New Questions About Open Adoption

As your child grows and matures, he'll come up with new questions about his adoption.

An adopted child pondering new questions about her adoption

We’ve always talked openly about adoption, and we see our son Derek’s birth mother, Shannon, regularly. Why does he have so many new questions, now that he’s six?


It’s wonderful that adoption has been a natural subject in your home, and that your son’s birth mother is a concrete reality in his life. In the preschool years, children do not have the cognitive ability to understand all that goes into an adoption. Your primary task during this stage is to help your child associate positive feelings with the word “adoption.” Another task is to create an open atmosphere that gives your child permission to ask questions. You have accomplished both of these tasks!

New Questions

As children grow, so does their capacity for understanding. Now that Derek’s six, and asking new questions about adoption, you’re ready to build on the foundation you’ve created.

The main focus for kids this age is understanding the circumstances under which their birth mothers chose adoption. Just as you did during the preschool years, use concrete examples. You can tell Derek that Shannon was too young to parent, just as your 17-year-old next-door neighbor would be. School-age children struggle to understand why they were placed for adoption, regardless of whether the birth mother is involved in their lives. There is a tendency to blame themselves — “Maybe I was a bad baby.” Derek needs to understand that Shannon’s decision was based on her circumstances at that time, and that she was unable to parent any child.

Grief is another topic to consider at your son’s age. Your child realizes that he lost someone (that he had another set of parents before you), and he grieves for this loss. Even though Shannon is involved in Derek’s life, she isn’t Mom, and he needs to grieve the loss of her as his mom. This is normal. He will be able to work through this stage if you can help him verbalize his feelings — “I know you must be sad that Shannon was not able to be your mommy.”

It’s also important to stress the permanence of adoption and of your family — no matter how many times you’ve talked about it before. His talking with Shannon can help make this concrete for Derek, and reassure him that he is a permanent member of your family. Even if Shannon is married now, and parenting another child, she isn’t going to take Derek back.

One birth mother I know, Debbie, told eight-year-old Emma, “I wish I could have been your forever mommy, but I couldn’t, and that’s why I picked your mommy and daddy to be your parents.” Saying this clearly communicated to Emma that her parents are her parents. Of course, Emma’s parents had discussed this topic with Debbie in advance of her conversation with Emma, and all of the adults were “on the same page.” Working together as a team is essential.

Involve the Birth Mother

The birth mother’s involvement in such discussions is one of the benefits of ongoing contact. The birth parent(s) can be a resource to you and your family over the years, whether you meet in person, or stay in touch via phone calls or letters.

You’re fortunate that you have remained so close to Shannon. Her presence in yours and Derek’s lives will help, and I encourage you to enlist her assistance with Derek’s questions. For example, after you have talked with Derek about this subject, Shannon could explain firsthand her circumstances at the time of the adoption, and why she made an adoption plan.

As you have these conversations, you may feel you have answered these questions before. You probably have. And you’ll do so again. Derek’s understanding will continue to grow and change, and you’ll add new details and nuances during the course of many discussions over many years. Keep the atmosphere as open and natural as you’ve kept your adoption, and you’ll all be just fine.


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