The Eight Letter Word

Guest Blog by Crystal Gould

ADOPTION: the eight letter word that most people seem to have an opinion about, yet very few truly understand. Those of us in the adoption community know those eight letters are filled with love, loss, hope, joy, sadness, beauty, sacrifice and complication. When birth parents choose to place their child for adoption, there is a void that cannot be filled. When adoptive parents recognize that even love isn’t enough sometimes, there is a feeling of helplessness that cannot be ignored. When an adoptee feels disconnected and lost, there is a sadness that cannot be washed away. In the same breath however, adoption is also filled with tremendous hope. Hope for a child’s future and best wishes for optimum success in life. It is a complicated mixture of love and anticipation. Adoption is complicated and difficult to explain, but crucial to discuss with children (adopted and not) at an early age.

My husband and I have two children who were both adopted from China as toddlers. They have always known they were adopted. Their understanding of that eight letter word has changed over the years and their feelings about it will alter even more as they age, but the foundation for their understanding was set from day one.

It is important for adoptive families to remember that their child’s story begins well before the child joins the family. There are many ways to help an adoptee understand his or her background. Reading children’s books with an adoption theme, watching age appropriate films and videos, and looking at photos are all great ways to help a child understand and be able to discuss adoption. Another very important way to help a child understand his or her complicated life story is for the adoptive parents to create a lifebook for their child. A lifebook is the child’s bridge between the past and present, and can open the door to many valuable questions along the way.  Lifebooks are books made specifically for the adopted child to help piece together his or her birth history. It can include photos, facts about the birth place, or even in some circumstances, letters written to the child from his or her birth parents.

The most valuable thing adoptive families can do is to keep the conversation going. Sometimes there will be hard, difficult to answer questions and often times there will be unknown answers. Avoiding tough questions will just create more questions. In the same breath however, it is also important not to push the topic. If children are not ready to discuss their adoption story, or if they suddenly show a disinterest in their past, it is okay to simply say, “I am here for you when you’re ready.” It is important for adoptees of all ages to know their parents support them and are always willing to discuss their adoption story with them. Sometimes the answers will be easy, and sometimes there will be no answers. Saying “I don’t know” is okay. It is not about having all the answers. It is about being open to navigating the difficult questions together, and in turn, growing together as a family.