Creating a family is exciting whether you’re getting married, giving birth, or adopting. And for each family, the story of how they came to be is unique and significant. The question of who should be privy to that story and how we should share it, is worth thinking about. This is especially true with adoption since the story is shared between you, your child, and the birth family. Adoptive parents must be mindful and purposeful about what they share and with whom. While it’s important to be true to your story, it’s also important to be respectful of your child, their country of origin, their birth family, and their right to privacy. So, the best way to think of yourself is as a caretaker of the story.
As your child grows, you will honestly and compassionately share details of her adoption story while placing her birth parent’s actions in the context of their society and culture, and answering her questions to help her understand. You will also provide her with the love she needs to define her identity and what her adoption story means in her life. Then, not when your child first arrives, is the best time for you and your child to decide with whom and how to share this information. Until then, when it comes time to introduce your child’s adoption story to your loved ones, here are a few tips to help you be the best story caretaker you can be:
Prepare Your Child to Meet Your Loved Ones
Creating a scrapbook is a great way to introduce your loved ones to your child before they meet, and spark conversation. You can include photos from earlier days and recent shots to help your child place people they meet. You can share stories about your own childhood experiences with these loved ones and help your child understand how these loved ones fit into the family picture. It’s good to emphasize shared experiences and attachments with loved ones rather than bloodlines and genetic ties so that your child doesn’t approach the event feeling that everyone, except them, is biologically related. You can emphasize the importance of love and commitment by talking about relatives who joined the family through marriage or adoption. And once the scrapbook is complete, let your child look at it whenever they want. Together, you can even consider bringing it to the event as an icebreaker.
It’s also a good idea to practice greeting new people and answering questions. Role play is a great way to do this. Assign roles and have a tea party, make eye contact, exchange names, and practice asking and answering questions. Don’t forget to consider questions from children’s perspectives. Curious cousins, for example, might ask about your child’s appearance if vastly different from their own. Preparing your child for questions like these will contribute to their ability to comfortably navigate the event.
Prepare Your Loved Ones to Meet Your Child
Several weeks before you meet, consider taking a family portrait that clearly shows everyone’s face and conveys the love between you through hugs and smiles. Then send the photo to your loved ones with a message such as, “Our family can’t wait to see you again, and have you get to know our daughter. We’ve told her so much about you!” Along with the photo, consider composing a letter that provides an update on recent goings-on in your family, including the adoption. Talk about what it has meant to you and positive ways in which it has changed your lives. Emphasize familial bonds such as the relationship between parents and children, or siblings. This will help your loved ones understand and process the changes in your family unit—something that, when families are welcoming a biological child, happens gradually when a family shares that they’re pregnant, prepares a nursery, hosts a baby shower, etc. This letter is also a good opportunity to clearly establish boundaries in a kind, respectful way. For example, “Brigitte was born in Bulgaria and is 4 years old. We can’t wait for you to meet her and become a part of her life. Maybe one day, when she’s ready, she’ll even share her adoption story with you.”
Meet Your Loved Ones
By now, you should have an idea about how you want to share your family’s story. All the preparation you’ve done hopefully allowed you to predict some of the questions or topics likely to come up, and decide which you want to comment on and how. It’s only natural that your loved ones will be curious and being open to questions is important, as is remembering that you’re not obliged to answer every question that comes your way. If you’re a note kind of person, you can always bring notes with an organized collection of information you want to share. And if you’re still feeling unsure, seek guidance from your adoption support network, especially anyone who has had similar conversations with their loved ones. On the day of the event, the key is to think of an adoption story like toothpaste, it’s impossible to put back in the tube, so if you’re even slightly unsure about sharing something, don’t.
Above All, Avoid Oversharing!
When kids are young, it’s easy to forget that one day, they will grow up and hear the stories we share repeated back to them. While in many instances they won’t mind, they will have developed their own definition of personal information and ownership of their story is one of the best gifts we can give. There is some information you may feel compelled to share to aid your child’s development such as sharing information pertaining to exposure to drugs or alcohol with school personnel so that they understand your child’s behavior better. Even then, it’s best to err on the side of caution. You can always share more information in the future if you think it necessary, but you can never take information back. If you do find it necessary to divulge sensitive information, consider an age-appropriate way of introducing this information to your child as well. The last thing you want is for them to learn about it from someone else.
To wrap up, get comfortable saying, “That’s Brigitte’s information to share when she’s older,” or, “I’m only able to speak about adoption in a general way.” It will not only make you a great caretaker of your child’s story but teach your child how to care for their story themselves.