Story Time: Telling a Child about Adoption

The other day Lisa Hendy sent me a request from an adoptive mother, who wanted to buy a book to help her tell her adopted child how he entered their family. I found some good pointers for parents at this site. It also includes books for children. My personal favorite is Max Lucado's book, You Are Special, since it works well for families with both biological and adoptive children (available through my adoption blog resource list: http://mommymonsters.blogspot.com/).

To be honest, I haven't spent much time researching this particular area of adoption for one simple reason: From the beginning, my children wanted to hear their own story, over and over and over again. The most requested one begins: "Tell me about the time you were lonely."

Once upon a time, there was a lady who was very lonely. So her angel went out, and searched far and wide to find her husband, someone who had a special place in his heart that was just for her. They fell in love and got married, and their hearts grew and grew, until they had two special places in their hearts: One for a brown-eyed girl, and one for a blue-eyed boy.

When no babies came to fill those spaces, their angel went out again. One day there was a knock on their door (knock, knock, knock). "Come with me," said the angel. "I've found your family." So we got in our van and drove and drove, and there you were at your foster family's house. Christopher was watching "PowerPuff Girls" with his sister, and Sarah was sitting in the baby swing. We walked in, and the brown-eyed baby laughed and kicked her feet. The blue-eyed boy jumped up and hugged me. "Mommy!" he said. And then we all went home.

Your big sister needed a family, and so we took her with us, too. But God had put a space for her in the heart of another mommy and daddy, and soon their angel came looking for her. It took a while for your big brother's angel to find his family – but we kept praying, and God always listens to the prayers of children. Now you all have a forever family that will love you no matter what, as long as you live.

We are your "forever family." No one can ever take you out of our hearts, because God put you there. No one can ever take you away, because the day we adopted you the judge said you belong to us forever. Even when you are old, we will still belong to each other. You and your siblings will always love each other, because you were born into the same family. Your birth parents love you too, even though they couldn't take care of you. So God gave us to each other, to fill our hearts to the top with love. He gave us to each other to care for each other, and to share God's love with each other and with the whole world.

Here's the best part: We are all part of God's "forever family," too!  Jesus came to earth to make us part of God's family through adoption. You became part of God's "forever family" the day you were baptized. One day we will all go to be with our family in heaven: God the Father, and Mother Mary, and all the angels and saints. One day our angel will come and take us to heaven, where we'll never be sad or lonely ever again. ("And where we'll get to play Frisbee with our dog Missy again, and see our birth family as much as we want," adds Christopher.)

I share this story with you first because – well, because I love to tell this story as much as my children love to hear it. The second reason is to give you an idea of how simple the story can be. Here are some additional tips to help you create your own story.

Emphasize adoption is permanent. Children need to know they were loved from the very beginning, and that they never have to worry about your disappearing like their birth parents did.

Acknowledge the bond that the child will always have with his or her birth family (though he may have conflicted feelings about that bond). This is hard, but important because the child senses this instinctively (or will when he gets older). Try not to vilify the first/birth parents: If the child believes his first parents were "bad people," the child will think of himself as "bad," too.

Tell the gentle truth about why their birth parents didn't keep them — but make it clear that it wasn't the child's fault that he needed new parents. He wasn't bad, or ugly, or too much trouble. Focus instead on the fact that the birth parents loved the child, even though they couldn't take care of him (or her).

Integrate faith and fact. This will help child see the "big picture" of adoption. God had a plan for that child — just as He has a plan for each of us — before she was born (Ps 139:13).

Don't gloss over real feelings. There are going to be times when your child feels lonely, or angry, or misses his birth family. Use the story as a "jumping off" point to talk about these feelings, as Christopher does in this story to express his feelings about losing his beloved dog (who died a year ago in an accident) and his birth parents.

Step outside the story and give child an opportunity to react to what's going on. Consider having your children draw pictures or create a special scrapbook with their adoption story, to revisit again and again.

Create your own storybook. A special resource called Illustory is available through my adoption blog, Mommy Monsters Inc (http://mommymonsters.blogspot.com/). This is great for those who aren't confident in their storytelling ability, or who are concerned that you won't be able to tell the story the same way over and over.

Draw from your journal from those first months. If you didn't keep a journal, start one now and try to recapture as many images and stories as you can, before they slip away!

Always draw the child back to his relationship with God. That is the one truly permanent relationship the child will ever have. As we cultivate that relationship with God in our own lives, we find it easier to strike a balance between the roles we have been called to play in the lives of other people.

At the end of the story, close with a simple prayer, thanking God for each other, and thanking Him that we are part of His family, too.

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  • Guest

    Thank you so much for this article.  My husband and I just adopted a beautiful baby boy, and I've been thinking about how to discuss his adoption with him, and also looking for resources such as children's books about adoption.

  • Guest

    Congratulations, Claire. I have been reading your comments for a while and praying for you.

    As an adoptee I can't even remember when my parents originally told me I was adopted. I know they had books, it was way back in 1968, but I only remember reading them once. I definitely remember asking to hear my story quite often and being told that my birth-father had a temper. (Which he was horrified to learn was all I knew about him!)

    There was a moment back in 5th grade, Catholic school, and there were a few other adopted kids in my class, when I remember talking with a friend about how we actually had three mothers. The one we lived with, Mary in heaven, and one we didn't even know.

    Knowing I was adopted usually made me feel fortunate to have a family. Sometimes it gave me ammunition to hold over my mother's head. As in, "My real mother would let me have that, stay up late, fill-in-the-blank with whatever a child could be demanding." Admittedly, the reality would quickly set in that she wasn't there and that what I had said hurt both me and my mother.

    As always, Heidi, this can be such a complicated issue, but so can anyone's lives. Always knowing that I was adopted and having that special story relieved any questions or surprises that may have come up as an adult if I hadn't always known.

  • Guest

    My early experiences were much like Kathy's, only this would have been the early 1950's. My parents went on to adopt 5 more children, all infants, over the next 18 years. (My "baby" sister turned 38 in January). We were all told we were adopted from before we could talk. I'm sure my parents used books as part of the teaching process, but the most important thing they imparted to each of us was the fact that adoption was not some hush-hush secret we needed to keep in the family. We all talked about our adoptive status as easily as a child might state what street he lived on or his dog's name.

    My earliest recollection of my "different" status was an incident that occurred when I was quite young. Six maybe? I was playing with some friends in a large open field behind my house. We were playing ball or something and my mother hollered over the fence that it was supper time and I had to go in. The lads on my team wanted me to play through the inning but I said I had to go, that my mother was calling. Someone replied, "you don't have to listen to her. She's not your real mother." I had no idea what he was referring to. That was my mother, and in order to avoid a spanking for outright disobedience, I was going into the house to eat. It was only some years later when I learned more about the adoption process that the words of my childhood friend began to take on any meaning. Even then I don't recall (and neither do my siblings) any lonliness or anger related to our adoptedness as we grew up.

    I also don't recall my parents following any detailed "program" as as that proposed by Ms. Saxton. Based on the experience of being the eldest of six adopted children, the key to a healthy relationship between parent and adopted child is unconditional exceptance. But make sure the child is told as early as possible he or she is adopted, and what a blessing that was for both of you (mother and father). As for older children adopted out of foster care I cannot address those specific needs. But the unconditional acceptance factor must also govern.

  • Guest

    Katy, thank you for your prayers.  Like Dennis's parents, I already tell my son Jeffrey about being adopted, even though he obviously can't understand yet.  That way when he is old enough to understand, it will be old news, and hopefully an ongoing dialogue.  I also, as Heidi suggested, speak well of his birthparents.  His birthmother drank during her pregnancy, and while there's a part of me that has anger toward her for what she put him through (and resentment at the fact that she was able to get pregnant and stay pregnant despite her unhealthy lifestyle, while I found it almost impossible to conceive and impossible to carry to term despite taking good care of my health), I also recognize the fact that she had a very hard life and did the best she could.  And despite her illness, she gave him the gift of life and made sure to find him a good adoptive family so he wouldn't have to go into foster care.  When I speak to him about her, I focus on the positives.  We also pray for his birthfamily every day, in his presence.

  • Guest

    My wife's and I oldest son is adopted.  He came into our lives via our niece in the Philippines.  She had gotten pregnant out of marriage and when her fiance discovered she was pregnant he "suddenly remembered" he had a wife somewhere else and deserted her.  And at 18 with no education and no job she didn't have a lot of hope.  My wife and I had been wanting a child so we offered to adopt her child.  We brought Josh home to live with us when he was about 2 weeks old.  He is 20 now.  We told Josh he was adopted when he was 8 years old.  We explained to him that his natural or birth mother loved him so much and wanted him to have a better life than hers so she allowed us to adopt him.  When he asked about his father we told him the truth when he got a little older.  Josh can't wait to see his biological mom but tells everyone my wife is his real mom.

    It is a god thing to tell children they are adopted as soon as they can understand the concept.  My younger sister didn't find out she was adopted until she was much older (late teens) and it hurt her that this bit of knowledge was kept from her.

     

     

    Tarheel (Dave)

  • Guest

    Thanks to all of you who shared your experiences.

    Just so there is no misunderstanding, I am not advocating a special "program" whereby you communicate your child's story to him. As many here have indicated, this is something that is generally done in stages, over time, as the child is able to understand.

    However, some parents put off telling this story because they don't know quite where to begin. It is primarily for them that I have put together this information, to give them a place to start.

    Adoption is an intensely personal issue, and no one approach will "fit" for everyone. Having said that, there are certain core truths (that children need to know that they are loved and wanted, and that family is forever) that are common to all.

    Claire, I am so happy to hear about your new bundle of joy! I look forward to hearing more about your experiences as you find time to write them. God bless you!

     

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    Thank you, Heidi.  Your articles have been very helpful on my journey toward motherhood.  It's great to have adoption resources from a Catholic perspective.

  • Guest

    Claire,

    It's good to see you posting!  I hope little Jeffrey and Mom and Dad are bonding well…and surviving nights!

    One think I like about you, Claire, is that you are in touch with your feelings, express them, and then "examine" them from a Catholic perspective.  I think it's crucial to accept the way you feel without letting emotions be the wind that blows you around.  

    Claire, as the mother of a newborn, myself, I just want to reassure you that the newborn period, which lasts about 3 months, is VERY tough especially with regard to sleep and the neediness of the infant.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and even angry….usually exhaustion triggers my negative responses…I allow myself to feel that way and then cling to God's grace.  Without his grace I could never survive the newborn period.  (I'm saying this so you don't feel like the difficulty of this time is because of the adoption.  And I don't want you to feel guilty for your feelings.  Many moms, including this one, find the newborn period bittersweet.  If you do too, don't think it's because of adoption…it's because you're a parent.)  Sorry for sidetracking on the issue at hand. 

    This issue does involve deep emotions for all parties.  Therefore, I agree with Heidi that a child should be able to express their feelings.  And just because you "feel", say, lonely, does not mean you actually are alone.  Adoptive parents can reassure the child appropriately.  (We all feel lonely at times, besides.)

     

  • Guest

    Hi Elkabrikir, thank you for your support and reassurance.  I'm doing pretty well, although Jeffrey and I both have our moments (he sometimes gets fussy, and I get frustrated).  But for the most part things are great.  I think because I'm not physically recovering from childbirth, and the fact that I'm not experiencing the physical effects of breastfeeding, my fatigue level isn't as bad as it otherwise would be.  Initially I wasn't getting much sleep because I was excited and overwhelmed (we got the call one day, and went to pick him up the next, and then had to stay in the state of Rhode Island for a week before the interstate compact let us cross state lines).  But now, in between feedings I'm able to get the sleep I need.  Also because he's bottle fed, the middle of the night feedings are minimal.  Most of my anxiety stems from the fact that I'm very conscious that I need to make the most of every moment he and I have together, since I unfortunately have to return to work after 12 weeks.  Babies change so fast, and I want to savor every moment.  That's hard for me, because I'm not good at living in the moment anyway, and also because I'm tempted to do things around the house (I'm not used to being home this much).  I'm trying to discipline myself to limit that;  this is also why I don't post as much as I used to.  One thing I'm really looking forward to is when the 30 day period is up, so there won't be any risk of the birthmother changing her mind.  There's not much risk of it, but I'll still breathe a sigh of relief when that timeframe is up.  Jeffrey is such an incredible blessing.  I can't say that he's completely healed me of the pain of my infertility, but the joy he brings certainly overshadows it.  Please keep us in prayer.

  • Guest

    Wonderful article, Heidi!  Thank you!

  • Guest

    Heidi, I don't know if you'll see this comment, since it's been almost a week since your article was posted.  But just in case, I wanted to share that my husband, without ever reading this article and without any prompting from me, has started writing a fairy tale for my son about his adoption!  Its format is very similar to the one that you tell your children.  It's called "The Humble Adventures of Pretzel Boy" (Pretzel Boy is one of my baby's many nicknames, because he tends to get himself in pretzel-like positions), and he talks about how there was a couple who prayed really hard for a baby, and in another land there was a lady who had a baby but was too sick to care for him, etc.  It floors me that he came up with this on his own so soon after I read your article.  I'm sure that the Holy Spirit was at work here.  My husband is an artist, and I'm encouraging him to work on illustrations to accompany the story, and possibly to get it published some day.

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