So why do we dread the discussion so much? It reminds us of our children's pain? We're afraid we'll say the wrong thing? It's painful for us to deal with the fact that someone else gave birth to our children? We feel a little twinge of jealousy that we have to share our children with someone else? We worry that we haven't been good enough parents if our children are thinking about their birth parents? All of the above? None of the above?
I think it would be perfectly natural to have any or all of the fears or feelings I listed. Even when we know intellectually that our children don't have to choose between us and birth family, that our children's natural curiousity about their birth families doesn't say ANYTHING about us as parents, it can feel a little threatening. And we know that talking about birth parents can bring pain for our children, especially the first time you get the HARDEST birth parent question -- why did they leave me?
I don't think we can avoid our children's pain -- they WILL have to deal with it, and the best thing we can do to help them deal with the pain of loss is by giving them permission to feel that loss and to talk to us about it. So we, as parents, need to get comfortable talking about birth parents. That's why I'm a big proponent of practicing birth parent talk from the moment you get your child. Don't start "your adoption story" with your child's first meeting you -- start it with birth! If your child is an infant, by the time she/he really understands what you're saying, you'll have had a chance to decide what you're going to call the first family, China family, tummy mommy, birth mother, natural mother, etc., you'll have practiced and decided on how you're going to get the child from birth to orphanage to you in a truthful and age-appropriate way, and you'll have nary a stumble!
And I think it's important that you make birth family comments pretty frequently -- both so that you get the practice, and so your child knows it's ok to talk about them. I like some of the suggestions in Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew:
When you understand the fears and ambivalence your child may have when it comes to discussing his birth family, you will be much more effective in drawing out his hidden thoughts at strategic times. I believe that conversations about the birth family should be initiated at times of pleasure and celebration and at times of stress or vulnerability.
Positive times for initiating might include the following:
The child's birthday. "I wonder if your birth mom/dad are thinking about you."
Mother's Day/Father's Day. "I wonder what your birth mom/dad are doing today."
Child's accomplishments."Your birth parents would be proud of you just like we are." Physical features. "I wonder if your birth mom has curly hair like you."
Spontaneously. Whenever your heart wells with gratitude to the birth family. "I'm so glad they gave you to us!"
Conversations about the birth family might also be initiated during vulnerable times like these:
Physical exam. "It must be hard not knowing your full birth history."
Beginning college."I'll bet your adoption issues make saying good-bye extra difficult." After an acting-out episode."Have you been thinking about your birth family lately?" Family-tree assignments in school. (The adoptee's family tree is very complex and will n ot conform to the usual configuration.) You might say to the child, "With your permission and approval, I will talk to your teacher and ask if you (or we) can make a special family tree that will include both sides of your family."
After the child has been teased by a peer because he's adopted. "I know it's hard to be singled out because of your adoption, but remember we love you and so does your birth family."
The next highest on the dread list is the sex talk. Ahh, how well I remember having "the talk" with Zoe! We were in China, so I didn't have my usual option of finding a book on the topic to use as a springboard for "issues" discussions. But Wendy has recommended It's Not the Stork. Any other suggestions, dear readers?
Yes, I always like to have books on hand for jump-starting important discussions -- I'm such a nerd! So I recently bought Ready, Set, Grow: A What's Happening To My Body Book For Younger Girls. The authors point out that girls are hitting puberty earlier these days, so this book is geared for a slightly younger set than their original Ready, Set, Grow book written twenty years ago -- how's that for a scary thought when your daughter is about to turn 8. We haven't had time to do more than skim the book, but so far it looks good.
It's not like we haven't talked about any of this before -- being an all-girl household with kids who've never accepted the concept of "privacy," we've had LOTS of discussions about breasts and "fur!" When Zoe was little, we showered together, with me holding her, because she'd scream bloody murder if I tried to shower alone. I got really good at doing things one-handed during this period of Zoe's life! I remember putting her down one morning in the shower, and she stood there -- right at "fur" level. And there she goes, poke. . . poke, poke. . . . poke, poke, poke. . . .! And she has long been obsessed with breasts. I remember when we were trying to potty train, and I did the usual, "Don't you want to wear big-girl panties like mama?" And her face lights up, and she says in a yearning voice, 'And a BRA?!!!!" It seems she was only interested in potty-training if she was guaranteed a matching set of lingerie! And she still says she wants "breasts like mama's." I haven't had the heart to break it to her that given our VERY different body types, she's highly unlikely to have breasts "like mama's!" (though she's likely to be very happy about it in the long run -- gavity is NOT kind to us zaftig types!).
And for those dreading the "economy is going to hell in a handbasket" talk, here's an article about popular kid's lit for financial hard times!