I’ve heard people adopting transracially jokingly say, “Oh we’re not going to tell him he was adopted.” It’s a ha ha moment because the assumption is that children who look radically different from their parents will always know they were adopted. We who adopt transracially can’t pretend our children were born to us. We need to tell our children before someone else points it out. Nowadays, even if you are the same culture as your children or have a similar look, no one pretends their adopted children was born to them. The secrecy inherent in past adoptions was incredibly damaging to birthparents and adoptees. Adoption is out of the closet – something to be acknowledged and embraced.
However, as depicted in Kung Fu Panda, it’s not true that kids adopted cross-racially automatically know they were adopted. Kids see their parents as the people who care for them everyday whether you all look alike or not. No matter what your children look like, or where they came from, if they were infants when they joined their families, there is a period where they genuinely do not know they were adopted.
Theo, now 26 months old, joined our family at birth. We have an open adoption where we see his birthparents regularly. However, he is only two and just beginning to talk. Thus far, I think he sees his birthparents as fun, nice people that we visit from time to time. He still does not have the words or the cognitive ability to process what adoption means and who these important people actually are in the scheme of his life. He also may not see that our looking different from each other is something unusual. It’s his norm, and we spend significant time with other transracial adoptive families or cross cultural families.
What’s surprising is how difficult it is for me to start introducing him to his lifestory. I’ve stalled out, lapsed into a reverie of regular family life. And while I used to tell him all the details of his adoption at night before he went to sleep, he couldn’t understand what I was saying and soon getting him to sleep took priority.
He’s on the cusp of grasping his history, and I don’t want to wait until he starts asking questions. I need to come up with a simple narrative that he can understand. Modern technology makes this venture very easy. We can create a photobook with pictures of him at the hospital, photos of his birthfamily and us, and go from there. But modern technology can’t take away a nagging feeling that we are taking away a piece of his innocence.
How and when did you introduce adoption to your child(ren). When do you think they really understood what that means? And how did they react?