Clever communication for adoptive parents


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine

Sugarcoating adoption can backfire. Be honest but positive with your kids about adoption, birth parents, and history.

Stop spinning

As adoptive parents, we often try to protect our children from the painful aspects of their histories. We wonder what to tell and what to hold back from our kids. According to the Child Information Gateway, parents need to, “Resist the temptation to make up information or to put a better spin on the truth.” We need to “Highlight the positive without denying reality.“

When to tell—not if

Decide how and when to share difficult information--not telling is not an option. Your child is likely to find out eventually and has a right to his or her own history. You are the best person to give your child the facts and to help him or her understand them. Seek advice from a therapist if you don’t know how to start. Share your child’s story on a strictly need to know basis--it’s no one else’s business.

Do not tell your child details that might be too complex for him or her to understand. Give more information as your child develops and can handle it.

Button up on birth family

  • Present the facts about your child’s history or birth family without judgmental comments or criticism.
  • Help your child understand that the choices and mistakes birth family members made have no bearing on the child’s value. Explain that the actions of that adult do not mean that they didn’t care for the child.
  • Realize that all adoptive children “own” their birth parents. Criticism of a birth parent will at some point be reflected in how the child feels about him or herself.

Stop sugarcoating

Sugarcoating the adoption experience denies children the support they need. Talking only about how wonderful it was for your child to be adopted ignores the fact that gaining your family also means losing the experience of being raised with the birth family. Avoid the following types of comments:

Your birth mom gave you up for adoption because she loved you so much.
A child may start to wonder if the adoptive parents also will send him or her away because of their love.

You are very lucky to be adopted.
Adopted children should not be expected to be grateful to have a family or to be cared for.

We chose you—you’re special.
Adoptees may later realize the loss that is implied by being “chosen” (they first had to be “unchosen.”)

Flights of Fancy

My 10-year-old daughter constantly fantasizes about what her life would have been like if she hadn’t been adopted. We have a closed adoption. What do I do?

Firstly, don’t take this personally, it’s normal for adopted children to imagine what their lives might have been like had they not been adopted. Let your daughter express her feelings and ideas. Don’t exaggerate what you know or speculate about birthmom—if she does eventually find her, what you have said may not be accurate. Explain that you don’t have any information but are willing to help her search for her birthmom if and when it’s possible. Talk to her about personality traits, physical attributes that she may have gotten from birthmom. Explain, without judgement, some of the reasons why birthmoms make adoption plans. Don’t tell her she’s better off with your family.