For as long as I can remember, I have known that I am adopted. Practically speaking, it would have been a difficult thing for my parents to hide, them being White British and myself being Chinese. Our outward appearances aren’t remotely consistent with each other, as friends, strangers and well-meaning airport officials would point out for years to come.
My parents weren’t childcare experts but their parenting was filled with love, openness and honesty. Their influence helped me to become confident about adoption and assured in who I am. I hope my insights and experiences are valuable to those of you who are have adopted or are thinking about adopting a child.
Tell your child their story
My parents used to tell me a bedtime story about a couple who travelled all the way to China on a big airplane to adopt their daughter. Children enjoy repetition, so as I got older, they added more details, including our names and the name of our first dog. The story evolved with my level of understanding and eventually I recognised myself in the story, realising it was about my family.
This approach means your child will always understand who they are and how they came to be with your family, right from their first moments of comprehension.
Answer their questions
Speaking about adoption won’t be something you only do sitting down in a safe environment. Be ready for your child to ask you about adoption in the supermarket or on the bus. Answer as truthfully as you can, in a way they can understand. If you don’t know anything about your child’s birth parents, say so. If the details are sensitive for their age, explain that their birth parents weren’t able to care for them and give them more information as they mature.
Speaking about adoption as normally as you would the weather helps to make it an open topic. Your child may feel a number of things about their adoption, but being ashamed should never be one. Being open helps them to feel that it is natural, and allows them to celebrate being adopted as a unique part of who they are.
Teach them the beauty in difference
Your child’s appearance may not be similar to yours. Sometimes the differences are smaller, such as a slightly lighter hair colour or a different shaped nose. Sometimes, as with interracial adoption, the differences strike quite the contrast.
Conversations about the differences between people are your opportunity to promote an ethos of acceptance and celebration. Discuss how members of your family are different from each other, not only in looks, but also in personality, interests, behaviour. Then discuss the physical and personality traits you share.
My skin is darker than my parents’. My mum is blonde but my dad was brown-haired. But we all loved to go to the beach. I picked up my love of reading from my mum and shared an affinity for bike riding with my dad.
Celebrate your shared experiences and help your child to appreciate that the things that make them different are the things that make them unique. While parenthood can be a rocky path, leading with honesty and compassion will help you raise a child who becomes a well-adjusted, confident adult.