Wednesday 19 October 2016

Adoption Week: Talking to your child about adoption

When we knew that we were going to adopt a sibling for Brown Bear we had to find a way to talk to him about it. All his friends were having siblings, so he saw mummies with growing tummies then babies. We had to find a way to tell him that his sibling wasn't going to arrive like that. Telling him enough so that he was prepared, but not actually having anything to tell. We had no idea if it was going to be a boy or a girl, how old they would be, what s/he would look like or even what they would like to play with.

Talking about adoption before it happens is a like a glitter covered unicorn fantasy compared with talking about it afterwards. The anticipation of a baby brother or sister and the fun it will be is much simpler than the reality of a child who won't let his family love him. A boy who isn't a baby arriving in the house and taking your toys and shouting and competing for Mummy is no fun at all. I made a lot of mistakes. I didn't know how to make it ok for them both. I stopped being Mummy to Brown Bear while I protected Blue Bear. So Brown Bear acted out to get the attention he so desperately craved. Instead of thinking about his feelings I would ask him to be more considerate. What I should have been doing was talking to him about how he felt. Reassured him that he was still and would always be my baby. That this new boy who was angry and upset and pushy was just frightened and needed a lot of love and care to feel ok. As well as nurturing Blue Bear I should have been lovebombing Brown Bear, but it took a long time to realise this.

The conversations we've had can be random at times, but I don't ever shut down any line of questioning from Brown Bear. He has to have a safe space to talk about how he feels and I want that to be within the family. This is when the chat goes from shiny unicorns to making about as much sense as the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland :

'Froster carers'

When we first met Blue Bear it was at the foster carers' home so Brown Bear met the foster family. They were so kind and lovely to him. It was important that he saw where Blue Bear came to us from. That he knew who they were and that they are a part of Blue Bear's history. He also was able to talk to them about Blue Bear and ask what he liked to eat and play with. Brown Bear asked me a lot about why Blue Bear was in 'froster care.' He wasn't clear if they were his parents or not and it took a lot of chats in the car to make sense of this.

We keep in touch with the foster carers and they are very much part of Blue Bear's history. Brown Bear loves to tell them about his brother and what's been going on too. I have explained that they are not his mummy and daddy, but they cared for him and that they are very special and they helped prepare him to be in our family.

"Why didn't his mummy love him ?"

This is a very hard conversation to have. So far I have said," Blue Bear's family loved him very much. It wasn't easy for his mummy to take care of him though." We will never bad-mouth Blue Bear's birth family. Whatever they did or said he does not deserve a bad impression of them. I am not about to sugar-coat it either though. When Brown Bear asks about Blue Bear's family life before he came to us I tell him we don't know much about it and I keep it age appropriate. I say that he never had a brother before and that we love him so much that I'm sure his birth family would be glad to know that.

"When he was in your tummy."

This one is the most difficult. "He was in a different mummy's tummy. Like you were in mine. She loved him very much, as much as I love you I'm sure." We haven't talked about how hard it was for her to say goodbye to him. Not yet. When we look at baby photos of Brown Bear we do talk about how sad it is that we don't have baby photos of Blue Bear. Our family memories begin from when he came to live with us.

You might be wondering why all the conversations have been with Brown Bear. Well, so far Blue Bear has not had much in the way of conversational skills. It's also important that Brown Bear has an honest picture of how our family came into being. He will be the one who talks to Blue Bear first about where he came from. It's up to us to make sure that Brown Bear is equipped with the truth so that Blue Bear isn't hearing half truths from somewhere else. It is also really useful practice for me so that when Blue Bear is older and asking me questions I have a way of talking to him about adoption that makes sense for him.

It isn't all serious though. There are times that raise a smile too. On the day we went to pick up Blue Bear to come and live with us - at last - Brown Bear was in the car and said,
"Mummy, Daddy, can I have a sister please ?
"erm... well it's a bit late now, we're going to get your brother just now,"
"No, I mean after this one."

We both looked at each other and laughed.

Tomorrow: What is a 'real' family anyway. 

It's Adoption Week so I'm writing about adoption every day this week.

I'll be answering questions about adoption that you may have. Feel free to comment on here or ask me on Twitter with the hashtag #askaboutadoption.

So go ahead and ask those burning questions. If I can't answer I know enough professionals who I can direct your questions to.

To find out more about adoption week take a look here:


  1. This is a great post Swazi. When we adopted out son, the hardest thing for me was handling the relationship between him and our daughter, and the change in the family dynamic. They'd both been only children before - it was a huge change for all of us.