An adoptive parent stopped me at Chinese School to pick my brain about some questions her daughters – a few years younger than my two – have been asking about their birth parents. It made me think it would be worthwhile to put some of my “tips for talking adoption” in one place, and to solicit your advice for the list, too. So here’s a starter list. What would you add?
1. Be honest. If you don’t know, say “I don’t know.” It’s okay to speculate or guess, but always label it as such. “I don’t know what your birth mother looks like, but I think she might have the same beautiful smile that you have.”
2. Keep it cool, matter-of-fact, natural. You want your kids to feel comfortable talking to you about any aspect of adoption, so you have to show that you’re comfortable talking about it. If you’re not comfortable talking about it, start practicing now.
3. They’re likely to ask questions when you’re driving – no eye contact seems to make it feel safer for them to raise questions. If it’s not driving, it’ll be something else that has you a bit distracted from them. Just go with the flow!
4. Ask clarifying questions if you’re not sure what they’re asking or sharing with you. That’ll keep you from answering a question they’re not asking! And that makes it a conversation, instead of just you talking TO them.
5. Books about adoption are a great way to jump-start conversations and to bring a different perspective to the issue. Better have a few on hand, though, because they’ll come up with questions before you’re ready and you won’t have time to order from Amazon.com!
6. Don’t hesitate to ask them what they think, suggest role-plays, have them draw pictures or write stories or otherwise exercise their imaginations. “We can’t call your birth mother because we don’t know her phone number. Would you like to make a pretend phone call to her?”
7. Talking adoption isn’t a one-time deal -- you always have the opportunity for a do-over. If you don’t like how you handled a particular conversation, raise the issue again: “Remember yesterday when you asked if I knew your ‘real’ mom’s name? I wanted to talk more about that . . . .”
8. If your kids are talking adoption and asking questions, you know you’ve done something right!