Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Review: Talking to Young Children About Adoption

Talking to Young Children About Adoption
by Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher
Yale University Press 1993

What this book is about: Written by a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist, both adoptive moms, the book explores how children understand adoption at different stages, and gives great examples of play and conversation about adoption. The book is thoroughly researched, and covers a lot of the studies on adopted kids in the 1980s and early 90s. The best part of the book, however, are the personal stories of children and parents talking about adoption. There is even an appendix of adoptive comments, questions, and play sequences of adopted children, arranged by age, from one year, nine months old to ten years, six months old.


age 2-9 Child enacts someone trying to take a baby kitten away from its mother, and the mother vehemently objecting

age 4-9 Adoptive mother asks how it feels to be adopted, and child says, "Great!"

age 7-0 Child says to her family at supper, "You know it is not a nice thing for a man to give a woman a seed if she can't be a good mother yet. . . . I've been trying to think this out in my head."

age 9-? Child says he no longer likes to tell his adoptive story because this year he "feels sad about it, not glad."

Many of those conversations are fleshed out in the body of the book as well. The authors wisely note, however, that it isn't always possible to prove that the dream and play sequences were explicitly related to adoption, and sometimes when I read them I wasn't convinced the child was concerned about adoption (but then, I wasn't the adoptive parent who was there when it happened, and reported it to the authors).

What I like about this book: The wide variety of play sequences and conversations described. It was really helpful to see how children were asking about adoption, and what parents were saying in response.

What I don't like about this book: Discussion of Freudian/psychoanalytic tradition. I'm not fond of Freud, and I thought the chapter trying to explain it was needlessly confusing. In fact, skipping Chapter Two makes the book much better overall! The book is also somewhat dated, since it was published 15 years ago, so it does not incorporate more recent longitudinal studies about outcomes for adopted kids. Still worth reading, though!

How this book helped me/what I learned: I read this book while waiting for Zoe. I think it really helped to tune my ear to what might be behind some of my kids' play and conversations when they were too young to ask direct questions. For example, when Zoe had just turned 4, she started to ask me if I left the house after she fell asleep, or whether I stayed in the waiting room when she went into ballet. I immediately thought about this book, and wondered if she was worried about whether our family was forever. That encouraged me to talk more about the permanence of adoption (we have this whole jokey thing we do now where I tell them it's not that easy to get rid of me, they can run or hide but I'll always be their mother, and they love it!). After a few weeks, Zoe no longer asked me about whether I was going out shopping while she slept!


zoe'sfriendsyd said...

I also read this book years ago, and enjoyed hearing different takes on communicating with your child concerning adoption. There were some scenarios I absolutely was freaked out by, then others that gave me good ideas for communication with my daughter.

Anne Becknell said...

Hello, My name is Anne Becknell, I have two adopted children of my own. I have recently written and illustrated a children's picture book, God Knew a Baby's Journey Home, about adoption that has been published; I will post the link below. The story explains that every step of the adoption journey is God's plan. Thanks!