Ask AF: Gaining Comfort with Adoption Talk

Adoption talks with our children can sometimes be confusing, or catch us off-guard. Here's how to move forward.

Q: When our five-year-old (adopted as a toddler, from Ethiopia) saw a photo of himself standing with an orphanage security guard, he asked, “Is that my dad?” I was caught off-guard by this question, and my husband was very hurt by it. I pulled myself together and explained who the man was, but what’s our next step?


A: Age five is the earliest time a child can start to understand adoption — and the fact that he had another mom and dad. It sounds like Dad hasn’t quite come to terms with adoption. The two of you should examine your feelings about the topic before your next talk with your son. Ask your husband why he felt hurt. Both of you must be realistic about your son’s story, and the fact that he had (or has, if they’re still alive) another mom and dad, whom he is curious about.

He’s probably ready for a more detailed account of his story. Tell him what you know, in simple terms, about the circumstances that led to his adoption — and share any photos you have of his birth family.

Let him know that his questions do not upset you, that you understand his curiosity and the emotions he may have about his birth family. You might say, “Adopted children and adoptive parents have big hearts. There is a room in your heart to love us and your Ethiopian mom and dad, too. And, of course, our hearts are big enough to love you and your Ethiopian family, because they are part of you.” (Drawing hearts with big rooms, then filling them with people, can be a striking visual.)


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