When we decided to adopt my oldest daughter’s foster son into our already large family, I was at a loss as to how to parent an adopted child with their unique circumstances. I had heard about adoption all my life, of course, but I didn’t know many people who had actually adopted. I knew that my little son was bound to have some issues to deal with that my biological children did not have, but that didn’t scare me. After all, we all have issues of some kind or another.
But I did understand this was new territory for me. My son was very young, only an infant. One question I would have to decide fairly quickly was when to tell him he was adopted.
I’ve always been the kind of parent who researches the different stages of child rearing. I quickly found a wealth of information, and much of it said the same thing: a child should never remember the moment they found out they were adopted. They should simply grow up just knowing it. I thought that made a lot of sense. Adoption is not a shameful thing – it is simply the child’s ‘truth’. We decided to be open about adoption, to talk about it freely, but not obsessively, and have him always know how he came into our family.
Then a little girl entered our lives as a foster child. At the age of two and a half, she was a year older than our son. She had visits with her birth family for another year before their parental rights were terminated, and it took another few months before her adoption was final. Two weeks later, we were asked to take her five month old baby brother, and a year later we adopted him, too. Whether to tell our daughter she was adopted or not never came up since she well remembered her birth family, and we decided to have an open adoption for her and her brother, something that was not an option with our first adopted child.
I made a “memory box” for each of the three children. I included all the pictures I had of their birth family, some of the presents they received from them, and anything else I think they would cherish. They are allowed to get their boxes out only on Sunday. This kept my little daughter from worrying me wanting to see her pictures too often. I would remind her that she could get the box out on “church day”.
I talk to the two boys, who do not remember their birth mothers, about the “first mother” who grew them in their tummies. At the ages of six and three, they don’t really understand that, but the older one is beginning to grasp the idea. One night, as I was getting him into the bathtub, he asked me what I would do if that “other mother” came and got him. I had to pause a minute to understand exactly what he meant. In fact, caught off guard, I asked in surprise “What other mother?” because sometimes, I forget that I’m not the only mother in their lives.
He said, “You know, that mommy who I grew in her tummy. What would you do if she came and got me?”
“Oh, I would chase her!” I replied. “I would chase her and get you back. I would tell her she can see you and talk to you, but she can’t have you because you’re MY little boy!”
He grinned happily, secure that I would not let any “other mother” take him away from the only hands on mother he has ever known.
My three adopted children will never have to experience the shock of finding out they were adopted. It’s a part of their lives they will always know. They will have many things to face as they grow up, many things they may have to grieve, forgiveness they will have to learn to give. I hope by giving them the knowledge from the start will help them deal with these things more easily. We can do this more slowly than we would be able too if I had to also find the right time to dump everything on them at once. I can answer their questions in age appropriate ways as they ask.
I’m still new at being an adoptive parent, but I think this may be one thing I have gotten right.