Ask AF: How Do You Explain International Adoption vs. Open Adoption?

Adopting more than one child often leads to different levels of openness with the birth families. Here's how to explain international adoption vs. open adoption to your children.

Q: We have a seven-year-old adopted from China and a two-year-old who has an open, domestic adoption. Our daughter recently asked me the name of her birth mother. I felt badly that I could only say, “I don’t know.”


A: You are facing a dilemma common to adoptive parents of more than one child — the inequality of the information you have for them. I doubt this is the last time you’ll face this situation.

You could expand on your honest answer with an explanation like this: “Adoptions work differently in China and the U.S. I wonder if that sometimes seems unfair. [Allow your child to express her feelings.] I wish that I knew your birth mother’s name, so that I could tell it to you. I know you wish that, too.”

You can tell her how hers and her brother’s adoptions are different, and explore her curiosity together. You might say, “One day we hope to travel to China. We can write to your adoption agency and orphanage, but we might never know as much about your birth parents as we would like. For your brother, we will continue to stay in touch with his birth family. Together, we will celebrate both of your adoptions and do our best to help you to understand your story. Are there other things you would like to know? Let’s write them down and see which ones I can answer for you.” You and your daughter might work on a scrapbook or lifebook based on what you know of her story.

Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this

Adoption Experts answer your questions.