Have you ever had a complete argument with yourself? Armed with both an offense and defense and presenting both sides of the argument, to the jury of one—yourself. No? Just me? Yikes. I don’t often function as prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and jury; but when I do, you can bet the wheels are turning at an outrageous speed inside my brain as I weigh all the facts.
I didn’t know that the decision about whether to tell my daughter’s preschool teacher she was adopted would be such a hot topic for me. I didn’t share my biological children’s birth history with their preschool teachers. They didn’t know we started our family with a miscarriage prior to having three babies in four years. They didn’t know I had insanely bad pregnancies or the fastest deliveries ever. In theory, that’s the only difference for our adopted baby: how she entered the world. The rest of the story looks a lot the same. Wrap that beautiful baby in a burrito and sweet pink and blue hat on their head and bring them home for the start of many, many wonderful yet sleepless nights filled with lots of snuggles and diapers.
Although that is entirely true, I know that it isn’t that simple. I know that even though our beautiful fourth kiddo, the only one who entered our family through adoption, looks just like our other babies and has a very similar story as our other kiddos, she has a special part of her story the others don’t. Before we wrapped her in a burrito blanket and kissed the sweet pink and blue hat-covered head, I sat side-by-side in a hospital bed with the precious young woman who will forever be something I will never be—our daughter’s first momma. As normal as it looks on the outside, this is forever a part of who our daughter is and a part of her story. As her momma, it’s my job to both protect her story until she decides if she does or doesn’t want to share it, as well as equip those in her inner circle (including teachers) with the knowledge and ability to help her both learn and process that story.
Should I Tell My Child’s Teacher He or She Was Adopted?
In a survey of both teachers and adoptive parents, teachers unanimously revealed they want parents to share with them that their students were adopted. Most adoptive parents felt it was important to share this information with their child’s teacher, but the importance of this disclosure decreased as the child grew older. Several parents of older children agreed that the child should be able to share their story if he or she wanted to, but should not be required to reveal this to every educator they encounter. I think this is in line with how I feel as well (as an adoptive mom preparing to send my daughter to preschool). Mostly, I want her teachers to be allies, who help her learn who she is. In order to do that, they need to be prepared to answer questions (the right way!) she may have. They need to have a crash course in positive adoption language—what’s the correct and the very incorrect way to say something.
To Share or Not To Share…
As with all things, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Sometimes, children who were adopted very obviously do not visually match their families. A child adopted from China or Uganda will likely look nothing like his or her white momma from Georgia. In this case, disclosing the child was adopted to the teacher will not be a paramount decision to make, because the teacher is going to be able to use their deductive reasoning skills and figure that out rather quickly. Transracial adoption will typically have the same clues for the teacher. Other times, children adopted internationally may have special needs that occur as a result of starting life in an institution. In this case, sharing that information may be very relevant to making sure the child has the best possible education plan in place. Other times, institutionalization may not have caused the special needs and challenges as much as being a result of the special need. For example, in many cases, children with Down syndrome are placed in institutions in other countries. These children may have similar needs to other, nonadopted peers or a combination of challenges specific to their diagnosis and the trauma of institutionalization.
If your child is old enough to have an opinion on this decision, absolutely include them, and respect/honor their decision. Do they want their teacher to know they were adopted? Do they want you to tell their teacher or allow them to do it? Do they want this information given to teachers as an FYI, or are they ok with it being openly discussed among teachers and classmates?
One benefit of speaking with your child’s teachers about this ahead of time is that hopefully, they can and will adjust any of their projects, books, and assignments that could be triggering for your child. A very common project that is incredibly frustrating for adoptive families is to create family trees or ask students to bring in a baby picture of themselves. Children who were adopted internationally, from foster care, or as an older child domestically may not have a picture of themselves as a baby. This assignment puts a child who was adopted in a situation where they are 1) different than their peers, 2) put in a position where they feel they have to share their story (even if previously they had decided they didn’t want to share it), and 3) can be a triggering reminder of the normalcy they didn’t start life with and the stressors that can go along with that loss. Books with themes surrounding loss, abandonment, or violence may also be triggering to a child who was adopted and should be adjusted based on the specific needs of the child (which can only be done if the teacher is made aware those needs exist).
A negative possible outcome of sharing this part of your family’s story with your child’s teacher could be that they not only want to talk about it with your child, but they do so in a nosy manner or make your child feel uncomfortable with his or her questions. Or, it could make your child feel like they are obligated to share information with their teacher—not to better understand the student but to satisfy the teacher’s curiosity.
The Not-So-Final Verdict
After my inner debate, and talking with both adoptees and adoptive parents, I have decided that at least for the early school years, I will tell my daughter’s teacher she is adopted. Not so much to give them all the details they don’t have to know, but so that they can help be part of our team of teaching our little one that she is amazing and perfect, and that she entered our family a little differently than the traditional route. As we are telling her age-appropriate parts of this narrative, it is inevitable that she may ask her teachers questions, and I want them to both be prepared for this as well as have words that will help build her up and process her feelings about this and not put on a big platitude bandaid that says “Oh, you’re adopted? You’re SO lucky!” Even as a pre-schooler, I want her to be given the space to process how she feels, and not be told how she should feel about the dynamics in a story she is still learning about.
I want to be proactive and empower my child’s teachers with the tools that they may need to help support our daughter, academically, socially, and emotionally. By not telling them a part of her story, I feel like I will be setting them up to make a mistake they don’t have the information they need not make. I often refer to having tools in your toolbox with handling other issues, and I think it is relevant here as well. By including them in our inner circle and telling them our family’s story, we can also help teach them about positive adoption language, give scripts for sharing with other kids about adoption in general, and teach them the importance of allowing space for a child to feel how they feel.
My goal will be to provide my child’s teacher with education about adoption in general so that she or he can apply this to the classroom for years to come.
Once you have decided that you do want to tell your child’s teacher they were adopted, your next thought is probably, “Ok, but how?” There are multiple ways to share your child’s story and your subsequent expectations with your child’s teacher.
– Schedule a conference either prior to school starting or within the first few days of school
– Write a letter or email telling your family’s story and how you think this should be handled within the classroom
– Provide links to a few articles about adoption for your child’s teacher to read
– Purchase book(s) for your child’s teacher
– Create a Positive Adoption Language graphic for the teacher to refer to when in doubt
– Construct an Adoption Resources for Teachers binder that includes many of the above recommendations, with the addition the following sections: Frequently Asked Questions, Projects that are Potentially Harmful to Adopted Children and Alternatives, Resources for More Information, List of My Favorite Books about Adoption
Resources for Teachers
I have included a very non-comprehensive list of resources that would be helpful for educators.
What Teachers Should Know About Adoption: a printable graphic created by Quality Improvement for Adoption & Guardianship Support and Preservation
TBRI & Trauma-Informed Classrooms: a compilation of training from The Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU designed specifically for educators
Safe and Sound: Responding to the Experiences of Children Adopted or in Foster Care: a guide created by the American Academy of Pediatrics for teachers and counselors working with school-age children and youth who are adopted or living in foster care
Even after my court session within my head about whether I should tell my child’s teacher she is adopted, I may later decide it wasn’t the best decision. School is new territory for our family, and I am sure it will be a learning curve at times. Thankfully, most decisions aren’t forever binding, and we can pivot and try something different if our initial plan doesn’t work out. Similarly, if you decide that you don’t want to share your child’s story–as it isn’t yours to share, and halfway through the school year, you realize that although the details of his or her story aren’t yours to share, but it would be beneficial for the teacher to understand how your family was formed, there are no rules that say you can’t share with the teacher months into the school year.
Chasidy Brooks is a nurse practitioner married to her best friend and high school sweetheart, Ben. They are mom and dad to 4 kiddos, who are equal parts crazy and beautiful, ranging from preschool to middle school. Chasidy was born and raised right outside of Atlanta, Georgia, so it’s only appropriate that she cheers loudly for the Georgia Bulldogs and that her drink of choice is Coca-Cola. Her passion is for being an advocate and a voice for those whose voices might not otherwise be heard, and this is evident in everything she does. Chasidy is the founder of Rainbows from Raya, a nonprofit organization that supports adoptive families through grants and mealtrains.