Why all adopted kids need lifebooks


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine

A lifebook isn’t a baby book, a scrap book, or a photo album. A lifebook is a detailed account of a child’s life that helps that child make sense of the past and prepare for a successful future.

Preparing a lifebook for your child is part of the job of being a foster or adoptive parent.

Children who are in foster care, or who were adopted, have more complex layers in their lives than other children. To some extent, all of them have experienced the loss of their biological parents, some lose their birth culture and relatives, and others have experienced neglect and abuse, or lived in multiple homes.

Lifebooks help children place adoption in the context of their life experiences and give them real proof of their existence before they entered care, an orphanage, or were adopted. This helps children make sense of their past, develop a sense of personal value and importance, and is an important aide to help them grieve their losses. It is invaluable for a child to understand that there were people in his or her past who did care about them and that they weren’t just “disposed” of.

A lifebook includes an explanation of why a child came into government care or into an orphanage and explains what happened to him or her before joining their foster or adoptive family. It is often amazing how misinformed kids can be about the reasons that they don’t live with birth family.

Lifebook expert, adoptee, and author, Beth O’Malley says, “The only mistake that you can make with a lifebook is not to start one at all.” She adds, “Lifebooks are the ultimate teaching tool, and they can save hours of therapy later in life.”

The need for such information doesn’t disappear because a child is now loved and well cared for in an adoptive or foster home. Gaps in understanding about his or her life and unanswered questions can become a shadowy accompaniment in a child’s life and affect his or her perception of who they are and where they fit in. This can be especially difficult during the identity forming teen years.

Lifebooks also help counter fantasies children might have about birth family or the events in their lives. Lifebooks can also connect a child to his or her culture and traditions. O’Malley, like most lifebook advocates, suggests that if your child comes from another country, be aware that it’s important to discuss the country’s rules for adoption. This is often the only explanation a child has as to why he or she was placed.

Lifebooks are also important because a child may not always want to actually talk about adoption or his or her story. Lifebooks are a useful way for them to revisit their story in a private way, as the need arises.

Questions lifebooks answer

  • Why was I adopted?
  • Why did you adopt me?
  • Who are my brith parents and what were they like?
  • Why don’t I live with my brith family?
  • Who is important to me, and who am I important to?
  • Who has taken care of me?
  • What was it like when you met me?

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