Most adoptive parents worry about whether or not they are communicating enough with their children about adoption, especially with children who don't present with a lot of questions. On the other hand, some parents express concern about overdoing the emphasis on adoption, perhaps giving their children the impression that they were unfortunate victims of life's events.
ALL parents want to meet their children's emotional needs for security, self-esteem, and love. Many of us were fortunate to grow up with parents whose communication tried to address these needs.
However, many of us also had parents who did not understand our innermost feelings and worries. They could not help us to really acknowledge them. If I said to my mother, "I don't want to go on the field trip," she would respond, "Why not? There's nothing to be afraid of. Of course you'll go." As in the words of Sherrie Eldridge, author of Twenty Things Adopted Children Wish Their Parents Knew, my loving mother did not "connect with my heart." She didn't know how to discover why I was feeling afraid, that separating from her made me anxious sometimes. She also did not know how to acknowledge my fear before reassuring me. Today's parents are learning how to say. "I understand that it scares you to be away from me sometimes. But I promise, I'll be right here when you return. I am confident that you will be all right. And I'll be glad to hear all about your trip."
A generation ago, our parents meant well. But they didn't have the tools for this kind of communication. And they believed that painful feelings and subjects were to be avoided. They tended to avoid their own painful feelings.
Today's adoptive parents need to help their children with their important feelings related to adoption, including feelings of loss and grief, which impact their child' sense of security and self-esteem. They can do this by VALIDATING their child's feeling (including those related to adoption) with statements such as, "That must be very painful." Everyone can help their children by knowing how to empathetically respond to them. Sometimes, before parents can do this, they must come to terms with their own feelings about adoption, including the normal emotions of loss, jealousy, and fear of birth parents.
How often should a parent raise the topic of adoption? Holly van Gulden, in her book, Real Parents, Real Children, suggests that parents throw out "pebbles" periodically. "Pebbles" are statements about adoption or your child's adoption story that create a ripple effect, which may or may not produce an immediate response. "I wonder if your artistic ability comes from your birth mother." Children will respond as they wish and when they wish. Parents can be aware of stories in the media that reference adoption themes. These strategies provide a consistent message that adoption is a topic that is open for discussion. Children are different in how they process adoption. As long as parents have established an open atmosphere, they do not need to be overly worried about those children who ask only a few questions. (It may change as they get older.) Parents are also advised to remember that conversations may come up at the most unexpected times - driving in the car --sometimes last less than a minute, and to allow children to end the conversation as they desire.
As long as parents create opportunities for adoption to be brought up, they are doing well by their children.