Today our dear friend, pediatrician, and mom, Wendy Lee shares insights and personal experience on how to tell your child he is adopted.
My husband and I had waited three long years for “the phone call” letting us know who would become our baby. Only three short weeks prior to boarding a plane to China, we got the news we would not be bringing just one beautiful girl home from China, but TWO. Twins. We should have known right at that moment we would begin living a life of improvisation.
As with all parenting, there are endless numbers of issues to tackle. One unique to families formed by adoption is how and when to tell your child he is adopted. There are many differing opinions on how to do this right, but all agree children should be told. It wasn’t so long ago that “the experts” deemed it to be psychologically damaging for a child to know about his adoption, and recommended not revealing this information. Thankfully, things have evolved, and we are faced not with if, but how, to best share the news about adoption.
Just as with many aspects of child rearing, it is often best to take cues from your child. If your child is younger, as were our girls (thirteen months old at the time we first met them), it is a good time to discuss adoption openly so it takes on a normalcy. We read a full library of children’s books to them about adoption, and show the girls pictures and videos of our trip over and again. We speak with them about our “Gotcha Day” (the day we got them and they got us). And we celebrate this day each year with some of the families who traveled to China and got their daughters on the same day. We talk about their birth parents in China and celebrate their heritage which, although similar to ours, is not exactly the same (I am Korean, and my husband is Cambodian).
We gave ourselves a little pat on the back one day when we told our children one of our friends was going to have a baby, and they in turn asked which plane the parents were going to ride to get the baby. They certainly thought adoption was a normal way to have a baby, but now we were faced with telling them other ways this could happen!
As children grow, they enter new stages which may require improvisation. A child’s age and temperament will guide you in your discussions regarding her birth and adoption. Some children will never have any questions and will be satisfied with the here and now. Others will have lifelong struggles to try and understand their history. At certain stages, children will want nothing else but to fit in. Being adopted, at that point, may set them apart from others and become something they will not want to advertise. While “Gotcha Day” right now is another opportunity for our girls to have cupcakes, presents, and company, at some point it may be a day that reminds them of what they have lost and how they are different from their friends. They may choose not to celebrate this day any longer. For some children, curiosity about their birth parents will be all-consuming and for others, it may just bring fleeting thoughts.
Regardless of the age, stage or temperament of your child, my advice is to be truthful, open, supportive and positive. As your child grows, you will share more information. At some point, probably during his/her adolescence, your child should be given all the information that is known regarding his or her history, even if it may be difficult to share. Discussions will move from simple explanations to potentially heart-wrenching, tear-ridden sessions where answers aren’t available. I think whatever reaction your child will have to this part of her past, the longer she has to process it, and the longer you have to deal with your child’s emotions in this regard, the better it will be for all.
Wendy C. Lee, MD, FAAP
Presently full-time mama to two beautiful twin girls adopted from China
Anxiously awaiting a third child from Korea
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