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Talking to Your Child About Their Birth Family

How to Tell an Adopted Child About Their Birth Parents

It’s natural for adopted children to wonder about their birth families — What are they like? Do they look like me? What do we have in common? Why did they choose adoption?

Most adopted children are curious about their birth parents. Your child’s birth parents are a major part of his or her adoption story, and it is important to talk with your child about them openly, honestly and positively.

But, you may have some questions about doing so:

  • How do I go about telling a child about their biological parents?
  • How do I know when to tell an adopted child about their siblings?
  • What information should I and shouldn’t I share with my child?

Even though most adoptive families maintain contact with the birth parents in an open or semi-open adoption, for many parents, talking about a child’s biological family can be a sensitive subject. If you’re in this situation, you’re not alone — and your American Adoptions specialist is always there to help. You can always reach out if you’re unsure of what details to and not to include when telling a child about their biological parents.

In the meantime, find some guidelines and suggestions for these conversations below.

How to Tell an Adopted Child About Birth Parents and Family

Every adoptee’s story is different — and so is the way you talk to your child about their birth family. However, regardless of your situation, it’s important to be open and honest from the start. Model pride in your child’s adoption story, and they will internalize those feelings.

Telling a child about their biological parents can be easy when you follow a few key steps.

Step 1: Tell Your Child’s Adoption Story Early and Often

Experts agree that it is best to begin talking with your child about adoption from day one. By talking about adoption early and often in your child’s daily life, you will ensure your child knows that it is something positive and special, even before you start discussing specific birth parent details.

It might be difficult for very young children to understand the significance of their birth family, but it is still important to include your child’s birth mother in the conversation from the beginning. If you can, share pictures of your child’s birth mother and explain the important role she played in creating your family. This is the time when you should tell adopted children about siblings, too; their birth siblings are just as important to their adoption story, and you can plant the seeds for lifelong relationships early on, if your open adoption allows.

Telling a child about their biological parents even before he or she fully understands the details of conception and birth will reduce confusion and make it easier to answer questions as your child gets older.

Step 2: Be Age-Appropriate.

As your child grows, he or she will have different questions and want to know different details about his or her birth parents. Decide ahead of time how you want to address these questions and when you want to disclose certain details, such as:

  • The circumstances surrounding their conception
  • Their birth father
  • The reasons behind their birth mother’s decision
  • Your infertility journey (if applicable)

If possible, talk to your child’s birth mother and get information that could help you answer some of your child’s questions later on. You may even ask her if she would like to write a letter that you could add to your child’s life book; this will allow her to answer some of your child’s questions and explain her choices in her own words.

Step 3: Consider the Difficult Details

While the details of certain adoption stories may be difficult to discuss with your child, most experts agree that children have a right and a need to know their full story.

The reality is that your child will likely learn his or her full history eventually, whether it’s through a family member or friend who accidentally reveals some details or through their own research when they get older. Being dishonest with your child about this information can hurt their trust and make them feel as if you are rejecting a part of their story or identity.

Your child needs to hear their full adoption story — negative details and all — from you, as their parent. You are best equipped to help them process the information and their emotions with care and compassion.

Every child matures at their own pace, and you should keep it simple and gauge your child’s understanding and emotional readiness before adding details. If your child asks pressing questions and you feel that he or she is not ready to hear the answer, be honest and tell them that you will talk more in depth on the subject when the time is right.

When telling a child about their biological parents, always ensure that your child knows that they were not rejected by their birth parents because they were not loved or because they did something wrong. Instead, assure your child that he or she was lovingly placed for adoption by parents who may have been dealing with adult problems and were not ready to care for a child.

Step 4: Always Be Honest

You don’t necessarily need to reveal all of the information you have at once, and there’s certainly no need to focus on negative facts or difficult details.

But, when it comes to how to tell an adopted child about their birth parents, you should also never make up stories. Your child deserves the truth about their adoption story, even the difficult parts. It’s an important part of who they are, and they will find out the truth in the future, one way or another.

While you should always discuss adoption in an age-appropriate way, never lie to your child about his or her adoption story. If you don’t have an answer to your child’s question, it is OK to tell them so. Saying “I don’t know” is preferable to making up a story or telling your child what you think they want to hear.

Step 5: Respect Your Child’s Emotions

When you’re an adoptive parent, it’s your responsibility to support your child through the years to come. There will be tough times when your child questions their identity as an adoptee, but the best thing you can do for them is always to be open and honest. Don’t shy away from telling a child about their biological parents, and don’t take it personally when your child asks questions or expresses curiosity about their birth family. It’s not a reflection on your role as a parent; it’s a natural curiosity all children have about where they come from.

Regardless of the details of your child’s story, emphasize that their birth parents brought them into the world and made it possible for them to join your family. Above all, always make sure that your child understands that he or she is loved — not only by you, as the adoptive parents, but also by the birth parent(s) who chose to give them life and place them for adoption.

How Open Adoption Can Make Talking About Birth Family Easier

Today, more than 95 percent of adoptions have some form of contact post-placement. This can make telling a child about their biological parents much easier — because they can get the answers direct from the source!

If you adopt through American Adoptions, you will be required to be open to direct contact with prospective birth parents. Many families find this is the start of a genuine, lifelong friendship, allowing their child to grow up with a personal relationship with their birth parents. Talking about birth family will become a natural part of that relationship, and this will be an invaluable resource to your child as they grow up.

Here’s how you can support this relationship:

  • Follow contact agreements: Most birth mothers request at least a semi-open adoption, and it is vital that adoptive parents follow through on these agreements. Maintaining a relationship with your child’s birth parents is beneficial for everyone involved, especially your child. Send emails and letters when you said you would, and don’t pull back on contact (even if a birth parent does). Having an established relationship will make sure your child gets the answers you may not know in the future.
  • Learn about your child’s heritage: If your child is of a different racial or cultural background, learn about their heritage from birth parents — and take the steps to honor it. Incorporate your child’s birth family’s traditions into your own family holidays and celebrations. Respecting and honoring your child’s cultural roots is another way of remembering and honoring their birth family and an important part of being a responsible adoptive parent.
  • Celebrate adoption – If you have an annual celebration for your child’s adoption day, incorporate your child’s birth parents into the festivities. Take time to remember your child’s birth story and talk about your child’s birth family on this day. You can also celebrate your child’s birth parents during National Adoption Month, Birth Mother’s Day, and other special holidays and events. However, remember that adoption can bring up complicated emotions for birth parents, so don’t push them into celebrations they may not be ready to join.

Your child’s birth parents are an important part of his or her history, as well as your family’s story. Telling a child about their biological parents in no way reduces your role as parents or changes the relationship you have with your child. If anything, it builds trust, brings your family closer together, and ensures your child understands his or her full story and is proud of his or her origins and identity. 

Need more advice on how to tell your adopted child about their birth parents? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your American Adoptions specialist anytime for personalized guidance and suggestions.

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