Adopting a child was a momentous step for you and your partner. Next came all the paperwork and the nail-biting wait for the agency to call. This is the third big challenge. As your child grows up, you will wonder how to break the news. It is understandable to be nervous about how your child will receive the information. Don't worry, if you time it right and say it the right way, it's only going to make your relationship with your child stronger. Here are a few things to consider.
The Right Time
Most adoption workers agree that age 3 to 5 years is the best time to tell your child that he is adopted. "I told my son when he was 5 years old", says Radhika (last name withheld on request) who adopted a 14-month-old boy in 2007. "He was old enough to comprehend what I was saying and still young enough to accept it at face value. My husband Sridhar and I ensure that we speak about it often and we encourage our son to ask questions", elaborates Radhika. Child welfare experts also advise that parents should introduce the adoptive child to the A-word as early as possible, so that it becomes a part of the child's vocabulary and that the child is comfortable using it in regular conversation. It will also help to tell your child how wonderful it was to adopt her so that he understands that adoption is a positive event.
Some doctors suggest that the right age is between 6 and 8 years, as by then the child feels established within a family and does not immediately fear about the loss of the parents' love. Expert opinions will vary on practically every subject; you're the best judge of the right time to tell your child. However, sooner is always better than later. Waiting until adolescence can actually have a detrimental effect and the child may stop trusting the parents and lead to an identity crisis during those fragile years. In addition to that, the longer you wait, the higher the chances of your child finding out from a third person.
The Right Way
Again, there is no single right way to tell your child about their adoption. You can have a planned conversation or it may happen out of the blue when your child asks you about it. Be honest; but remember that you don't have to explain everything at one go. How much to explain will depend upon how old your child is and the circumstances of their adoption. Sometimes adoptive children worry that there's something wrong with them and that's why they were put up for adoption. It's important that you assuage this feeling. Also talk about the child's biological parents without criticising them. As Radhika puts it, "I explained to my son that his other mom had left him at children's home so that he'd have loads of friends and toys to play with, and that I took him home since that's what God had meant to happen". Encourage your child to share her feelings and answer her questions.
A child's understanding of adoption will certainly change as they grows up. So be prepared for more probing questions, including wanting to know more about their biological parents. If you have specific information about the birth parents, share it. If not, explain about how adoption works. If possible take them to an adoption centre so that they are aware that there are other children who are being adopted. Let the discussion continue especially as your child reaches adolescence. The questions may become more intense and you may also have to reassure your child about the permanence of her adoption.
Above all let your adoptive child know that they are loved and belong in the family.