"Also, in your opinion what IS the most loving, sensitive way to distinguish to a child their parentage? It would be my desire to ensures/he knows that s/he is loved by both the mother who allowed him/her to be adopted and the woman who is raising him/her with love. Of course, as the child/ren's adoptive parent, I would want for him/her to call me mom (or some derivation) and still treasure the mother that allowed me to share the joy of motherhood."My first thought was: When the child asks about where he came from.
We understand your fears, and being prepared ahead of time is best for everyone, especially the child. He should be your main concern, not how you feel about answering this question. Our advice is to answer the questions honestly as they come up. Some experts suggest that in order to allay other fears you not explain more than the child can understand--or asks. If the child only asks if she grew in your tummy, you can honestly answer, No, without adding more information. But if--and when, there will be a when--he asks the next obvious question, Did I come from your belly? answer it truthfully. It is important to get the child thinking about the process as he grows up, not to be confronted with news that will be emotionally devastating if he discovers it much later on.
Some therapists suggest not using the word "adopted" or "adoption" when the child is very young because he will not grasp what it means. Others feel that since the word will be a part of his life experience and vocabulary, you might as well not run from it but introduce it early. The child will come to understand in time. My own daughter said that when she was told she was "adopted" she understood it as, "she was a doctor," and did not understand why her parents said that, since she knew she was not a doctor. Other adoptees tell of the same confusion. In time, of course, my daughter did understand, but never expressed any dismay over accepting the meaning of the word that way.
Being adopted is the single most crucial fact of your child's existence, and he will have to grapple with this primal issue. Nothing you, as an adoptive parent, or even his first/birth mother, can ever say will erase that one basic reality, and no matter how the information is couched, the news will be life-changing. And the issue that he will understand immediately is that being adopted means that he was available to be adopted, that is, that someone gave him up for whatever reason. On some level, he will probably feel he was abandoned by his real mother, and that is how he thinks: his mother, the one who gave him life. That is the primal reality of his life. That he is adopted. That he is related to someone else.
Not telling early on is a sin of omission
Children can absorb bad news, such as death or divorce, but deception will color not only your relationship with the child, but possibly lead him to feel that such lying is the norm. Hayley, we understand you are not suggesting that in the least, but since we are writing here not only to you but the wider world, we need to talk about this, as so many adoptive parents still struggle with relating this information, as your question indicates.
Certainly, the child should be aware of his parentage by or at the age of reason. Delaying beyond that will increase the anxiety for everyone. And the adopted individual will feel cheated, as if you had been lying to him, because, in fact, you have. You have committed a sin of omission by concealing the truth of his origins. The longer you wait to tell a child he is adopted, the more likely he is to learn this hard fact of his reality from someone else--a neighborhood child, someone at school, a cousin, a grandmother making an off-hand comment.
You, as the adoptive parent, must also confront the reality that you are not the child's biological parent. As satisfying a relationship as you have with your child, it is different from the one the child would have with his natural family, different from the one you would have with a child you bore. You also need to be honest about the reason for the adoption: that you were unable to conceive, that an earlier child died, how you went about getting a child. Don't go and and on about this, and put more baggage on hm, simply state the facts honestly and briefly. He doesn't need to know details of how many tries at IVF there was, how many miscarriages. And no more stories of how you went up and down a row of cribs looking for the perfect baby, and there he was! The Chosen Baby is a myth, and your child will appreciate the truth as he grows older.
How one relays the information that a child is adopted is crucial, and just as important as when. If you are apprehensive and show your discomfort, this will immediately convey that adoption is not something that can be talked about easily in your house. If you act secretive and tense, so will he be secretive when he thinks about it. If you are open and accepting, he will feel he can talk to you about his feelings, and he will be more comfortable with his life situation, in his home. Do not interpret his lack of talking about adoption as meaning that it does not existentially alter his view of himself; it only means he is going underground with it.
Less is less
The more you know about the real mother, the better you and your child will be. Even today, in closed adoptions of recent vintage, I hear adoptive parents who say the less they knew (about the birth/first/natural mother) the better, because they did not want to imagine who that other mother was; and when asked, they would be able to honestly say, I don't know. But what a terrible loss that is for the individual. What a terrible thing you have done to him by denying him information about himself.
You also need to convey, in the strongest terms possible, that he was given up because his mother could not find a way to keep him--possibly because she was very young, her own parents could or would not help, because she was impossibly poor, and so, faced with impossible odds, she consented to his adoption, unquestionably with much sorrow and many tears. He should know that she loved him desperately, but could not keep him and so surrendered to forces greater than her ability to mother. She did not give him up because she "loved him so much."
The lie of: She loved you so much...
Yet that is what we hear from the writings of many adoptive parents, and the noxious language the adoption industry has popularized today: Your (poor, unfortunate, young, pick one) mother loved you so much she gave you up. In reality, this makes no sense and your child will recognize this immediately--he thinks, If she loved me so much, why didn't she keep me? She must not have loved me at all. Writing this today I am reminded of the television ads for a credit-card caveats that try to pull the wool over a child's eye by saying one thing but meaning another--you can "ride" the bicycle only in this impossibly small area, so small you can't ride; one child is offered a plastic pony, the other gets a real pony, etc.
If "love" were the reason that mothers gave up their babies, the most "loved" babies would all be available for adoption. A child is given up, or surrendered, because his real mother can find no way to keep the child at the point in time. A child is not given up because he was loved so much his mother decided that someone else could be the better parent. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as drugs or life in prison, every mother knows she is the best mother for her own child. She will instinctively better understand that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic stranger ever can or will.
After I found my daughter, and she was visiting in my home and we would shop or have makeup put on at a department store for fun, or put makeup on at home, she kept repeating how this never occurred with her adoptive mother, that she never learned how to put makeup on from her mother, that her mother did not enjoy shopping, that she missed doing this with her other mother. At first, I did not think much of it, and even found ways to excuse the woman she called Mom--she was busy with the boys, she was working--but I came to realize that my daughter Jane was expressing her own personal sorrow at not growing up with a style she longed for, a way of doing something--shopping and putting makeup on--that just felt right. This was way more than not fitting into the schedule of a too busy mother. No matter what, I would have found time with shop with my daughter the way I had shopped with my mother. I remember the time I gave my daughter a bottle of my Max Factor makeup that for some reason I was not going to use. I said, Do you want this? I'll try it, she said. And then, what she could not get over was that it was my makeup and it was the right color for her own skin tone. So much was contained in that simple fact. The right skin tone. My skin tone. And hers too.
Shopping. Makeup. Seemingly superficial, but the stuff of a life. Connective tissue. Like the way we both sang off key and climbed steps with the footfall of an elephant. As an adoptive parent, you may find certain similarities with your child, and some things undoubtedly gel because of nurture, but you will have to deal with the differences; and understand that your child will always note them, even if you do not.
Always opt for an open adoption
As for whether an open adoption is better than a closed adoption? There is no contest. No matter the truth of one's origins, it is always better to know than to live a life full of wonder. Open adoptions are better for the natural mother, and better for the child. We understand that some adoptive parents become frustrated when the natural mother does not maintain closer contact or visit more often; people are different, life is complicated and these things happen; but no matter what, for the individual who is adopted, dealing with reality is always better than shadow boxing with fantasy.--lorraine