Photo Contests

Kid and Pets Photo Contest
Adoptive Families 2020 Kids and Pets Photo Contest
Share your snapshots of your children posing with the family pet!

Summer Memories Photo Contest
2019 Summer Memories Photo Contest Winners
Meet the winner, Apollo, and the finalists.

Mommy Moments Photo Contest
2019 Mommy Moments Photo Contest Winners
Meet the winners, Christiana, Callie, and their mom, and the finalists.

Daddy Moments Photo Contest
2019 Daddy Moments Photo Contest Winners
Meet the winners, Christopher and his dad, and the finalists.

Kids and Pets Photo Contest
2019 Kids and Pets Fun Photo Contest Winners
Meet the winner, Kathryn, and her dog, Buddy, and the finalists.

Adoption Blog: Talk to AF

Explaining a Difficult Adoption Story
Filed Under:

When parents know troubling information about their child's birth family or early history, they often worry about how and when to share it. In the May/June 2011 issue of Adoptive Families, Debbie Riley, M.S., explains why parents must share whatever they know, why it makes sense to do so before the teen years, and offers advice and sample language to use in several common scenarios.

Have you explained a difficult aspect of your child's adoption story? Share the language you used with fellow parents who are preparing for similar conversations by posting a comment below.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


As a large adoptive family there have been many times when sharing an aspect of our children’s adoption stories have been challenging… the first time our oldest realized his birth mother had a child with various men, he couldn’t understand why she got married so often, it was difficult to share that she had never been married.  Many of our clients grapple with sharing facts about a violent conception, mental illness, incarceration and/or drug abuse histories… We have a related post on our blog:

By AdoptionSTAR on Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm.

Our 3 children are all adopted from the foster care system.  Our boys were almost 2 and 4 yrs old when they came to live with us so they (mostly the oldest) have memories of their birthparents.  We have had to explain to them why they weren’t living with their birth parents.  We have told them that their birth parents love them but were unable to take care of them, to keep them healthy and safe.  We also told them that their birth parents used drugs which made it hard for them to make good decisions and to recognize that they were not taking good care of the kids.  Our boys are now 5 and 7 and our daughter is 2 and we try to be as open as possible with them, in an age appropriate way.  Also any time they want to talk about their birth parents or have questions we always take the time to talk to them and answer their questions.  We allow them to direct the conversation based on what they need at them time.  I think it’s working because they feel very comfortable talking about their birth parents and about their adoption with us.

By Nick on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm.

What age is appropriate to tell the child if they don’t ask. I have a 3 year old that thinks I am going to have a baby.

By awhite on Monday, May 02, 2011 at 12:27 am.

Nick, I’d like to ask you at what age you told your kids about their parents’ drug abuse problem. My daughter is almost 6 and she hardly asks about her birth family, we talk about the general story regularly, but she started to fantasise with her birthmom and says she breast-fed her as a baby (which is not true). We have two boys (bio), one older than she and the other is 3 years 3 mo younger. I breast-fed both of them but couldn’t do it with her because she was 19 mo old when we adopted her. I had explained her why I couldn’t breast-feed her and told her what we know about her life with her bio-family, but I have not mentioned yet her bio-mom’s crack abuse and details about the neglect she suffered in her first 11 months of life. Any advise?

By MonicaGG on Monday, May 02, 2011 at 9:02 pm.

Monica, I think we probably started talking to them about their birthparentsí drug use when they were 3 and 5, this was about a year after they came to live with us.  We knew that their birthmom had most likely used meth and other drugs while pregnant with both of them and we decided that we wanted to start the conversation early with them.  We are hoping that by talking about drugs and its effects with our children from the time they are small it will help them decide not to try drugs when they get to be teens.  We also wanted to make sure we established that they could talk to us or ask us questions about anything and we would always talk to them and answer as honestly as we can.

We started by talking very simply about what drugs are and how it affects people.  We told them that drugs are any kind of medicine that was not given to them by their doctor or parents.  We also said drugs can be things other people (not their parents or doctor) try to get them to take saying it will make them feel good.  We told them that some drugs might make people feel good for a little bit but it changes the way people think and it makes it hard for them to make good decisions.  We used this to tie back to their birthparentsí drug use and said when they used drugs the drugs made it so they couldnít make good decisions and couldnít take care of the kids. 

We havenít gone into explicit details about their birthparentsí drug use but tried to use it to tell them why they donít live with their birthparents.  Also we let them know that their birthparents loved them and didnít want them to go live somewhere else but because they used drugs they could not provide a safe, healthy environment for the children.  Again we have not gone into great detail about the neglect and abuse they dealt with while living with their birthparents we just keep it simple; that their birthparents could not keep them safe and healthy.  As they get older and ask more questions we will try to be as honest as possible while still trying to keep the information we give at an age appropriate level.  We also work very hard to not be judgmental of their birthparents or to put them down for what they did.  We tell the kids that their birthparents arenít bad people but they made bad choices.

I donít know if this helps any but this is what we have done and it seems to be working so far.  I think the key is to be honest with the information you give and keep it age appropriate; you donít need to sugarcoat things but you also donít need to give all the gory details.

By Nick on Tuesday, May 03, 2011 at 6:36 pm.

Thank you Nick, your comments are very useful and I’ll try to talk about this hard issue with her as soon as possible. I’ve been thinking that’s about time because she doesn’t seem to be satisfied with our explanation and don’t fully understand the rasons that made her mother to be unable to take good care of her. I feel that this is more difficult for her because she had lived in an environment where breast-feeding is the more natural and normal way to nurture a child and she wishes she’d had that kind of connection with her bmom too.

By MonicaGG on Tuesday, May 03, 2011 at 11:29 pm.

Thanks for the posts above.  I’ve started to think about how to handle this with my soon to be 4 year old son adopted from Russia.  I don’t know that he has many memories of being in his birth family as he was removed at 18 months but I’ve struggled with how to frame the information that is difficult.  There was alcohol, neglect, poverty, some domestic violence (between the parents - can’t speak for against my son), terrible living conditions and on and on.  Any additional ideas on how to articulate enough information to pacify questions would be great.  I’m a single mom.  He’s been home almost a year and his attachment is amazing but I worry about how to handle this down the road. Thanks!

By sstennant on Wednesday, May 04, 2011 at 7:29 pm.

Post a Comment


Commenting is available to registered members only. Please log in or create an account.

Meet the Author

AFC Editors

AFC Editors

New York

View Profile »


Find an Adoption Agency

Find an Adoption Attorney or Agency

Search the full directory ‚Ėļ

Recent Adoption Blog Comments