In the old days, social workers advised adoptive parents to keep the adoption a secret. The conventional wisdom today is that children need to be told they were adopted. So we adoptive parents, a bunch of eager-to-be-perfect parents!, comply. Or do we?
I hear it from so many adoptive parents -- "Of course, she knows she's adopted." But as we continue to talk, it is revealed that she doesn't know she grew in someone else's tummy. She doesn't know she lost her first family before she acquired her adoptive family. She's never heard the phrase, "birth mother" or "first mother" or "tummy lady" or "China mom."
All she knows is that she was born in China, that nannies took care of her until her forever family came and "adopted" her. You could have easily told her you "kerflummoxed" her, or "askewlated" her, or "droomextruded" her. These are just as much gobbledygook as "adopted" is, unless you REALLY define it.
And defining adoption requires TWO parts: 1) yes, the easy part for adoptive parents, that new parents made her part of their family and it is permanent; AND 2) the part that happened before adoptive parents entered the scene, the fact that she was born from and to another woman, who relinquished her.
Every child is different, and they are ready for more information at different ages. But I think it's never too early to tell them THEIR story, starting before birth -- "you grew like a flower in your birth mother's tummy until it was time for you to be born." There are lots of advantages to saying this earlier rather than later.
First, it gives us practice in saying "birth mother" or "tummy lady" or whatever words we decide to use. For some adoptive parents, especially those who suffered through infertility before adopting, it might be difficult to talk about. Starting by saying it to your child in infancy gives you the chance to mess up or choke up or tear up when it doesn't matter, and be more comfortable when your child is aware of what you're saying.
Second, it makes it a matter-of-fact thing, without baggage for anyone. Some parents seem to think they should wait to explain about birth parents until children can understand ALL aspects, including reasons for relinquishment, issues like abandonment and one child policies and social preferences for boys, and poverty and disability and war . . . . Sheesh, if you waited for all that, the child would be an adult! And if you've waited, no wonder you're scared to introduce the concept of birth parents! But by waiting, you take the risk that someone else will get to tell her. Not what you really want, is it?
Third, it gives our children the vocabulary they need to ask us more questions when they are ready. I've had adoptive parents tell me their child isn't interested at all in her birth parents, that she never asks anything about them. And then it turns out that they've never really explained adoption to include birth parents. No wonder she isn't asking any questions!
So have you REALLY told her she's adopted?