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Adoption: A Lifelong Conversation Author: Laura Winters, LMSW

I was seated in front of my soon-to-be son, shoveling spoonfulsof mashed sweet potatoes into his open mouth while telling him his adoption story. I knew he wasn’t going to remember it. He was 6 months old, with a vocabulary consisting of ahhhs, gurgles, and squeals, clearly not able to fully comprehend the meaning of words. I did not always understand why it was important to start this “conversation” early, but over time this understanding was solidified. I understood because I could see into his future as a boy, tween, teen, young man, and full-fledged adult…an adult adoptee. This knowledge was a gift unintentionally passed to me by men and women who sharedtheir stories of finding and understanding themselves. Being disconnected from their biological family and adopted by another, these adoptees had an extra layer of life experience to blend into who they were…a process made much more difficult when they learned about their adoption when they were “older”. Six. Twelve. Fifteen. Twenty-two. Forty-one. Yes! Forty-one!! That story is for another blog post but the effects of learning the truth as an older child is at the least, confusing. At the most, devastating! It doesn’t have to be this way.

When adoptive parents ask me, “When should we let our child know he/she joined our family through adoption?” My answer is always, “From birth, and never stop!” Sometimes the worries come flooding in: What if they are confused and don’t understand who their parents are? What if they feel “less than”? And there are deeper, unspoken fears. We want to be their parents in every way and worry about losing an emotional connection to our children. We fear we might lose them to this other mother, father, family. Worries abound but humans…especially children…are pretty amazing, resilient, and have an ability to understand things beyond our imagination. People NEED to know all of the truths about themselves…heritage, heredity, origin, etc.

So why begin this conversation at infancy? Why should this be an ongoing conversation throughout life?

1) It helps you practice and get comfortable with the story.

Adoption is beautiful. It’s a love story, for sure. But let’s face it…it does not happen without pain, loss, and sadness. It just doesn’t. And sometimes those topics are hard to discuss with your child. How do you explain that their birth parents were not able to care for them? The reasons are not easy…lack of money, resources, family support, homelessness, lack of emotional readiness, abusive relationships, substance abuse or addiction, physical abuse, and/or neglect. Telling your child they were adopted is one thing, but addressing the reasons why are quiteanother. You WILL need to address those reasons over time and practicing those conversations helps you become comfortable and confident in sharing your child’s story with him/her.

2) It allows the child to weave their adoption into their identity from the beginning.

Think about how children learn language. Do you sit them down at the age of 5 and say, “Okay…now it’s time to learn words, meanings, names of things, etc.”? Of course not! Instead, you talked to your child, even when they didn’t understand the words. Eventually, they learn mama and