Why I Started Telling My Kids Their Adoption Story Before They Could Even Speak
By Paula Schuck
Photo © christyhermogenes/Twenty20
Nov 7, 2019
Is there a secret recipe to telling your child their adoption story?
Everyone knows the adoption stories that go something like… Uncle Joe had no idea the sister he was raised with was actually his mom. Or Jesse always felt like an outsider in her family until that day when she found adoption papers hidden in the attic.
Literally, from the second we adopted our kids, we began talking about adoption.
Sadly, this is occasionally still a part of some people’s adoption narratives.
But secrecy and parenting don’t go together well, and secrets can create all sorts of chasms in families. So, where does that leave adoptive parents and adoption? Is there a time, an age, a stage or a magical window that we search for to know that our children are ready to hear “the truth'?
What's the best practice when it comes to navigating tricky adoption stories?
More from Paula Schuck: Adoption Is Not Like It Is In The Movies
When we were doing the intense adoption training all parents go through in Ontario before they can be matched with a child, youth, baby or toddler, I had a romantic vision in my head of how parenting would be. Even now, as a parent of two teens (who are closer to being adults every day), I shake my head at how naive I was back before we adopted.
There was a time when I thought I’d create the perfect moment to share their stories with each of them. My older daughter would be five and we’d be reading stories before bed, and we’d reveal that she was adopted, or chosen, and how we had waited so long and wished for her, and then we were given her and our hearts were full.
It was magical — basically a fairytale story. But here’s the thing: fairytales and adoption do not go together. At all. In fact, the reality is that all parties in the adoption triad come together and experience a loss.
Every time, in front of my baby, I’d state our adoption story. I said it enough times, heart thumping loudly in my chest, that eventually it became second nature and I carried it close to my heart.
Birth mom or dad places their child, or their child is apprehended. Adoptive parents often have been through infertility, miscarriages and losses prior to adopting. And the adoptee, they've lost their family of origin. Sure, adoption is still mostly a positive and happy event, but it begins in sadness and is firmly rooted to reality. So, what is the secret to creating a story out of all of that?
Sometimes I think maybe there’s a reason the adoption process seems to take so long. Perhaps a person, or a couple, need that time to make a paradigm shift to understanding all the nuances of adoption. In our case, while I hated the waiting and it seemed to take forever, the time allowed my husband and I the chance to read more, talk to the adoptees that we knew and connect with a few foster and adoptive parents.
Over and over they told us there was no moment or window of opportunity. A good friend of mine was adopted as an infant in Kitchener 50 years ago. She gave me some information that sticks with me today: “We just always knew. It was always part of our story.”
And then, just like that, after years of waiting, the call came suddenly. And nothing in the world was more important than the six-week-old baby girl in my arms and we wanted to get it right. So, we learned to speak a new language, slowly and persistently.
Literally, from the second we adopted our kids, we began talking about adoption. Why? Because the sooner you start, the easier it is to get comfortable with the conversation and the terms and terminology. When my older daughter was an infant I’d say, “We are so glad we adopted you. You are the best thing that ever happened to us.” And when we changed diapers or bathed either one of our girls, we’d repeat it. “We love you so much. We are the luckiest parents in the world to adopt you.”
When mom is adopted: Talking To Your Kids About Your Own Adoption
When my first baby was barely old enough to sit, we were in a children’s gym class and the instructor asked us all to tell birth stories. I was third last in a group of ten women and my story went like this: “I didn’t give birth to Payton. We adopted her. We got the call one day after months of waiting and we couldn’t believe it was true. When I called my husband at work to tell him, he said: 'Yeah right, is this a joke?' After waiting months on end and having numerous calls about potential matches, it was hard to believe we’d ever have a family. But roughly three weeks later, we were a family of three."
When my older daughter was an infant I’d say, 'We are so glad we adopted you. You are the best thing that ever happened to us.'
Over and over, when socializing we’d be asked specific birth related questions. Every time, in front of my baby, I’d state our adoption story. I said it enough times, heart thumping loudly in my chest, that eventually it became second nature and I carried it close to my heart.
When the girls were small, we read plenty of children’s stories about adoption and hoped they got comfortable with their own stories. Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis, was a favourite.
Over the years, we answered their questions as they came up, simply and at each stage. As they grew, they had more queries that were sometimes harder to answer easily.
At two-and-a-half, that looked like this: “Did I grow in your tummy?” — No, you grew in birth mom’s tummy or tummy mummy’s tummy.
At six: “Why did my birth mom give me up?” — Your biological mom and dad both chose us because they were young and not done college, and their relationship was on and off and they said they wanted you to have a better life.
At nine: “Can I meet them?” — “Yes. One day I’d love to meet them too to say thank you.”
We surrounded ourselves with adoptive families like ours. We brainstormed together every time interesting questions came up. Honesty was my policy and it still is when they ask challenging stuff like, “Why didn’t someone help them to keep me? There are plenty of single moms.”
Lies, half-truths and secrets set everyone in the family up for distrust, grief and anger. So, I opt for honesty.
What’s the secret recipe for success? There isn’t one.
Is there a moment that you choose to reveal a carefully rehearsed adoption story? No, there’s not one single moment, but a hundred tiny ones over the years, delivered consistently throughout a childhood. The beautiful part about that is, as a friend and fellow adoptive mom once told me, you have a lot of chances to get it right.
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