what (and when) an adoptee should be told

If you have not read my entry titled adoption is a promise, you may want to start there for context.



Although each family will make its own decision regarding how to communicate about adoption, we firmly believe it is best to tell her early and to talk about it often. We do not want secrets. Healthy relationships are not built on secrets.

Joey and I plan to provide honest, accurate information as Moriah is developmentally ready. Notice that WE (her adoptive parents) want to be the main source of information. Primarily, we want to help her sort out reality because — quite frankly — we have heard some erroneous and incomplete stories (gossip) about her birth. We seldom correct people who make false statements because, until recently when we finalized Moriah’s adoption, we were not permitted to share her story. Now that she’s our forever daughter, we are concerned that she might be told (from a playmate or adult) something that is not true.



In The Whole Life Adoption Book, the author suggests that preschoolers should learn their own adoption story. In this stage, Moriah needs to sense the positive dimension of adoption. (When she’s older, she will come to understand that adoption involves both family building and family loss. And we will talk about both then.) For now — between the ages of 2-5 — we have 3 goals (as suggested by Lois Melina in Raising Adopted Children):

First, acquaint the child with adoption terms rather than adoption concepts. Second, use the time to create a positive environment where adoption can be discussed. Third, become comfortable with talking about it [as parents].

And we are doing that. Even as a toddler she hears us pray, thanking God for adoption and for how He formed our family. We read her age-appropriate books about adoption, too. Books we love include:



We do not want to broadcast her personal story. It is HER story, and she gets to decide what and when she will share. We, however, feel we should clear some things up for those closest to us.

Moriah’s birth-mother decided that it was best to safely relinquish Moriah shortly after she gave birth. She told a case worker that she was not able to parent at that time. We know her name and some additional info.

“Our family is … blessed with the amazing child that adoption brought to us, NOT the other way around.” –Jackie Gillard

We tell people that her birth-mother chose adoption. Although that is true since a judge did not decide for her (like one does for other children who are in Children Services custody), I get the sense that she felt she had no other choice. I wish I could tell her that we think she’s courageous.

Moreover, we respect her. We pray for her. And we hope to meet her some day if that’s what Moriah wants. She became a mother that day and she made me a mother — all at the same time.




These are just suggestions. If you are part of our lives, you will get questions from kids! So be ready.

Also, books are very helpful tools when talking with children (see suggestions above and below).

1. Be honest.

Always tell the truth. A child will likely ask: “Why does she have brown skin?” (Meaning, her skin is different than her mom’s skin.) This is an accurate observation. It’s natural for people to wonder. Moriah does have beautiful brown skin and I do not! You may choose to say,”Moriah grew in the belly of another woman; a woman with brown skin. When she was born, she came to live with her parents. She was adopted.”

2. Be concise.

There is absolutely no need to sensationalize a story.

A child might ask, “What is adoption?” or “Why was she adopted?” You might want to reply, “Adoption is when a person permanently joins a family that is different than his or her birth family” (or biological family or first family, whatever term you like). “Children are adopted for a lot of reasons. Moriah needed a safe home, and Joey and Elaine had one to offer.”

3. Be sensitive.

Again, it is not necessary to sensationalize a difficult story. Speak about her birth-family with respect. We do.

Please ask us sensitive questions when children are not around. I am not offended by questions but I do want to protect my child. So, please understand if we decide to keep some things private.


In addition to the books noted above, you may gain insight from some of these. There are many other adoption books available; those selections speak closely to our situation..




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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.








One thought on “what (and when) an adoptee should be told

  1. I applaud your dedication to keep the lines of communication open with your daughter. It’s not always easy as they get older, but starting a foundation of open, honest sharing is the best way to ensure a solid connection when she needs you!

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