Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care

Talking with Children About Adoption at Different Ages

April 12, 2023 Creating a Family Season 17 Episode 15
Talking with Children About Adoption at Different Ages
Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
More Info
Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
Talking with Children About Adoption at Different Ages
Apr 12, 2023 Season 17 Episode 15
Creating a Family

Send us a topic idea or question for Weekend Wisdom.

Do you wonder how to talk to your child about adoption? What if they don't seem interested? How do you talk about some of the hard stuff? This episode explores talking with children about adoption at different ages with Mari Itzkowitz, with the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE). She is an adoption-competent therapist and leader of the CASE Training Team, providing training and education to professionals and parents.

In this episode, we cover:

  • How does an adoptee’s understanding of adoption differ by age?  
    • Infants
    • Toddlers & Preschoolers 
    • School Age 
    • Tweens 
    • Teens 
    • Young Adults 
    • Older Adults 
  • How to talk about adoption at different ages? 
  • Should you wait for the child to ask questions before you tell them about their adoption story?
  • What if your child or youth shows little or no interest in their adoption story?
  • How does openness or lack of openness impact a child’s understanding of adoption? 
  • Should adoptive parents bring up the idea of searching for birth family?
  • How does transracial adoption impact a child’s understanding of adoption? 
  • Our focus is often on birth mothers. How can you talk about adoption and the role of the birth father with young children who do not understand the concept of sex? 
  • What to say when you know very little about the birth parents?  How to handle hard birth parent stories? Should you tell a child that they were conceived by rape or that their birth mother is in jail or birth father suffers from addiction? At what age should you share this information? 

Additional Resources:

This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Please leave us a rating or review

Support the Show.

Please leave us a rating or review. This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them.

Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a topic idea or question for Weekend Wisdom.

Do you wonder how to talk to your child about adoption? What if they don't seem interested? How do you talk about some of the hard stuff? This episode explores talking with children about adoption at different ages with Mari Itzkowitz, with the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE). She is an adoption-competent therapist and leader of the CASE Training Team, providing training and education to professionals and parents.

In this episode, we cover:

  • How does an adoptee’s understanding of adoption differ by age?  
    • Infants
    • Toddlers & Preschoolers 
    • School Age 
    • Tweens 
    • Teens 
    • Young Adults 
    • Older Adults 
  • How to talk about adoption at different ages? 
  • Should you wait for the child to ask questions before you tell them about their adoption story?
  • What if your child or youth shows little or no interest in their adoption story?
  • How does openness or lack of openness impact a child’s understanding of adoption? 
  • Should adoptive parents bring up the idea of searching for birth family?
  • How does transracial adoption impact a child’s understanding of adoption? 
  • Our focus is often on birth mothers. How can you talk about adoption and the role of the birth father with young children who do not understand the concept of sex? 
  • What to say when you know very little about the birth parents?  How to handle hard birth parent stories? Should you tell a child that they were conceived by rape or that their birth mother is in jail or birth father suffers from addiction? At what age should you share this information? 

Additional Resources:

This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Please leave us a rating or review

Support the Show.

Please leave us a rating or review. This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them.

Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Please pardon any errors, this is an automated transcript.
Dawn Davenport  0:00  
Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am both the host of this show as well as the director of the nonprofit creating a Today we're going to be talking about talking with your kids about adoption. And we're going to cover the full spectrum of ages because how we talk with our kids about adoption differs depending on what age they are. We will be talking with Mari Itzkowitz. She is a licensed clinical social worker with the Center for Adoption Support and Education. She is an adoption competent therapist and leader of the CASE training team providing training and education to adoption, child welfare, mental health, and school professionals as well as parent groups. Welcome Mari to creating a family or maybe I should say, welcome back.

Mari Itzkowitz  0:51  
Thank you so much, Donna. It's a pleasure to be here.

Dawn Davenport  0:53  
All right. To begin, I think we need to talk about how adoptees understand adoption. Because as parents, we know that our children just in general, children's ability to comprehend and children's ability to process information, particularly abstract information differs by their age. So let's start off and talk about how children process adoption or process or understanding how they understand adoption. Let's start with toddlers and preschoolers. How did those kiddos it assuming that we recommend that everyone start talking with their children at birth about adoption? So that means toddlers and preschoolers are going to know and hear that they have been adopted? So how do they understand the concept of adoption at that age? The under four group or the under five, let's say?

Mari Itzkowitz  1:47  
Right? Well, I think it's a, I think it's a really great question. I think overall, the most important piece first to always understand is the kids understanding and adjustment to adoption is influenced by the child's emerging cognitive capacity. So it isn't just, you know, the chronological age the child is, but their cognitive capacity, also what their coping skills are at the time, and all of the opportunities that they've had to communicate about their thoughts and feelings, perhaps about adoption. So that's sort of the you know, the overreaching piece that I think is really important for all of the kids at all of the different stages. But then if we really look at those little ones, between like zero and four, the adopted child does not really realize the difference between themselves and non adoptive children at that, at that age. So it's going to be really, really important is one that we're beginning to use what we call respectful adoptive language with the children, so they begin to use words that are going to carry them through. So for instance, instead of real parent or natural parent, or saying birth parent, you know, those, those that kind of language that we're beginning to sort of instill in them. And at this age, it is about the basic story. And when we talk about the basic story, I think of like things like you know that there are two ways for families to be formed. It's about talking to them about where they were born, that their birth parents may not have been ready or able to parent them. We might also if they have lived, for instance, in more than one home, we would talk about you were born you lived with and, and perhaps even identify those people that they've lived with, talk about what a wonderful baby they were, and then perhaps, you know, begin to talk about how adults decided that for a number of different reasons, that maybe their birth parents could not provide for them everything that they needed, and when I like to always say to little ones at this age, because they are able to say well, what is it that babies need, and they can really list those, those sorts of pieces out. So it's the basics of the story at this age, to just begin to introduce the idea of that, you know, our family was so happy to adopt you, and to become your, your mother, your father, your parents, whatever that may be, and that you came to live with us maybe even talking about some of the really wonderful things that we noticed right away about how great you were when you came into our home. So those are the most important pieces you know, most kids these a at this age. You know, these are just facts. They're generally don't have a lot of meaning behind them with regard to like positive and negative attachment to the facts. But the facts usually do not reflect negatively on how the kids feel day to day, especially if we make sure that they are feeling safe and secure and loved about all of these different issues.

Dawn Davenport  5:14  
That's such a good point that for at this age, there is no, they're not making a judgment there. This is just the fact. Let's back up a minute and introduce the concept of what we do if we are have a child from infancy. So we are parenting, we have adopted a child, and we will hear parents we, the general rule of thumb is that you start talking, you know, the the old joke is when do I start talking with them? On the way home from the hospital? But then we have parents who will say, Yeah, but they're an infant, how do I What do I do with an infant? I mean, you know, what am I going to do? sit them down and say, put them in their little bassinet and say, Hey, by the way, so how, let's let's back up and just say, what do we mean, when we say you start talking at infancy?

Mari Itzkowitz  6:02  
Right? Well, I think that we start to think about what tools we can use memorabilia we can use. So for instance, you know, keeping a life book or story books or timelines for kids, you know, from when they're an infant. So that then as they're getting older, we can refer back to them and show them all the different things that they accomplished, or that took place in their life, as well as children's books, we're always reading to children, even as infants and as little little ones. So being able to come up with, you know, children's books that would also deal with the issues, pictures, if there are birth family contributions that we might be able to also get from birth family, and again, right from the start to have them as part of the child's life. And we're beginning to integrate all of those pieces. Right away. You know, one of my very favorite stories is a very dear friend of mine who had an adopted child. And I remember when he was I think around two, you know, they sat him down and talk to him about that he was adopted. And afterwards, he walked outside where all of his friends were, and he announced to everybody, I'm a doctor, because at two years old, you know, again, the concepts are not all of the pieces are not being put together. But he is beginning to ask those kinds of questions and presents those opportunities for us to correct them. If we do see them misunderstanding at that

Dawn Davenport  7:35  
age. That's such a good point. And what I tell parents, is that for infants, that's, that's your training time, that is retraining wheels for the adults. Because there is it is so easy to talk with an infant you're holding and cuddling them, feeding them, and read and books are the best way children's books, get some board books, they should be in your personal library, get some board books, creating a family has a great actually, we have a great list based on different ages, but we include those for the very young. And you could get that at creating a and just go there, you can click on them and find them. And the reading for that age, they will have zero comprehension. However, you are getting used to saying the story you are getting used to saying birth parents birth mom, birth dad, and then putting the name to whatever you're going to whatever you're calling and the children, that person may be in your life. So you may. So it's your time to make to normalize it and to get comfortable. So that when you have a two year old, you and you're you're just carrying on the conversation as exactly right. Yeah. So that's, that's why you begin in infancy, less for the infant and a lot more for you.

Mari Itzkowitz  8:50  
Exactly. Oh, wait. Oh,

Dawn Davenport  8:53  
yeah, exactly that that is so true, isn't it about so many things? Yes. So now we're moving up the age. So we've talked about infants, we've talked about toddlers and preschoolers. And I want to underline something you said at the very beginning, and that is, we're talking now, roughly chronological age, but the most important thing is cognitive understanding and emotional age. So keep that in mind as you're listening to these. If you have a child who has experienced trauma in their earlier years, they may be emotionally younger than their chronological ears, ears. So keep that in mind. So we're talking chronological age, actual age, but let's keep in mind, so now let's we're our child is entering school. They're in kindergarten, first, second, third grade. So let's talk about school age up to, oh, let's say about fifth grade.

Mari Itzkowitz  9:46  
Okay. So when we're usually if the children at this age like between five and 10 years old, let's say the child generally will begin to ask some questions. They may also love to hear about their adoption story, even though they may have little understanding of the actual concepts of it, because they may not be aware of where babies come from yet or, you know, pieces like that. But it's an important piece for us to be able to be like you said before prepared for the kinds of questions they might be asking, they can be much more inquisitive about the birthing experience, some can be very comfortable saying that they're adopted, others you may find might not be as comfortable. This is also the time where kids become sort of much more aware of their physical or racial differences from their parents. So this becomes much more apparent to them, how they may not feel or see that or how they may feel the difference between their family and maybe some other families that they may see. So it's important for parents at this stage to encourage the questions. And what's even more important is to answer them correctly. And as simply as possible. I mean, as I always say to parents, we never want to say something to our kids, that we then need to correct later. Because what is the most important relationship between us and our children is that trusting relationship, that we're going to be telling them the truth, certainly also, at this stage, listening for cues about misperception when the child is talking or playing with other kids, I think is also a really, really important piece, because we want to be able to challenge those assumptions they may make, or to also clarify if they are misunderstanding a piece of their story. And I think what is important about that, that point is that we can't assume that a child's story only needs to be told to them once. Because as they go through the different developmental stages, we have a different capacity to understand more complex things. So it's important to be going over the story. Again, this isn't a one time, kind of a deal. And we want to try and tell the adoption story as positively But realistically, as we possibly can. And I think the other piece that's really important at this stage, because kids may start asking about this is to reassure the child that they're not going to lose their family, their adoptive family, and that that isn't something that's going to take place that they might be questioning, well, wait, if there was this loss that has occurred, which they are able to now begin to process of the birth family cannot happen again.

Dawn Davenport  13:00  
That yeah, that's such a good point. I like to think of it as think in terms of you're building a house. And in your toddler age, you're just putting up the studs, that's just the very basics. But as as your child ages, and as their understanding and cognitive abilities develop, you're adding more to the house, you're adding, you're adding a roof, you're adding sheetrock you're adding and then by the time they are teens, the whole house should be built, so they know it all. But you've got to do it gradually. And over many, many conversations. I we do here not not as much anymore, I don't believe but we do hear from parents, and they say of course I you know, my child knows their adoptive course I told them they were adopted. You know, I set that down when they were four and then told them and, and that's it. And it's like, well, yeah, how much do you remember from even? Even how much you remember for nine and 10? You know, we have to keep talking about adoption. So

Mari Itzkowitz  14:03  
absolutely. And so often I will have families in my office, where I will be talking with the children about their adoption story, and they will begin to give details where their parents are looking at them. Like where did this come from, you know, this story. And that's exactly, you know, to your point that we need to continue to reinforce because also emotionally how we accept information. Also a lot of times has to do with how we are emotionally handling the information. So being able to go back over the story over time is a really important piece.

Dawn Davenport  14:40  
And and just from a personal level. One of the things that I have seen is that in that from I would say the elementary ears yours before we hit Twain's pitch shifts from just excitement of just wanting to hear the story and you know, one of mine would what was that? Fear procrastination technique because she knew I would talk about it but going to bed every night, for many nights, she would say, oh tough, but it was less than than that case, it was really more of a just keeping me in the room. But she was fat, not fascinated. But she loved the story about how much paperwork we had to fill out. Yeah, how hard we had to work to get her. And so it became the, you know, the family's story, or our story would be, we'd hold our fingers, you know, three inches, and she'd go, No, it's more than that. And then it would be five inches, and then it would be two feet. And they would have to stand on her bed and reach to the ceiling. And that's how much paperwork. But then we saw after a while that, that that was no it as she started developing that was more five and six. And then an understanding through this, through this period of time. There's a development of a sense of, oh, wait a minute for me to be here with you. Somebody didn't have me. So I was taken from or, and that realization. So let's talk a little bit about the how the understanding because I think generally it does happen gradually. Well, let me ask when does that understanding of the last piece of adoption, dawn on children?

Mari Itzkowitz  16:15  
Yes. And this is that that age where it really begins to come into focus, so that kids this age may spend a lot of time wondering about their adoption story. They can have feelings of sadness, of confusion, and many times the worry might be kept inside for fear of what those answers may be. So it's a really important time to be aware that your brain development is allowing them to see exactly as you said, Wait a minute, you know, so because this happened, and because I'm with this family, that means that there was another family that was unable to take care of me, and where are they? And that loss and grief piece is really when it comes when it begins to really come into fruition is during this stage.

Dawn Davenport  17:10  
That's I think one of the most important things about that feels to me about this stage is that, that when all of a sudden, it's not all positive, there is an understanding that Yeah,

Mari Itzkowitz  17:21  
right. And if we're not addressing it with our kids at this age, what happens is it goes underground. And then, of course, as we move into adolescence, when we are even able to think more complex ly, it can get those feelings can really become overwhelming. Okay.

Dawn Davenport  17:40  
I want to pause here for a moment to let you know about our partnership with the jockey being Family Foundation. And it is through that partnership, that we are able to offer you free online courses, including new ones that we're rolling out now, and 2020. Through, you can find these courses at Bitly bi T dot L Y, slash j, b f support, that's Bitly, slash j, b f support. There are 12 courses over there. So make sure you are utilizing them and share them with your friends. Now we're moving chronologically up the the age range here. And I've separated tweens from teens. Because I do think that that's both the cognitive and the emotional development is different. So let's talk about our 1112 13 year olds, I guess 13 is technically a teen, but let's get them in there. So let's talk about our our middle school aged kiddos.

Mari Itzkowitz  18:41  
Exactly. So, you know, developmentally this is when kids make the first attempts to sort of establish their distinct identity. So it's beginning to emerge, like beginning Okay, to emotionally have some kind of separation from family that they're just family around 13, they also begin to have the ability to think abstractly, and to sort of manipulate and to explore ideas. So when we think about this, this is the age where it's going to become more important for them to want a lot more detail about sort of who they are, where they came from. And as they continue to get older, these sorts of issues can manifest themselves in a lot of different ways. So, we can certainly see as all teenagers, you know, they can enter an anger stage of the grief and the loss. So it isn't just the sadness or the trying to figure it out. But it is there can be some anger that really comes about around these ages. We may see you know, resistance to us resistance to other kinds of authority. And this is when it also becomes clear to them that there was a loss of control in their early life decisions were made for them, that they did not have any control over.

Dawn Davenport  20:14  
When do we typically start seeing a resistance to culture camps into bringing our kids to festivals of their heritage? I personally never saw a resistance with restaurants. So that one, but I certainly saw, at some point, our attempts as parents to keep their ethnic in their cultural identity as a part of them. Significant pushback, when do we see that and and what's driving that?

Mari Itzkowitz  20:46  
Right? Well, I mean, again, if we look at the developmental tasks of adolescence, if it is about establishing their distinct identity, and eventually separating, because that is the developmental tasks of adolescence, then pushing back on a number of different things, is to be expected. Certainly, during this stage, you know, what is the most important thing for adolescents, it's about fitting in, it's about being like everybody else, it's about having what everybody else has all of those different pieces. So the pieces of them that make them quote, different, or to stand out, may be something that they no longer really want to be focusing on. As well as that. It may be for some of the kids, it is a place, like the the culture camps, etc, may be a place where they really feel like a part of, for other kids, it really may be what makes them feel like they stand out. So you know, what I always say to parents is, you know, your children are vast, and you've got to be able to judge when it is that they're showing that level of independence and trying to really begin to establish their own identities, or when you feel as though that it's about something underneath that they might not, you know, that might be painful that for them to deal with that we need to, you know, sort of discover with them.

Dawn Davenport  22:16  
And from that piece alone, the cultural idea, racial and ethnic identity issue, you have to become if your child is resistant to the way you have approached it in the past, you have to become more creative in ways of opening up finding mentors finding groups.

Mari Itzkowitz  22:35  
Absolutely. And, you know, certainly for trans racially adopted children. I mean, we can talk about that specifically, as well. You know, there are some additional tasks.

Dawn Davenport  22:47  
We'll come back to that, then we'll come back because that that crosses all of our ages. Absolutely. All right. So now we've talked about our tweens. Now we're moving into the teens, our high school years, and then we'll we'll talk about our young adults, and I will define young adults as being those after high school, college age. But let's talk about our high school age our teens, what is the as you mentioned, the developmental test? Yeah, so what is the developmental task of our teams,

Mari Itzkowitz  23:19  
right? So in the the middle teens, so to speak, you know, 14 to 16 ish. You know, this is where the kids are practicing a different kind of intimacy. And I don't mean like a sexual intimacy. But, you know, this is where certainly friends become the most important thing for our children. This is also where the task is to really consolidate one sense of themselves. So it's about discovering who we are, what we're good at, and who do we think that we are as a human being. So that's the developmental task. And how it then, you know, reflects back on the adoption piece is about really thinking about how adoptees must define who they are and their identity without often sometimes even basic knowledge as to where they came from. So that is part of it makes it more complex for our kids. So again, in adolescents, teens raised by biological parents, they already know how they're like their parents and how they're not like their parents. Okay, how they're unique from their parents. The adoptees task is a little bit more complex, they must figure out how they are alike and different from both their adoptive parents and their birth parents. So depending on information that they have, or don't have, you know, that can be a really really difficult task.

Dawn Davenport  24:58  
It has to be more complex if nothing else Exactly, you've multiplied the number of, of people that you have to define yourself.

Mari Itzkowitz  25:05  
Correct. And sometimes the only information kids have might be negative information about birth parents. And so how do you figure out how you're like and not like, if you only have negative information, guess what, the only way you can identify with is through that negative information, which is why it's so important for us to be as the kids get older, you know, talking with the kids about how complex behavior comes from complex places, and that it isn't just, you know, someone is doing this, and therefore, they're wrong, etc.

Dawn Davenport  25:44  
It let's let's expand on that a bit. Because I do think that I think that actually goes back to that some of the groundwork, some of the studs that you're laying at from a very early age. And that is, very often there are hard parts of our kids, we're going to talk about specific hard parts, let me just let's just say, I'm going to keep not quite so the really difficult, I want to talk now just about for them to have something did not go right, for them to have in place for adoption. And so when our children are, how do we lay that groundwork? I'm not talking about the really deep stuff, yet. We're coming to that. But how do we lay the groundwork for them understanding that something went wrong? But that's not? And it does, it's not necessarily inherent in the humans that that birth? You? Correct. So

Mari Itzkowitz  26:39  
I mean, this is the stage where the kids really want a greater understanding as to the why, you know, why were they placed for adoption, what happened where, you know, they're looking for more details. So a clarification of the information about their adoption story is really, really important to them. And really, I think, the other piece of this is, is that it is important for them to also understand that it had really very little to do with them, that it was adult decisions that were being made, and helping them understand that they're not responsible for those decisions.

Dawn Davenport  27:20  
And that's and going back to how we lay the groundwork for that at a very young age, and then keep adding more details is that for every young age, we say to them, you were a terrific baby, you are the cutest toddler, you were when you came, you were so full of energy and spark and enthusiasm, our whole house lit up. So that it's the, it's not you, you were terrific and are terrific. And then as they get older, we're adding more and more details about the how somebody could decide to place a terrific person, like you type of thing.

Mari Itzkowitz  27:57  
Exactly. And that's really the next stage of the adolescence, you know, the 15 to 18 sort of range, because this is where the kids really have a strong need for their information. And they can have an over identification with birth parents, depending certainly, if their birth parent was young, when they were placed. This is also where the kids really are looking to have a solid sense of who they are, and a sense of themselves. It's also where their cognitive ability, if they are on target, they can understand complex reasons for adoption. So they are much more self aware and insightful. And can even think, hypothetically, in terms of what they would have chosen, what other situations might have caused the adoption to take place or other people's stories, they're going to be open to that much more. So once they are hitting this later. Adolescence

Dawn Davenport  29:04  
is such a good point that if many of birth parents are not in their teens, especially now, however, we still have and so when they reach the age, are close to the age. Yeah, it's It certainly adds complexity. And sometimes parents feelings get hurt when their teen says I would if I got pregnant now I would never place my child and parents can get their feelings hurt. So what would you say to parents in that situation?

Mari Itzkowitz  29:32  
Well, again, you know, I try very, very hard, even though it is almost impossible for us to separate our child's feelings from our own feelings sometimes or how a reflects on us. Yes, right. Exactly. So I mean, I would be very, very curious as to how that child came to, for instance, that feeling in that decision, because we're I would go with that It is that it may really be unresolved issues of loss and grief for that child as to the inability of their birth parents to be able to keep them, it probably has very little to do with us. And much more to do with them trying to come to terms with all of the things that were out of their control when they were younger, that they didn't have a saying. So I would just try and reassure parents that that's a sort of normal maturation at that point, but also maybe even explore with the children, what that would look like them being able to raise their child, and what would they need to have in place in order to do that, to also try and help them have some empathy for the situation that their birth parents might have been in at that time?

Dawn Davenport  30:52  
Do you see a greater or has there been research on a greater tendency of I will use the word accidental pregnancy, but the accidental part is in air quotes, because sometimes this is if one doesn't use birth control and one is having sex, there is a higher likelihood. Amongst it will we see that at a higher probability amongst adopted teens and young adults?

Mari Itzkowitz  31:17  
No, we're not seeing that in terms of statistically significant that there's a big difference between adoptees and pregnancy rates and non adoptees and pregnancy rates, I think, you know, what we can see is that without a level of openness about adoption, or if there is secrecy, or if there is a feeling of not having all the information, etc, that, you know, for all kids, that then acting out behaviors and you know, for children, you maladaptive behaviors I, I always see our symptoms, and they're not causes, but they're symptoms of something else that might also be going on that they haven't been able to really come to

Dawn Davenport  32:05  
terms with. Have you subscribed yet to our free monthly newsletter, if not, you're missing out, you can subscribe and get a copy of our new downloadable guide on strengthening and supporting your transracial adoptee. You can subscribe at Bitly slash trans racial guy. That's bi T dot L y slash trans racial guy. That's all one word. You not only we get our newsletter every month, but you would also get the terrific guides. So hurry on over and subscribe. Alright, so we've talked about our middle teens, we talked about our young tweens, our middle teens and our older teens. Now let's talk about young adults. Our kids have hopefully graduated from high school, they're either gone to college or some type of post secondary training or they have getting they've got work, they may still be living in the home but they're they are entering young adulthood even though our society often does not treat them as young adults. But let's say we've got our 1920 2122 23 year olds, we've already hopefully already talked to them about adoption. So what did where did they belong and this talking about adoption and what did we talk with them about it that boy.

Mari Itzkowitz  33:33  
So, again at this developmental stage right there with the with the developmental task is is to leave home and separate from the family in a healthy way. But again, I think it is important for us to remember that sometimes the trajectory as I like to say for adoptees might be a little bit different than for biological children leave taking can be slightly more complex, if we remember that at the heart of adoption, that we have lost something pretty significant and those loss and grief feelings, adoptees leave taking for them is is this a permanent loss? Now, am I going to be able to come back home? What does this mean for my role in my part in the family, so you know, when I always encourage parents to say is that because it is more significant, you know, it is okay for your child may be to not necessarily at 18 immediately have to go off to college, you know, and then go to wherever after that and get a job that it may take a little bit longer. It may not always, but it may take a little bit longer for our adoptees to sort of gain that sort of understanding and confidence to be able to move forward in that way. So I think that it's an import work in peace, that we allow them to know that, hey, you do not need to do this on someone else's timeline. This is about your timeline and what's going to be right for you. I think often times, those of us with adoptive families, you know, we are so often feeling the pressure of being just like biological families up there that when our child may need that extra year or two before they're going to move on to the next piece, that it can somehow reflect on us. And so it's a really important piece, to reassure parents and to reassure kids that, you know, your timeline is unique to you. And it's got to be what feels right.

Dawn Davenport  35:48  
You know, it also seems I totally agree with what you're saying. It also seems to me, though, in addition to that, is that a lot of times we stop the conversation about adoption, when they're, they're raised, they're out. So the conversation ends. And I find that problematic, because some of the questions are, it's, it should be a lifetime conversation. Do you also see that parents? It's like, what is there to talk about at this point? So how do we talk with our young adults about adoption, when they know their story, hopefully, at this point, if we haven't told them now we're, you know, we should have, right?

Mari Itzkowitz  36:28  
So I, you know, it makes me smile to even think of this because I work with a number of young adults right now. And, you know, they can sometimes really tease me because we can be talking about their work, or we could be talking about their, their relationships, etc. And they will say, Oh, Maura, you always got away to like, turn it back to adoption.

Dawn Davenport  36:51  
I heard those words from some of mine.

Mari Itzkowitz  36:54  
Exactly. So I guess you know, what I would say to that is, it's about the opportunity. It's about that when it comes up that hmm, might it be that there is something going on, that might be related to loss and grief that might be related to adoption that might be related to maybe feelings that they've expressed in the past about birth family or about fitting in? I think it's about taking those opportunities of being able to just sort of question I mean, I think the biggest piece for us as parents, and I tease adolescents and parents about this all the time, our focus is always on the kids, you know, what their developmental tasks are? Well, you know, parents, with adolescents, we have some developmental tasks, too. And that is about letting go. And sometimes, you know, when I always say to parents, we are no longer the directors, we're the consultants. So it isn't about, oh, I think it's about this to the child any longer. It is truly about, you know, do you think that maybe this might be a part of that, and being able to allow them to sort of explore it on their own and be able to say, Hmm, well, that's an interesting piece, for me to think about. And that is why I think it's an important element to be able to, as I like to say, throw out those pebbles when it comes up, then it may be connected to something about their adoption or their past.

Dawn Davenport  38:27  
And so then I will include this as even past young adulthood moving into parenting adults, we're not really parenting. Absolutely, we're the parent. One of the things that, it seems to me is that with harder topics, and adoption shouldn't necessarily be a harder topic. But it often is, if we don't keep practicing and bringing it up periodically, it becomes very easy for it to be hard to because if it hasn't been brought up in a while, then the fear is that how are they going to react from the child severed the young adult or the adult standpoint? So if not periodically bringing it up, it feels to me that I would be leaving them with the impression that I am uncomfortable with it. That's right. So if nothing else, when I bring it up as a parent of young adults, I'm letting them know that I'm okay. If they want to talk about it, that feels like that's my primary role at this point.

Mari Itzkowitz  39:29  
Right? And being able to take those opportunities, like I said, even if they're not bringing it up to throw out those pebbles, it means like, yes, quite often I have families that will come into the office and a parent will say, gee, you know, my child doesn't really talk about it. They don't think about it, it never comes up for them. And then if during the assessment, time alone with the child and I begin to sort of, you know, explore with them and the child will have lots of thoughts and feelings, but there's all kinds of them all right. have reasons why they haven't been perhaps bringing it up to their parents. And I think you really hit on an important point that it gives the child the signal that we are open, and that we want to entertain their questions that if we don't have the answer to their question, we're going to try and find out what the answer to their question is. And that they can feel free to ask us anything they want.

Dawn Davenport  40:25  
And that's where I think that I think that starts in especially if you have provided you have talked about adoption, you have told your child your adoption story. At some point, our role as parents is to move into letting them constantly know that we are open, that we are not threatened. And that's that's how it shifts as our children age. We often do hear, even now from parents who will say, I'm waiting, my kids never asked questions. So I'm just waiting, because I think they should direct the conversation. And we hear this from even, you know, as a parent of an eight year old was talking and say, Well, I haven't really told them they were adopted. But but you know, but even as even let's that's an extreme example, how would they even know to ask a question if you haven't brought it up? But even without that being the extreme example, we certainly hear from parents of tweens, teens and young adults, they don't talk about it. So I figured they don't have questions. Sorry. Let's, let's talk a bit about that.

Mari Itzkowitz  41:31  
Well, I think that that's always the important piece. Now, sometimes, like I said, it may be that there's reasons why they might not want to, or feel comfortable, necessarily talking with their parents, that's when the opportunity of giving them an outlet, like an adoption, competent therapist, etc, that they might be able to talk with some of these issues about. But I think it's a really important piece that we again, throughout parenting that we are regularly giving them the opportunities to talk about it. And we are expressing our comfort in all of these different areas. It's okay, if they rolled their eyes, it is okay. If they say I don't want to talk about this. Certainly their tone, if they're showing anger when they're saying that, that means there might be something underneath there that we might want to be able to think about, how do we get to, but it's about giving them the opportunities and reassuring them that if they have questions, or they have any kind of feelings, that it's an important thing to be able to bring to us. We talk a case a lot about with kids, what we call double dip feelings. And what we mean by double dip feelings is that you can actually feel two different ways about the same thing. So for instance, that you absolutely love your adoptive family, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. And you wish that you could have stayed with your birth family. Those are two feelings to have about the exact same thing. But wishing, I mean, and people would say well, wait a second, but they're opposite. Or you can hold both of those feelings at the same time. We humans

Dawn Davenport  43:21  
are amazingly capable of doing that. We are a blessing and a curse for being human. Yes. And here's an example of some of the ways that just keeping adoption as a topic that they that we're comfortable with that we're sending the message to our kids that we can talk about adoption. I'm cool with that. So if you've got questions, you don't have to worry because I think we hear from adult adoptees and teen adoptees all the time, that they're afraid that they're going to hurt their parents. So they don't talk about adoption. So our role as parents of older adoptees is to continually let them know. So you could raise it and say, you know, you know, so and so is giving everybody over the counter DNA tests. Have you thought about that? And and what would that mean for you? That's just a separate conversation, but it would also tangentially bring in and also asking if your child hasn't searched, asking bringing it up, even though so often as parents were afraid to put in that idea in their head. So should you win your child? If your child is not in an open adoption? Should you be the one who raises the issue of search and reunion? And if so, when?

Mari Itzkowitz  44:39  
So I think this is a really imperative question. And I think that we are fooling ourselves. If we believe that with the internet and the ability of all kids today, you know, with electronics that they may not, you know, are ready have been searching or looking for information. And you know, when I like To tell parents is that, you know, this is something that we want to partner with our children on, we need to let them know that it is part of normal curiosity to perhaps want to get more information or do search. But we would like to be able to be a part of it with them, this is not something they need to do in secret, this isn't something that they need to do on their own, we feel comfortable doing it with them. And really what is important about that is because either the kids can find out information, or make a connection of some kind, that they may not be developmentally, or emotionally able to really handle. They need us at that point. They need us to be there with them to help them manage and navigate any information they may find, as they are exploring. So I think it's always an important piece to be able to say to kids and teens, I mean, and really it's teenagers at this age that we're really talking about here. You know,

Dawn Davenport  46:04  
as adults, yeah, yes. Oh, even older adults. Yeah, but all of them.

Mari Itzkowitz  46:09  
Absolutely. I work with a woman in her 50s That just recently did search and found birth family on both sides. So I mean, absolutely, it really depends on when and if the interest really becomes strong, you know, oftentimes adoptees, who have never really questioned or had any kinds of issues, and then they might have a biological child. And that changes everything, because they look down at that child and say, Wow, this is the first person I've ever known that is biologically connected to me. And that may then encourage them to want to find out other kinds of information, it really doesn't matter when that stage may arrive. But being able to partner with them, and being open and wanting to explore the information and be there for them, no matter what information they may find, is going to be a really important piece.

Dawn Davenport  47:04  
So the conversation starter could be Hey, have you ever thought about searching for your birth family? Why are adoptive parents often hesitant to say those exact words to their teens, young adult or even older adults?

Mari Itzkowitz  47:19  
So I would make one change on that statement? And I would say, so, when have you looked because most kids, I mean, almost all adoptees that I see, in my practice, have at least looked depending on if they have any information. So you got to make an assumption, that with the viability of electronics, that they're going to do something, something like that, and that they're already going to be looking at it. Why might we as you know, adoptive parents be hesitant? Let's think about that for a second. We're fearful of what they may find. We are fearful of their emotional reaction to what they may find. There may even be parents that are fearful up, you know, if they find them, they're gonna want to go

Dawn Davenport  48:10  
be with them. You know, they're fearful that will be replaced.

Mari Itzkowitz  48:13  
Exactly. And the dad is, you know, the place that I really encourage parents, no, no, you are your child's parent. So continue to partner with them on this exploration, because they're going to need their parents to help support them through all the different stages and all the different things that they may find, as they are searching out there.

Dawn Davenport  48:37  
So how does the vast majority of adoptions now and the US have some degree of openness and openness is a term that has many different definitions? Yes, it does degrees of openness. However, how does openness or lack of openness impact a child's understanding of adoption across the ages?

Mari Itzkowitz  48:59  
Right? Well, I mean, it's interesting, you know, the research basically shows, okay, that the adjustment among adoptees, certainly adolescents and emerging adults, that kids then have more open contact that is either scheduled or regular, that they seem to do somewhat a little bit better than kids who have more closed adoptions are not allowed to get some of that information. It also says that birth mothers are also more satisfied with their contact arrangements, regardless of the level of contact, they have and have much less unresolved grief, like 20 years after placement. So I mean, there is statistical research but for some of our kids, that is just simply not possible internationally adopted to children, because of the way things are, although things are even getting better, you know, amongst that piece, but still there is not a lot of information that the kids can have. So I mean, it isn't that it is vastly different. But there is a significant difference that, you know, individuals who have contacts seem to be more satisfied with their arrangements. And with those who don't have contact.

Dawn Davenport  50:27  
One thing that we certainly notice is that when kids start asking the why questions are tweens in our teens, having access to a birth parent helps us answer that question. Because we, the person who knows the answer is right there. We can reach out we can connect, our child could reach out. So when they enter the stage where they're curious about their why's having an open relationship with the birth family, depending on how we define that allows us to say, well, let's ask, I don't know, exactly, but I know somebody who does so. Right.

Mari Itzkowitz  51:08  
And I, and I think that you know, for many parents, this can cause a lot of anxiety, because there are these feelings of you know, are there going to be loyalty issues? Are there going to be all the sensitive lense, all these different things? Who's going to deal with the child's reactions to the contact? And you know, we always want to reassure parents, we you are their parents. So, yes, you can set boundaries. Yes, you can. Absolutely, we're not going to be co parenting here, we're going to be still the parents of our children, but the access to the information, and how it can fill in so many of those missing pieces than oftentimes our kids do feel.

Dawn Davenport  51:56  
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Mari Itzkowitz  53:21  
Well, it's interesting that you say earlier, you know, I always will say humans translationally adopted kids, those kids that look more like their parents, either skin color, hair color, all that type of thing, they get to make a decision as to who they talk to about their adoption. And if they're adopted, but translationally adopted kids, it's sort of it's written all over their face. Right. And so they need to be dealing with the issues, not only of adoption, and the difference, and the differences that are involved in that, but then also the trans racial pieces and the racial pieces. So you know, a child facing societal stereotypes, racism, you know, trying to figure out where they fit in. Often, you know, kids who are translationally adopted, will say, you know, I don't feel like I fit in anywhere I don't fit in into my home cultural, you know, background and I don't fit into my parents, cultural background, I am like a something in between and feeling like they are between two groups are feeling guilty if they feel some loyalty to one or the other. So it can absolutely be a little more complex. But I think what's most important for adoptive families is we must really redefine kind of the meaning of family all together. And it is important if we are adopting trends racially, that we identify as a multiracial family. A multi Cultural family and a multi ethnic family. And it's going to be a really important piece that we support our kids in a positive racial or ethnic identity, and to teach adoptees survival skills to navigate the multicultural landscape that they might run into.

Dawn Davenport  55:20  
It's separate from but connected to the conversation about adoption. Exactly have lots and lots of resources on that separate conversation. So we will, we won't spend more time on it today. Because today, we're really focusing on talking about adoption. You know, so often, when we talk about adoption with children, we are focusing on birth moms, they were the ones who were pregnant, they were the ones who gave birth, they were the ones who, oftentimes they're making the decision in concert with the birth father, but sometimes they're making the decision by themselves to place a child. So we focus on the birth mom. So the question we sometimes get is, How can you talk about adoption, and the role of a birth father with young children who don't understand the concept of intercourse and sex, and then at a sperm meeting an egg and the role of the birth father? How do we help our kids understand that there? You know, there were as my grandmother would say, there takes two to tango. How do we introduce that concept when, when the when there's not something as visible as a pregnancy to point two?

Mari Itzkowitz  56:31  
Right? So I mean, I have again, seen children come into my office, and that will say that they didn't have a birth father, because the only thing they've ever heard about his birth, Mother birth, Mother birth. So it is an important piece. And it can be as simple as this. Everyone has a birth mother, and a birth father. It's just that simple. You're not born without a birth mother, and a birth father. Now, depending on their age, they may say, Wow, how does that work? And not certainly in whole other different conversation that we're having with the child, but being able to just establish that every person has a birth mother and a birth father, just like I have a birth mother and a birth father and daddy as a birth mother and a birth father, or, you know, who whomever else is in the family, being able to show that we're the same that everybody has a birth mother, and everybody has a birth father.

Dawn Davenport  57:35  
All right, some of our kids have, for lack of better word, let me just say hard, hard birth parents stories. So the question is, Should you tell a child that they were safe, for example, conceived by rape, or that their birth mother is in jail, or that their birth father, their birth bars are in jail, or their birth mother suffers from addiction or their birth father, there was domestic violence, and he abused the birth mom, should you share this information? And at what age? If so, what age?

Mari Itzkowitz  58:11  
So I mean, again, as we will always say to parents, you are going to know your child better than we are going to know your child, I can't give you an age, this is the age and you sit them down and you tell them, it really is dependent on so many other factors. Like we've already discussed their developmental age, their emotional stability. I think what the question really is, is why do kids need to know? And the truth is, is that adoption is like having a missing piece. It's their story. It isn't our story. It's their story. And it's their reality. And so it's important that we share the information with them, and we share the truth, because first we have control of the information. It is about trust between us and our child. It's about attachment. It's it can minimize their fears. And it can also normalize adoption, sort of all altogether. You know, there's how we feel and how most of the professionals feel, is that by pre to middle adolescence, the kid should have all of their information, it should be shared with them. And within the details of how we're going to share it is going to be important. It's going to be important that we never denigrate birth parents, that we promote understanding for the kids separating behaviors and decisions from who the people are. We may need to explain to them about mental illness or addiction. We may need to explain birth parents circumstances or cultural circumstances that might be in place, we want to be able to share positive information and characteristics about the birth parents if we have that information, or we might be able to explore with them, thinking about other kinds of times of their birth parents, like, you know, what might have been or what their birth parents might have been. So I think, again, you know, it's an important piece and getting some assistance and help from professionals from books are going to be an important piece at this stage, if there is difficult information that we want to share. And again, you know, the way that we sort of go about this, depending on the information, when the kids are really little, we're going to share pieces of the information. You know, birth, mommy wasn't able to take care of you the way that you needed to be taken care of. And then once they get a little bit older, giving more information, but by the time we get into adolescence, they really should have the information, all of the information that they may need, so that we are controlling while they are still in our home. We can support them, and help them understand it. And it isn't that they're just going out on their own and finding out this information.

Dawn Davenport  1:01:22  
That is such wise advice. Thank you so much, Maury, it squirts for being with us today to talk about talking with your kids about adoption. Thank you. Thank you

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