This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of the links I receive a small commission.
Mom, did I grow in your tummy? Why didn’t my parents want me? What was wrong with me? How come nobody gave them money or helped them? These are all hard adoption questions I have been asked over the years as an adoptive parent. And I have answered them all, sometimes precisely and sometimes in very young vocabulary for a five year old or even younger.
Talking to your child about adoption doesn’t have to be scary. The scariest part of adopting is going through the actual adoption – so stop worrying and settle in. You have years to get comfortable with the other stuff. You are in this for life. It’s your job as the adult to make sure your child understands adoption and comes to you with the hard adoption questions, the easy questions, and everything in between so how do you do that?
When Do I Talk to My Child About Adoption?
Always and Every Day that ends in Y. And Sometimes Not at all. Clear as mud? Good. Then read no further. OR sit back and enjoy your tea or coffee and continue reading because kids are nothing if not curious and they will ask you the hard stuff. SO, get ready for the ride. Here are my tips based on personal experience and years of answering the hard adoption questions.
Every Child is Different but…
If there’s one thing I know about adoption, it’s that every single adoption is different. Every agency, or state, or province, tackles adoption just a little bit differently. Adoption can change based on whether it is domestic, private or international but there are some commonalities with every adoption experience. There are common threads that come up and my kids have always been my teachers in this arena. They ask and I answer. It’s pretty simple in that regard.
Break it Down by Age:
All kids, all adoptees are curious. Wouldn’t you be? They ask hard questions about adoption and about life in general.
My oldest daughter has always been very very transparent in her emotions and her ability to process bits and pieces of her adoption. She asks different things about distinct facets of her adoption at very different ages and stages.
For instance at 2 1/2 it was: Did I grow in your tummy? At that age we started working on giving her the words to understand her experience. We read a lot of books together with an adoption theme and sometimes talked about tummy mummy. Simple terms helped.
At 3 1/2, when her younger sister was being a PITA, grabbing her toys: “Can she go back now?”
(I chuckle at that one now, but it was a good chance to remind my kids that adoption is for life.)
And at eight it was Why Did My BirthMom give me up? (HARD questions.)
Until the age of nine she never once asked about her biological father’s role in the adoption process. Suddenly at nine that was relevant and something she was able to process. That one always shocked me. For years I went out of my way to discuss both biological parents with my older daughter but she heard mostly only the parts about birth mom. Interesting, right? And at 9 a switch flipped. Just like that.
In my personal experience, adoption understanding also changes at every single phase of child development. So, the answers need to change and evolve slightly according to where they are at.
For years I helped to co-facilitate an adoptive parent support group in my city. Even now, I still advocate for adoption supports and I talk about adoption often. Sometimes months pass where neither child shows any interest in adoption or conversations about their adoption or birth parents.
Just last Tuesday I was telling a group of adoptive parents that my kids have not needed to, or wanted to, ask any hard adoption questions in a long time. I take my cues from them. Then last night my youngest daughter at bedtime had a flurry of questions about her adoption. They all arose out of a simple question: How did you choose my name?
Here’s how that went.
How did you choose my name?
Well I really loved the name Ainsley and we had a few others we were thinking about and your dad and I both agreed and we both liked this one.
What would I have been called if I was a boy?
Maybe Devin or Jordan or Tristan.
What names did Dad hate?
Well I considered these names: Siobhan and Aislynn and Eden. Your Dad didn’t think people could spell Siobhan. He thought people would call you ICELAND if we called you Aislynn and we both liked Eden, so we made it your middle name. We thought the name Ainsley suited you.
When did you get me?
You were almost five months old. ( She knows this and we’ve told her many times. But she needs to hear it again at specific intervals and she needs to be reminded sometimes.)
Did you ever meet my birthparents?
No. But I wish I had met your birthparents and Payton’s too.
Why? (Insert puzzled look)
Because I would have liked to say thank you. I still would like to say thank you one day.
Do they live in Canada? Do they live in London?
Yes and I don’t know. They could live anywhere in Canada right now.
Why Didn’t you meet them?
They left the hospital and then we didn’t know where they were.
(We talked about some personal safety concerns that were happening at the time she was adopted. She asked if there would still be any safety issues. I can’t accurately answer that. But I can remember to remind her that it’s our job to keep her safe.)
Will I meet them one day?
Maybe. That’s hard to say…if they want to and you want to and it’s safe then yes that would be possible.
Did you ever run into them in London?
I thought I saw your birth mom once when you were about 3. I saw a lady who looked a lot like her pushing a stroller.
Am I the oldest? Am I the only.
I discussed the relationships and clarified a bunch of these questions for her about the relationships that existed in her birth family. Won’t get into all of that because it’s extremely personal.
Five Tips for Answering a Child’s Adoption Questions:
- Answer as honestly as possible.
- Again honesty. Can’t stress that one enough.
- Remember their age. At 2 the conversation is very different than at nine years old. At 2 the conversation in our house from the question Did I grow in your tummy was this: No, you didn’t but I wish that you had. Then whose tummy did I grow in? Birth Moms’ tummy or Tummy Mummy. Some parents use the term Tummy Mummy. I always used to simply state I am so happy we adopted you. You are the best thing that ever happened to us. Talked a bit about that also in this post: Five Things I Know About Adoption.
- Remain calm and remember none of the questions are about you at all. Kids are curious. They want answers. Answer to the best of your ability or they stop asking and start to think there’s something shameful about adoption.
- REPEAT. Keep telling them and talking and even if you flub a word or two know that you will have many more opportunities to discuss the topic.
- Don’t ever shut them down. Even if you are out in public or with grandma and they ask a really hard one. Find a quiet corner and answer the question. Or answer calmly and matter of factly right in front of Grandma.
- Curiosity is normal and the worst thing you can do is shut that down and teach them it’s shameful to ask.
SO keep talking. Just keep talking.