Talking to your kids about Adoption

Throughout the course of my life as a mom, an adoptive mom, I have had many people ask me how we talk to our children about their adoptions and how they came to be apart of our “forever family”. And, as I have shared our journey on this blog, I have received many comments and emails seeking advice about this very sensitive and complex issue.

My children are young and so this is still new to us too! I don’t claim to have all of the answers but this is how we have approached it in our family. We have many years ahead to add more layers to their story, but we firmly believe that it is our responsibility to lay the foundation for our children. And we pray that this foundation will provide them with security in knowing how very much loved they are, not only by us as their parents, but by their birthparents as well.

 
 
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Recently, my son came into the office where I was typing away at the computer and stood next to me. I absentmindedly wrapped one arm around him and we started having a little conversation. He was sharing this and that about his day (it was a rare occasion to have him spilling details!) and I don’t remember exactly how the conversation shifted but I will never forget how it ended.

You see, somewhere along the line we began talking about his adoption story.

We have had countless conversations about it before, but somehow I knew that this one would be different.

He wanted to know if his daddy and I had also been adopted.

Somehow this little detail was never one that we had discussed in all of our “you are adopted and that means you are so special and have so many people who love you” talks.

And when I told him that no, we had not been adopted by his grandparents, I saw something flash across his face which I had never seen before.

Awareness.

Recognition.

A new level of understanding.

It was a look of “oh, so that means I’m different from you guys.” That look made my heart just ache. But, I had to push aside my pain. Why?

Because, you see, he needed me to not reflect to him on the outside what I was feeling on the inside.

He needed to feel secure and safe to ask me these questions without worrying about my reaction. So, what did I do?

First, I fought back the tears that threatened to overflow.

Then, I pulled him into my arms and squeezed him for awhile. I squeezed him until he giggled and tried to pull away.

Which, of course, only made me squeeze harder!

Then, we had a talk about roots and heritage and family trees.

I grabbed a piece of paper and started drawing.

“This is Mommy and Daddy’s tree”, I said. “And, do you see these roots down here?

Well, they connect to Nonna and Poppa on Mommy’s side and Mimi and Papa on Daddy’s side. That is where we started, our roots. Now, Mommy and Daddy really wanted our tree to grow bigger but God had a special plan for how that would take place. Over here there was another tree growing. This is your birthmother’s tree. Do you see that branch coming out of that tree? That is you!  You grew out of your birthmother’s tree and were grafted into our tree.

Those are YOUR roots.

And on the other side, the same happened for your sister. Once your branch and her branch joined our tree, you both became part of our Forever Family.  We always know where we came from, our roots, but we stay together and grow as our own, very unique, Forever Family Tree.”

He looked at that paper for awhile and asked me a few more questions, mostly having to do with the specifics about adoption that are important to a 9 year old. “Did you know when I was going to be born?” “Did Nonna really pack you and daddy a sack lunch before you left to get me?” “What car did you drive to the hospital?” “Did I really like my first bottle?” “Did you cry when you held me for the first time?”

The interesting thing about his questions is that they all stemmed from the story he has heard many, many times about his adoption and how he and his sister were the answer to our prayers.
He just needed to hear it all from the beginning again.

We talked some more and I hugged and squeezed him again.

Then he tooted (which is what we call “passing gas” in our family!) and we laughed hysterically.

The moment was over.

But, in that moment, another layer was added to his story.

And, he knew that he could ask me anything and I would answer it with love and honesty.That night as I tucked him into bed I said, “you know, buddy, you can always ask us absolutely anything.”
He got very quiet and I could tell the wheels in his mind were spinning away.
He said, “Well, I really have been wondering what exactly the earth is made up of.”I had to laugh!Here I was thinking that he was going to have more questions about his adoption when in reality, he had already emotionally moved on.

I took my cues from him and we talked a bit about what the earth is made of and how mommy wasn’t very smart about things like that so he probably should have asked daddy that question!

You see, when you become a parent you immediately worry about everything related to raising your children. Will they make good choices? Will they be safe and healthy? Will other kids be mean to them? Will they make it through the teen years without catastrophe?

 

But, when you adopt your children, you add another level of worry to the mix.

Will they struggle with this part of their lives?

Will I be able to answer their questions?

And the deepest worries of all.

Will they reject me? Resent me?

And when your child begins to ask normal and healthy questions about their adoption story, those worries immediately come to mind.

But if you have prepared, prayed and practiced ahead of time, those questions don’t have to cause you anxiety and fear.

How do you prepare?

Well, ideally it would start from the very beginning. From the first day you bring them home. Whether they are newborns, toddlers or older children. But, what if you haven’t had those conversations yet?

Well, there is no time like the present to start!

Next week we will talk more about how to have the “Adoption Talk” with your children but until then, let me leave you with this. My father-in-law is a very talented artist and graphic designer. I gave him my crude “Forever Family Tree” drawing and he transformed it into this beautiful print.

I have blocked out the names of our children’s birthmothers for the sake of privacy.

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Our children each have a copy of this framed in their room.

It serves as a reminder of how they were grafted into our family and yet are still connected to their roots.

If this could be a resource for you in talking with your own children about their adoptions, I would be absolutely thrilled to see if my father-in-law could design a “fill in the blank” version for you to use.

I hope you will come back next week for Part 2 when I will share with you more about how we have added the layers to our children’s adoption stories and some additional resources which might help you in your own conversations with your kids.

Thank you so much for joining me today at the Fence,

 
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“…In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Ephesians 1:4-6


You can read past installments of a Labor of the Heart! Be sure to start from the beginning! 


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Comments

  1. I should have known I would need kleenex for this one. So beautifully written, so beautifully said! Toots and all!

  2. Well…not having this as something to explain to my family, I can honestly say…
    You did a beautiful job of illustrating the “roots” to your son.
    I love that photo of the tree in both of their rooms!
    Such a good mama that those two children have.
    Happy Sunday, Vanessa!
    XO

  3. You made me cry….beautifully written….god bless your precious family…! tons of hugs and kisses.

  4. I have just started this conversation with my four year old. One day I realized that while I had always used the word “adoption,” I had never actually told him that he was adopted. What a harsh realization for me. We talked about it briefly, and I never expected how hard it would be for me. At his young age, there wasn’t much to the conversation, but I was a wreck for the next few days. I know there is much more to come and it scares me to death.

    Thank you once again for bravely and openly sharing your story.

  5. Awww, so beautiful (as I’m finding a tissue and wiping my face off now). I love that illustration! Perfect. Love that verse too.

    –Katie
    @ Creatively Living

  6. Vanessa,

    What a beautiful story! Thanks so much for sharing with us all. And thanks for the cry. A good cry. A happy and sweet cry. You have two very lucky little people there … and they are so lucky to have grafted onto your forever family tree …

    :)

    Linda

  7. This may be very helpful to my daughter as she talks about things with her four adopted children. They are siblings and she adopted them after their first placement failed. They ranged in age from three to nine and have a lot of anger issues from being bounced from pillar to post for so many years. This illustration puts a more kind spin on their past and “roots” them more in the present. Sorry to ramble but I do want to thank you for the insight! ~ Maureen

  8. As an adult adoptee, I can look back at my life and analyze the emotions I myself went through while growing up. As a step-parent of three, I can also take the role of adoptive parent and realize the one important thing is that all families have issues at one time or another regardless of whether they are all from the same genetic tree or not. It’s how the issues are handled with kindness, open, loving hearts that keep “all” families flowing smoothly. It’s funny I would read this now, because my second to last posting was my adoption story “Bittersweet Story of a Rose” in a synopsis of how it came to be. You are doing everything the right way and it was lovely to read about it. Love the family trees being put into their bedrooms. xo wendy

  9. My children are older and now I have a granddaughter who is beginning to ask about adoption…Her mother, my daughter, and her Aunt, my other daughter…are both our beautiful adopted identical twin girls…Through the years of total joy and painful heartaches, God has reminded me that I am Adopted…I am grafted into His Forever Family Tree…He grafted them into our tree, but they now need to make their decision to be grafted into His…Don’t disregard your heartaches, give them to Him…He will heal, direct, and carry you all with His Joy..Blessings, Becky

  10. Vanessa, thank you for sharing this, what a wonderful post today! I love how you shared with Ian the family tree and then the print your father-in-law made, how precious is that! Thanks for putting your heart out there and sharing!

  11. A beautiful, beautiful story about your beautiful family so many moments of inspiration, tears and laughter….I cannot get over how wonderful the family tree that you designed for your children is….your father in law did a terrific job from your inspiration…

  12. What a beautiful analogy! Your children are very blessed to have such an insightful mom. I am adopted as well and my family has always been very open about my adoption. I have never felt any different than the biological children my parents were eventually able to have. I think the open way my adoption was discussed made it easy to accept and it just seemed a normal thing to me. I am thankful that adoptions are more open now though. I was born during the time period of closed adoptions and wish that I knew some of the details, mostly medical history.

  13. Yes this is so beautiful. And at the age of 9 I’m sure it made a very secure feeling for him to stand on and grow. Beautiful words.

  14. Love this…I’m going to share with a friend of mine! Thanks for sharing your heart story!

    XO, Aimee

  15. Ian and Lauren are clearly two of the luckiest children in the world. What a beautiful story!
    Stacy

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing this Vanessa. Beautiful! How very, very thankful we are that we are ALL adopted into His family!

    Mom and Dad

  17. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  18. Vanessa, Thanks for sharing your story. I was adopted as an infant and my parents were always open and lovingly answered all my childish questions with honesty. I cannot remember the exact conversations, but I do remember my parents making me feel secure in knowing that even though a different woman brought me into this world, God had always designed me to be their child. My parents were always thankful to my birth mother for having the courage to follow God’s will.

  19. Thanks for sharing, Vanessa. What a wonderful relationship you have cultivated with your son (and daughter). Blessings all around:)

  20. What a beautiful post, Vanessa. It is a glorious reminder of how we are grafted into God’s family-adoption at it’s finest. Your children are blessed to have a momma that will love them through this and tell them truth with so much love infused throughout it.
    Well done.
    especially the gas part!
    xo
    lynn

  21. Vanessa! This post is wonderful!!

    We don’t have adoption to talk about in our family, but so many issues can be approached just as you describe here. Having had lots of trial-and-error (LOTS of error) experience, I can say that you’re especially right not to project your own anxieties onto your children. Allowing them to “lead” a conversation with their questions is a good thing. Of course, many times parents have to initiate conversations, but even then parents’ comments can be moderated by the things the kids really want to know. Some of the things that parents understand can only be understood by an adult. And some things can only be communicated by the Holy Spirit!

    You are such a great mom. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  22. I love the family tree idea with the grafts! Our two boys are also adopted, ours is open and they have met their birth mother and one of their birth fathers. We also have a relationship with their 7 other natural siblings from birth mom, and a couple half siblings from a birth dad. Our boys are 4 and 5 and have started talking about adoption a bit…and I have gotten the question about if “WE” were also adopted. They seemed to take it in stride that we came from Grandmas’ tummies. I think it would be a fun project to draw us up a huge family forest that includes our grafted tree…and also their siblings and their adoptive families. Maybe something to think about for one of our summer sibling get togethers.
    Thank you for sharing!
    Kristina

  23. such a great post! I absolutely love the family tree and may have to do something similar for my two kids, who are also adopted. Thanks for sharing!

    Beth

  24. Vanessa, I am woefully behind in blog reading this week so you will possibly not see this comment. I just wanted to tell you that I cried reading this. What a beautiful job you did explaining that. I can almost hear the sound of a voice sayin, “Well done, good and faithful mother.”

    I loved the way your FIL turned it into a work of art.

    And I loved the toot part. We say toot in our family too. We don’t say it nearly as much as we used to when we were growing little tooters. Enjoy yours!

  25. This is a beautiful story, Vanessa! How lucky your kiddos are to have such an exceptional momma :) Enjoy every moment! xoxo, Andrea

  26. Wow, you’re a wonderful mommy! That’s a really great analogy with the family tree. I need to share that with my brother and sister-in-law who’s adopted already. We’re getting ready to start the process ourselves–international adoption–we couldn’t be more excited!!! You are an inspiration, Vanessa!
    Blessings,
    Leslie

  27. Vanessa, I have never read anything so beautiful or touching about adoption. I believe you were so inspired to teach your son about his heritage this way. In our family, we talk a lot about our heritage, family tree, geneology, etc. Mark, my husband’s sister is adopted. This is such a wonderful way to explain this concept even to my children when they try to sort it all out, who is related to whom. I love too that your son “tooted” when you squeezed him harder! This could have been a moment in our family. We use the same word, and my son is about this same age. We have different challenges we face, children need love and reassurance in many forms when the weight of their world is pressing down on them. How very blessed your children are to come to your family. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this story. -K

  28. Vanessa, this is absolutely touching and powerful. Love how you retell such a sweet, yet deep, conversation with your son. And I love the beautiful family tree— I wish more adoptive parents knew about this; I previously worked for a foster care agency and so often our kids who were then adopted felt stumped when they had to do a family tree in school.
    Anyway, thank you so much for such a beautiful story and for speaking truth and the Word about adoption!!! My husband and I have a huge heart for adoption & continue to seek out God for His timing. Oh, and thanks so much for linking up at http://www.mercyinkblog.com for our Heart&Home link up!
    blessings!!
    lauren

  29. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it.

  30. I’m happy to know about this blog. It’s doing really well. Hope we will get more information about latest fasion and trends.
    Good luck !
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