Question: "We adopted our five-year-old daughter through a local adoption agency. We have never told her that she was adopted, and now we don't know how. Could you suggest how we could start the process?"
Yes, it can be difficult to know when to start the process of telling a child their adoption story. Following the guidance from the wonderful social worker that was involved in my son's adoption, we shared adoption storybooks and his personal adoption story with him form the time we began reading ot him. Our now 11-year-old son continues to love to hear his story and to celebrate his "adoption day."
I would suggest the following approach for introducing adoption to your child. You could say, "How old are you going to be on your next birthday? You know what? You have a birthday, and guess what else you have? You have an adoption day, too." And then the big "A" word is out. Your child may ask ,"Do I get cake on my adoption day too?" The child may also say, "What is adoption?" This is the perfect time to have a short story ready about the child's adoption.
Don't be surprised if some of the old feelings you may have had at the beginning of your adoption journey begin to resurface when you start to talk about adoption with your child. This can sometimes contribute to parents putting off talking about adoption. Because talking to your child about adoption for the first time may be an emotional experience, you may want to take some time to consider how you will tell their story. Perhaps you could do some reading about speaking to child about adoption; you may also want to talk with other adoptive parents or contact your adoption agency and speak with a social worker about using age-appropriate language and how much to share on the first occasion. You may also want to practice your story a few times in for of a friend. When I first starting speaking to my some about adoption, O found that I always became emotional and cried. While they were tears of joy, I did not know how my son would interpret the tears. I was glad that by the time he began asking questions about adoption I was no longer crying! You could also have some new storybooks ready to share with your child, or you could make a special trip to a favourite bookstore.
It's also helpful for children to socialize with other adopted children so that they understand that adoption is a normal way for people to form families. Again, starting with your adoption agency and/or AFABC, try to attend different adoption function and workshops and develop a circle of friends in the adoption community.
Once you have told your child about their adoption, remember that it's an ongoing process as children pass through their development stages. As children enter school and become involved in extra-curricular activities, it sometimes seems that children no longer think about adoption. My son informs me that sometimes he doesn't think about adoption at all, and sometimes he thinks about it all the time.
Having adoption books at home, celebrating adoption day, attending adoption functions and workshops, and socializing with other adoptive families keeps adoption present in your life and demonstrates to your children that you're willing to discuss adoption with them as their understanding of adoption grows.
Shelley and Delma work for Family Services of Greater Vancouver.