I recently witnessed a situation with a group of first graders that not only made my heart break but reminded me of how important it is that I teach my son about how families are made in different ways. This is something that was already a priority to me, particularly because my son was born to a single mom and has never had a dad in his everyday life, but I realized that I have to specifically discuss adoption with my child. When we neglect to teach our children about adoption, we are leaving too much room for our child to crush another child's spirit. Of course, there is no way to guarantee your child won't say something insensitive to another child but I believe that there are certain things every kid needs to know about adoption. Hopefully, by teaching them these things, it will decrease the chances of them saying something hurtful to another child.
Please keep in mind, this post is intended to encourage all parents to have a general conversation with their children about adoption. I am encouraging you to address some common misconceptions children (and some adults) have about adoption. This is not in any way intended to be a guide for speaking to your child that is adopted about his own adoption, emotions or experiences. I am not experienced in that area whatsoever, I am simply sharing from my own perspective as someone that worked in a professional manner with children and families for many years, some brought together by adoption and others not.
So, what exactly do kids need to know about adoption?
Every person was born.
It may seem silly to us, as adults, but kids that are being raised by their biological mother know a mother to be someone that they were born to. If a child was not born to the mom that is raising them then it is not unreasonable (to a child) that the child was not born. So, something worth discussing with your child is that kids that are adopted were born just like anyone else - they were just born to a different mom than the one that is raising them.
All parents are "real" parents.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard kids refer to a biological parent as a "real" parent. When talking about adoption or even other circumstances when a child doesn't live with a bio parent (example, the child lives with dad and stepmom), it is important to teach your child that all parents are real. Talk about how the birth mom is the person that gave birth to the child but refrain from using the term "adopted" mom. She's mom.
There are many reasons that a birth parent might choose adoption.
In the situation I referenced at the beginning of this post, a child stated (unknowingly in the presence of a child that is adopted) that being adopted means, "your mom didn't want you". Sadly, this is not an uncommon belief for children to have. It is important that we help our children understand that children are adopted for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the child not being wanted. Sometimes birth parents know that they aren't able to care for their children, so they choose adoption. (Kid-friendly examples can be illness, financial reasons, parents' age or living conditions)
Not all birth parents chose adoption.
As we know, it is not always the decision of the birth parent for the child to be adopted. While some of the reasons why a child would be taken from a birth parent are probably not appropriate to discuss with younger children, I do believe it's an important point to make that sometimes it is someone else (like the state) that decides the parent is unable to care for the child.
Adoption isn't just for babies.
While many kids are adopted as babies, this is not always the case. Some children are adopted much older and even adults can be adopted!
Just because a birth mom chooses adoption for her child does not mean that she doesn't love that child.
In fact, it is quite often the opposite. Sometimes a mom very much loves her baby but knows that she can't take care of her child, again for a variety of reasons (perhaps she is very young).
Some kids that have been adopted might look like their parents and some might not.
We need to teach our kids that you can't tell if someone is adopted simply by how they look compared to their families. Yes, some children have different skin tones than their parents but this can happen with biological children, too, not just those that have been adopted! And, sometimes, children that are adopted look very much like their parents or siblings. In other words, there's no such thing as "looking adopted" and we need to make sure our kids know this.
Parents that have adopted do have their "own" kids.
This is one I've even heard from adults quite a bit, "they couldn't have kids of their own, so they adopted." Please. Don't. Ever. Say. This. Kids that have been adopted are very much "their own". They have the paperwork to prove it... just like biological parents do!
You should let people share their adoption story on their own terms.
Children will encounter someone that is adopted, very likely at an early age. As parents, we need to be proactive not only in educating them about adoption but in teaching them that they need to respect people's privacy and let them share their own story on their own terms. It's only natural to be curious about something that may be different from what you know, but the details of one's adoption are personal and kids should be taught not to bombard their peers with questions. This is not to say that they can't ask questions, but kids should be taught to be respectful. If the other child does not want to talk about it, that needs to be respected. (As should be the case with any human and their personal business.)
Adoption is simply one way that families are formed.
The most important thing to remember when discussing adoption is that families brought together by adoption are just as much a family as any other family.