Ask AF: Answering Complex Questions

Your child's difficult questions about orphanages, the legal complexities of adoption, or poverty in other countries may be hiding deeper concerns.

Q: My seven-year-old (adopted at age four) is asking questions like “Why are there orphanages in ___ and not here?” and “Why didn’t anyone in ___ adopt me?” How should I answer?


A: Your child’s queries display sophisticated reasoning but, at heart, I believe she is asking the same questions most children do.

Her questions about orphanages may be rooted in the worry, “What will happen to me if you can’t take care of me?” You can say: “In the U.S., children who couldn’t live with their birth parents used to live in orphanages, but people who care about children felt it was better for these children to live with substitute parents. So, instead of orphanages, we have ‘foster homes.’” (Keep information about the foster system simple, for now.)

In asking why no one in her birth country adopted her, your child may be wondering, “Am I lovable? Why did you adopt me?” You can say: “I honestly don’t know why no family in ___ adopted you. Would you have preferred that? Yes, I can understand that. Do you want to know why I adopted you? I thought you were the most beautiful/wonderful/lovable child I’d ever seen. I wanted you to be my daughter, and I wanted to be your mother.”

Any time your child asks a question that leaves you at a loss for words, you can thank her for asking such an important question and tell her you need to think about the answer, or ask her what she thinks. Her reply will give you insight into what is worrying her, and let you correct any misunderstandings. (“So you think that you were sent to the orphanage because you cried too much? Actually, ….”)

End your conversation with: “I’m glad you shared this with me. I’m here for you whenever you want to talk. Thank you for being so brave and open.”

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