If you are anything like me then you want to capture every moment of your child’s life and somehow place it safely to always remember they were little once. I would prefer a time capsule but apparently, that does not work yet! How do you achieve creating lifebooks for your adopted child then? Well, again, if you are anything like me then you have every best intention to complete said lifebooks and then, well, life happens and you don’t quite get around to it or you are overwhelmed by the options out there. With that being said, what are your best ideas for creating adoption lifebooks?
First, I think we should discuss what adoption lifebooks actually are. Lifebooks are put together for your adopted child to help them understand their life’s journey. It essentially is a record of their personal history and a very helpful tool in helping them understand their past and their hopes for a future! They are very personal and can be made in any way you, as their parents, see fit.
I think there are two ways to accomplish lifebooks—digitally and the good old-fashioned paper way. We will explore the paper way first! If you have ever made a scrapbook in your life, you are ahead of the game! If you have never made a scrapbook before, this is a great place and time to start. Lifebooks usually begin, well, in the beginning! I have heard people say they started their child’s lifebook when they started the adoption process. It is a great beginning. They would not be your child had you not made the decision to pursue adoption! Why not include it, it is part of how they became to be. The adoption process can be long and sometimes takes curves and paths you never expected. You may want to start journaling your story when you begin the paperwork of the adoption process. Not that you want to add more paperwork to the endless amount of paperwork you are already faced with, but it might be good to jot a few things down. Such as, how you were feeling, were you excited, nervous, happy, etc. Maybe you would want to include where you were living (in case you move—like we did). If you have children, you may want to include how your children reacted to you telling them you were going to adopt. I have heard some really good stories about children’s reactions! You may not want all of this to be part of your child’s lifebook but it will help you with the process and help you know what to include and what not to include once you are matched with your child!
Once you are matched with your child and you know you will be adopting a specific child, you might want to get more information down on paper. Such as, where are they from? Do you know anything about their background? Do you know their parents? Do you know what country they are from? All of these things will become very important to the child as they grow and develop. For many adopted children, their early lives are somewhat of a mystery. These books will help them develop a sense of self and will lessen their desires to find out about their past. I know some adoptions you just will not have the information. Do your best. Try to find out as much as you can. Ask as many questions as you can. Even if you don’t get answers to them, you will at least have the assurance knowing you asked and the information just was not possible to gather.
Luckily for us, we have a very open adoption and were able to have a lot of this information. We were also able to bring our son home with us directly from the hospital. But all of this is information is vital to his development. When our son was born and for the first year of his life, I made a book each month (what was I thinking!) about him. Things we did. People he got to meet for the first time. Celebrations that took place. Many of these books included his birth family. They were at those celebrations and were able to watch him grow as well. I made mine using Shutterfly and only included pictures and brief descriptions.
I really like the idea of allowing the children to add to their books once they are old enough! I may just have to start another tradition in our lives and include adding to our son’s lifebook! I have seen and heard people also allow their children to journal in their lifebooks. This could be a great idea to get children to express how they are feeling about their adoption (or just life).
We also keep documentation of what is going on in our son’s life. I would like to someday add them to his lifebook but for now, they are stored in a drawer in our home office. Things we like to keep and would like to add to his lifebook include artwork, special holiday cards, awards, letters, trinkets from trips we have taken, and many more. It really is not that different than if you were to keep a record of your birth child’s life. The most important part of the book is the beginning for an adopted child. So many adopted children question where they came from, and the more information you have from the beginning of their life, the better grip they can get on their life and meaning in this world.
Here are my top five things to remember when creating lifebooks for your adopted child:
- Make it colorful. Who wants to look back on their past and only see black and white?! I think children will also be able to relate more to the book if there are a lot of colors and different textures in the book. It is okay to add things that are “too big” for the book. It certainly does not need to be perfect. In fact, I would encourage you to think outside of the box and add things that don’t necessarily “fit” on the page. Maybe add a piece of your child’s favorite blanket (if it is falling apart like ours), your child’s favorite toy at the time, an item of clothing. Whatever it takes to show your child what their life was like. Also, try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. What do you wish you knew about your childhood?
- Ask others. Like I said earlier, we have an open relationship with our son’s birth family. His birth mom has written him letters that are in this book. If you have access to anything like that, add it. Maybe you only have one written letter from your child’s birth mom, dad, or another family member. Add those to the book. If you are in contact with any of your child’s birth family, ask them to add to your child’s lifebook. Maybe it is a card from someone special. Keep the things your child thinks are special. Maybe write a little something in the book as to why your child thinks it is special at this time in his/her life. You could also ask your child’s teacher to write something. I once saw somewhere that a parent had their child’s teacher write them a letter every year and when the child graduated she received several letters from her previous teachers. This would be really cool to add to your child’s lifebook.
- Keep it Safe. Not only are the things in it important, but it is also very personal to your child. Don’t show it off like a baby book. Your child may want to keep some of the things in it personal to him/her and your family. They may not want everyone to see it. Make sure you get permission from your child before you show it to anyone. Or at the very least have a conversation with your child about any limitations on showing it to friends or family. Remember adoption is very personal and no matter how hard we try as parents, it is still our child’s life and we need to respect that. At the same time—make sure you know where it is. Life can get hectic and moves happen and things can get lost. Try to know where the lifebook is at all times, this can act as a very important tool in your child’s life.
- LOVE. If you remember anything at all, remember that you must fill the book with love. Every child needs to know they are loved. Whether they are adopted or biologically yours, make sure they know they are loved and wanted. This especially comes true when you have an adopted child or a foster child. Their lives could have been very difficult before you were brought into their lives. Fill the book with happiness and love, and watch how much it impacts your child.
- Leave blank pages. I love this idea. Allowing your child to contribute to their lifebooks makes it even more theirs. This can really make their book special. It also can open up a dialogue with your child as to what they are feeling, whether it be about their adoption or just life in general. If you start the process young enough, it can just be something they are used to doing and make it a lifelong thing for them. How cool would that be?
Not sure what to include? Here is a good list of what to include in your child’s lifebooks:
– Birth Certificate
– Birth medical information, i.e. height, weight, etc.
– Picture of hospital
– Hospital picture
– Picture of child’s family (birth)
– Any information you have regarding the child’s birth family
– Educational information
– Any siblings, if so, names, ages, etc.
– Was your child in foster care? If so,
– Foster care family information
– Any pictures from the foster family
– Any other children with him/her in the foster home.
– Social worker’s name or any other workers names
– Any medical information you may have regarding your child and/or their birth family
– Any immunization records
– Any medical records
– List of any doctors, clinics, hospitals, etc. the child may have been to
– Any information you may have about when they first talked, walked, or any other milestones
– Any school information you may have
– Any report cards he/she may have
– Any school pictures or class pictures you may have been given
– Any religious information you may have been given
– Any pictures of your child at different ages
– Any stories you may have received from the foster family
Like I previously said, I made several books using Shutterfly. There are several other online scrapbook sites like Mixbook or Etsy. They are super easy to use online and can be printed and shipped to your house. When I used Shutterfly, they had several templates that were easy to use, and I love how the books turned out. The downside to using an online resource is the inability to include things other than pictures and text. I think for us, we will use both types of books. I love the online books for pictures and short journalings. We then will use the paper book for including the tangible things you cannot include online. The nice thing about the online books is it appears they will last longer and are very nicely made. Wherein if you use paper, glue, and pictures, those things tend to fade over time.
I look forward to continuing to develop and grow our son’s lifebook. I also look forward to including him in on the process. It will be a really good educational tool but also an emotional tool for developing our conversation about him being adopted. I hope you are encouraged to start a lifebook for your child if you haven’t already started one. If you have started already, what are your best ideas for creating adoption lifebooks?
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.