When my sister Annie, was younger, my parents bought a book for her titled, Why Was I Adopted? by Carole Livingston. It’s an older book that was published in the late ’70s, but this little gem does one of the best jobs spelling out all that adoption is in terms that children of all ages can relate to. The pages are all worn and there are tears. On the inside of the tattered jacket, my mother scribbled a message to her, ‘To our Anne who came to us in this special way!” It’s nostalgic to look at this script. In over 30 years, my mother’s handwriting hasn’t changed. Her love—along with my father’s—hasn’t changed.
Growing up as an adoptee, adoption was always celebrated. We were always made to feel like it was a celebration and something very special. Our parents CHOSE us. Thirty years later and I still tell people I was chosen.
I’ll be honest with you, I am a spoiler. So here’s your spoiler alert—I am going to cover each page of this book with you and break down the importance of it. This book did wonders for our family. I truly hope you find as much love and positivity from these pages as our family did.
Carole Livingston begins with a simple but complex question, “What are you?”
She lists what we are not, for example, a dog or a rhinoceros. She couples that with the fact that we are humans, and there is no one like us because we are special.
“Who are you?”
A simple question, but again very complex. Carole talks about some of the things that make us who we are, like our name and our appearances. It is important to point these things out when you are talking with your adopted child. While you want your child to feel like she belongs and fits in, you also want to celebrate who she is as an individual. You want to pay homage to your child’s traits and characters that makes him who he is. Does your child have brown or green eyes? Does your child have a beauty mark or dimples? Are they brown or are they white? Every one of us has things that make us different from others. Your adopted child might struggle with her identity. So it is important that from the start you acknowledge that your child is unique and that is a wonderful thing.
“They gave you the gift of life.”
I think this is hands down my favorite part of the book. This is one of the most monumental concepts my parents passed to us. We all came from a mother and father who gave us the gift of life. Carole also mentions that we don’t always end up with the family we started with. Even though our biological parents couldn’t take care of us for whatever the reason may be, they still gave us life and are the reason we have such wonderful and loving families now. Being honest with your child in an endearing way of why his biological parents couldn’t care for him to the best of their ability is good. My biological mother is a drug addict and homeless. She suffers from schizophrenia. My parents always told me that my mother knew she couldn’t take care of me the best way, so she did something so selfless. They said she loved me so much and wanted me to have a family that could give me more than she could. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered the truth and she was hurting as badly as she was. I don’t think you need the complete truth all the time. I think you can be gentle. I think you can prevent resentment for as long as possible and give adoption a loving story instead of an, oftentimes, heartbreaking one. You can tell your child that they were wanted and chosen.
“Being adopted is a special difference.”
Carole hit the nail on the head with this part. I am not too proud to admit that when I was younger, I bragged about being adopted. Once or twice, I may have had my own nose up in the air. That’s not a nice thing to do. While being adopted is something that is unique and sets us apart, there are many other ways or things that set others apart as well. Carole made the good point that being adopted doesn’t make you better than your friends or others. It’s just another great thing that makes you, you! I’ve had friends who speak different languages and friends who have two moms or dads instead of just one. I have had friends who have wheelchairs or friends with freckles or glasses. I have had friends who can bake really well and friends who can build really well. These are the differences that make us all special and should all be celebrated.
“Being adopted doesn’t mean never getting yelled at.”
Ah. Again I will not be too proud to admit that I may have had a sense of entitlement once or twice. I also struggled with my feelings and my emotions. When you are in trouble or things are hard, it is easier to say it’s because you were adopted. It’s easy to say you’re in trouble because you are adopted and that’s why you’re being disciplined. Just keep drilling into your beautiful child’s brain that every family has feelings and no family is perfect. Tell your child that even though they might have to ground you or get grouchy, that they are still very loved and very wanted. Being in a family isn’t always roses. With so many differences under the same roof, we are all bound to collide every once and again. It’s important to keep reminding your child that their adoption doesn’t define how a family works. Their adoption is celebrated and loved but isn’t the cause of turmoil at any point.
“Where do people go to adopt?”
I hadn’t really thought about this very much growing up, but it’s another good area to bring up. A stork didn’t drop us in our parent’s yard. There are so many different ways that a child can be adopted. Most of my siblings were placed out of foster care. One of my sisters was flown to the U.S. from Korea. I have a friend who adopted her niece. In fact, I have a lot of friends who had in-family adoptions—meaning their children were adopted from other family members. I also know many people who went through adoption agencies to adopt their children. No matter how you adopted your child, this is another great talking point. Each child’s story is unique and holds many different chapters. Like Donkey said from Shrek, it’s like an onion with layers that need to be pulled back.
“Your parents can tell you exactly how and why they wanted a child and happened to adopt you.”
I think this is every child’s or adult’s favorite part. I still ask my mom to retell me my adoption story. My mother answered the phone and was told there was a boy or a girl who needed a home. She was asked if she could take one of the children, and my mother chose the little girl. Mind you, there were already two boys and four girls in the house, so, sure, what’s one more? My mom said she knew when she took the call she was meant to have the little girl. My dad was very sick at the same time that I came to them. I had chickenpox and was struggling with withdrawals from in utero exposure. I was very needy. My dad said I was fragile. We bonded very quickly, and they soon chose me to be their daughter.
The earliest memory my sister Anne had of her adoption story was around the age of 3 or 4. My parents would always tell her she had a special story around her birth. They would start the story with, “Your mother loved you very much. So much, that she knew she wanted you to be raised in a family with a mom and dad and brothers and sisters.” As she got older, they would add more details like how she was able to pick my mom and dad from three separate families. She was unmarried, and it was important that Anne was raised in a religious house. She had a sister and a mom and dad, and they were Italian. Anne was told that her mother was a nurse and she loved music.
The reason my mother and father had purchased this book for her was because she had so many questions. Even Anne will admit she spent time in her youth, young adulthood, and even as a mother now, with questions like, “Why didn’t she want me? Does she think of me? If I go to look for her, will she reject me because I was a product of an affair? Would me finding her open a big can of worms and cause damage to strangers I have never met?”
Last year, she was given two different DNA test kits at Christmas time and took both. She was nervous and scared and even cried when she spit into the tubes. When the results came in, she found DNA matches. As she began to build bonds with her relatives, she told them about her beautiful family. She spoke of our parents who told us about our adoption from a young age. She talked about how our mother always spoke of our biological mothers as a story of love and selflessness. She told them of our brothers and sisters and how close she was to them. She spoke of how in our family, being adopted meant we belonged. We belonged to them and they belonged to us. She was brought up believing that being adopted is something extremely special, and she was brought up to be proud of her adoption.
“Okay, do you still have some questions?”
There’s no way that even this gem of a book could cover everything. Carole does do an amazing job of taking some of the most asked questions she has run across and putting them in here. I think asking questions is beautiful. If your child is asking you questions, they are giving you their trust in your answers. Take these opportunities to build upon your bonds and relationships. There are no right or wrong answers. You might be very surprised by some of the questions you get asked. They are often a good look into your child’s developing mind and can be a good gauge of how they are feeling and reacting.
Read this book over and over to your child. Let it be a continuous learning platform for your family. Use it in guided discussions for you and your family. It is such a blessing to have books that are just for children who are adopted.
When you talk to your child about adoption, talk to them with love and courage. Talk to them with joy and compassion. Talk to them about who they are and how they came to be. There is not a single part of their story or their layers that should be hidden. Remember, you can find gentle and appropriate ways to tell them without telling them specific details. I was in a support group recently, and an adoptive mother asked the group if it’s okay that she doesn’t want to tell her child they were adopted. At the end of the day, you are the parent and it is your choice. I think there is far too much damage that can be done when you don’t start the conversations of adoption from the beginning. You chose your child. You wanted and longed for your child. That is a beautiful gift for both of you. Share with your child the joy and every emotion that came bundled with it. Let them tell you their emotions and give you their bundles.
If you have a chance, go to your local library or browse the internet for this book by Carole Livingston. It truly was a gift in our family and I think it could be a gift to yours as well.
You’ve heard some of the ways you can talk about adoption with your child. Now let’s hear yours. How did you start the conversations? What were some of the questions your child had? I can assure you, we’re all ears!
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.
Helen Simpson (Born in April of 1989) was born in San Francisco, CA. She was adopted at 3 years old. Diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder at age 11 years old, from a young age she was putting pen to paper and writing as much as she could, since words seemed no easy feat. In 2007, she began her studies in Special Education at Harford Community College. In 2017, she made it her life mission to educate and give voice to as many people as possible. She runs a website and blog www.lovemeenough.com as an advocate for FASD, Special Needs, and Adoption. In its first two weeks on Amazon, Helen’s first paperback book, “The Way I Am Is Different,” saw spot #155 on Amazon’s Best Selling Ranks for Special Education literature. Helen currently resides in beautiful but increasingly crowded, Portland, Oregon with her husband, Brando, and son, William.