It’s that time of year — kids are getting ready to head back to school, which means they’ll be learning all kinds of new things. But, that doesn’t mean the only learning they have to do is at school.
One of the most important things for all parents to teach their kids is about the realities of modern adoption and family-building — even those kids who have no connection to the process in their personal life. An increasing number of children are brought to their families in non-traditional ways (whether through adoption, assisted reproductive technology, remarriage or other paths), and a parent has a greater responsibility than ever to promote tolerance and understanding from their children.
We understand that adoption can be a complicated issue. So, where do you start when educating your children about this process?
Below, find a few basics that every child (and adult) should know about adoption:1
1. Some children have different skin colors from their parents.
When children are young, they can tend to focus on the differences in people. Therefore, if they see that a classmate or friend’s parent has a different color of skin than their child, it often invites questions.
Why don’t you look like your parents? Are you adopted? Why is she white and you’re brown (or vice versa)?
It’s important that every parent help their child understand race from an early age. Families in the United States are increasingly multiracial, whether because of interracial marriages, remarriages, adoption or other reasons. Diversity and inclusion should be celebrated, not pointed out in a rude way.
Every parent should make sure their child understands that adopted children (and other children) can be a different race than their parent, and it’s inappropriate to persistently ask them about it.
2. If a child is adopted, it’s because their birth parents loved them enough to make the best choice for their safety and future.
Often, when children find out a peer is adopted, they ask him or her, “Why did your parents give you up? Did they not love you?”
It’s normal for young children to make that assumption, but it’s an incredibly harmful thing for a young adoptee to hear (especially if they’re coping with the same question themselves). Children should know that birth parents choose adoption out of love. Explain to your child that if someone is adopted, it’s because their birth parents couldn’t take care of them the way they wanted to — and instead chose to place the adoptee with another family who could.
3. An adoptee’s adoptive parent is their “real” parent.
Adoptees often hear, “Where are your ‘real’ parents?”
Again, this question comes from a misunderstanding of the adoption process. Because the majority of children are growing up with their biological parents, they automatically assume that “real” means “genetically related.” Therefore, when they discover a peer is not living with their biological parents, they ask about it.
In order to avoid the discomfort this question leads to, explain to your children that it’s love that makes a family, not DNA. An adoptee’s adoptive parents are just as “real” as their biological parents, as they are the ones taking care of that child as they grow up. Also, take the chance to explain how this applies to children who are being raised by relatives and other family members, too.
4. It can be nosy and rude to ask adoptees about their adoption story, especially if you don’t know them.
Children are naturally curious, and they often don’t have the developed understanding of social interactions that adults do. Therefore, they can sometimes ask questions that are rude or insensitive in nature without ever meaning to be.
Parents should teach their child about the fine line of being curious and being insensitive. While you don’t want to discourage your child from learning about others and their world, help them understand that asking personal details about someone’s adoption can embarrass and make an adoptee upset. Make sure they know that unless a child offers up details about their adoption, their adoption story is no one else’s business — and your child should understand when their questions are making someone else uncomfortable.
5. Adoptees are just the same as everyone else.
While it’s important to celebrate diversity and differences — after all, it’s what makes the world an interesting and beautiful place — it’s also important for children to recognize that what separates one person from another shouldn’t always be highlighted. At the end of the day, even if a child’s peer is adopted, they likely have similar interests, family life and future goals as their friend. A child isn’t “just” an adoptee; there are a lot of aspects that make up who they are.
Overall, teach your children to promote tolerance and acceptance of others — whatever situation requires it. Whether they end up knowing someone who is adopted, conceived and born via surrogacy, part of a blended family or something else, a child should understand what is and is not okay to talk about with their friends to create as positive and welcoming an environment as possible.