October 2009

Last spring Discovery teachers created a show for our Puppets in the Park series. It was performed on a windy April morning to the delight of neighborhood youngsters. Loosely based on P.D. Eastmann’s much-loved Are you my Mother? it chronicled a baby bird’s search for its mother. And it was a hit – each over-the-top interview, with a cow, a dog, a squirrel… was met with peals of laughter. The joke, of course, is that the baby bird knows it has a mother (“I must have!”), but does not know what she looks like so walks right by her unaware.

As I looked into the faces of our young audience, I wondered about the effect on children in adoptive families. Was there, in this crowd, a boy who knew that his mom and dad were not his biological parents, children wondering if an Asian girl was adopted, or a parent who, as in our tale, searching for her own birth mother without knowing what she looked like? I began to question our sensitivity in choosing this particular “classic”.

With rapidly growing numbers of adopted children in parenting centers, playgroups and classrooms, we can expect that sooner or later our children will both come to us with questions and engage in talk with their peers. As we explain why Lola’s skin color is different from her mom’s and dad’s, why 4-year-old Carlos is just learning English, and what it means when a classmate announces that she was adopted, we can set a tone for future understanding. The central message is that through adoption, as through birth, a family is enriched forever. The following is a brief glossary of the language of adoption. Possibly with this accurate and respectful language at our fingertips we’ll all find it easier to open relaxed exchanges with our kids. I hope it proves helpful to your family.

1. The child who enters an adoptive family was – not is – adopted. Adoption is a one time process and whether it occurred recently or a long time ago, it is complete.

2. An adoptive child’s birth or biological mother or parents may or may not play a role in her life. Her “real” parents are those who raise and love her. They are her family.

3. We say that a child’s biological parents chose adoption for him. They made an adoption plan. They did not place their baby or give him up.

4. Often parents are eager to learn about their child’s life before they knew him – his birth history. The birthparents’ names and circumstances of his birth may or may not be available.

5. Many adoptions cross national borders and are called international or inter-country, rather than foreign. Trans-racial or cross-cultural adoptions occur when parents and children are of different racial and/or ethnic backgrounds.

In addition to answering your child’s questions, you can also initiate conversation around a story or when watching TV. Here are a few examples:

  • Our friends Lauren and Steve have begun the process of international adoption. They’re hoping to adopt a child from Guatemala.
  • In answer to your five-year-old’s question – Why does Carlos speak Spanish? – Carlos was born in another country. His birthparents chose adoption for him and now Karen is his mommy.
  • Some of the Chinese children in our play group were adopted and some were not.
  • Cleo and Sandy have dinner with their daughter’s birthmom once a month.
  • At first Howard was worried that he didn’t know his daughter’s birth history, but now that they’re a family, it seems to matter less.