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Talking to Your Child About His or Her Birth Parents

It is 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?

One major study found that all adopted children, regardless of the level of openness in their adoption, 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.

Most adoptive parents recognize the love and strength required of expectant parents who choose adoption, and most adoptive families maintain contact with the birth parents in an open or semi-open adoption. At American Adoptions, all of our families are required to agree to some post-placement contact.

However, for many parents, talking about a child’s biological family can be a sensitive subject, and many adoptive families have questions about how to start the conversation. Below are guidelines and suggestions for talking to your child about his or her birth parents. 

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 — it should never come as a surprise to your child that he or she was adopted. By talking about adoption early and often in your child’s day-to-day 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 helping create your family. Talking about your child’s birth 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.

When introducing your child’s birth parents to your adoption conversations, consider these guidelines:

Plan ahead – 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. If you are part of a couple, include your partner in this decision-making process and ensure you are both on the same page. 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.

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 you should also never make up stories about your child’s birth parents. 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.

Be positive – Regardless of the details of your child’s story, 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 parents who chose to give them life and place them for adoption.

Discussing 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. It is important for them to hear their full adoption story — negative details and all — from you, as parents. 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 you are ready to begin disclosing difficult birth parent details, 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.

Remembering Your Child’s Birth Family

One way to ensure your child has a healthy and positive view of adoption is to celebrate their story and honor their birth family. Consider the following suggestions to make your child’s birth parents a part of their lives: 

  • Keep in touch – 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.

  • Learn about your child’s heritage – If your child is of a different racial or cultural background, learn about and honor their heritage. 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.

  • 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. You can also celebrate your child’s birth parents during National Adoption Month, Birth Mother’s Day, and other special holidays and events.

Your child’s birth parents are an important part of his or her history, as well as your family’s story. Talking about your child’s birth parents in no way reduces your role as parents or changes the relationship you have with your child. If anything, it will build trust, bring your family closer together, and ensure your child understands his or her full story and is proud of his or her origins and identity. 

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