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Explaining Adoption to a Young Child

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“Why Did Mommy Give Me Away?”

Kids often do not use positive adoption language and instead use what they hear on TV, in day care, or other places. So don't jump down your child's throat if she uses words like “gave me away,” “real mother,” and so forth. You use the appropriate terminology, and after a while your child will model on you.

The whys of the adoption choice by birthparents is probably the toughest question your child will ask you. I can't tell you how many adoptive parents answer, “Because she loved you.” I think this answer is too simplistic for a young child. Think about it. You love your child, too. Does this mean that you might have her adopted? Does love equal leaving someone? That's the way your child may perceive it.

The point is, the birthmother may have loved the child plenty, but that is not the sole or even primary reason why she chose adoption. So what are some valid explanations that your child can understand—ones that don't put the birthparents down? Here are a few that might work for you:

  • “Your birthmother wanted you to have both a mommy and a daddy and not just one parent. She couldn't provide two parents.” (Of course, this explanation works only for two-parent families, and not for single adoptive parents.)
  • An older child may ask why wasn't a daddy around? But for most small children, it won't occur to them. If it does occur to the child, you could state that neither the birthmother nor the birthfather were ready to be parents, and they wanted someone who was ready and very excited and happy to be the parents—you!

    It is a good idea (if it is true, as far as you know) to mention that the adoption decision was made before the child was born, so that the child will know there was nothing wrong with him. Instead, it was the birthparents who just weren't ready or able to be parents.

  • “Your birthmother didn't feel ready to be a parent, but she wanted you to have good parents who were ready.”
  • “Your birthmother had problems that she couldn't fix, and she knew you needed parents who were ready to be parents.”
  • For young children, I would not provide elaborate explanations on what the “problems” were. If the birthmother was young, that's understandable to kids. But I'd try to avoid stressing the point if she was a drug addict, alcoholic, and so on. Instead, it's enough to say she knew she couldn't be a good mom so she decided that finding someone else who could be a good parent was a good idea. And that lucky person was you!

  • “Your birthmother was poor and also not ready to be a parent, and she knew that she couldn't provide what you needed. She knew that you would be well cared for with us.”
  • I would not make a huge deal about the poverty thing (although it is true in most cases of intercountry adoption) because some bright children might wonder why you didn't give the mother money so she could be a parent. Another (and possibly more compelling) reason for the birthmother choosing adoption was the cultural stigma against unwed motherhood. This is particularly likely in other countries. However, I would avoid this explanation because it's too difficult for most young children to understand. You could say that you never had a chance to meet her and the decision was made before then.

Your “Chosen Child”?

Chosen child or special child are two phrases some parents like to use when discussing adoption with their young children. It's understandable: All parents think their children are very special! But if you use these expressions constantly with your adopted child, she may grow up believing that because she was chosen or special, she needs to be extra good or do really well in school. You don't want your child to feel she must always have to prove her worthiness. So don't make a big deal about her being a chosen child. Being adopted is a good thing, and it's good enough.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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