In her compelling book, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, Sherrie Eldridge addresses the need for adoptive parents to initiate conversations with their children about their birth families. I would like to share a few highlights on this important topic.
In spite of the innocence that adoptees portray, many carry a false burden of shame. It would not be uncommon to discover the hidden thoughts of an adoptee: Did I do something to make my other mom mad at me and give me away? I think my birth mother didnt like me. Was there something bad about my birth dad?
Know that a mixture of feelings towards the birth parentsthe birth mother in particularis common with adoptees. The feelings include but are not limited to fantasy, anger, victimization, and love.
Getting Ready to Talk
* Remember, teens are experts at reading body language and non-verbals so be honest. If you are not ready to share somethingtell your child this but dont lie about the details. Give permission for open, honest dialogue.
* Face your greatest fearyour child rejecting you.
* Foster a non-competitive spiritaccept that you are not the childs only parents.
* Be confident in your role. You have sacrificed, put your heart on the line, and have done all or most of the parenting. Your child knows this and will not forget it; despite wondering about and potentially seeking out birth family relationships.
Positive times for initiating conversations about the birth family include the childs birthday, Mothers/Fathers Day, nighttime prayers, childs accomplishments, physical features, and spontaneously. Vulnerable times for initiating conversations include physical exams, adoption anniversary, beginning college, after an acting out episode, family tree assignment in school, or after the child has been teased about being adopted.
Waiting for children to initiate these discussions is usually not enough. Parents are encouraged to take the lead in these matters while providing a safe, supportive, and accepting atmosphere.
Frequently my wife and I speak with our adopted son about his birth family experiences. We read him books, show him pictures, and tell him stories of his biological family. He rarely asks about his birth family but usually listens and pays attention. Although he has not deeply internalized the meaning of his adoption and what he has gone through, he will at some future time. In the meantime we are laying the foundation of acceptance and hopefully showing him it is safe to talk to us about his first family when that becomes more important to him.
It is my hope that every adoptee struggling with self-worth and identity surrounding their biological origins find a protected place to connect with their adoptive parents.