologically related to you. You also had a. You know it’s hard to think that but you also had a great profit sharing your mother during your journey to become a family. And that happened probably before you met your child. And so then it’s happening while your child but it’s a classic that you want to give them permission to as well. You don’t want to necessarily minimize their feelings but anything because they will stop sharing them with you.
[00:26:58] Even those uncomfortable feelings you want to say to your child can talk to them like you know and make sure yourself you’re getting the message that this is safe and OK conversation to have even if inside it makes you uncomfortable. Maybe especially if it makes you uncomfortable because you need to really be actively sending the message that I am here for you I’m not afraid of this conversation. I can be your source to care too. So we’ve talked about how to have the conversation if your child asks questions but not all kids are question askers. So what do you do if you’ve got a 4 year old who let’s say you’ve mentioned adoption. You’ve read the books that your child has never ask any questions and just doesn’t seem interested. Is that a sign that you should just say hallelujah praise the Lord. I’m finished I don’t have to talk about it anymore. How do you keep coming back to it without seeming like you’re harping on it when it seems to you that the child is clearly not interested. Chantilly thoughts on that one. Yes. I I think there’s a gentle way to just casually bring up birth parents in conversation. I’m thinking of one example where a little girl she loved eating hamburgers from McDonald’s and that was often where the family would meet her birth mom and her birth mom would always have hamburgers and just kind of dropping little hints of like oh you might love hamburgers because that’s what your mom your birth mom ate throughout her entire pregnancy with you. So sometimes just bringing up little nuggets of information about birth parents casually just in the everyday can be a gentle way to just bring it to the forefront. But if the child wants to talk about it further then so be it.
[00:28:55] If not at least you know you’re doing your bit. Make to make it an open safe space to be discussed. Yeah I love that because I think that it’s so tempting because most parents are uncomfortable on some level with this conversation. So it is so tempting to assume that. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the reality is bringing it up subtly then give your child does two things one. It gives your child the opportunity if they have been thinking about it at all to speak up. Number two it sends them the message that even if they haven’t thought about it have no interest in it right now. They know that it’s something that you’ve thought about and that you’re OK to talk about. So it’s it’s a twofer you’ve sent out two messages that seem to me to be really important for all age children including including young children let’s see let’s remind everybody that you are listening to an interview at creating a family. We’re talking today about the really important topic of talking with young children about adoption and we’re talking with two great guests. They have a lot of knowledge in this area. Dr. Jennifer bliss and she is the director of adoptions and foster care at Vista Del Mar and Family Services in L.A. and she is a doctorate in psychology as well as a licensed clinical social worker. And we are also talking with Chantilly Wijaya Singh. She is a Masters of Social Work and a Master’s of Public Health and an adoption specialist at adoptions that foster care and foster care at Vista Del Mar.
[00:30:42] And we’re going to be mentioning resources at creating a family and you can access these resources including and in a large section on talking with children about adoption. And you can access those resources by going to creating a family or cooking on adoption and going to the agency resources and you will find talking with children about adoption. We also have a couple of different courses on this topic as well and you can access the courses by going to the online education tab as well. All right. What we’ve got. We had a question talking about siblings or other children in the family about the adoption of a child. What I want to read is a little long and it’s a bit of a reversal because the children being adopted are older. And she’s concerned about talking with her younger children. This is from Maggie. She says I struggle with knowing how to talk to my young children about adopting our two older children and worrying how they will take it and what they will take away from the conversation and repeat. We can’t talk about that part later so we’ll focus on the rest of her question now is there any way I can present it. No I’m sorry. Any way I present it usually presents questions from my 4 year old about where their mom is and if their daddy is and if their mommy and daddy aren’t around can you take care of them. What will they do and who’s going to take care of us if something happens to you. I want to respect the older two because regardless of how upset they are that their mother chose something over them.
[00:32:29] She is still their mother and the love will always be there. Or as or at least that’s what I think. But I also want to make sure that the little ones know that mama’s love them no matter what and will always be there to take care of them. So she’s I think she’s got a bit of a conundrum going on. Try talking with different stories between her older children and it sounds like there are more newly adopted and her younger kids. Dr. Bliss can you give any thoughts to help Maggie with this with this question. It has so many layers. Every sentence you said I had like something the wanted say. I don’t take you back and read so I know. And so maybe we’ll start with the most recent things and and work backwards a little bit is that it sounds like the concept to the younger children that a mommy could choose to place her children with another family is scaring them a little and making them wonder. It is a family forever. How can a family really be for then. And so I think it’s important to point out the differences that the their future siblings the mother of the future sibling struggled with versus you know who their mother is. And you know when talking about circumstances like environment and what she wanted for her children she was unable to give. She chose she chose a parent who was.
[00:34:00] And you know I also want to caution in every situation when you are talking with children about birth parents that is separate to life circumstances are the choices they’ve made from the person themselves because men never want to label somebody a bad person or diverting messaging that somebody is inherently not a good person. You know they know that the children were going to be tested when it came from this person and we don’t want them to be worried or the two of us are worried that they inherited something bad. So you know I think they’re always important to keep in mind because as children grow up and you’re honest about their circumstances the decisions that were made. Some things aren’t great decisions and can easily be cast in a negative light a result of the character of the birth parents. I’m going to caution people to separate those two things out. And as far as for her younger children to reinforce that they are indeed a forever family. And as far as what if something were to happen to my parents that’s the question that a child can have. So whether or not they came they’re adopted into a family or not I’m going to have that question. And I think you should honor it in country and let them know who and who and designated God so they can think not. With that needed answer that question honestly a scary that question then. OK. Here’s a question that we also received. She says My nephew who is 8 is really trying to figure out the why to our daughter’s adoption why would her parents poster for her adoption generic Arendts answers just don’t cut it and cause him concern. He worries about her and why this obviously sad bad thing happened to her more. More specifically we also worry about violating our daughter’s privacy by how much we tell him.
[00:35:54] I was really glad we got this question because that that’s an interesting when talking about adoption within a family in this case it’s the nephew but could also be an older sibling. Chantilly How much do we share of our of our child’s story because we’re sad all the time here. Creating a family. It is your child’s story it’s you know it’s not yours. And we caution parents about you know over Sherry particularly with with infants we caution them because it’s easy to forget that this child is going to grow up and have an opinion about whether they want this but what about needing to or not needing but wanting to share some of the information to help explain and answer questions to older kids within the family. Either a nephew or a sibling a really really excellent and nuanced question because it is generically I advise parents to allow the child to be the driver and take the lead of how much is shared with people outside of their unit. And that’s because the last thing you ever want is for a child to find out from a distant cousin at a family reunion that some information about her birth parents that she didn’t even know. So similarly you wouldn’t want the child to find out something about her history from a nephew or an older brother necessarily. So my thoughts are to share as much as you can. That’s already been shared with the younger child. And then because with this specific situation I wonder if there is an underlying fear here that is the older child worried. What is so curious about the circumstances.
[00:37:42] Because there’s fear that he might be placed and that a situation might arise for that to happen to him. And that’s that’s where I would go I would redirect and see where this question is coming from and try to establish security for him and show that no matter what we were a team and we’re here and it was a different circumstance for her. But this is where family and we’re here. So and to see where those fears come from. So you know a concrete reason and concrete examples are helpful for children and if they’re giving generalities that might be helpful for example let’s say the birth place because she is developmentally which is not a place to be a parent. You know there’s this little left. You have a 16 year old baby sitter. Right. That he knows. And so that you could might might be aliens that is unstable and say you know more with your babysitter right. Do you think she’s ready to be a mommy. No. That could be a reason and maybe one of the same feelings that you know our daughter’s birth birthmother felt she wasn’t ready to put. Isn’t it at the point right now where you think she’s ready to be a mommy. But if you have a concrete example that feels safe that the child can relate it to and fill in that gap with with knowledge you know that makes sense to him or her at that age and then you know stress the concrete examples when appropriate. OK. You know it raises a part of Maggie’s early one part of her question was her concern of of her younger children would repeat information.
[00:39:24] And that brings up the issue that young children many young children venture to say that probably most who had parents who’ve talked to them about adoption think it’s cool it’s part of their story. They’re often very proud of it and are prone to share some might even say overshare with anybody and everybody we all know the stories you know were somebody you know oh you know you’re so cute. Well I’m cool because I’m adopted or whatever your child. You know the full the full comprehension of the adults around are shaking their heads. So how do we handle that. The information you said something earlier Dr. Bliss about the distinction between secrecy and privacy. But that’s a nuance. Speaking of Neuhauser that’s a that’s a concept that most young children don’t get. So how do we handle that when we want to share information. But we also are concerned about who our child might shirt with Dr. Bliss. What we want to make sure when you’re making decisions you share something with your child because you’re dealing it age appropriate at a basic level. You know we always want to be on it and then aware of the information we’re sharing. Why not click on it and age appropriate and then if it makes us uncomfortable that our child says oh you know I have blue eyes because my birth mom had lied to know their teacher at school on the first day. Maybe that’s our issue. Right. So you know it’s like looking at the why did that make me uncomfortable that he or she said it because for whatever reason it makes him or her happiness.
[00:41:04] So it’s there as with knowledge because chose that they’re ready for that knowledge. And then we followed them and there and as they get older their feelings on what level they want to share might change. And so it’s important to check in with them that because they were signed on for the first day first grade to announce the class that they lives because their birth mom had lived in a second grade that might have changed. So you know keep checking in with your child don’t take them for granted because a year ago they were so upfront about it they might not want you telling the person at Macy’s behind that counter or something about their adoption. You know just a few years later. So follow your child’s lead and honor what makes them feel good about you might have a child that wants to be the impact of adoption from day one. And so we have to make sure that we’re fostering that and not knowingly sending a message of shame and pooh poohing it or trying to Christian All right. Well you raise a really interesting point and that is the sharing of some of the harder parts of our child’s story with or the we’ve talked about this topic a lot at creating a family. We’ve got a number of courses on that. How to share hard hard news and it seems universally what we want is for our children to have all the information we have and we want them to have it at an age that that that quite frankly many parents find surprising. But you know we don’t want to wait until adolescence to share this information.
[00:42:37] So somewhere between 9 10 and 11 12 we want that information. So we always say well you start young and you start putting out the framework the scaffolding for so that you can hang more details as you go along. So let’s say we’re going to use this when we’ve got a question from Zoe that came in. She said my daughter’s birth father is in jail for divorce domestic violence. He beat his. He beat her birth mom almost to death and her birth mom is in jail for selling drugs. Do I really need to share these details with her. Wouldn’t it be better just to say that they have gone away forever without giving the details. No child deserves to have this information dumped on them. Dr. Bliss Can you talk us. Let’s let’s start with those specific questions and then we will branch out to some other examples of of how to share hard information in this case. There’s a lot of hard information in Zoe’s daughter’s history birth family history. So this is an unfortunate situation for any parent to have to navigate. And I wish it would say that it is super uncommon but usually in an adoption there are some level of something that that is scary for adoptive parents to bring up. So this is one example. And as much as the the inclination is to shelter a child in this nation the length and the spaces we leave in the lack of information gets filled and with their imagination. And it’s not usually going to be oh I wonder if they’re working in a tunnel down the street it’s going to be exaggerated.
[00:44:24] Maybe they’re a horrible person that ran off and did this or that. And so it leaves concrete information giving answers where they’re not going to ruminate about it as much as you can and you know let’s talk about the birth father and the birth of our guest here in a situation because there are decisions made that you know go back to try and separate the action from the person because you don’t want to tell the world they inherited something from their birth parents and now they’re a bad person. So much information that you can find out about the birth father. You know for example the birth father’s childhood his upbringing what things contributed to his life that create a situation where he didn’t know how to handle his emotions and just acted out and had a lot of anger and how his birth mom wanted different different environment for him. So he can learn about emotions and decision making and that his birth father didn’t have that option in his life. And the same the birth mother just kind of tailored to her actions in a different environment that she wanted her child so they would grow up learning better decision. Until So Zoe did not say how old her her daughter was but so let me let me say what if I think if the daughters to this is not going to be a question. So let’s say if the four or five or six. What would you share the full information that they’re in jail would you share. Now why they are in jail or would you keep it more general at this age.
[00:45:57] I think we would know that at some age Zoe’s daughter has the right to this information and that age is probably going to be younger than Zoe would like. Let’s just say by 10 11 or 12 let’s say. But for Max Well you know what. Honestly I’ve I’ve heard what age actually. Let me just stop and ask the expert right here Dr. Bliss what age would you say that children should have all the information that we have. Well it it’s hard. You can’t say that again because every single child is different to an 8 year old. One child might be the same as a 10 year old different child. We really have to listen to your child developmental stages with the capsulizes being understanding things the way they’re asking questions. Artfulness and follow your lead Harpeth to say a 6 year old should have other information. But really bright 8 or 9 year old that is athlete questions get exposed to things in the universe anyway because of media and everything that shows at 8 or explosive these days. They might be ready so I can’t tell you a specific age but you really. And if you’re unsure it’s OK to seek the guy and guided some adoption counselor or professional that might be able to help you through that with your child and get to know the child little bit goodbye.
[00:47:20] I do want to caution everybody that the four adolescents who make a really good point on all this information should share the flight lessons because once in their identity formation stage that is set in processing this difficult information just as it is for what it is that risk it integrating information as part of identity formation stage and then we get into I think my birth mother or birth father. And so adolescence is not a good time to introduce negative into this nation about birth parents and 8 12 year olds actually can integrate it easier to their understanding without the thing is a reflection of the character. Exactly. OK so let’s say that the your child birth parent mom or dad was it is or was addicted to drugs. What would be the language to I’ll start with you and then Dr. Bose if you’ve got some suggestions what would be some language you reduce with let’s say a 4 year old that you would be structured given the laying the groundwork for more detailed information coming later. Yes. So I’d kind of mentioned a little bit earlier the importance of having parallel conversation and to lay the groundwork of conveying what addiction is without even really needing to use the word addiction and doing it in maybe in a benign way of using like oh gosh Johnnie like Uncle Johnnie really really loves his cookies. He he loves cookies and he loves sugar and he loves so you can show an addiction to food. You can show an addiction to videogames. There are so many different types of ways to show that someone has that might have that issue. And so when conveying it to a 4 year old maybe that’s laying the groundwork but then saying oh well you know your birth mom was really really drawn to some things and wasn’t able to. That affected her her decision making and her thought processes. So just to keep that day but also at the same time laying the groundwork of what addiction is.
[00:49:46] So it is an appropriate time to share that that’s when you can make that connection and get her to understand. I really like watching Kelly said and I feel like as a kid I might say well then why didn’t she just stop doing it. And like you know why did you stop sobbing. It was bad for her brain and and I think you can say like sometimes it’s the situation no when you feel like you have an itch they told you not to scratch it. How does that feel. Or will he have to say something so sorry you’re not larcenies today that type of feeling that makes you feel like you need to do something. That’s the type of feeling your birth mother had about it. That was that. That’s how hard it was for her not to do it it has nothing to do with how much she loves you. And that it’s not she didn’t choose the drug over you so that she would be a helpful thing to also share. So what I’m hearing you both say is I liked but Chen these parallel conversations until the my understanding that correctly what that means is that when you’re not talking about adoption and birth parents you introduce a concept that’s going to be a important part of your child’s story in this case addiction and in the case of Zoe’s you can talk about anger and that some people never learn how to. They weren’t taught and encouraged to handle their anger and sometimes their anger gets so big and they hurt other people. And we put them in jail because it’s not ok to hurt other people that type of thing and then.
[00:51:30] So you’re laying an understanding when it’s totally separate from their life. But then the same time when in a separate conversation when you’re talking with your child about adoption you you’re also laying the groundwork that you’re in this case in Zoe’s daughter’s case. Your your your birth dad made mistakes because he didn’t know how to control his anger in the case. Well we talked about with addiction. Your mom had an illness or a sickness that that made her want to take something that’s really bad for her and made are not able to parent you. I’m trying to paraphrase in ways that would be appropriate for a 4 year old. Dr. Bliss would you add anything to the to my paraphrase or corrected if that’s the case. No I think actually you know you know your child not the looks accused me a child of getting using or understanding it that these conversation ask questions to check where their understanding and then let them lead you in. Keep asking more questions. I think that by that I think again every single parent I and I’ve talked with a lot has always said that they feel like the information is too much for their child that developmentally their child is not ready. And I think it is helpful to know that you’ve got to start because you want to. You don’t want to dump it on him.
[00:53:06] So you want to be gripping the information you want to lay that groundwork and have this parallel conversations but you’ve got to be adding to that scaffolding that you’ve laid and it’s helpful I think for parents to know that there is a timeline out there because everyone wants to believe because we all think our children are not ready for this information because we don’t want them to have to be ready for it. So I do think it’s helpful then. So the parents now. OK wait a minute. By a certain age I’ve got to get this out there and I don’t want to drop it all at once. I think that kind of keeps that adds momentum to tackling a tough conversation that in some ways understandably every parent would like to avoid them. Totally understand that before we move off of the sharing hard information. Dr. Bliss Do you have anything to add in Chantilly. Do you have anything to add. I’m going to move off that conversation. I would just say keep your parents keep your radar up for a teachable moment whether it be if it comes up in a TV show you guys are watching together or you know they hear them and they know that thing you know them and they know parents struggling with addiction and whatnot and just a teachable moment that connects again it makes their story of their birth mother more concrete because there are whole thing at play on TV and this is how that looks or to someone they know and that they know is not a bad person. Right. So they know that even uncle or cousin has struggled with addiction and you know Uncle Joe is not a bad guy. You know it’s a teachable lesson. So it’s a reminder again I can’t stress that enough to separate the character of the person from actions and visions that were made OK.
[00:54:52] The character of the person from the actions or decisions they make. Yes. And another reason we’re talking about how it’s important to get the information prior to adolescence. And another reason why I think that’s really important is because once the child enters their teenage years the connection with one parent is different. The focus now turns to their peers. So already the openness and the ability to have that conversation and that open dialogue might be closing or not closing but just shifted. So you want to be able to have that conduct those conversations prior to their shift in focus. So that’s another reason why I wanted before adolescence information in that way. Excellent point. All right we have a question from a hymn. And the reality is we get a question similar to this. Probably every couple of months on our support group she says My son is 6 and has never asked any questions so we have never told him anything about being adopted. I’ve been reading stuff on your site and took one of your courses on talking with kids about adoption. So I realize now that I need to do something I’m a little afraid that I’ve waited too long and screwed my wonderful little boy up. All right. So we’ve been talking for the last hour about the importance of talking with your children starting when they’re very young and continuing to have little conversations to out so that there is no one big conversation. But what if you’ve waited. What if your child is now six and for whatever reason. It’s it’s just never come up. So and you’ve.
[00:56:46] And do whatever you know at this point beating yourself up is not or is not the right approach. I mean it’s not helping anybody. So mentally I’ll let you start. And then Dr. Bliss thoughts on this mom who wants to know first that she say she screwed her wonderful little boy up into OK now how to have this conversation that is 6 Well firstly no she has not screwed up her little boy in any way. And the first thought that comes to my mind is better late than never though. And yeah. And it sounds like she’s understanding the importance of having the conversation sooner rather than later. I would first want to gauge whether he has any awareness of what adoption is and then try to integrate that into a conversation to try and not make it like a sit down but sit around the dinner table and convey this. I’m not very good. Yeah that’s probably not how you see it. So I would think if he doesn’t have any idea of what adoption is to start introducing the topic to him and then gently to try and break the news of life. Well you know you you actually you drew in a tummy mummy or that you came to us through through adoption and then allow him to have the moment of shock or grief or. I really I come back to the seven core issues of adoption. That’s a great resource for any family.
[00:58:37] And just I think for you as a parent to be ready to take on whatever reaction he might have and to know that it’s a natural reaction and to just be there as security for him and be whatever it is that he needs in that moment. And then the conversation will start now. It’s better late than never. It’s my head honorables Yeah I would just say that you know whatever emotions come out of that sadness I think it’s OK for the parents to say there is a time where I was sad to know and that’s okay. And the second I held in my arms I was so glad that the way we build our families through adoption because I wouldn’t want any other boy other than you and be prepared for questions and be prepared to talk about the reasons that the birth mother chose to place. And then also even if he doesn’t ask again bring it up again because a few days later even if he is not talking about it most likely there’s nothing circulating in his head so he might need the door open and say you know thinking about the conversation we had when I told you that you go and get belly. And you know that’s that show. Is there anything even thinking about doing that. Well what do you think about that or how does that make you feel. You know and do it more than once. And you know I also I always go back and say go to the library immediately get some books and sit down and start reading and it’s just sit and continue to incorporate into your nighttime reading at 6:00 you should. You’re still reading your child. So incorporate it as a way for the child to safely come back and he’s processing so he could come back and oftentimes the books are involving animals. Woodland animals or something.
[01:00:40] And so you can say well you know what. Just like that that Bunny’s family adopted him we adopted you. And then the next time you read it say I wonder how bunnies feeling and use it through the through the characters and even I have found repeatedly even if the story says it. The book says it’s for two to four year olds. If you are your child has never had understood that had no information about being adopted. It’s OK to drop down a level and read the child as a child a book on a more picture oriented book and then talk about the characters because sometimes it’s easier to talk about how Bunny with feeling than it is about how you might be feeling so poorly. I love that idea. And at 6 years old once they start to be able to understand the story from different angles and talk about different feelings I think a great activity between parents and child at six years old is to create the story that together how we became family and not just hating Brading at home including that storybook you can do that today with color pictures these pictures that we imagine and experience. And you can do it in hand to go online together and create a storybook together with family. You know the stories of family and there are some guys until you mentioned do you happen. I’m trying to put you on the spot here. Do you happen to know there are guides templates for Life Books Online. Do you happen to know any good ones.
[01:02:15] So if you’re wanting to follow a template you can use that or you could just go to any of the photo printing places you know Shutterfly Snapfish or any of those and you can make a balanced book. But Chantilly Do you happen to know of any that you’d want to recommend from a book that ask the questions from a adoption’s standpoint to help you fill out. I can’t remember the actual name but I know on Etsy the last night they have a lot of great personalized books that you can make in baby books through adoption. Right. Yeah I just read a lot of families in the USA and like you said Shutterfly is another great way. Usually not. The great thing about supporting your supporting a craft person so that’s that’s always a nice feeling as well. But do do put in the part about adoption when you’re googling and there will be a lot of templates that will that will pop up that you can utilize and which will make it easier and you won’t forget anything and doing it together. I love that idea at this point. Your son is and it will give you an activity to be doing together. And sometimes it is easier to talk about things when you’re not staring at somebody when you are doing something where your hands are busy. Conversation often comes easier. Well I want it to end with this. Somebody sent us this to ask us to share during this interview today it’s from Nancy and she says we have an open adoption. When my son was 4 years old we had a Mother’s Day party with several moms including my son’s birth mom.
[01:04:02] We were together when I explained to my son that my tummy was broken and that Kim had carried him and her and carried him in her come. Keeping him safe and loved until he could come to me. He turned to Kim and said that that was so nice of you. And that was it. He is now 15 and he has an amazing relationship with Ken Kim and his three siblings. So I thought that was a nice story to end on. To address some of our fear that we build up about these these conversations so thank you so much for being with us today to talk about this important topic for adoptive parents. But even more so an important topic for adopted people and adopted kids.
- When is it recommended that parents start talking about adoption with their child?
- How do the developmental stages of early childhood impact understanding of adoption?
- At what age do children really grasp the full meaning of being adopted?
- Why do parent fear talking about adoption and birth parents with their adopted children?
- How can parents talk with infants about adoption?
- How can parents talk with toddlers about adoption?
- How can parents talk with preschoolers about adoption?
- What are some common questions young children ask about adoption?
- What is positive adoption language parents can use with young children?
- What should parents do if their child does not ask questions about adoption?
- How should parents talk with siblings or other children in the family about the adoption of a child?
- Little children think adoption is cool and are prone to share (or overshare) any information told. How should you handle treating information privately?
- When should you start sharing some of the harder parts of your child’s story with them? Do you share that the birth parent is in jail or addicted to drugs?