“Well, sweetie, adoption is when a baby is born from one mommy’s tummy, but goes to live with another family,” I said nervously. I wasn’t expecting to have to explain adoption to my five-year-old yet, and felt ill-equipped. I continued, “Like your sister, Shae. Her mommy gave birth to her, but wasn’t able to have her live with her, so she came to live with and be a part of our family. But her mommy and her daddy still love her very much.” He looked at me with a mixture of wonder, confusion, and then fear. With his hand on his face and his brows furrowed he questioned, “So when am I getting adopted?”
I promise my understanding and ability to explain adoption to children has gotten much better! However, for many of us, it can sometimes be quite the challenge, as different children understand in different ways. Explaining adoption to a child who is not adopted typically isn’t a concise answer, but rather a journey that you will take until the child reaches his or her own firm understanding of adoption. For some children, a simple explanation will suffice. For other children, explanations in books, movies, and TV shows may help it click. For some, they will just figure it out over time as they see adoption play out in front of them within their own family or others.
One great place to start in explaining adoption to child who is not adopted is to use simple, age-appropriate terms. My five-year-old knew that babies were in their “mommy’s tummy” before they were born. That part was simple enough to grasp. However, for a five-year-old, trying to explain why a mother would not take her child home with her is almost impossible. For him, logic led him to believe that everyone was eventually adopted. While I did try to explain a little bit further that some mommies are unable to parent, his five-year-old mind was simply not ready to grasp it.
Meet the child where he or she is and approach questions with honesty, but understand that it is okay if the child doesn’t quite grasp it. A great place to start in explaining adoption to a younger child is books. One of my son’s favorite books is Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis. While he is not adopted, we change the book a bit to be about the story of his sister and brother, both of whom we adopted. Through this book and others, he has been able to better grasp adoption.
In addition, if you are part of an open adoption, taking children who were not adopted on a visit is eye-opening for them in terms of understanding adoption. Bringing all your kids to a visit helps them to understand that their family is still a family, just larger with more love. The hope is that adoption will be their normal. Explaining adoption to any child will require time, patience, and reassurance. The good news is that they will eventually understand on their own, even if it sometimes feels like they won’t.
Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on <a href=”https://www.facebook.com/halfemptymom/”>Facebook.</a>