I've been meaning to write down my thoughts from the adoption conference we went to last weekend. Here are the main takeaway points we had.
1. Don't tell anyone what we may know about the birth parents. Obviously depending on the level of openness, the birth parents may reveal things themselves. But what we know about the circumstances around our child's birth belongs to our child. Once we tell some people, we no longer control the information. A social worker told a story of how she was at the dentist and told the dentist that she assists with adoptions. The dentist then proceeded to go into all these stories, one of which was a child that this social worker knew. Apparently someone in the adoptive family had told their dentist. And now their dentist is telling the world. There was some disagreement among the professionals about how to actually apply this lesson. One thought you could safely tell close relatives that you trust. But another cautioned that trusted, well meaning relatives (i.e., grandparents) may reveal to the child that you know more than you have told them yet. And this can cause trust issues with the child.
2. Never lie to your child. This includes lies of omission or "technical truths." You can provide information in an age appropriate way when they are younger, especially if there is some negative information about the circumstances of their birth/adoption. But by the age of 12, they can handle all the information and so you should tell everything you know then. This goes back to the trust issue. If kids learn later that you lied or withheld information, they will have trouble trusting you in the future.
3. Kids know more than you think they do. Refer to #2.
4. It is not your child's responsibility to ask about their adoption/birth parents. It is your responsibility to tell them. This came up a couple of times, but was most forcefully presented when one couple said they were not sure they wanted to tell their child he was adopted. He actually shares many physical traits, hasn't yet asked about his birth, and they don't see a real reason to. The message was basically that it is our responsibility to tell the child what we know, in an age appropriate way. Even if they don't ask about it, we should find a way to bring it up.
5. The adoptive mother sets the tone for how adoption/birth parents will be talked about. Children learn what questions they are not allowed to ask. Shutting down their questions, or never bringing it up, sends the message that adoption is shameful. And that the adoptive and birth mothers are in competition with each other. That puts the kid in a hard spot and makes him/her thinks it is disloyal to wonder about the birthmother.
6. Children go through stages when realizing what adoption is. First they gained a family (age 3-6), then they lost a family (age 7-9), then they were given away (age 9-12), then they were rejected (age 13-17). Kids may go "underground" with questions about their adoption during some of these stages, so it is our job to drop pebbles to remind them that it is OK to talk about their feelings and validate them.
7. WISE UP power. We should be prepared on how to handle inappropriate comments related to adoption (i.e., are they really siblings?) and also prepare our children to handle any inappropriate comments they receive. WISE up - Walk away, It's private, Share, Educate. Give them something they can do from each of these categories so they are prepared.
8. There are different ways to talk about adoption. Authoritarian (I won't talk about it, or because I said so); Chosen baby (you are so special and were chosen out of so many babies); glorifying (constant praise for birth parents); rational (find answers); and reflecting (communicate the feeling that is underneath a question). We talked about what we might find easiest to give as a response to various questions. But the best response is usually a combination of reflecting and rational. Validate their feelings and provide answers if you can. Don't make them feel like a chosen baby (b/c then they worry about doing something wrong to be unchosen). Don't glorify the birth parents (b/c then they feel the problem must have been with them).
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