Adoption brings with it overwhelming joy, especially for parents who’ve yearned to build a family. But the question arises — when should the subject of adoption be broached. How should questions about biological parents be navigated? And how should parents deal with their own complex feelings surrounding their child’s inquisitiveness?
One Woman’s Story
Lindsay Wieker tells Parentology her parents informed her and her younger brother they were adopted as soon as they felt they were old enough to understand. “I remember them telling us their story: about how long they waited for us, how loved we always were and, regardless of what anyone says, they’ll always be our real parents,” she says. “My mom made a point to make us feel this made us special and proud.”
Now in her late 30’s, Wieker remembers bragging so much about how special being adopted made her, a childhood friend left her house in tears, telling her own mother she wished she’d been adopted, too. “In retrospect, I feel bad about that, but the point is, by telling me early, my parents were able to instill confidence and security about my family before others could convince me it wasn’t ‘real.’”
Experts explain how Wieker’s experience of learning about her adoption is the goal for other adoptive parents. By being told early, Wieker’s parents were able to instill positivity around the subject. So, how can other parents replicate her experience with their own children?
Timing Is Everything
According to licensed psychologist Dr. Jephtha Tausig, parents should focus on how, when, and in what way they share information. “Young children will often naturally inquire about the day they were born, and this can provide an opening to start the conversation about how your child came into this world and how your child came to you.”
Tausig continues, “Be factual and don’t start elaborating too much initially. Children will typically ask about what they are ready to hear. Answer to the limit of the question, and if your child wants more information, trust they’ll ask follow-up questions.”
She also says to expect the conversation to be one that evolves as your child matures.
We Picked You
Like Wieker’s parents deftly did, Tausig suggests explaining to your child(ren) how much you wanted them, and the steps you took to bring them into your lives. “Very often, these conversations will build greater trust between you and your child.”
Looking for Answers
No matter how well conversations between you and your child are handled, some children will have questions beyond those you can answer and decide to seek out their birth parents.
Dr. Carole Lieberman, psychiatrist, parenting expert and author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror, explains to Parentology it’s normal for kids to ask for details about their biological parents. It’s especially common for them to want more information surrounding the circumstances of their adoption.
“If you know why their biological parents gave them up, you might want to give them some idea — like the parents felt they were too young to take good care of them,” Lieberman says.
If your child is expressing interest in contacting their biological parents, Lieberman says you may want to be the one to make first contact, especially with younger children. It’s also best to prepare your child for the idea that their biological parents may not be interested in having a relationship.
Lieberman says, “If the biological parents don’t want contact, then it’s best to tell the adoptive child that, though it is disappointing, they can try again in the future, since sometimes, when biological parents are at a different stage in their life, they are more receptive.”
Learning More Online
An easy, and non-confrontational, way for your child to broach the subject of their heritage may be as simple as online DNA testing. Many testing kits on the market allow users to unlock all kinds of information.
Be aware, if you’re using an online DNA kit to get answers for your child about their genetic background, some services offer an option to connect with biological relatives. Before signing up for any service like this, consider finding one that allows you to turn that feature off until you and your child have decided whether or not contacting biological relatives is the right choice for your family.
Keep Emotions in Check
It’s typical for children to feel a mix of emotions, but parents may be surprised when faced with a variety of feelings themselves.
Both Lieberman and Tausig agree parents should be understanding if their children want to learn more about their biological parents and past. Just remember, those questions don’t reflect anything is amiss in your relationship with your child.