How to tell a child his adoption story

Our little man as an infant, being loved on in a nanny's lap.
Thank you Molly for asking this wonderful question on facebook: how do we plan to tell our son about his adoption story?

Only a generation or two ago, adoptive parents would often intentionally not talk to their child(ren) about their adoption.  The theory went something like: what he doesn't know won't hurt him.  Eventually we moved away from that decision and it became normal for children to know they had been adopted, but not much else.  In recent years the adoption community has revisited this approach and asked a very important question that had not been considered much before:

What about the right of the child to know his or her own history?

As a community, we had previously considered the rights of the adoptive parents and the rights of the birth parents, but the question remains: what about the rights of the child?

A few years ago I sat down with a friend of mine who had been adopted domestically as an infant and heard the story of how she searched for and met her birth family.  She said something that struck me as rather profound and very important.  She said, "When I first began to think about looking, I sought the advice of a counselor.  I wanted to make sure I was looking for my birth family for the right reasons. What was the right motivation to search?  And you know what she said?  Curiosity is enough of a reason."

Adoptees have every right to know their history.  People who were raised in their birth families, like me, take this for granted.  I know my birth parents, my grandparents, my cultural roots, my family health history... and I always have.  I didn't have to examine my motivation for wanting to know my history; if I was curious about something I could just ask.  Where do my green eyes come from? My dad.  How come I'm tall? Well, I'm Dutch and Dutch people are typically tall.  What kind of health concerns should I anticipate?  Maybe high blood pressure.  I can look forward to varicose veins.   Even my social and cultural history is available to me in the form of many stories about the Netherlands and old black and white photographs that made it across the ocean when my grandparents immigrated.

I've never needed "a good reason" to want to know these things.  Curiosity is enough.  And if someone would have kept this information from me I can only imagine it would have frustrated me.  It's my right to know my history.

Because we believe it's his right to know, as he grows, we will tell our little man everything we know about his history (in an age appropriate manner).  We learned about his history and his birth mom immediately before we met him in the orphanage.  We were even able to see a picture of her, which we are told will be in the file we receive when we bring him home.  We know her name and just a little about her.  Theoretically our little man could search for and likely find her someday, which we would be thrilled about.  It will be his choice.

Before we learned about his history, I worried about how we would share his story. What if his story is that he was just left? Abandoned? I want his history to be one with love in it.  What if it doesn't have love?

Well I gained a lot of wisdom from other bloggers on this one.  As I searched around the internet about how to answer this question I kept reading the same thing.  There is no adoption story without love because every birth mother loves her child. The choice to relinquish a child is not one that is made from hate.  It is always made with love.  And usually with a lot of pain and a deep, deep longing to parent.  Birth mothers are not women with the physical, emotional, and social resources to parent.  They are women who of course wish they could parent, but for whatever reason, realize that they cannot give their children what they need to thrive.

So the story we will tell our little man about his history is the truth.  

His birth mom loved him deeply.  She wished so badly that she could take care of him, but sadly she could not.  She made the decision to relinquish her parental rights so that he live with people who were able to take care of him: first at the baby home with his nannies and eventually (and now forever) with us.  We're sure she thinks of him and would be happy to know that he is safe and has a family who loves him.  And we- John and I- love his birth mom for she has given us the best gift we could ever imagine, the gift of a son.

John and I are so happy we have a few concrete things to give our son.  We have his full Russian name (and are keeping his first name the same).  We have his birth mother's name.  We know just a little about the circumstances surrounding his birth.  And we will have her picture, which will perhaps be the most cherished gift of all.

Everything we know about his history, we will give to him.  It's his right to know where he came from.

And we will pray, always, for his birth parents.   We are forever connected with them, across the world- soul to soul.  I will pray for his birth mom specifically; the woman who relinquished her child so that one day he could call me mom.  I will pray for her peace and security.  For her joy and salvation.  And that one day on eternity's shore I will meet her in a long, warm embrace.  Forever we are connected by our love for one precious child- heart to heart, soul to soul. 


If you are addressing this issue with your child, these are two books I have and can recommend (images link to amazon):

Did My First Mother Love Me? This book is about a little girl who asks about her birth mother.  Her mom reads her a letter her birth mother wrote which addresses both the love and the pain of her relinquishment with gentleness and grace.  We will read this to our son.

God Found Us You.  This book is more about the adoption than the relinquishment but there is a part where the baby fox asks his mom about his birth mom (birth fox??) and his mom tells him about her love and how he probably looked like her etc.  It is a beautiful example of how to show your child that his or her birth mom is someone special and it is okay to wonder about her.




  1. This is something that has been on my mind a little more lately, so I was really happy that you posted about it. Thank you for the book recommendations also!

    1. Glad to help Jennie. There are so many great children's books out there on adoption; I am thankful for their authors!

  2. Well, in our case the children were taken away from their mother. So, I don't know how I will cross that path when it it my turn.

    1. That is really a really hard history that your children will have to come to terms with. If I were you I would use the framework of mental illness (if that is the case), unwise choices, and then forgiveness. You will be their model for how to forgive someone while not allowing their negative choices to harm others. I wish you all the best as you discern how to teach your children their limitless worth even in light of a difficult past.

  3. This post spoke to me, not as an adopting parent, but as an adopted child. I always felt that somehow my curiosity for my birth family history "wasn't enough" either. I often feel like I would need some kind of reason (for example, a medical issue) in order to justify pursuing my birth history. It is actually a releasing thing for me realize that its okay to just wonder for the sake of wondering; I hope someday that I get the opportunity to really pursue my birth parents' histories.

    And your little man is going to be so blessed having you both as parents. I can already see just how loved he truly is.


  4. Anonymous8/19/2012

    I am commenting as an adopted child. And from what I have read you are on the right track! My parents handled it wonderfully. They had pictures out in our living room of them and myself as an infant in the country I was born. They talked about it all the time! It was never something that was a secret. They told me stories of things they saw and described my birth country. My dad lived in my birth country for 2 months with me, waiting for all the paperwork and legalities go through. He took care of me while my mom went back to the states to work.

    Both of my parents kept a journal which was awesome because they let me read it and I received it as a present for my 16 birthday to have as my own to read whenever I want. Even before then if I asked I could read it whenever I wanted. It showed me that they are my parents. They stayed up late with me and feed me in the wee hours of the night. Also that my birth mother loved me by having the courage to give birth to me knowing that she couldn't keep me. Having the love to give me to someone who could take care of me. Also know that she named me. My parents made sure I understood that.

    I was born in a foreign country and my birth country is a huge part of me even though the language might be foreign to me. My parents bought items that are native to my birth country and are displayed in a bookshelf in our living room. My parents wanted me to be very aware of my heritage. And to be proud of it.

    I really hope this helps some! I applaud you for your efforts. Adoption is such a selfless gift and if someday my husband and I can't have children of our own, adoption is definitely an wonderful option for us. I love your blog! And soon you will have your baby boy in your arms!


    1. Julie thank you so much for this wonderful comment. I savored it as I read. I love that you said your birth country is a huge part of you; we hope to honor our son's Russian heritage as a family in many the same ways your parents did. They sound like amazing parents! This helps a lot and really encourages me. Thank you!

    2. Anonymous8/20/2012

      I'm so glad I could help! If you ever have any particular questions or concerns, I'd be more than happy to share my experiences with you. My contact information is on our family blog.

      I have a sister who is also adopted from my same country. My mom always wanted a little girl then as I got older I wanted a little sister. She took the adoption a different way then I did. It wasn't bad, it was just different then how I coped with it.

      Again, I'd be more than happy to answer any questions. It makes me feel good to ever be able to help a family that is much like my own. Best of luck to your family and may your lives be filled with overwhelming joy.

  5. Anonymous8/20/2012

    We have both those books, and love them dearly. Even though our daughter is only 16 months, we read them now (with a few others) so words like adoption, birth parents, etc are normal vocabulary for her, she's heard them, so when she hears that she's adopted, it's not a foreign word, she knows what it is and has been exposed to it her entire life.

    Both books are great by the way!

    1. I love the idea that a child will grow up always knowing their adoption story and feeling proud of it. Thanks for your comment!


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