Thursday, June 16, 2016

Openness is Adoption...True Story

We adopted our children through an Interstate Compact, which means they were placed with us by another state for the purpose of adoption. Their sending state was in the Southeast. During the meeting where we signed the final papers before bringing them home the area Adoption Director of the Department of Social Services said, “They’re young enough. You don’t even have to tell them they’re adopted.”

They were four and five-and-a-half.

They’re African American.

We’re white.

We were obviously dumfounded.

Luckily, we did our foster care training in our home state where we were instructed to be as open as possible with our children’s stories. Creating a lifebook for each child was encouraged. The social workers suggested we post photographs of birth family and former caregivers on the wall in their bedroom.

We completed our training and were quite pleased with ourselves for being so well-informed.

However, our children came home and as we utilized “best practices” in our home, we were getting unexpected responses from our children.

Something I’m just now realizing is that, although our training was highly informative and helpful, it tended to lump our kids together in a this-is-how-to-parent-through-trauma sort of way.

Individual comfort, acceptance, and personality were not considered. Likely the social workers assumed we could figure that part out.

We didn’t.

A couple years after our children came home I finally thought to ask them, individually, “What do you want to know about your adoption and about your life before coming into this family?”

Surprisingly, they wanted to know very little and they each were comfortable with separate facts. When I gave them only the information they requested, they treasured each detail and retained the information for the first time.

My children were asking for their story in small doses and were taking the time to digest what they had learned before asking for more.

Thanks to the brilliance of a treatment provider, our current goal is to begin new lifebooks that include only the requested information in them so we could build them over time.

And everyone’s thrilled about it.

I would love to learn what openness in adoption looks like in your family!


  1. I would love to pass on this info for people who adopt children and are having a tough go of it. Or just want to better understand how to handle situations. Karyn Purvis... The Connected Child and TBRI. Karyn has now passed away from cancer. My husband and I had the honor of hearing her speak last year at a conference in Msp, Mn. She has an amazing team left behind that works with children from hard places and adoptions. I have friends that have read her books and wished they had known some of her tools to use with their biological children. You can utube and listen to many of her messages today. All her advice didn't apply to our family. But we learned a lot about ourselves as parents and how we were handling our daughter .My husband moaned about me signing us up for a two day conference but 1/2 way thru the morning session he has so engaged. He thought all parents should hear this information. Its just great info to better understand the brain and its function or lack of function. Why our kids maybe doing what they are doing and how to deal with it. One baby step at a time. Its hard work on both sides ,being a parent and being a child who is so upset. But its so worth it in the end!! We have two adopted children and we feel so blessed. We hope you can grow to love and understand your children and help them be the best little people they were created to be. Thank you for opening your home and loving others Blessings

    1. So kind of you to pass this along, Mimi. I very much respect the work of several professionals (including the late Karyn Purvis) who support our families in the trenches. Best to you!

  2. Oh, the damage done by the notion that adoption doesn't matter, that it's nothing to the child. Mind boggling, what that Adoption Director said to you.

    It's inspiring that you figured out that you should tailor your approach to each of your kiddos. I keep hearing about "attunement" and I think you really have a knack for that.

    1. You're right, Lori. I wish it had been a (terrible) joke. Since this was only five years ago, families are likely still getting this poor advice. Heartbreaking and dismissive to our children.

      Thanks for your encouragement. Attuned... after a LOT of failures, we're getting there. It's a journey.

  3. Such a great post. For us, our adoption isn't as open as we'd like, as we have limited contact with our son's birth family. Too help fill the gap, we have photo books with pictures of birth family, extended family and joint pictures from the few visits we've been able to have. When I do get photos, we share them and we talk about them or i tell him details of his adoption story whenever the opportunity arises. It helped me a lot to do this when he wad too little to understand, because it gave me the chance to become more comfortable telling the stories and using adoption language. For me it was very awkward at first, but i had read an article about how important it was to be comfortable talking about it. For me at least, it was very helpful.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Thank so much for sharing your story and for connecting! Every person is so different. I agree that becoming comfortable with our children's stories ourselves is a great place to start.

  4. WOW! "They won't even know they're adopted" ? I'm sorry but that is almost making me laugh. I'd think an adoption worker would be much more in tune about these things!? Well... moving on from that absurd comment.... I LOVE how you have found what works for you. We've barely mentioned the boys' birth mom's name to them (I think once). Our oldest only lived with her for 2 months as a newborn and the younger two didn't live with her at all. They lived in 7 foster care homes. So while they are VERY curious to memorize their foster placements in order, their minds are NOT ready to wrap around birth mom yet. At first I felt guilty, not wanting to leave her out, and then I just let it go. I know there will come a time when they want to know more... and that time is probably rapidly approaching. It's so healthy to talk about the past, but only in the increments that they're ready to hear and can understand. I love how you asked what they want to know about their past... I'm going to try that!


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