Explaining Adoption to Kids

Adoption is a complicated topic on so many levels. No wonder in some families, including my own, the subject never  came up for discussion. I grew up thinking my parents were my parents, my sister was my sister, we all were related by blood and there were no secrets. I thought I knew everything about our family. My parents never told me I was adopted and I didn’t find out until I was 38.

In today’s  New York Times, a mother takes a stab at explaining her own adoption to her 4-year-old biological daughter. I applaud the writer for being honest with her child. But even she questions her  decision to tell her little girl what adoption means.

“I worry that by answering her first innocent question about adoption and talking about my own history to a child so young, I have given her something new to worry about,” writes Nicole Soojung Callahan.


“Before I told her about my adoption, she never had reason to even consider what it would be like to be given up, or given to others. Now she does.”

I don’t think adoption should be a taboo subject to discuss with kids as long as you talk about in an age-appropriate way. There’s no need to go too deeply into the details. What do you think?


18 thoughts on “Explaining Adoption to Kids

  1. I entirely agree. Letting kids know in a timely manner (not too young) is necessary to avoid later feelings of being lied to.

  2. Though I wasn’t adopted, I didn’t find out who my biological father was until my 30s (and it was my sister who told me). I wish I’d always known the truth.

    1. Thanks for reading, Wendy. I understand how you feel about not knowing the truth. Really, what good does it do to cover up important facts about a person’s life? I am curious to know if you have a relationship with your father. Have you ever talked to your mother about him?

  3. It sometimes seems like parents are so worried about their kids’ reactions that they keep important information from them. Kids are generally adaptable and resilient; I wish our parents had been more forthcoming about things that matter because we certainly could have handled it! Let’s hope we’ve learned to be more open with our own kids. That being said, I would probably have waited until my kid was older than four to tell her, if I had been adopted. Thanks for writing this, Lynne!

    1. Thanks for reading the post, Jean. I think today’s parents are smart to tell their kids early on about their adoption. It makes it a normal part of their life story and like you said, kids are pretty resilient. But I suppose the tricky part is deciding which key facts the kids need to know and at what age.

  4. We always believed in telling the truth. My husband and I had agreed, from the very beginning, that was what we would do. There is always the pros and cons of at what age, but for us we answered our Daughters first question, a the age of 3 1/2 , truthfully. We then went from there, and waited for her to ask the questions, Each question was answered truthfully and age appropriate, at her understanding level….She Knows we love her So So Very Much..

  5. Thank you for reading and commenting on the post, Anna Marie. I am curious to know what was your daughter’s first question about being adopted? It sounds like you and your husband took the right approach with her. Does she still ask questions?

    1. Her first question was while I was putting her to bed one night. We were talking about her day at school and out of the blue she said “How long was I in your belly mommy?”. I almost choked. It was the first time I realized the time had come to start the process of telling her by answering her questions little bits of info at a time.

      She stopped asking questions when she was around 9 or so. But I do know she thinks about it as she has always wanted a sibling, and has always said she wished she had a brother.

      Take care Lynn… Hope to see you soon…Hoping you are all enjoying your summer.

      1. That’s the type of question I would expect a small child to ask. When he was much younger, Jake also made a few comments about wanting a sibling. Now he realizes the advantages to being an only child. Thanks again for taking time out of your busy life to read my blog, Anna Marie. Hope to see you soon. Enjoy summer with your family (and keep reading my blog 🙂

  6. I did locate my father–he was very ill and it was not possible to have a real relationship with him. He died in ’99. My mother reconnected with him before he died as well. And we have talked about him. The beauty part is that he had sisters, so I have aunts and a bunch of wonderful cousins. We had a family reunion at our apartment last month!

  7. Hi, Lynne,
    When I was your journalism teacher in the ’80s at Roosevelt University, I recall you saying that your parents were very old in their mid-50s when they had you. I had thought I was old – 35 and a half, when my first child was born, and that my grandmother was old at 40 when she had her first child. But mid-50s seemed very old. What a surprise to just have found out you were adopted.

    1. Hi Cathy. Yeah, I should have put 2 and 2 together sooner but I was a trusting girl in those days. I didn’t question the “official” story. It’s funny. I remember being pregnant at 35 and being reminded of the fact I was “older” every time I went to the doctor’s office. Hah! Thanks for reading my blog. 🙂

  8. I think there are many adoptees who grow up with a sense of abandonment and/or a sense that something is missing, despite being part of a loving adoptive family. As a “late discovery adoptee” (whose childhood was not always idyllic), I would have been heart broken to know that I had a mom who gave me up. While, my parents “lied”, I feel it protected me in the long run. Finding out as an adult was surprising but I had the life skills and knowledge to see things from an adult perspective.

    1. Not knowing the truth may have protected you from a painful reality. When I was a child, I just wanted to be like the other kids. I didn’t want to be different and just having older parents made us a little different from the other kids at school. Let’s face it, being adopted is different and I’m sure our parents thought they were doing the right thing by keeping the adoptions secret. Things are quite different now. It’s fascinating how the pendulum has turned in the other direction with respect to openness.

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