How Do I Talk To My Child About Adoption?
This post is the fourth in our “How do I talk to my child about?” series. We are covering bad language, disabilities, divorce, adoption, death, race, religion, and personal protection. You won’t want to miss these, so be sure to follow us by email on the sidebar and never miss a post!
Today’s post is courtesy of a friend, Jennifer, who is currently in the process of adopting an infant. Here are some snippets of her conversations and thoughts about sharing the process with her four-year-old.
“Mommy, when is MY baby coming?”
I had been expecting that question. I knew my 4 year old son would eventually ask.
Two of his little friends had just welcomed their baby siblings into the world, and my son was still waiting for-and wondering about- his baby. He had been waiting 7 months already, and that was 8 months ago!
What kind of freakishly long pregnancy is this anyway, you ask?
It’s the adoption kind of ‘pregnancy’.
It’s the kind that becomes hard to explain to eager 4 year olds who want to be a big brother…it’s the kind that gets your hopes up only to find one more hurdle or disappointment in the process…it’s the kind that mires mom and dad down with paperwork and clearances instead of gazing at ultrasound pictures….but it’s also the kind that will result in a joyful welcome home- someday.
That “someday” has not arrived for us yet, and we are currently 14 months into our domestic infant adoption process.
When faced with a process that can easily confuse and overwhelm a mom or dad, how can you expect a 4 year old to understand it? We were careful about how we approached the subject of adoption with our son.
We did a lot of research on how to talk to kids about adoption before talking with our son. We read articles and adoption books, talked to adoption professionals, social workers, school teachers, and other adoptive parents. We prayed, we brainstormed together….then we prayed some more. (“God, please give us the right words to say to help our son understand, and be excited for, his new baby brother or sister.”)
So one day, while my son enjoyed some library time, i read through a few kids books on adoption and checked out my top two favorites. We read them at home together and when we finished reading, I tried my best to casually lay down some foundation for this new concept,” Hey, isn’t that cool? Adoption is when that one mommy and daddy couldn’t take care of their baby, so another mommy and daddy let the baby come live with them and be their baby forever!”
As expected, that was a brief and not too deep conversation and it quickly ended with him running off to play trains as he yelled “yeah, mommy.” Although adoption had been in my heart for 20 years, and in our conversation as a couple for as long as we’d known each other, that was our first mention of adoption to our son. From then on, we did our best to be very intentional about the messages we would give our son about adoption. We knew that the way he learned about adoption from us would be the way he thought about adoption from now on.
No pressure, right?
So, as little opportunities arose, I jumped at those chances to introduce adoption and start a conversation with him….
We purposely inserted little associations about adoption wherever possible over the next few weeks. (“Hey, remember that book we read the other day?” “Did you see those kids on Sesame Street talking about being adopted?”)
We asked questions- a LOT of questions! (“Do you remember what that book says it means to be adopted?” “What would you think if we had a baby that was adopted?”)
We pointed out similarities and differences. (“When you were born you came from my belly and stayed with us forever. An adopted baby gets to stay forever too, but they get to come from another mommy’s belly! Isn’t that cool that both kinds of babies get to be loved forever?”)
We felt out his desire to be a big brother. (“What would you think if you had a baby brother or sister?” “Would you like a brother or a sister?” “What would you call them?”)
(as a side note, our son has enjoyed picking names for his new baby. some of those awesome baby names have included “Tic Toc Croc”, “Dora”, “Mommy”, his very own name with a “Junior” tacked on the end, and most recently “Walnut” or “Sir Six Wheels”!)
We told him the plan. After a few weeks of intentionally inserting adoption into our conversations, and feeling out his responses, we finally told him our plan. (“Hey buddy, we want to tell you something cool. We have decided that we are going to have a baby. Our baby is going to be adopted. Remember how we’ve been talking about that? It’s going to take a very long time for our baby to come, so we all need to be very patient, but we know you will be a great big brother when your baby comes! What do you think?”)
We painted a picture of Christ adopting us. The Bible tells us in Galatians 4:5-7 that we are adopted by our Heavenly Father and we have become full heirs, fully His children, and fully loved. (Galatians 4:5-7 says that Christ came to earth “To redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”)
This is hugely instrumental creating our desire to adopt, so of course it is extremely important to us to teach our son about what the Bible has to say about adoption. We are not “half children”, “lesser loved,” or the “extra child” in God’s family- we are fully and completely His cherished children. (It takes my breathe away to realize the awesomeness of that truth!)
This is super deep to explain to a four year old so we have gone at it piece by piece, as the conversation allows.
(“You know how an adopted baby gets to come into a family and be loved forever? Well that is like what God did for us! When we put Jesus in our heart, we become part of His family and He loves us forever and ever. It’s like we are adopted!”)
We built up the birth family. This was not something I had ever given much thought to in the past, but the more I learned about adoption, the more I realized that how WE speak about our child’s birth family is how they, and our son, will think about the birth family as they grow up. Regardless of the reasons the birth family chose adoption, they have given life to this beautiful child and made the loving decision to find a family that would be just right to raise their child in their place. What an impossible and selfless gift!
(“You know that mommy who has the baby in their belly- well she has a very important job! Its very hard to carry a baby in your belly for all that time. I know because you were in my belly for a long time. She is taking good care of the baby until it can come live with us forever. I’m really thankful that she is taking such good care of our baby, aren’t you?”)
Any parents of four year old boys know that a “conversation” with them is likely to be pretty one sided while their attention is bouncing around the room like a ball. So most of these conversations did not involve much from our son- but mostly us speaking to him. He would listen, give a one word response here and there, and simply run off again. Seven months into our home study, he had gone to get fingerprints with us and heard us talk about things we had to do to “help us get our baby.” But he never asked about the baby.
Until that moment when our friends babies arrived. Suddenly it seemed to click and he started thinking. “Mommy, when is my baby coming?” I was thrilled that he was excited, but sad because I couldn’t give him an answer- or a baby. While holding back tears, all I could say was “I don’t know buddy…I don’t know.”
Shortly after those baby arrivals, we met with our case worker and she interviewed our son. This was “the test” in my mind. Had our conversations sunk in? Did he really understand all this? Could he understand? And what in the world would he say to our case worker? I was an emotional wreck as she chatted with our son in the next room.
As the interview ended my worry disappeared as our case worker relayed our sons explanation.
When asked what adoption is, our son replied, “That’s when one mommy has a baby in her belly but she just cant take care of that baby, so then she finds a family who will love her baby forever and ever and the baby becomes part of their family forever.”
Our case worker praised our efforts in explaining adoption and said it was a great understanding for a 4 year old. (Proud Momma moment!!)
Since that meeting last summer, our son will occasionally ask about the baby, and we try to remind him occasionally, but not too often, that we will still have a baby some day. He has come out of his room with some of his baby toys and asked if we can save them for the baby, and at Christmas and Valentine’s Day, he asked to buy a present and make a Valentine for “his baby.” (Both gifts and many toys are waiting in the nursery for our baby, thanks to his/her big brother.)
|Packed and ready, including big brother’s gifts.|
I was one proud Momma when our son explained adoption so well, and I love that he thinks of his baby from time to time, but it does not escape my mind that one day our son may not be so sensitive and “appropriate” about adoption. We still have a lot of conversations to figure out before they happen. How will we teach our children to handle the comments of kids in school who don’t accept siblings of a different races? What will we say to our son about the baby’s birth family when they come to visit? (Or maybe more importantly, what might he say to them?!) There are going to be times of difficulty as we go through this journey together but with each bump in the road we want to remember to address each moment with patience, with acceptance, and with a focus on love.
|A daily reminder, hung over the side of the crib.|
We will have differences to accept, education to share, questions to ask and answer, and prayers to pray together as a family. We will fly by the seat of our pants, and we will fly on wings like eagles.
We are not perfect and will never be, but we will do our best to help our son, our baby, and the world understand that adoption is a beautiful picture of love….Love from a birth mother, love of an adoptive family, and the overwhelming love of our Lord Jesus who accepted us unconditionally into His family forever. We have no better example than His love!!
This is only a small part of our adoption journey…if you would like to know more about our story, you can find it at: http://bigheartssmallhands.blogspot.com
Thanks for reading- and thanks to Christina for letting me share!