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How to Talk to an Adopted Child About Their Birth Family

Updated on October 22, 2017
angela_michelle profile image

Angela has been a foster parent for eight years and adopted one of her own. She has taken many courses to help her better understand kids.

Saying Hi To Her Birth Dad at a Cemetary

My daughter spending time with her birth father.
My daughter spending time with her birth father. | Source

Adopted children have a right to know they are adopted. No one should ever feel ashamed or feel like they need to hide the fact that they are adopted. Adoption should fill your child with a sense of pride, because they know who they are and where they came from. The younger they are told they are adopted, the healthier their understanding and acceptance will be.

In the early years, it is important to word it appropriately for their age. Telling a child "you are adopted, you are special," is not necessarily the best way to approach a young child, since they will not understand what adopted, and may end up believing that they are "a 'dopted." Instead explain to them what being adopted is, by saying “you did not grow in my tummy, but your birth mother’s tummy.” I usually add, “God wanted you built like your birth mom and birth dad, with their appearance, their talents, but raised by us.”

Soon, your child will begin asking about their birthparents: What do they look like? Were they nice? Why don’t I live with them? Some questions you will be able to answer, some you won’t. The answers themselves are not as important as the way you approach them.

Talking About Your Child's Birth Family

Remember that we all define ourselves by our past, whether that be our past experiences, how we are raised, or by our biological heritage. Each part is equally important when we identify ourselves. With a child who is adopted, they have two families effecting the way that they view themselves. It is for this reason why children often want to know as much about their birth family as their mom and dad can tell them.

Keep Things Light: When a child asks about their original parents, we as parents need to remember, they are going to feel that what you say about their birth family will reflect on them as well. That is why it is very important to never talk negatively about their birth family, and keep things light when discussing negative aspects of their birth parents.

Point Similarities Out: If you are lucky enough to have met their birth parents, make sure to point out the similarities they share with their birth parent. Do they have the same complexion, face shape, athletic ability? They will feel good to know where these traits came from. This will help them be proud that they are an artist, even if they live in a family that tends to be more athletic. This will help them to understand and celebrate this difference.

Remind Them They are Loved: Sooner or later, your child is going to ask why they are not with their birth parents. In circumstances where a mother chose to give their child up for adoption, make sure to point out how much she must have loved your child in order to carry her for nine months, and choose to give her a different life than the one she could have provided. Your child needs to know that they are and were never a burden. The act was out of love and concern for the child.

Discussing Hard Facts About Birth Parents With Your Adopted Daughter or Son

Keep things in as Positive Light as Possible: On the other hand, if your child’s birth parents had their parental rights taken away due to a drug addiction, abuse, neglect, it is even more important to keep the conversation with a positive light, while being honest.

Let Them Know The Goal Was Their Safety: For instance, with my daughter, when she wants to know about her birth mom, I will talk about how she looks so much like her; they share the same athletic ability and natural charm. Then I also will let her know, your biological mom made some very bad choices that did not allow her to raise her safely.

Remind Them We All Make Bad Choice/ Encourage to Make Good Choices: I point out that we all make bad decisions sometimes, and that is why it is very important to learn what are good decisions, and what are bad ones.

Remember Your Goal: My intention is to instill in her a love and compassion for her birth mom, without resenting her. It allows her to realize her genes are not bad nor does her birth mom not love her; it was just the choices she made that caused her not to be able to live safely with her daughter.

Be Honest: By being honest, it also prevents her from idealizing her birth mom, which can be emotionally dangerous.

Feeding a Giraffe


Don't Let Your Child Believe Lies About Their Birth Mother or Father

Although it is very important to keep things in a positive light, be very wary of overemphasizing the good and causing false memories or false hopes for your child. If your child has never met their birth parents, you don’t want to give them false ideas of their birth family. Focus more on the ways your child is similar to them, then on the birth parent themselves when possible. By focusing your discussion on their birth parent rather than the similarities between the two, they will begin to form an idealized vision of who this person is. They will want to know more, and where answers are not formed, they will form their own ideas. This is not healthy. They need to realize they are human. By focusing the attention on the similarities on the two of them, your child is focusing her thoughts on themselves.

If your child has lived with their birth parents they may have some real memories. Let your child cherish those memories, if they are good, but be careful allowing them to idealize these memories. Help them discern from real memories and false ones. This also goes the other way as well. If they have negative memories, you don’t want them harboring anger in their heart towards their birth parents, because this could lead to anxiety and depression in the future. They need to make sure they are not over-dramatizing the events. If they do hold strong negative feelings towards their birth parents, it is important that they talk to a counselor to help sort out their feelings.

Has Your Views of Your Parents, birth or adoptive, Negatively Impacted Your Own Self Image

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Celebrate Your Child's Birth and Adoption

Last but not least, don’t focus so much attention on the fact that they are adopted. Definitely answer questions about their birth parents, let them know they are in fact adopted and you are not their biological parents, but don’t let adoption be what defines them as a person. They are not your adopted child, but rather your child who happens to be adopted. Make sure they realize that. Also, let them lead any conversations about adoption. They should be doing most of the talking. This is true in most discussions with your child.

Talking about the birth family can often be a very awkward thing, but the sooner you and your child talk about them, the more at ease you will feel with discussing them. Be supportive to your child, and don't ever cause him/her to feel bad for wanting to know about them. His/her curiosity is a very natural thing and does not reflect their feelings towards you. If they feel comfortable enough to talk to you about their birth parents, this shows that a lot of trust has been built between you and your child. Always remember, even if they do pursue their birth parents, the relationship you have built with your child could never be replaced.

Adoption - When and How to Talk Adoption with Your Child

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz


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    • profile image

      greeneyedblondie 3 years ago

      I always like the idea of adoption, and then I hear stories like CraftytotheCore's and rethink that idea. Would I someday be a good adoptive mother? Most adoptive parents have good intentions when they adopt (even grandparents, I'm certain), they probably just didn't know what to do or say to you, which is so sad.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      I was adopted twice as a child. I stayed in my birth mother's family. However, I was never told who my bio dad was. The answer was always, "be happy you have any father at all". It destroyed me during my childhood. I always sought out in my heart who my real dad was even though I thought of my grandfather very highly. I would have never loved my grandfather any less. I just wanted to know.

      It wasn't until I started having serious health issues last year that I found out who my real dad is. By doing a private search, I found his entire family. I was able to reunite with an aunt. The rest of the family refuse to acknowledge me and that's fine. But my real dad, I've never met, only seen a mug shot.

      My mother has continuously withheld this info from me. And I feel it is extremely wrong of her to do that to me. She feels that it has nothing to do with me at all. ?

      Anyway, I've since learned it was kept from me because my real father is Italian 100%. So I'm Italian. I always wondered why my first dish I ever learned to make was chicken cacciatore.

      I remember as a teenager an uncle's wife confronted me and told me to stop playing games about my real father. She thought I knew full well who he really was. (In other words, I was blamed my entire life for my mother's issues.) I also found out last year that my real dad knew me. When I was born, he didn't come to the hospital so my grandmother flipped out and made it known she didn't want him around any more. My mother and he were very young, teenagers, during a time unwed parents were scorned in society.

      I also learned that my real dad left to go out west when I was about 7. He came to see me. He said goodbye. He told me he loved me. It's a shame I have no recollection of these memories. Because of the abuse I suffered at my mother's choice of husbands, I blocked out half of my childhood.

      Thank you for this very important topic.

    • Karen S Eggemann profile image

      Karen S. Eggemann 4 years ago from California

      Thank you for your candid telling of your story. It's much appreciated!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you so much!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Good hub article and well covered. I agree with you in that people should communicate and share what they can about their adoption. Voted up.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      That's the way it should be.

    • Dave Sibole profile image

      Dave Sibole 5 years ago from Leesburg, Oh

      Lot of good info here. We have a granddaughter that is adopted and of course love her like a biological granddaughter. Rarely even think about the adoption.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you very much.

    • adawnmorrison profile image

      adawnmorrison 5 years ago from The Midwest

      Thank you for reminding adoptive parents that they needn't feel insecurity or resentment over their child's desire to be connected with their birth family. A very positive and helpful hub!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you so much for the great compliment!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

      What an awesome hub. A lot of great information here, very insightful and thought-provoking. This is a delicate matter, but does need to be addressed. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you very much.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

      You have handled a sensitive subject really well.