Ask AF: Explaining Adoption and Divorce

How do you explain divorce to your adopted child — without provoking worries of abandonment?

Q: My husband and I adopted a newborn, who is now almost three years old. We are in the process of divorcing and have been separated for some time. I’m afraid my son will feel abandoned, not only by his birth family, but also by the man who promised to be his forever father. How should I talk with him about adoption and divorce?


A: Short conversations work best with a three-year-old. Rather than focusing on what is missing, talk about what is there for your son. Tell him the story of how he joined your family. Emphasize how much you wanted to be his parent, and how happy you were to adopt him. Let your son know about others who joyfully welcomed him, including relatives and friends.

If your husband remains in your child’s life, talk with your son together. Tell him that you both wanted him and planned for the adoption together. Then you can say, “Some time later [it’s probably best to give the actual time frame], we decided it was best for Mommy and Daddy not to live together, but Daddy will continue to see you and will always be your dad.”

If your husband will not be around, you might say something like, “Your dad and I made an adoption plan together. Later, we decided that it was best for us if we didn’t live together. We also decided that you wouldn’t have visits with him right now, but we are still your mom and dad.”

It’s important for your child to know that the divorce decision was made by the adults and has nothing to do with his behavior, now or as a baby. Similarly, let him know that his birth mother’s adoption decision to was not made because of his behavior. The decision was made because his birth mother was not ready or able to be a parent to any child at that time in her life.

At this age, your son will take his cues from you. If you are positive about what you say, he will be, too. There will be many opportunities in the years ahead to deepen your son’s understanding and answer more questions.

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