In many ways, adoption can be scary because it’s so new. Adoptive parents must learn a lot before they can provide a safe, welcoming family environment for an adopted child.
Open adoption is one of those topics we frequently get asked about. Hopeful parents often ask: How does open adoption work? What can I expect mine to look like? How will I talk to my child about their biological family?
We’re dedicating this blog to that important last question. Talking about birth parents is a natural, exciting part of modern adoption, but it’s important that you do it right. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
Find five tips for these conversations below, and remember that your American Adoptions specialist is always here to guide you through these new situations.
Tip #1: Respect your child’s right to know the truth.
First, always be honest with your child. Adoption is a huge part of who they are, and they deserve to know the truth — even the hard parts.
When you’re an adoptive parent, it’s your job to prepare yourself for a life of these conversations (easy and hard). You must be willing and able to discuss adoption whenever your child asks you to. These discussions can be hard for new adoptive parents, so start practicing from the moment you bring your child home to become comfortable with this topic.
Adoption is not always easy, but it’s the choice you made to become a parent. Now that you have a child, give their adoption story the respect it deserves. Make talking about your child’s birth parents a natural, everyday part of their life, and they will feel comfortable coming to you with their questions.
Tip #2: Be age appropriate.
Your child should always get answers to their adoption questions, but those specific answers may change as they grow up.
Start by mentioning your child’s birth parents early and often. A framed picture of them in the nursery can be a natural conversation starter when your child is still an infant.
Most children are satisfied with the most basic explanation of anything. Rather than get into the legal and practical details of adoption, you could first introduce the idea by saying, “Your birth mom wasn’t ready to give you the life she wanted you to have, so she chose us as your parents. She loves you very much and we will always love her for her decision to make us a family.”
As your child grows up, they will naturally be curious about details like their birth father and other birth family. Use your best judgement when sharing details with them. Recognize your own child’s development stage, and consider talking to an adoption-competent therapist for guidance on tricky issues.
Tip #3: Never lie or invent details.
Make sure you are always honest, even when it comes to those tricky issues like birth fathers and complicated post-placement relationships.
The worst thing you can do is invent stories explaining away these difficult details. While it may make you feel better in the moment, inaccurate details can give your child false hope that a birth parent might suddenly want more contact or that unanswered questions will suddenly be explained. And, when your child discovers the truth of the situation, they will likely feel betrayed by the false narrative that’s been presented to them.
You can certainly err on the side of caution when answering tricky questions about birth family, but make sure to never lie or present an alternative fiction to an adopted child. When they are old enough to understand the truth of their adoption, they will appreciate the honesty and respect with which you treated their story.
Tip #4: Take advantage of open adoption contact.
If you’re like many adoptive parents, you fortunately have contact with your child’s birth family. Open adoption can make talking about birth family much easier; your child can have direct access to the source for answers to their questions!
Adoptive parents should nurture and encourage post-placement contact between their child and the birth parents. Research shows just how beneficial open adoption contact is. It will help your child better understand their adoption story and develop a strong personal identity. Your child can get the detailed answers you may not have directly from their birth parents.
Once they get those answers, make sure to be there as a sounding board. You will still be their parent, and they will still look to you for guidance and perspective on the information they got from their birth parents.
Tip #5: Ask your adoption specialist for help.
Adoption is complex. Everyone’s adoption story is unique, and you may struggle with how to discuss some of the harder parts of your child’s adoption story.
When this happens, your adoption specialist will always be there to help.
In our more than 25 years of experience, American Adoptions has seen a lot of adoption situations. Our specialists have guided adoptive parents through all kinds of birth family circumstances, so they’ll have personalized advice to offer you. Whether you’re looking for basic tips on talking about birth parents or stuck on particularly difficult aspects of your child’s story, American Adoptions is here for you.
Reach out anytime for guidance and support in the lifelong journey that is adoption.