Adoptive Parents Q&A

This advice should help ease the anxieties you may have about adopting a child.

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Age 4 or 5 is a good time to explain adoption to your child.

Parents who adopt children often also adopt a set of anxieties. The most common areas of concern are telling their child about his or her origin and addressing persistent myths about adoption.

It's important to remember that the child is first a child; the adoption really plays a small part in raising that child.

Q: Is it true that adopted children are more likely to have emotional problems as teens and adults?

A: No. Parents of adopted children may be more tuned into their kids' psychological needs and, therefore, more likely to seek counseling for them. But being in counseling does not mean your problems are worse than those of someone who is not.

Q: We recently adopted a baby boy. The social worker at the agency told us we should make the adoption part of "normal everyday conversation" from day one. Does that mean we should talk about it all the time?

A. No. Too much attention given to the issue can cause as many problems as giving it no attention at all. Overacknowledgment can make a child feel different and, therefore, inferior.

Instead, take a relaxed, middle-of-the-road approach to the issue. This means not avoiding the subject of adoption or being embarrassed to talk about it, but rather treating it normally, like you would discuss where you live.

Parents should certainly plan to tell a child that she was adopted. The best time to introduce the subject is between age 4 or 5, when children begin to realize that life has a beginning and an end. As a result, they begin asking questions about where babies come from. At this age, children are curious and capable of understanding the difference between being born into a family and being adopted into one.

Q: Seven years ago, I became pregnant out of wedlock and gave birth to a son. When he was 15 months old, I married a wonderful man who adopted my son and has a fantastic relationship with him. We have not yet told our son the facts of his birth, but we feel that he ought to know.

A: He needs to know, and he needs to hear it from you before he figures it out or hears it from someone else. Now is an excellent time to tell him.

A 7-year-old will be able to grasp the situation. A child this age can think more flexibly than a child even two years younger; therefore, he stands less chance of becoming confused.

Your son's reaction is likely to be more extreme if you wait until the rebellious period, which usually begins at age 9 or 10, to tell him. He could interpret your delay as an indication that you are unsure of the relationship. That might be all the excuse he would need to develop behavior problems.

Q: My husband and I have a 5-year-old daughter. We are thinking about adopting an older, hard-to-place child because the waiting period is considerably shorter. We are concerned about how this might affect our daughter.

A: Things will work out much better if you put yourselves on the waiting list for an infant or toddler.

Bringing an older child into your family would displace your daughter's status as firstborn. To tamper with a child's position in the family is also to tamper with that child's personality, self-concept, and security. This displacement could be devastating to her self-esteem.

The older adopted child may suffer as well. If the adoption proved disruptive to the family, the adopted child might feel responsible for that disruption.

Adopting older children is a wonderful idea. But before you pursue it, carefully consider not only the needs of existing children in the family but also the needs of the to-be-adopted child.

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