You’ve adopted a child, and now you have some questions about how to best blend your child into your family. Ensuring that your adopted child will always feel that he or she is a complete and unadulterated member of your family, as precious as any biological child could ever be, is likely your first goal. And I know from experience that the question of how and when to discuss with an adopted child how he or she came to be a member of your family can be a confusing one. I would like to offer up some simple advice that can demystify some of the questions, and alleviate some of the concerns that you may have about this process.
The answer is far simpler than most parents of adopted children realize. Talk openly and naturally about adoption with your adopted child, and start early. The mind of a child is incredibly pliable and adaptive. Children are better able to learn a second language the earlier it is introduced, according to many child development experts, and the same theory applies to the understanding and acceptance of realities of their lives, like a child’s adoptive status in a family
As a child adopted by parents with two adopted children and one natural child, I have always enjoyed what I consider to be a well-rounded perspective of some of the psychological dynamics of adoption. I have had extended discourses with a large number of adopted children, over the years, as well, with myriad experiences and life stories. I can tell you that, with few exceptions, the highest number of adopted children who experience few or no adaptive issues regarding their status as adopted children are those who had the concept and language of adoption present in their lives since before or shortly after they had the cognitive abilities to understand what the concept or the language even meant.
To put it more simply, have the words “adopted” and “adoption” around before the child understands what they mean, and your child is less likely to feel the confusion or anxiety that some children experience after being “told” they were adopted.
Most of my friends who are adopted have a very strong memory of the moment in their childhoods when they “were told.” Regardless of the closeness of the families, this event seems to have provoked some anxiety and insecurity in each of them, in varying degrees, which lasted for varying periods of time. These feelings experienced by so many adopted children that I have come into contact with do not appear to reflect on the manner in which they were told, or how the situation was handled by their adoptive parents, but by having their worldview shifted. It is an experience that naturally takes come catching up with.
It is an experience that my older brother, also adopted, and I both managed to avoid entirely. Although we, like many adopted siblings, are very different in temperament and have very different ways of viewing the world, our status as adopted children has never been an issue for either of us. Our parents simply had the words and the concept of adoption floating around before we were old enough to understand what they meant. They did not force the idea of adoption into conversations, but at any time that there was reason to discuss how our family “came to be,” the simple facts of adoption were a natural part of those conversations.
My brother and I were never “told” that we were adopted, as far as we know. We simply always knew that we were adopted children, and it was utterly inconsequential to us. Our young minds had the information they needed to put the understanding of adoption into our worldviews as we were forming them.
There is a natural draw, by parents of adopted children, to maintain some semblance of secrecy from their adopted children. From my experience, this dynamic is almost always based on the fear that adopted children will feel less “special,” “loved,” or “real” than other children born either into their family or the families of their schoolmates. However, this protective technique can cause emotional confusion and anxiety in their adopted children, where their parents are simply looking to protect them. There will come a time in each child’s life where it will become necessary for the parents to divulge the truth of their birth stories to their adopted children, whether it be for medical reasons, or simply to answer the questions that children have as they are growing and looking to discover how and why they became who they are.
Children possess an amazing ability to accept almost any information that is introduced to them as they are learning to become people. Their growing minds are looking for the hard data before they have the skills to assign meaning to that data. The earlier you can introduce the concept of adoption to your adopted child or children, the easier it will be for them to process the information without it causing any disruption to their worldview about their status as your child. You will very likely discover that to your children, the issue of adoption is, in fact, a non-issue. It’s just life.