Ask AF: Too Young to Understand Birth Family?

What age should you start explaining birth family to your child? The AF expert explains.

Q: We have an open adoption with our 30-month-old son’s birth family. Last night we were looking at a photo album. As he looked at a picture of himself and his birth mother, I said, “That’s Krista, your birth mom.” He got very angry and said, “NO! Mom!” while pointing at me. Is two too young to understand the concept of birth family and forever family?

A: Children are very literal at this age. To them a family is made up of people who live together in a house, and Krista does not live in yours.

It’s common for children slightly older than your son to see the birth mother as an intruder into their view of their family. It is not that your son cannot handle it. He simply cannot comprehend it. He won’t be able to fully understand what it means to have a birth mother until he understands reproduction. So, I don’t think his frustration indicates uncertainty about your being a forever family. He is frustrated because you don’t seem to get that family is who lives in the house! Even if parents use positive adoption language, two-year-olds are just too young to get it.

For now, warmly acknowledge Krista when you see her picture in the album, and wait until your son asks about her, or about whose tummy he grew in, before using the label birth mother again.

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