AF answers your parenting questions.July/August 2005
Have a question? Ask our panel of experts.
Q: Our five-year-old son's birthmother has four other children, so I feel that the standard explanation ("Your birthmother was not ready to care for a child") wouldn't be truthful. Do you have suggestions?
A: I agree that you should be honest with children, but honesty doesn't mean saying everything. When talking to children, it's important to keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. For now, the "standard" explanation will be fine.
As your son grows, he'll want to know more. Children can cognitively grasp the concept of birth siblings around age seven, so that's when you can explain that his birthmother was already a parent. Maybe she was having a hard time caring for her children. Maybe she didn't have anyone to help, and she wanted your son to have a family to take good care of him. When you do have that discussion, be sure to emphasize that her decision had nothing to do with him as a person.
Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City
Q: Where can I learn about adopting from Tonga?
A: You can find information about the process of adopting from any country on the U.S. Department of State's Web site. Log on to travel.state.gov/family and click on "Country-Specific Information."
—The editors of AF
Q: Our doctor ordered $1,000 in lab work for our daughter, whom we recently adopted internationally. My insurance company denied payment for the tests because my daughter had "no symptoms." What can we do?
A: Ask your health care provider to adapt my standard letter [www. adoptivefamilies.com/medical] that I've used (successfully!) in the past. Comparing the tests to screening for diabetes or heart disease may help your carrier understand why they're necessary.
Also, record the name of everyone you speak with at the insurance company, along with the date and time and what you were promised during the conversation. You never know when these details may be helpful.
Good luck, and take heart—I have yet to have any lab tests rejected for payment on the second go-round with the insurance company.
—Deborah Borchers, M.D.,
Eastgate Pediatric Center, Cincinnati
Q: After two bumpy years, we finally got my daughter, now five, to sleep through the night. But she's recently had a slew of sleep problems: night wakings, anxiety at bedtime, and so on. Is this because of adoption? What can we do? We are exhausted!
A: It's always hard to tell whether or not children's struggles are related to adoption. Either way, do all you can to reassure her. Find out if something specific is worrying her—a scary movie, a recent move, a bully at school. Ask if she has any questions about her adoption.
Continue to reinforce the fact that you will always be there for her. Family games of hide and seek demonstrate that separations end in joyful reunions. A photo key chain can help her "keep Mom close," even when you're apart.
Bolster your daughter's confidence that she's "a big five-year-old," and remind her that you'll stay close at night. Initially, she may want you to stay in her room. If so, wean yourself out over a period of days or weeks. Five-year-olds respond well to reward systems—a sticker for each night that she sleeps in her own bed, with a bonus for several nights in a row. Special time with Mom is the perfect bonus…and you'll be rested enough to enjoy it!
—Sarah Springer, M.D.,
International Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh
Q: Lately, our eight-year-old has been saying things like "I wish you weren't my mother" or "I wish you'd just leave," though she always apologizes later. How should we respond when our daughter makes negative comments about adoption and our family?
A: I suspect that when your daughter says these things, she gets a big reaction from you. If so, you're reinforcing this undesirable behavior. Calmly ask your daughter if there's anything about her adoption she'd like to discuss. If she doesn't open up, family therapy can help change negative behavior patterns between parents and children.
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