Answering questions about your child’s birth parents

Kids are curious, and one of the biggest things they’re curious about is who they are and where they come from. For adopted children, one of the ways this curiosity will show itself at different points throughout childhood is in questions about their birth parents.

How you and your family will end up answering questions about your child’s birth parents will depend on how much you know about them, and how old your little one is when asking about them.

Different kinds of open adoption

Open adoptions, where adopted children and their parents have some measure of contact with birth parents, have become increasingly common in recent years. However, the term “open adoption” can be used to refer to a wide range of types and amounts of contact, from sending a yearly photograph to spending family holidays together. If your family is involved in an open adoption where you’re in close touch, there’s a good chance that your child will be able to ask questions right to the source.

On the other hand, in a semi-open adoption, it might make more sense for you to help your little one write a letter, either to send to their birth parents if that’s something they’re comfortable with, or to hold onto until your child is a little older, or for an agreed-upon timing for contact.

Closed adoption

When young children have questions about biological parents in closed adoptions, often their parents don’t have very many answers to give them. It’s important to be honest about this, rather than to make something up. There are positive ways to talk even about a lack of information. Saying, “I don’t know what she looks like, but she probably looks a lot like you,” or asking, “What do you think?” can be great ways to open the question up while still being clear and truthful about your lack of information.

Later on, older children and teens from closed adoptions will occasionally start to be interested in searching for their birth parents. This can be a key part of how young people form their identities and sense of self. Young adults may pursue this search through support groups, state intermediaries, the agency parents adopted through, or with the help of a lawyer. If your child goes through this stage, this part of the exploration process may less directly involves you, as your child undertakes parts of the process independently. Still, this process can be long and difficult, and can lead to disappointment, and parental support through it can be extremely valuable.

The bottom line

In any case, unless the answers to your child’s questions are concepts that a child your little one’s age might not be ready for yet, the point when your child asks is a great time to share any information you have.

When adopted children are curious about their biological parents, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t indicate any kind of problem, resentment, or dissatisfaction with their adoptive parents. Instead, it’s one of the ways that young children try to understand their own identities, as they grow up into healthy, independent people. This is still true at times when children might be sad, or have complex feelings about their biological parents, and it’s a time when they may need their parents’ understanding and sympathy the most, so it’s key not to take that sadness personally. By showing your little one that confusing and conflicted emotions are natural parts of life, and that you understand that, you’re encouraging your child to keep sharing feelings with you – even when those feelings are complicated or difficult.

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