The Question Nobody Has the Perfect Answer To
Not every pain can be bandaged with a Hallmark quote about the universe and all of its parts conspiring to bring our great love story together. Parenting is a balancing act, and parenting an adoptee is an experience all it’s own. How do you respond when someone asks a crude question about your child’s origin or backstory? How does one respond when someone uses negative language about adoption? When you don’t have perfect answers to the hard questions, discouragement seems inevitable. However, when those questions leave the mouth of a child you’re enamored with, finding concise responses is crucial. How do I respond when my child asks, “Why did you adopt me?” You respond to the questions your child asks surrounding their identity with grace, loving-kindness, and understanding.
Why This Question, and Why Now?
Before we can understand how to respond when a child asks, “Why did you adopt me?” we must distinguish the primary roots of the question. I’ll first address the inquiry, “What is an identity?” An identity is the core of what one correlates as their worth, affiliations, and sense of self. Someone can find their identity in knowing they’re wonderfully made and unique, someone can find their identity as an artist. Having an identity based on misconceptions, or not having one at all, is chaotic and painful. Since we’re constantly taking in information, our identities are always shifting, either to keep their balance or move one way or another. For instance, you may have once found a solid sense of identity in the position you played on a sports team. “Well, I have to be confident because I’m a striker/linebacker/you name it.” Today, your identity could come from your relation to a religion, your job, or the type of friends you surround yourself with. Every child struggles with their identity as they go through school and figure out this funny thing called life. However, for a child who was adopted, it’s amplified. Identity is a significant concept and with the addition of a whole other plotline (stemming from adoption), your child may battle unhealthy perceptions about themselves.
Consequently, the child might have a strong sense of identity as your child but he or she may also associate themselves with words such as unwanted, abandoned, cast-off. Therefore, they conjure an image of themselves as worthless. Hence, why your adopted child may struggle with his or hers. Allowing that darkness to become an identity is destructive and painful on so many levels. The reality is, your child is grieving the loss of what could have been. Who would they be without this adoption? Did you love them as they were or who they would have become? Do they identify as the son or daughter of their birth parents? How does adoption fit into their story? Would you have picked them, knowing all you do today? It’s an incredible weight for a child to carry and process. Responsibly walking them through the battlefield of a mind ill at ease is heavy too. But it doesn’t have to be.
As a writer, playing with language is my job. I spend hours sifting through my own experiences to develop quality content that will reach into the dark parts of someone’s life and make them feel as though someone has come with a blanket into the cold, dark night, and simply sat with them to make it a little shorter. So when someone asks me to explain worth or love to them, I can generally draw up flowery language of: “I love you because of the way you’re gentle.” “I choose you because somehow I was given the privilege of existing in the same century as someone who matched my own soul so wonderfully.”
But what merit exists within loving someone because they are good, because they are yours? If your child is facing a horrific background, they may feel as though they cannot measure up to the “good” necessary for love. Discussing their adoption when curiosity arises prevents your child from wrestling with feelings of shame, insecurity, and grief, all on their own. “Why did you adopt me?” questions the circumstances surrounding your child’s past, future, and present. Therefore, addressing the nitty-gritty and reaching into their world isn’t merely a choice. It is essential. A “Hallmark movie answer” won’t repair post-adoptive grief, but truth can begin the process.
Language formulates far more of the brain than we give it credit for. Thus, words often leave the tongue without adequate consideration to the malleable brains around us. People can be incredibly insensitive whether it is intentional or not. Your child may hear negative adoption language at school or from other adults around you. If they hear they were “given up,” “unwanted,” “are adopted,” it can continually reinforce the core fear that they were not designed as part of your family. Rather, they were cast off from the design nature gave them. What a heavy concept for anyone to deal with. Children’s brains are constantly developing and have several connected pathways between trauma, reality, and the questions that form their psyche. Check this link for more information on trauma’s involvement in child development. Adolescents learn by asking the difficult questions, and they form their self-image via the incoming feedback.
In theory, it sounds straightforward enough. But how to respond when it’s hurled out in the heat of an argument, tucked into bed with your sweet babe at night, or asked on the way to soccer practice? Responding is a little more challenging in the moment. There’s no telling when this question could come but there’s a fair chance you’ve been caught off guard before.
First: Remember, this question is not a reflection of any inadequacy in your care. It does not have to be divisive nor does it intentionally pick at any insecurities within your parenting style.
Second: Take a brief moment to reframe your kid’s question with outside information.
- Did a family event bring up old memories or raw wounds?
- Has trauma recently resurfaced and shifted their worldview?
- How did the last conversation surrounding adoption go?
- Is there a way to efficiently curate a gentle environment for this conversation?
- Is this curiosity or heartache speaking?
Third: Respond with as much clarity, grace, and patience as possible. Begin your story with honesty and age-appropriate details. Honor the birth parents’ place within the story and share all the excitement that you felt during those days. The initial question, “Why did you adopt me?” could be a request for a bedtime story, or alternatively, a demand for validation in their role as your child. Knowing their personality feeds into understanding all the little nuances. But they might ask the question a million more times, whether it’s in those exact words or not.
How Does Healing Look for Them?
The brain is molded through a set of constant repetition within a short amount of time. Over time, your brain learns to categorize and divide the stimulation it encounters. For example, when a baby begins to sit up, the pressure on their bottom and constant shifting to remain balanced is incredibly overwhelming. Today, the mechanics around sitting up are almost imperceptible. Same thing with trauma and identity. Your child’s brain may still be constantly refreshing and reviewing the information surrounding their adoption.
People process information in their own way. For some, verbal processing is the only way they can move past the day. Others prefer to never speak about their trauma or grief. Depending on which matter your child gravitates toward, assurance can manifest as words of affirmation to combat doubt. If the Little One is struggling and processes introspectively, a more subtle approach will efficiently meet their needs. Address the elephant while never saying a word, again and again. Their worth is not tied to any sort of performance, you love them as is and you choose them each and every day. Do you continually let your child know they are loved by your subtle actions on a daily basis? A touch on the arm as you walk by, putting your phone down whenever they speak, making eye contact, and intentional communication reinforce that you think they’re wonderful. Let them know how much of a part of the family they truly are.
Continually reassuring your child that they’re wanted is pertinent. But not every day holds time for a heart to heart or an appropriate setting to address any underlying issues.
Henceforth, although reopening the discussion on a regular basis may not be entirely healthy, adoption positive language goes a long way. Your child was adopted, and they are an adoptee. Speaking positively each day involves honoring the part of their story, while also allowing them the room to develop beyond what’s, simultaneously, a point of grief and a victory in their story. According to Shannon Hicks’ article, “Felt safety and trust can rewire the brain. All of this information might leave you feeling like the outlook for a child with an early trauma history is bleak. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. There is evidence that providing a child with felt safety and the opportunity for healthy attachment can help rewire the brain.” When you remind your child via either spoken or unspoken cues that they are wanted, beloved, and yours, it creates an environment where they can thrive and gently mold the uncertain patches in their identity.
When you have questions yourself, the day looks bleak. Friend, I want to acknowledge and honor the road you’ve taken here. It’s difficult to understand why your child is possibly questioning or seemingly rebelling against the wonderful life you’ve welcomed him to. Courts decided you were the most well-equipped caretaker and you love this child. It’s the triumph of a lifetime in your book. And all the dark parts of human nature push us toward defensive measures instead of gracious acceptance. Hence why questions can seem like a direct assault on every insecurity you experience around adoption. Remember, the wrestling match is between your child and his identity, not between you and your child. We’re all on the same team, fighting for healthy, happy, and adjusted families.
So why did you adopt in the first place? Since each story is so unique, I can’t formulate a perfect answer for you. But, I can ask you to remember the beauty you’ve experienced one way or another. If infertility pushed you to find alternative methods to parenthood, the answer isn’t that you couldn’t conceive. The true and positive response is adoption was the best pathway to grow your family, and something drew you to your child in particular. If adoption was always the plan, find a way to discuss the moment you clicked with your child in particular. When there’s no cosmic connection or if your bonding process took a long time, it can play into you and your child’s questions. Yet they don’t invalidate the miracles which brought your family together. Your answers just look a little different. “I don’t know, but I am thankful,” is a perfectly suitable answer. If faith drew you through a difficult process, talk about it with your child when they ask! Truth and kindness walk hand in hand through this explanation.
Coming away from this article, my heart is with you, dear friend. Although watching your child wrestle with their identity is painful, it’s a necessary process. How you respond when your child asks, “Why did you adopt me?” can induce deeper communication patterns. Positive adoption language will continually remind your child that they have a secure place within the world. When you’re unsure of yourself and don’t feel capable of answering with any sort of eloquence, understand that nobody does. Although no perfect answer exists, trust built via honest conversations is priceless. Additionally, don’t underestimate the value of all the minuscule actions you do throughout the day that assure your child that they are wanted. Parenting is difficult, and it has its own unique challenges. This is just one more. I wish you luck, journey well through this adventure.
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Katala Peterson is pursuing a career as a psychologist and has a passion for family of all kinds. She comes from a large adoptive family and has years of foster care experience. In her spare time, Katala enjoys hiking with her dog and experimenting with new recipes.