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AF answers your parenting questionsJuly/August 2008

Answering questions in front of kids

Q:A complete stranger approached my five-year-old and me and said, "She looks like her father, right?" Can you suggest a response that preserves our privacy, but doesn't imply to my child (who will, of course, understand what we're saying) that I'm sad because we don't look alike, or that her dad is not her "real" dad?

A:I’m not sure that such a nosy questioner deserves any response. It isn't anyone's business whom your children resemble, and many children don't look like their (biological) parents. But you could say, "Actually, my child looks like herself, and I'm delighted, because she’s much better looking than most of our relatives!"

You might want to discuss the interaction with your child after the fact. It is important to acknowledge to our kids that many people don't understand adoption or families that look different. You can say that sometimes you feel like answering questions about your family, and sometimes you don't. Tell her that she, too, can decide how she wants to handle such situations.
Ronny Diamond, Director of the Adoption Counseling Team

Referring to the birthmother

Q:Our social worker advised us to avoid the term "birthmother" when talking with our child. She said this would just confuse our child and that "you are his only mother." This has been bothering me--especially since we'd like to stay in touch with the birthmother.

A:It sounds like your social worker is stuck in the dark ages of adoption! You are right to question this advice. Yes, you are your child's mother, but you are not, in fact, his only one. Your family may find that it feels most natural to call the birthmother by her first name in casual conversation, but you'll do so with the understanding that your son is aware of their connection. You will have explained to him that ____ is his birthmother, and that he grew in her tummy.

Children often understand more than adults give them credit for. They know who mom and dad are, and won't be confused when they speak with their birthmothers, or when the birthmother comes to visit. In fact, with the ongoing contact you're planning, adoption will be easier (not more confusing) for your child to understand.
Kathleen Silber, Coauthor of Dear Birthmother (Corona) and associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center, Pleasant Hill, California

Domestic adoption paperwork

Q:We're planning a trip out of the country, about two months after we finalize our domestic adoption, and are worried about getting our daughter's birth certificate in time. What are our options for applying for a passport and traveling with her?

A:After you've finalized the adoption in the state where you live, the state where your child was born will issue a new birth certificate. This generally takes six to eight weeks, but it can take up to 12 months in a few states, including California.

Make sure that your adoption attorney knows about the trip you're planning. It may be possible to hasten the process of getting the new birth certificate by asking the court that finalizes the adoption to transmit the paperwork directly to a court in the child's state of birth.

If the state where your child was born cannot issue a new certificate in time, the U.S. Department of State may accept a certified copy of the final adoption decree as proof of citizenship for a passport. The adoption decree should denote the child's state of birth, to prove that the child was born in the U.S.
Peter Wiernicki, Joseph, Reiner & Wiernicki, P.C., Rockville, Maryland

Feeling bad about feeling different

Q:Recently, my four-year-old has been saying that she doesn't like “being Chinese.” I thought she might benefit from some Chinese dance and art classes for adoptees, but she refuses to discuss attending them. What's going on?

A:It's wonderful that, at age four, your daughter is able to articulate what she is feeling and has created some boundaries for herself. Being Chinese may not really be the issue, though; a general feeling of being "different" may be bothering her. Her discomfort could have been caused by a question, an offhand comment, or anything that put her in the spotlight.

Instead of introducing Chinese culture classes at this point, you may want to consider some family activities that incorporate all of your different ethnic heritages. Work to reframe "difference" from something negative to a positive characteristic that makes each of us special. Eventually, culture classes with other adoptees may be just what she needs. Right now, however, some reassurance of belonging and connection seems more important.
Deborah Johnson, Director of the heritage travel company, Kindred Journeys International, Minneapolis

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