Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care

Talking With Your Adopted or Foster Child About the Hard Parts of Their Story

October 13, 2021 Season 15 Episode 42
Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
Talking With Your Adopted or Foster Child About the Hard Parts of Their Story
Show Notes Transcript

Talking with your adopted or foster child about the hard parts of their story can feel like a daunting task. Should you tell your child that her birth father is in jail or that her birth mother is addicted to drugs, or that she was conceived by rape? If so, how in the world do you share this news. We talk with Lesli Johnson, an EMDR therapist who specializes in adoption and foster care and an adult adoptee; and Susan Myers, a licensed Master Social Worker with Adoptions from the Heart Adoption Agency with offices throughout the northeast.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Should you tell your child these difficult parts of their history? 
  • Talking about the hard parts of adoption
  • How should you tell your child these hard parts of their background?
  • How do you lay the groundwork with young children in order to fill in the details later?
  • By what age should you have shared all of your child’s story with him?
  • Give specific examples of how a conversation might go with a preschooler, and how would you fill in the gaps for a 6 year old, 10, 13 year old, etc.
    • Child abuse
    •  Addiction
    • Parent in jail
  • Can you use a lifebook to talk about rape, imprisonment, drug and alcohol addiction?
  • What is a lifebook and what should be included in a lifebook?
  • How to use a lifebook when there is jail, rape, abuse, etc in the child’s story?
  • Specifically, how should parents tell their child that they were conceived during a rape?
  • Oversharing can happen with both parents and with children.
  • It’s tempting when your child is an infant to tell people private information. Why should foster and adoptive parents avoid this?
  • When might it be important to share some details of the child’s background?
  • How do you help your child understand how much of his story he should share with others outside the family?
  • How can adoptive parents help their children understand that they are more than the hard parts of their history and that they are not doomed to repeat their birth parents’ mistakes?

Additional Resources:

Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child: Making Sense of the Past, by Betsy Keefer  and Jayne E. Schooler

Talking with Children about Difficult History,  by Holly van Gulden 

Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child (2nd Edition September 21, 2011), by Beth O'Malley M.Ed

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:

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Welcome everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport, your host and the director of Creating a Family dot org pop over to that website for lots of free information that's available to you, as you adoption Foster and kinship care journey. Today, we're going to be talking about a topic that is relevant to many adoptive Foster and kin families. And that is, how to talk with your child about the hard parts of their story. And that kind of begs the question, should you tell your child the sad details? And is that something that they should know that they have a right to know? And if so, how in the world do you go about doing it? We will be talking today with Lesli Johnson. She is an EMDR therapist who specializes in adoption and foster care. She is also an adult adoptee and she brings her lived experience to the table. We will also be talking with Susan Myers. She is a licensed master social worker with adoption from the heart adoption agency. This is a rare of a show we did a while back. It is so important. And quite frankly, so well received that we're bringing it to you again. I hope you enjoy it. As much as I have enjoyed re listening to it.

Welcome Lesli and Susan to Creating a Family. I am so happy to have you guys here today.

Thank you. Thank you, Dawn. All right. As I mentioned, adopted and foster children often come to us with hard backstories. It could be things like his birth parent was in jail or his her birth mother used drugs or drank alcohol when she was pregnant, or he was conceived by rape or siblings were kept by the First Family while this child was placed, or it's not known where siblings are, or his first mother abused him or his birth father abused his mother, or her first parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. And these are just a few as you guys will know, of the stories our children often have is in their background. So let me just ask the question that, that we get a lot from foster and adoptive parents, in particular adoptive parents in this case? And I'll direct this question to you, Susan, should we tell our children these difficult parts of their history? Or should we protect them? Because this is not information that is is uplifting for a child necessarily? Yeah, thank you for that question. I mean, I know that's like foremost, and most adoptive parents mind when they hear about a situation of a child or they accept a match of a expectant mother with a baby who may have been exposed to substance abuse or may have had other difficult situations. But the bottom line is they deserve to know the truth about who they are and where they come from. And so we absolutely have to be able to share that with them in age appropriate ways. And then I would also say that this, you're correct that certainly for for children adopted at birth, but equally, if not more, so children who come to us through foster care or through international adoption, although we often don't know the backstory with the children and international adoption. All right, Leslie. So in general, is there a general framework you would suggest for parents because obviously, parents now wonder, okay, you're saying I should tell my child these really difficult parts of their history? But how how do I? So let me just talk generally is is there kind of a framework, you can give us a general overview of how parents should approach telling this information? And including, you know, when? How old should the child be?

Right? That's a great question. I think it kind of goes hand in hand in hand with what I really tried to help adoptive parents with is really work doing their own work, right, doing their own work about around adoption, and what they chose to adopt, and their their child's specific history. And the win is, is kind of based on if their child, if their chronological age is the same as their developmental or cognitive age. So we don't want to talk about things unless kids kind of understand the concept. So that's the first part but but I think most professionals agree that children should know that the good parts of their history that so good, all of it around the age of 1011, certainly by the time that they're going into adolescence, because adolescence is already a tricky time. So to add to add new information to that can often cause more problems than than good. And then I might also add that we want parents I believe parents

Are the their child's best advocate. So we really want the information to come from them. So just working a lot with parents on the language and how to talk about these difficult subjects, and again, and in an age appropriate in an age appropriate way. Okay, the Susan, how do you lay, the the general thing that we have always suggested is that when you start talking with your children about adoption at a very young age, you start laying the groundwork for some of these parts of the story without going into details, because a child is extremely young. And that with each subsequent telling of the story, you add more detail that is more at that age appropriate. So that let's using that, let's talk about some specific examples of how a conversation might go. And I want to break it down, to give an example, by different ages to give an example for our families to understand how this might work. So let's start with the example of a child who has been abused and is has been adopted out of foster care. Now, let's start with a

preschooler. And let's move forward. Alright, so let's go with a preschooler. Susan, I'll start with you, and let you take the child abuse one, how would you lay a ground lay the groundwork for a conversation that ultimately you want the child to know that his first parents have abused him? But you're talking at this point with a preschooler?

Well, I think it depends a little bit on the age of the child, you know, when they were placed for adoption. Um, so obviously, if a child was with their first parents for two or three years, they know that they were abused, right? I mean, even if they don't like have conscious, you know, even if they can't talk about it, even if they can't verbally talk about it, they have memories of being unsafe, they have memories of how it felt not to be taken care of, or to be hurt, right? So this the answer, I have a little trouble with the answer, you know, depending on how old the child is, but if I'm going to try to be very general about it. With preschoolers, we always want to just make sure they know why they couldn't be raised by their first parents. That's, that's really all. And my advice is to keep it simple. Your mom and dad couldn't take care of you, they couldn't keep you safe. So the judge, which is what happens in a foster care situation, the judge decided that you needed to be in another family where you could be safe, and you couldn't be hurt. And so that's just really the bottom line kind of basic, simple thing that I would, you know, generally recommend starting with, but like Leslie said, the cognitive age or the, you know, that the emotional and developmental age of a child is often really different from their chronological age. Okay, so now we're talking about we've given up, you've laid the groundwork by saying, your parents weren't able to protect you and take care of you, a judge made sure that took place you with us so that you would be safe. Now that's that's the groundwork that you have laid with your, say three or four year old. Now you've got a six or seven year old, you know, very early for a second grader. What type of detail would you add to that story? Leslie may switch to you. Now we're still talking about child abuse, we have laid the groundwork with our three or four year old now our child is six or seven, we're wanting to add a little more detail. Can you walk us through an example of how you what language you might use for say up early, you know, early, elementary, six or seven year old? Sure. And again, we're trying to give specific language to kind of a general idea, but I'll do my best on that. And I think this age, it's important to to note that the parts of the brain that allow for a more nuanced understanding of concepts is beginning to develop. So kids up into the age of four or five, six are very literal 567 have their beginning again, to understand their the more nuanced and layered meanings of things. So this they may ask more questions, right? So we're still keeping it age appropriate. We're talking about, you know, your first parents, I always encourage parents that they know the names of their kids, first parents to use those usernames, you know, Tom, and Sarah couldn't care for you, or any child when you were born. They couldn't keep you safe. And the adults made a decision for you to come and live with mommy and daddy. So again, you're you're taking the onus off of the child's children are are egocentric by nature. So they think that things that happen are often the result of something they did or didn't do. So kids at this age, well, they need again, the frame of work of the facts and what happened they also need to be reassured that they had they didn't do anything

Cause this separation, okay? It will portray, you're going to introduce the concept that your first parents abused you

that it would be, I think this would be there around the time when they could understand that, right? So it's a parent's job to keep their children safe. And your, your first parents weren't able to do that. It's a parent's job to not put their hands in their child, your parents made some decisions that, you know, put you in harm's way. And the adults, again, the adults needed to make a decision that you couldn't, you couldn't be parented by them. Okay, and to and to just add on to that, john, that I think children in that Elementary, you know, middle middle childhood kind of stage can also understand, you know, beginnings of anger, how anger relates to behavior, like when you get really mad, you feel like, you know, throwing your toys, or, you know, when you get really mad, you want to slam a door. And you know, it might be something where you can start to talk to your child about your, you know, birth, parents were having a hard time controlling their anger, and they took it out on you, but it wasn't your fault.


Yes, children at that age, absolutely understand anger, and also can introduce the concept that that's its parents physician to try to help their children deal with anger. And that may be your first parents didn't have somebody who helped teach them that. Exactly, because I think it's also important to parents to keep their bias out of it. And I think that's really hard if they know that their child was harmed by their first parent, right? So, but again, we want to allow the child to grow up and grow into their history and make their own decisions. So giving the facts in any of these cases, with as little biases possible.

That's really hard. That is really hard. Really hard. Yeah, yeah, it's hard. One of my favorite experts on this topic is Holly van golden. we hand out a to all of our families in pre adoption education, an article that she wrote called talking about difficult history. It's only four pages, it's got everything they need to know in the four pages. But she talks about doing an exercise before parents start having these conversations, right, Leslie probably knows that I'm doing this open ended sentences exercise where parents can start to understand what their own biases are, and what their own value judgments are about people who use drugs about people who go to jail about, you know, men who assault women. So I think it's really important for parents to read a little bit and prepare before they launch into having those discussions. Absolutely. And I am familiar with that article. It's wonderful and so helpful. And again, just, you know, emphasizing that when parents do their own work, they become their child's best advocate.

And if they and so by the child, that's our early elementary, but by the child time the child is leaving elementary school at that point, you want them to understand that yes, you know, you were the child was abused, you're you know, let's say you were ended up in the hospital with broken bones, and the hospital called the child welfare, and you were taken into foster care. So that's the type of information you would share all of that by the time the child is, again, we have to take the child's developmental age into account, but roughly, certainly before the child enters adolescence, roughly. Yeah, roughly by 12. Okay, excellent. Let's move to talking about addiction. So a child is whose birth parents struggle with addictive disease, then they, the child needs that that is a factor as to why the child was removed. How do you introduce those concepts to a very young child because you're wanting to lay the groundwork for preschool toddler, but not toddler, but let's say a preschool? you're wanting to lay the groundwork? But how do you lay the groundwork in a story when you're talking to a very young child? Leslie may ask you that one. Sure. So again, I think you introduced the concepts of your parents weren't able to make to take care of you or any child at the time when you were placed. You might introduce the concepts of

your parents had waz D was dealing with some things and chose to take some medicine that they that they shouldn't have. When parents talk about drug use to small children and they're introducing the concepts of medicine or not dealing with big adult problems. You know, one very much we want to help them differentiate between good medicine and bad medicine, but that they took some some medicines that they shouldn't have and they weren't able to care for you. As a result.

So, again, the adults made the decision that you would come and, you know, live with us. So again, emphasizing that they had, this was nothing that they did. So it was an adult decision, and then very mildly bringing the concept of, you know, drug use into the picture.

And then then Susan, as the child enters early to mid elementary age, then we can interact most children then have heard of drugs, and, and are at least somewhat aware of the concept. Would that be when you would start giving more detail as to they weren't able to stop taking the drugs? Because the drugs are addictive, but drugs interfere? Yeah, exactly. Either. They took, you know, drugs that made them, you know, feel good, but they couldn't stop taking them explaining what addiction is that even though they wanted to stop, it was very hard, or they couldn't. The same with alcoholism. I think that children in elementary school are exposed, you know, whether they're adopted or not, they're exposed to alcohol, you know, issues of alcoholism and drug abuse and drug addiction. In all families, those are issues. So yeah, I don't think it's any really any different than having that conversation with kids about, you know, Uncle James is an alcoholic, and you know, what happens every year when we get together with him. And so, but I think there's also, for those elementary aged kids an important piece of tying it together to why they couldn't remain with their family, right, because like lots of children grow up in alcoholic families, lots of children grow up with drug abusers, right. So it's, it's making the point to your child that because they drank too much, or because they used too many drugs, or couldn't stop using drugs, they weren't able to do these things for you that you need, like if that every child needs to wake you up in the morning for school, or to, you know, keep their jobs so that they could make money to get food, or to, you know, come to meetings on time and just kind of be very concrete about those, like ways that they couldn't be a parent in ways that they couldn't parent you, because of their drug or alcohol use. And then certainly, by the time they are, again, around the age of 12, depending on development, but generally around that age, you might also introduce the concept that that's one of the reasons that we don't take drugs is because it is hard to stop, it's hard to introduce the concept that, that they will be exposed to drugs, and you have to make good decisions and things like that, by the time they reach that

early before, right before adolescent stage. Okay. I think if I if I can just add one thing, I think that it's also important to I know that I've had clients who have not wanted to initially not want to share stories about their child's parents, you know, them being exposed to alcohol in utero, or drugs, or born addicted to, to drugs, and when, and so then it's caused difficulty in school processing issues, learning issues. And when they've shared that information with their child, what has happened, it's, it's given a context. And it's actually kind of a relief to the child to know this information, because they then can say, oh, maybe this is why I learned differently, right? This is why I learned differently because I was born addicted to a substance. So I think that it's important to to mention that too, that it can can actually sharing that information with kids can provide just a context about themselves to

that, and I'm really glad you raised the issue of when the child has been impacted. And often they are when they are born to addicted parents that sharing that information and you're laying the groundwork going back were laying the groundwork at the very early stages, that they weren't able to take care of you because they took too much. If you want to use the word medicine, and then they weren't able to take care of you and it wasn't because of you. But that lays the groundwork to saying and when they took this medicine, it impacted you too. And and that's why and sharing the information as if you know how it is impacting the child. All right.

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All right, now I want to move to the concept of life books, which are often a tool that parents can use to fill in the details and you can be added to over time these books can be added to over time. So I'd like to talk Susan starting with you about what a life book is, and what should be included in the life book and, and then we'll move into talking about how you could include some of these difficult topics

in a life book to help give more context to your child. But let's start with what is a life book. Sure, so a life book is just a visual depiction of your child's life before they came to be with you. It's not really a photo album. But sometimes it looks like a photo album. It's a way of explaining your child's story and of collecting pieces of information to share with them about their birth, about their birth parents, and about all the events that happened to them before they came to be with you before they came to be part of your family. Life books have been done in all different ways. I know I did. Some for my children who were adopted internationally, there are pre made books where you just you know kind of add to the pages like a scrapbook. But other people choose to make binder. And, you know, put plastic pages in the plastic sleeves in the binder and then fill it with information. But it should basically help your child understand, you know, where they came from who they were and so all the little mementos of their life, from their birth certificate if you if you can get it to the details of you know, the hospital, where they were born and the details around their birth. And then where they lived, if they lived in foster care if they lived in multiple homes before they came to you. All those should be in the life book. And it's really a project I mean, it's I don't think it's it's not something you just sit down and do it. You know, one night it's it's an it's a work in progress. And a lot of kids I mean, Leslie can probably speak to this better than me because I work mainly with, you know, families who are adopting newborns. But kids with a complex history and have been in foster care before adoption. This is a great tool to have a clinician work on with them as they're processing, you know what it means to be adopted.

Leslie, so how would you use a life book to help your child put the fact that they were conceived by rape or their father was in prison for domestic violence? Or how would you use our drugs or alcohol addiction? How would you use a life book to put that information in context?

Well, the way that I would help a family do it, so I that was a great explanation of life book. And I really looked at it as, like a concrete history of a child's life. And parents can add details and put details in and then when the child is old enough, they get to collaborate because it's really their, their books. So I, I might ask, you know, I might ask the child if I was doing a life book, you know, in in my office with the family, I might ask them what, what part of this do you want in your life book, right? Do you want to write a letter to your parents? Do you want to write questions that you have, do you do want this information in there right now so so again, kind of letting them have ownership because I think by the time a child's six or seven that they get, can have some say in what they want to put in there. But it can be an opportunity to have kids ask questions. So they might not ask questions just verbally but they might write a letter or draw a picture. And you can you know, that can be a really open ended conversation or a conversation starter.

Something that

was suggested to me with my children was to include information that, that let's say we had a report or something that make a copy and put that in the in a sleeve, a plastic sleeve. And then as your children age, they will read that on their own. And that's an opportunity for them to get information, Think it through, and then ask questions. And also make sure the life book is in their room where they have total access to it in private. And I know that that is exactly what my kids and child did was read read, and then then I would start getting questions about and I knew that they were had been reading it because they were the questions were directly relevant. But it gave them a chance to think in particular for this one child. And this child needed time to think and then then ask the questions afterwards. So I thought those were really good, good suggestions, don't make it something that's non touchable, don't make it something that is put away, have it be easily accessed. And right, that was excellent. That's a great suggestion. Yeah, well, was one that I certainly benefited from.

And the other thing that that I will say, I am not a scrapbook type person, I am not handy in that I'm intimidated by that. I you know, I would never have made a good teacher, I couldn't do bulletin boards, any of that stuff. So I needed to take the pressure off of me for making it look right. Now I'll just throw that out there. If you are good at that type of stuff, then do it. If you're not, I haven't ever seen that it matters one way or the other, to my to my family. But I say that there's a great website called adoption, life books calm, and I would recommend families take a peek at that. Yeah, that's a good suggestion as well. And there's also books that are available for how to build life books, and we will link to some of those as well. Alright, one of the questions that I think is particularly hard, one of the backstories that is particularly hard for adoptive parents to understand how to deal with is the as the story of if the if the information comes through them, that from the birth mother that the child was conceived through rape. So Susan, I know you work with domestic infant, how is the parents that what type of that just seems like such difficult information? So how would you share that information with a child? Well, like stick kit, like you said before, you know, starting with the preschool time and setting the framework and keeping things very simple, you're you know, you're going to want to be telling your child about who their birth parents are. And at that very basic level, at three years old, we would say we don't know who your birth father was your birth mother and your birth father didn't know each other, or they didn't get along with each other. So it's just that simple. When there's, you know, a few more years added on right, four or five years, and they're in middle childhood, I think parents can talk about the fact that they didn't love each other, or that they met, but they didn't stay together, that it wasn't a good relationship. But I think that's going to partly depend on the child's understanding of where babies come from, and how babies are made. Right. So it's going to depend a little bit about what they understand about sex. So you know, that's a very individual thing for families, when they have those conversations about the birds and the bees. But by the time the child is, you know, obviously 10 or 11, I think most are going to have that understanding. So parents can talk about the fact that she had sex with him, and she didn't want to, or she had, she was forced to have sex with him, or that they had sex, but they weren't making love. Um, so those kinds of things are going to be unique to the family and to how they choose to talk about sex. But I think definitely at the very early ages, we're not going to be too complicated about it, it's just going to be that we don't know who your father is, but we'll see if we can find out more information.

Okay. And again, then introducing as you go, as you move further through the elementary years, more information about having sex, but not I'd like that having sex but not making love that and that, that, that it was not her choice. And she didn't want to have sex, obviously. I mean, I think that you know, by 12 kids are going to, you want them to understand the issue of consent. consent. Yeah. That's what I was going to add. That was so well put, and the only thing I would add is that you also would begin talking about consent, right? So you know, to little kids, we're talking about

You know, who touches our body and permission to say no. And then as, as you evolve later in just talking about consent to sex, you know, No means no and, and then, again, that gives a better context to so but I think I agree with everything Susan said it, one of the things that seems important to me, is, at some point, we want our children to know that they are not doomed to make their parents mistakes, that this was a choice, and they have a different upbringing, and they can make different choices. How Leslie? How do you go about with sharing that information, both in the context of certainly with rape, but also domestic violence, incarceration, drug abuse, alcohol abuse? All of them?

That's a really, really tricky question. Because I've certainly seen so many

adolescents in my practice, who who do kind of internalize how, what they believe that their, that their parents are, right, so the parents incarcerated the parents bad and they have, again, this speaks to sharing as much information as you can, so that kids don't have to get the don't have the information are going to make things up. So, you know, they're internalizing that dad's in jail, because he did this, you know, and then this, that, and the other thing, and I'm gonna, you know, repeat that. So if they, if we're talking specifically, and I think it's a matter of reassuring them, you know, so people make choices. And

this doesn't mean, you know, you're, this doesn't mean that, that you're going to repeat that. And also, talking about parents in totality, right? This is one part of their biology, this isn't the total of the person. So balancing it with other, you know, other parts of their story. And again,

this is very hard, but parents having as little bias as possible, and letting their child develop their own sense of who their parents are, in their own their own truth. And again, that's hard. It's really hard for parents. Yeah, that is hard. That is hard. But we want our children to believe in their own fundamental goodness. Right? And if they, if you, if you demonize their birth parents, that makes it harder, right. And I think parents can sit with their, with their child's pain and sadness, and not not trying to fix it or their their disappointment, right? So I'm not trying to fix it or, or provide too much, you know,

too much reassurance, I mean, we're going to reassure you don't have to your This does not mean anything about your, the trajectory of your history. But I think also they can just sit with their child and let their child have whatever feelings they have about their truth.

I think like Leslie said, it's really important to have it in the context of the whole person. So so that they know that their birth mother is more than a drug addict, or, you know, their birth father is more than a, you know, person who steals cars, or whatever, you know, has happened. And so they get it. So parents start really young, with giving them all the information they have about their birth family, and working really hard with the agency or the or the system that you know, was taking care of the child to gather all that information, to find out what their talents are to find out what they look like, you know, if they haven't seen them for a few years, to find out about their ethnic, you know, their ethnicity, you know, and just all the little pieces of who a person is, so that the child grows up knowing that they came from these people, and these people aren't just people who got in trouble.

Yeah, that's a great way to say it, their totality is greater than the one thing that we're talking about now, which is that they were in jail or that they died of a drug abuse. That's only one part of them. They were also a musician or a great basketball player, our, you know, couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, that type of thing. You know, that if you can get that information, or they love to eat pizza, or you know, they love to, you know, play with dogs, I mean, any of those little pieces. When we're working with expectant parents and birth parents in our agency, we have them try to fill out a questionnaire that gives all of those background, all that background information and asks a ton of questions. So the parents can use that in the life book, they could keep that questionnaire we give it to the adoptive family so they can keep it for the child. They can read it in their life book as they grow up. Mm.

Great idea. And now for a moment for something really important. Believe it or not, we have been doing this show for 13 years. And if you've been listening for any of that time, you know that we support all types of family building. In fact, we pride ourselves on an unbiased approach. What is right for you is not necessarily right for everyone, and vice versa. We want to educate and support you on your journey. But longtime listeners know that I have a special place in my heart for special needs adoptions. And by special needs. I mean, those children who through no fault of their own face special challenges in life caused by early life trauma, or prenatal, alcohol, or drug exposure, or diseases or birth defect. One of the best ways we can help a child heal is to help their parents be better parents when parenting their special needs. Creating a family is doing just that through our special needs parenting Scholarship Fund. This may not be your journey to creating your family. But you can help a vulnerable child by helping us help their parents, please make a $20 donation to provide one of our 65 plus courses to a parent who is doing the hard work of helping the child he'll go to creating a slash scholarship to make your tax deductible donation.

All right, now we're moving to another hot topic.

And that is oversharing. We're going to talk about we're going to start with that and let's let's be honest, oversharing can happen with both the parents and the child. But we're going to start with what I call parental oversharing. And it is, it is so tempting when your child is an infant or a very young child to tell people private information. And I feel so strongly that and it's it's because the child does not understanding it. And there's just a host of reasons partly you're doing it because it's it's interesting to you that okay, this child was was addicted at birth, or this child was taken away because they had you know, three broken bones. And that's information that in some way puffs up the adoptive parent, but doesn't necessarily it But that can't be detrimental. So let me ask Leslie starting with you. Well, why should adoptive or foster parents avoid sharing detailed information outside of the outside of their family? Well, I think one main reason is the child can't give consent, right? The child can't can give consent and really what they may be sharing while they think they may be sharing the their child's story, they may be sharing their version of a story, right, their version of their family's story or their story. And I think it's really important for parents to be really mindful of

telling their child's story, why are they telling it and thinking, you know, thinking forward, what might be the outcome of them, sharing the story, right? So what might be the outcome to their child. So just being very careful about not only what they tell, but who they tell and really asking themselves why, why they why they need to tell tell the story and share those. Yeah, we tell people that once you've told something, you can't untell it and people do not forget I have told this story before but I will tell it again have a

child who was adopted in infancy, and his birth father was in jail for I think it was auto theft. And the parents had a long when when they their parents shared the information that they child's birth father was in jail for auto theft. And when this little boy had done some shoplifting and the grandmother was telling the story to her neighbor, that the mother had taken the little boy back to the store and made him give back and made him pay for the give the back but had to pay for the candy. And the neighbor said well what did you expect it came from? You know came from trash. He came from thieves. That's what he's going to be. The neighborhood heard that story 10 years before had not forgotten it. And in her mind, that's how she viewed this child. And that information if had not been shared, it would have been oh well. Children at that age do have Sticky Fingers it's a good thing she brought him back to the store and took care of the problem.

Any thoughts on on Susan that you would like to share about the idea of parents sharing a lot of detailed information when their children are young they don't tend to do it I will add as children get older it's when they're children I say more often when the child is very young. Yeah, I mean I think it comes out of their excitement and their happiness about finally adopting if this has been you know, something they've been wanting to do for a long time and also wanting to sell

satisfy the curiosity of their friends and family, but I just they, they just need to not do it. You know, really, it's their child's information. And this, you know, I think if parents are getting good pre adoption education, this is something that's going to be talked about, that your child's story is their story, and you can't control information once it gets out, like you just illustrated so well. And that there are people who, you know, need to know like, there's a need to know basis for private information, right, like doctors and educators, like Leslie had said, in the case of kids, you know, who might have been exposed to dry snack, all that might be important for, for a teacher to have some information, but it's not important for other people to have the information. And we, we like to use the wise up framework that you guys probably are aware of, you know, from the Center for adoption from case in Maryland, to share with pre adoptive parents, you know, what the acronyms wi se, in determining when you should share information and, and helping your child understand that too, because as the child gets older, they have to be taught who you could talk, who you should talk to, and how you should about her. That's a perfect segue, because that's exactly what I want to move into oversharing can go both ways. We certainly see that parents do it. But I also in an example know of a child who is in kindergarten and wanted to bring her life book to kindergarten. And the life book had a lot of detailed information that the parents really did not think were appropriate. And, and or it can happen in a number of ways where the child says, Yeah, my birth mom broke my arm are just a lot of detail. And on the one hand, this is the child's story. And they, we also don't want the child to internalize any shame about it. But we do think in terms of how much information is in their best interest in the long run for them to have shared. So Leslie, let's talk about oversharing from the child's standpoint, and how we help our kids understand how much of his or her story they should share outside the family.

Yeah, that's a great question. And, and I think that the wise up acronym is really good. And I'll just say that the, just for those who don't know, the W is you know, so so in top of their kids, this is you know, what we're going to share this is what we're not going to share, you kind of I encourage parents to even kind of make it a game if we're out at the grocery store and someone asks you a question about you know, whoa, where did you get that red hair? Or you must look like your dad or even people do make those comments like what are we going to say? So we can have a signal? Are we going to walk away or ignore? That's the W Are we going to say it's, you know, it's private I don't have to answer we're going to share something about your adoption story or we can educate about adoption in general so this empowers children to feel that they have a sense of control over parts of their story that they want to share and it also prevents them from being feeling feeling ashamed or embarrassed and being put on the spot

so to more directly answer your question about about families talking with their kids about what we're going to share I think that can be in the bigger context of of adoption related issues and and birth story issues. And just just what do we talk about what do I What is our family choose to share with others in general so just having that kind of conversation so so some things we talk about just as a family and some things we we can share you know, with our friends and then some things we can share with you know, the next the next ring of this circle but I think it's just it's just parents really having those conversation open conversations with their kids and kind of collaborating on what we what we want to share and what we don't want to share and and the things that we don't share to our friends or the you know, to our classroom doesn't mean that we're ashamed of them it's just that we're keeping those things private for right now.

That's that Yeah, there's that there's nothing to be ashamed of here. But there is some information that is private.

Right? Right. And again, using it in the context of other things you know, doesn't just not adoption related or birth story related, but you know, we might not share that you know, certain things that you know, little brother does or certain you know, certain things that that

you know if there's I'm tracking I'm not thinking fast and my feet but just other things in the family that are that are just kept they're just kept in the family. Well, okay, wetting the bed, you don't share that your your older sister still wets the bed because that's that's not yours to share. And that's that's something that I keep private. There's nothing wrong with her doing it, but it

we don't we don't share that that's not for you to share. Right? Right. Thank you.

Just Yeah, I'm not thinking quick on my feet today there.

All right, Susan, I will any last words, I will give you each opportunity for last words to talk to adoptive and foster parents about how to share the difficult parts of their child's pre story before they come to you became to you.

I can't think of anything really, except for preparing yourself, you know, like endlessly said the same thing. These like thinking about this should begin when you first start thinking about adoption, right? It shouldn't be like five years later, when you say, Oh, I think we need to have a conversation with Ashley about, you know, where she came from. And so, you know, it's really preparing and thinking about it when you start the adoption journey. And it should be part of the adoptive parents education, as I said before, whether they're getting that from their agency, or they get it online through a provider, because there's certainly some excellent online education you provided as well as a few others, and doing their, you know, doing their homework about how we're going to have this because, I mean, it's it's not normal anymore. not typical anymore. I guess it's better way to put it for there to be a child who's placed who doesn't have some kind of difficult history. You know, I mean, even when we're looking at voluntary infant adoption, you know, voluntary newborn infant adoption. There's a reason why the first parents aren't able to raise these children. So there's always going to be some sort of issue I think that parents need to get comfortable with talking about. And my favorite resource actually is a book called telling the truth to your adopted or foster child. I have it right here

by Betsy, Kieffer and Jane schooler so I always backed that book for you know, when when you sent me your outline went back to look at it, and I've recommended it to so many families. excellent resource. And Jane has been has done courses with us. She's terrific. Yeah. Excellent. Okay, Leslie, any last words from you as well? Sure. I would agree with with Susan that it's, you know, parents who do their own work around why they're adopting and continue to do their work throughout their child's childhood in adolescence, I think I think it's really, really important. And you know, if five years into it, they say, Oh, I wish I wouldn't have had this conversation. It's not too late. Start there, right? Reach out to adoption professionals to help if you're if you get stuck. Having worked with many, many, many adults who are adopted, I can end and being an adult adoptee myself I can, I can say 99.9% of adopted people want to know the truth, even the hard parts, it helps them feel

whole, it helps them understand the context of their of their lives. So again, you know, the truth is your friend, even the hard part's. So if it's if it feels too hard to talk about, reach out, there are so many resources that can help if parents feel stuck.

Well, thank you. Thank you both. Leslie Johnson and Susan Myers for talking with us today about how to talk about the difficult parts of your adopted and foster child's story. Let me remind everybody that the views expressed in this show are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the position of creating a family, our partners or our underwriters. Also, keep in mind that the information given in this interview is general advice. To understand how it applies to your specific situation. You need to work with your adoption or foster care professional. Thanks for joining us today and I will see you next week.

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