(Air Date: 10.3.17) The First Time My Son Asked

How do you respond when your adoptive child asks about their birth parents? What do you share? Do you share or change the subject?  Kids are curious and want to know and understand where they came from. They want to know why their birth parents gave them up for adoption. They don’t understand until you tell them that their birth parent’s made an adoption plan out of love. They didn’t give them away. They put aside their own needs, their own wants to make a plan so that their child could have a better life then what they could provide.

You can read the transcript below or click on the media file above to listen to this podcast.

Speaker 1: Blog Talk Radio.

Jennifer J.: Hi, and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer [Jaworski 00:00:09] and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates Premier Talk Radio Blog Show. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990 and we specialize in both domestic and international adoption. We provide private adoption services throughout all of Michigan with offices located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw. Anywhere in Michigan you can find a connection to Adoption Associates. Adoption Associates brings knowledge, support and understanding in adoption. Adoption is not only our specialty, but it is truly our passion.

One of Adoption Associates commitments is to this weekly radio show to help educate and support adoption families, birth families and the general adoption community so we’re very glad that you’re listening in to Adoption Focus today. I am excited to welcome to our show Nikki [Racine 00:01:04]. Nikki are you with us?

Nikki R.: I am, good morning.

Jennifer J.: Good morning, thank you for being on our podcast today. Nikki, you and your husband, Mike, are the proud parents of two amazing boys who join your family through adoption, but today we’re specifically talking about your oldest son, [Amari 00:01:23], and the first time he asked a question about his birth family.

Nikki R.: Yes.

Jennifer J.: That’s a super and nerveracking time all rolled into one, I’m sure. We hear this from adoption parents a lot that you’re prepared, but you’re not. You knew it was going to be there at some pint in time, but then it came, so what do you remember about that day, Nikki, and what do you remember about what Amari asked you?

Nikki R.: You’re right, Jennifer. I think oftentimes we, as adoptive parents, we’re so excited to be parents that we almost, I don’t want to say forget, but we look at those … They’re our own children and we sometimes, I don’t know, we live life and their beginning story just sometimes slips our mind. It was a normal day in my household and I remember I’ve always talked to both of my boys. They both have completely different stories, but I’ve always talked to my boys about their story even when they were tiny little, they sometimes say that children absorb things and their story started somewhere and I’ve always felt the need to share that with them, but the day that Amari asked me … He actually asked me if I thought that his tummy mommy … We call his birth mom his tummy mommy, which I think is sort of sweet ’cause it’s her own little name. He understands that she carried him in her tummy, so we call her his tummy mommy. He said, “You know, mama, do you think my tummy mommy is proud of me?”

To be honest, when he asked me that, his two little brown eyes were looking up at me, and it took my breath away, to be honest. As prepared as I thought I was, you think that you can enter anything. It almost threw me for a loop. I wasn’t ready for that sort of question. My instant reaction was to get defensive because I was like, “What a second. What about me? Am I proud of you?” But then I have to take a step back and remember, as adoptive parents, that’s so important to talk about their story and about their birth parents, and I’ve been aware of that. I really, really, really, wanted to say the right thing and I was afraid I wasn’t going to say the right thing to him.

But then I realized, after I thought about it for a second, that there really isn’t a right answer. I think he just wanted some affirmation and some sort of truth, I guess. I’ve always been honest with him. My response to him was just simply, “I know she’s so proud of you.” I’m just going to say, out of the goodness of my heart, I wanted to do this interview because I know as adoptive parents … Sometimes some of us want to pretend that these conversations aren’t going to take place or we forget that they’re going to take place, but it’s a difficult and emotional thing. It’s part of their story. I just want to talk about this today because it’s a significant part of my boy’s story, our family’s story, but I also want it to be sacred and preserved, their actual details of their adoption stories.

So, just bear with me as I struggle through some of these answers without bearing too much information.

Jennifer J.: Of course. Of course. Absolutely. I think that you touched upon a couple of things that I want to take a second to discuss, and one of those, Nikki, is your own initial response, emotional response. It just kind of shook you and took you by surprise, and I think you said you felt a little defensive at first and I think that it’s important for families to understand that this is not the time to deal with our own adult emotions, when our child is asking us a question about birth family or about adoption. Those are issues and things that do need to be discussed and worked through, but at the time that your beautiful child is standing before you, it’s not about you anymore, right?

Nikki R.: You got it. That’s, I think, the difference between maybe adoptive parents and biological parents. We, as adoptive parents, have that extra responsibility to take a step back for a second and put ourselves out of the equation. This isn’t about us. This is about them, their story, and the honesty of their story. My boys are both black, and I’m Caucasian. I’m white. Obviously, we have some race issues that we talk about, as well. Those are things that were part of their [inaudible 00:06:31]. My immediate reaction was like, “Oh, wait a second.” Then I was so happy that … Adoption Associates prepares you, in a way, to be ready for these things with the classes and that kind of thing. Then, obviously, my experience as being a parent. I stepped back for a second and I thought, “Wait a second. This isn’t about me. This is about him. He just wants an affirmation.

Jennifer J.: Absolutely. The adoption process is complex and for children to be able to understand the complexity of it without the added burden of whatever mom or dad might be feeling is really important, too. Your child has to be able to explore their own feelings and develop their own thoughts to be able to be free to talk to you about that, and if they feel that now there’s this additional burden of juggling my mom and dad’s feelings too, it could potentially result in your child not opening up to you or talking or being comfortable.

Nikki R.: Exactly. That’s why I think it’s so important to understand that honesty and truth is really what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for you to sugar coat things. They’re not looking for you to make things up or create a story. They just want the truth. I think that when you begin with the truth, they actually build more trust, and they understand where you’re coming from. I really realize that my role in talking to him that day wasn’t about myself or reducing my role as a parent or changing my relationship with him in any means. It was more about him trusting me enough to talk about his tummy mommy, his birth mother, and wanting to know that she was thinking of him. That’s my goal as an adoptive parent is to explain that “absolutely she is. Of course she is.” That’s the thing. They just want information.

Jennifer J.: Right, and we said that obviously it’s nerveracking and there’s a lot of complex adult feelings that we have about it, but at the same time, the message that I have is be glad that your child is asking. This means that you have created an open door environment mentality that your child knows they can come to you, so let’s celebrate the fact that they’re asking and that we have done something right in our homes that our children do feel comfortable and they’re trying to understand and find their place in the world. That’s something to be celebrated.

Nikki R.: Absolutely. When I was able to look back at the conversation and think back in my mind, I actually got teary because I thought, “You know what? I’m doing something right. He felt so comfortable and vulnerable to ask me in that moment if she was proud of him,” and that’s a beautiful thing. That’s a beautiful relationship that we have.

Jennifer J.: Well, and you didn’t quite say, Nikki, so help fill in the blanks here for me. Another thing that’s important, I think, to mention, is that when our children ask us these questions that are about their birth parents or their adoption story, sometimes, as adults, we tend to talk too much. Our answers go on too long and they’re convoluted. We should be keeping it simple and developmentally appropriate and not rattling on and on like we would do to our best friends. What did that look like for you in terms of responding to Amari’s question?

Nikki R.: That is such a good point because we already know their attention span … I mean, Amari’s six. He’s six years old. It’s not longer than 15, 20 seconds, I’ll be honest. When I responded to him, I just simply stepped back for a second and I took a deep breath and I said, “Absolutely, honey. She’s so, so proud of you. I know she is, and she thinks of you often.” That was it. That was all I said. I know that for a fact because of the relationship that we originally had at the very beginning of the adoption process and from words that were exchanged through a case worker.

Those kinds of things I feel 100 percent confident in relaying [inaudible 00:10:48]. It was short, sweet, and just his affirmation of his feelings. He looked at me and [crosstalk 00:10:54] at that moment in time, and I think that’s our responsibility to really just answer, answer truthfully, and then move on. Just say … I said later in the day, I said, “Honey, if you ever have any more questions, please feel free to ask mom.” He said, “I will, mama.” That was it.

Jennifer J.: Well, that was going to be my next question for you, actually, Nikki. Has Amari had any more questions since that first day?

Nikki R.: Yes, and again, we have an open communication context with this. We always have. I feel like that has been the best route to take because whenever I talk about … I’ll say to him, “Amari, what does it mean to be adopted? What do you think your tummy mommy is thinking of you, today?” And he’ll say, “She’s proud of me.”

Those kinds of things. He’s asked me a handful of questions since, and they’re detailed questions and they’re personal questions but they’re questions that he has every right to know. I’ve answered them truthfully, and the reminder in the back of my head this isn’t about you. His story started somewhere before you were honored with this parental role. Yes, I mean, there have been questions. I’ve answered them, and he loves that I answer them and we move on. I think that’s the key. There is no sugar coating or dancing around the subject. Just answer them truthfully, and if you know know, just say, “You know what, honey? I’m not sure.” And, “How does that make you feel?” Then we move on.

Jennifer J.: Exactly. I think that obviously we jumped into your story, but as I know you’ve hinted at, and what Adoption Associates educates our families on, is when we talk about adoption with children, we begin very young. You did mention that. And often. By talking often about it, even if it’s not about your child’s particular adoption, but about adoption in general in our homes, we’re showing our children that we’re willing and comfortable whenever they want to have that conversation. You’re just opening that door just a little bit for when they’re ready. Our children sometimes need help learning to express their feelings and they don’t know how to say that to us. They don’t know how to say, “Oh, mom. I’m feeling kind of mixed up about this situation with my tummy mommy. I’m not sure.” They may just ask generic questions of you.

So, sometimes, we do want to not talk too much, but we also want to leave ourselves open for exploration with our child if we think that they’re needing to learn how to express. “How are you feeling about that?” There’s usually a reason why these questions come up. Thank you, Nikki, for sharing about Amari and his questions.

Shifting just a little bit, I wanted to ask you what your … We do sometimes hear parents say, “Well, I don’t think my kids think about their birth parents because they never talk about it.” Or, “We tried to bring it up one time and they didn’t really have too much to say.” Can you relate to this at all? What are your thoughts on this?

Nikki R.: Yes, I mean, I’ve heard that conversation take place. I’ve heard of it in and amongst my friends with that feeling, as well. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and everybody has their own way of doing one thing, but, to be honest, there’s a lot of research that has been done that almost the majority of adopted children are curious about their beginnings and where they began. Sometimes, if they don’t feel comfortable in their situation, they don’t ask questions. I really want to stress I think it’s our role as adoptive parents to make them feel as comfortable as possible to be open and ask those questions. If they withhold things and they’re afraid to ask, then they won’t ever know and sometimes, those things just carry on into adulthood.

I just feel it’s our role. We literally have an extra role in this life, and that is to share their story. They came from somewhere. They have a beginning with two other folks. That is a beautiful thing. They were brought into this world with love and let’s carry that on.

Jennifer J.: Absolutely. It is really the responsibility of the parent to begin the conversation. It’s not the responsibility of the child for us to say … Very well-intended parents say, “We’re very open to talking about it. As soon as he or she is ready, we’re going to talk about it.” But that conversation has to start somewhere, and that responsibility really should begin with the adoptive parents. A child who maybe isn’t asking may not know how to bring up the topic. Or, is simply just keeping the thoughts that they have to himself or herself for a variety of different reasons. And that each child is different but we should be aware of those things.

Nikki R.: You got it. I have some friends who have a little bit older adopted children, and sometimes, they’re super sensitive and they’re afraid that they’re going to hurt their adoptive parents’ feelings by asking questions. So, you don’t want them to begin that role as a young child to think that they’re hurting their feelings or that their crossing boundaries or that it is a taboo subject. These are things that we have to bring up and we have to talk about and it is an emotion and sensitive … it’s a crazy topic that we don’t even want to discuss sometimes because I think we’re just afraid, and fear causes neglect or fear causes just avoidance. But that’s our responsibility to talk about that.

Jennifer J.: Absolutely. Absolutely. Why would you say that you want to be as open as you have been with Amari? Why is it, personally, Nikki, that you have been willing to talk to him about adoption?

Nikki R.: Personally, I honestly think it’s just something that is sort of innate. It’s in me. Personally, I believe in the truth and I believe in honestly, and I love my boys more than anything, but they came from two other people. Their story became somewhere else, and that’s part of our story. I really truly think that even from the beginning when my two boys were little, we would talk about adoption. The first question I said to them that they could speak, when they could finally speak, I said, “What is it to be adopted?” And they say, “We are special.”

I think that, just in and of itself, opens the lines of communication. It’s so important to know their story. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about or afraid to talk about. It’s beautiful. Their life came from somewhere and their life is here, now, but they began somewhere and I want them to understand why and how.

Jennifer J.: Absolutely. I think for any listeners to today’s podcast who are saying, “I want to talk to my child. I’m just not really sure.” Or for a child that isn’t talking even maybe when the parent is trying, there are a lot of different techniques on how to begin or spark those conversations. Even just bringing up adoption and a friend who adopted, talking about adoption stories in general. They’re just little indirect conversation starters, little tidbits of information that are thrown kind of out into the environment in your home for your child to maybe pick up on or grab ahold of and ask a question.

Reading books together about adoption, obviously. A lot of families use drawings as a tool where they draw together or the child draws a picture and then they can talk about it through the eyes of adoption, the mother and the father and the birth mother. If a child is old enough, journaling. Allowing them that time to do that. Playing adoption is a really good one that even very young children can do. Girls do it with dolls, Barbies or other baby dolls. And if boys aren’t into dolls, that’s okay. GI Joes or Legos or lots of different ways to recreate that and play adoption.

There’s a wealth of information that’s available about different ways to spark conversations about adoption with your child, so I would encourage anyone listening to reach out, to access the wealth of information on the web or at your local bookstore about this.

Nikki, a big thank you for this today. I know that your mama bear instincts had kicked in a little bit before we started, and I want to do this because it’s the right thing, but I want to do what’s right for my son.

Nikki R.: Exactly.

Jennifer J.: I appreciate that.

Nikki R.: You are very welcome, and I just want to say one more quick thing. I think one little tidbit of advice to adoptive parents out there, sometimes, and I know we’re not prepared for everything, but if you think ahead of the questions that they may ask, and maybe have not a canned answer, but just have an idea for how you’re going to answer. That might help you. That might form some answers versus shocking your or kicking your off your feet when they ask the questions. We know the basics that they will ask. They may ask some other things, but just play ahead in your mind and it might not surprise you so much. You can at least formulate some answers for them at that time.

Jennifer J.: Good point. Sometimes, parents surprise themselves. They say, “Oh, wow. I think I did a really good job at that.

Nikki R.: “I was so worried about it.”

Jennifer J.: “I’m an old pro at this.” What this is really all about is children need to understand the past so that they can grow and become emotionally healthy adults, and talking about adoption can help them get there. That really is the message today is the honesty and transparency that you have in your relationship with your child is going to be so important when it comes to different complex topics and adoption.

Again, Nikki, I thank you very much for your time on Adoption Focus podcast today.

Nikki R.: Thank you for having me.

Jennifer J.: For our listeners, remember that we are live on Adoption Focus podcast on Tuesdays at 11. If you’re looking to connect with Adoption Associates, we would love to hear from you at 800-677-2367. You can also visit us on the website at AdoptionAssociates.Net, or connect with us through various social media components such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For now, this is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. I hope you all have a great day. Buh-bye.