Talking about adoption with a 3-year-old

When J and I first decided to adopt, we told our agency that we were interested in children 2 to 9 years old. We were told that adopting a 2 to 5 year old through the foster care system is very rare. So, we expected to be matched with a child (or children) 7, 8, or 9 years old. However, when we were matched with BE and BC, they were 14 months and 4-years-old. Needless to say, we had to change our expectations. To be honest, one of the things I was most worried about was changing diapers! But next on the list was the adoption talk. I anticipated that we would talk about adoption no matter the age of our child, but I also anticipated that he or she would remember being adopted. I didn’t consider that J and I would have to introduce the concept. This is what I thought about when it came to BC. I knew he would not remember his adoption, and I wondered how J and I would talk with him about it.

Since then, I’ve had a few conversations with BC about adoption, but I don’t think he really understood. Then a few days ago, another opportunity came up. On the way to daycare, BC was asking me what my “other” name was (other than momma, of course!). So I told him my name, and it so happens that BE and BC’s first mom’s name is very similar to mine. So I continued the conversation something like this:

Me: Did you know that your first mom’s name is FM? (I’ll just use FM – short for first mom – instead of her real name)

BC: Yours?

Me: No, your first mom. Before you came to live with me and dad, you grew in FM’s tummy.

BC: Grandma G‘s? (Grandma G is my mother)

Me: No, FM’s. You have two moms and two dads. Now, you live with me and dad, but before us, you grew in FM’s tummy. Then you came to live with us, because we love you and we wanted you to be our son.

BC: Great Grandma?

Me: No, FM. That’s the name of your first mom.

The conversation didn’t go on much longer because I could tell I was confusing him. I’m having a difficult time finding the right way to talk about this with him. I don’t want to avoid it, because I don’t want him to get older and then feel deceived because we didn’t address it sooner. But, he’s only 3, and it’s difficult to find a simple way to talk about something as complicated as adoption.

Does anyone out there have any suggestions?


9 thoughts on “Talking about adoption with a 3-year-old

  1. I don’t really have advice, but I just wanted to say it’s great that you want to make sure your kids grow up knowing about their first parents. I am half adopted(my dad isn’t my biological dad, but my mom is) and I was never told much about my biological dad, and I really wish I had been.

  2. We’re lucky to have photos of us with our son’s birthmom holding him in the hospital. Those photos have been hanging in his room since he came home with us, and we’ve always pointed out who is who in the photo — that’s mommy, that’s daddy, that’s you, and that’s FM. For about a year, I’ve been telling him the story about us getting the phone call that let us know we were going to be parents, how excited we were, how we drove through a snowstorm to get him, how happy we were to be his mommy and daddy. Lately, I’ve started adding that FM grew him in her tummy and when he came out of her tummy, she said “oh, what a beautiful baby! I wish I could take care of him but I can’t. I need to find him a mommy and daddy to love him and take care of him.” And then she called us … From this point in the story, our son already knows what happened, and he always chimes in “yay!” with me when I tell him how happy we were that she called us. Of course I leave out the part about the adoption agency, the difficult situation his FM was in, the sadness, etc. He seems okay with the story at this point — really not so interested in the coming out of her tummy part and very interested in the “yay! we get to be your parents!” part. I figure the story can grow as he grows. It’s a tough thing to explain to a kid …

  3. It will sink in. The important thing is that you’ve opened up the discussion about it. Two points I’ve read that are important to get across at this point:

    1. All babies grew it a mama’s body and were born (as opposed to hatched or dropped or whatever else an imagination can come up with!)

    2. Your FM wasn’t in a place to take care of ANY baby at that time. (To depersonalize it somewhat).

    You’re doing fine with the FM discussion. Wait until you get to the First Dad one!

  4. hi.
    we have become legal gaurdians of my cousins little 3-1/2yr old.
    she has been with us 4 months now..but our transition period was only 12days..
    so only knowing us for 12days n brought over 100miles to her new forever home
    has been massive for her!
    and us,as a family.
    she was with one foster family for nearly 2yrs!

    we started explaining that we wer her family n she is very special to us!
    bonus-we share the same surname,so understanding the family thing-she gets it!!
    she found it hard understanding why we came n took her away from eveything she ever knew(her foster parents!)so we explained she lived wi mummy n daddy wen she was very little .n they only got small tiny she had a few sleep overs with foster parents until we could get her beautiful princess bedroom ready for her(this is what she calls her bedroom!

    we have gone from full on tantrums ,abuse,throwing etc.3/4 days a week to maybe 1 every 10days!
    in 4months shes done & is doing great!

    but her biggest fear is getting lost..that breaks our she asks every day .please dont lost me!
    our answer is (never).
    we love her so much..
    it is hard/very hard at times..
    my only advice is.never give up..our hearts are as big as we want them to be..share your love!
    we have 5,grown children..5,small grandchildren.n our wee 3yr old..who is also calling us nannie n papa..sometimes aunty n uncle..depends on the mood..ha!

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