Sunday, March 1, 2009

Talking Adoption Tips

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!

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!


Anonymous said...

Great tips, Malinda.
Another I adhere to:
Wait until your child brings up a discussion. I think it's fine to re-open the discussion later once she has brought it up, especially if you feel you didn't clarify a point or don't like how you answered. Many children (like mine) will tend to be interested in hearing about adoption or "their story" in bits and pieces. Just get off a bite to chew on and move on. You don't want to give them more information than their little brains can process or are ready to process.

Marla said...

Great list! Can't really think of much to add. Nice to find your blog! :)

Anonymous said...

"Wait until your child brings up a discussion."

Actually, I'm going to disagree with this one.

While it's true that some kids just don't *want* to talk about adoption, if the adoptive parent is *always* waiting for their child to "open up" and "take the lead", the adoptive parent is going to end up disappointed.

Children can "sense" an aura of contentment, irrigation, disappointment, anguish about their adoption circumstances. They are much more perceptive than we give them credit for.

Silence can be perceived as "I don't want to talk about your adoption story because it makes *me* uncomfortable."

It's not necessarily the case as to how the CHILD will perceive the silence, but it is a possibility.

Adoptive parent: Susie is always so quiet about her adoption, I wonder why she never talks about it. I guess she just isn't curious or doesn't have any questions. I'll wait for her to say something and then I'll know, I guess.

Child: Mom never asks me about my adoption or if I have any questions. She just answered me about how my China mommy loved me enough to give me up and that's it. I guess she just isn't comfortable talking about it.

See what I mean?

Anonymous said...

Mei-Ling -

I understand what you are saying. But I wasn't thinking that extreme of a level of "waiting" until your child brings up a discussion.

It comes up all the time, people ask questions, etc. I have to remember that my listener (daughter) is right there when I answer, and answer as if I am telling her. One time, someone asked me how much it cost to adopt from China. I thought that was inappropriate, but would tell my daughter very honestly if she asked. My answer was it is expensive to adopt and also expensive to give birth (hospital fees, etc.)

I am off the subject. It is my understanding that most psychologists would agree not to force information down a child's throat who doesn't want to hear it at that time or is not developmentally ready.

But then again - what I get from researching this is also what you are saying. Don't shut the child out. It's obviously a delicate balance and every child is ready at different points to hear certain pieces of information.

I definitely get what you are saying, you don't want to just turn the whole topic off and assume the child is understanding her adoption circumstances and former life clearly.

Anonymous said...

"It is my understanding that most psychologists would agree not to force information down a child's throat who doesn't want to hear it at that time or is not developmentally ready."

I agree, depending on the circumstance.

However I must ask - how do we know when a child (meaning above toddlerhood) is ready for more information?

We obviously can't just "assume" things are A-OK all the time, but we can't shove adoption down her throat all the time...

Mi Hilo Rojo said...


Thanks for your words ! Thanks to bring me some light!

Mei Lin's teacher were asking me about a book that she can read. She wants to know more about adoption and how can work with in classroom.


Anonymous said...

Great tips! It is, of course, awkward when your adopted son or daughter starts to get curious about things, and a lot more if it's about his/her birth parents. Us parents should be the ones to show that it's never an awkward thing to talk about. I guess being very open about the truth is one important part of adopting.

Aiko Dumas