Explaining Adoption to Your Adopted Child
Chris writes: “Dear Pastor John, my wife and I adopted our youngest son from Ethiopia just over a year ago. What a gift he’s been to us! He’s a toddler now, and beautiful differences in our skin color and hair type will stand out to him soon, if not already. The question we wrestle with is how soon do we start the discussion of his adoption with him?”
Great question. I am glad it was asked and I pulled Noel and Talitha together last night to ask them these questions, my wife and daughter. Talitha is adopted. She is 18 now. She remembers a lot about how we did this and so we asked her how she felt about it. And so what I am about to say is coming with both of their input, not just me. In fact, Talitha said that the thing she appreciated and values and remembers might not always work with all her friends that she knows who are adopted. So I don’t want anybody to say we have got the last word here, every family is the same. It is not. Our conviction is that from the very beginning, I mean as soon as this kid can hear you talk, adoption should be a reality spoken of the way birth and eating and playing and sleeping and all other ordinary realities of life are talked about. So you just talk about it. There is adoption. So your two year old hears you talking about children get adopted and children being born. And he doesn’t know what either of those mean. He doesn’t know the word adopted. He doesn’t know the word born yet. He is just hearing you talk about it.
But little by little understanding dawns and with every new perceived growth in understanding mom and dad fill in more and more of the missing pieces. In other words, you are never hiding from this kid that he is adopted and you are never hiding the concept of adoption and they grow organically together. Get good children’s picture books. I am talking about a picture book that a kid eats, you know, the board kind that they don’t know what you are doing. They just chew it. Well, get those and when they are six months old, nine months old, 18 months old, whatever will work, set those books in front of them with kids of different color and these books are about adoption or not adoption. They are about the whole range of kids growing up together and trans racial adoptions. There are a lot of good books out there for this. Find them and make sure you are just reading about it and talking about it, quite apart from apply-ing it to your own kid. This is reality. So the books grow with the child and the board books at the beginning that they chew on and then more sophisticated books and very soon this kid is going to have some questions and then you are just going to answer those questions.
Talitha remembers from very early a book about hair. It was just about hair and the African American experience of hair. And she didn’t have any self conscious at the time being African American at all. But she says she can remember this. So she was probably, what, three maybe? I don’t know. Have a look at different kinds of hair, which was helpful. You don’t wait until a magic moment to say: You were adopted. This is spoken from the beginning like you have five toes and you have eyes and some kids have brown eyes and some have blue eyes. You have brown eyes. Some kids are adopted. Some kids come another way. You came by adoption. And they will be so confused... but they are happy. You know, they are happy. You are talking about things and, you know, I don’t know what you are talking about some day.
And here is an event. Here is an illustration. Talitha was, what? I don’t know how old she was, two or three. I should have asked Noel. But anyway we were at a pro life march, ok? Every year we were marching with several thousand people. And they have got these big pictures of these babies. And, of course, some of them are horrible pictures and you pray shield your little one from that, but beautiful pictures of babies. And she said to Noel: Baby. Baby was born. Baby was born, or something like that. And Talitha said: Yes. And you were born. And Talitha said: No. I wasn’t born. I was adopted. So up until that time she was hearing the language and some are born and some are adopted and that is the way she put it together. I am the adopted child. And so over the next half hour, by the time that was done she and Noel had made a little progress in sorting out: No, no, adopted kids are also born kids. And now that, of course, is going to raise a whole slew of questions of did I come from you or somebody else? And but, you know, kids ask questions very early before they are ready of answers. And the Lord gives you wisdom to know the kinds of helpful thing to say that gives them just enough of what they need to run off and be happy with their friends before you give them a good lecture that they weren’t even intending to ask about.
Of course, you need answers ready when the hard questions come. Why did my mommy give me away? Ok? You need an answer for that. Who is my daddy? Why didn’t he stay around? Why don’t we know who he is? Did he not care about me? I mean, those are the questions for which there are Christian answers. And mainly you try to discern at those moments where the child is and what they really want to know and you massively affirm that you have chosen them. You care for them. You are mommy and daddy. They are loved by you. And then you provide them whatever you can about the hardship that mom and dad were going through that made it very hard for them to love you the way they wanted to and, you know, something like that.
So the principle is: Adoption is normal and wonderful and a perfectly natural process of life. Speak of it that way from the very beginning. God adopted us. Lots of kids and children are adopted. There are a lot of adopted families. We chose you. We wanted you. You are very precious to us. You are here and I am you daddy and I will always be here for you. You are safe.
Thank you for your example Pastor John, and thank you Noel and Talitha for your input in this episode. I’m sure this is going to be helpful to a lot of couples. So thank you. This is the third and final part of a little series of episodes on adoption. Be sure to check out the two previous episodes, #349 and #350 for more. Adoption is a joy to talk about, and it’s so wonderful to see happen. There are subjects on this podcast that we address that are neither joyful to talk about, nor wonderful to see happen, and that will be the case tomorrow when we look at the subject of suicide and salvation. It’s a question that has hit home for Pastor John over the years. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.