How to explain adoption to a 4 year old part 1 (of 100000, give or take)
The other day my littlest asked about her first mommy. Every time this happens I am gutted. It doesn't get easier for me but I'm glad she is comfortable talking about it. Hopefully opening the door to communication now will make it easier later down the road. It has never been a secret. We have pictures of adoption days hung up in the house. We have books about adoption on our shelves. Our oldest sons were 10 and 11 when they were adopted so they very much remember life before adoption.
My girl is sunny, silly, and in many ways more mature than her four years on earth should allow her to be. To be sure she is every bit of a silly little girl but she sometimes asks me questions that I know if I blow off will just come back to me later, probably in public when changing the subject becomes more of a song and dance routine. So we have a policy of just trying to, in age appropriate language answer the question. When she asks me to tell her about why she couldn't live with her "other mommy" or sometimes "first mommy" I answer as best as I can.
Of course the real answer is incomprehensible for a grown adult. The mommy that gave birth to her neglected and abused her older siblings so horribly that they were the size of toddlers when they were finally found by CPS at ages 8 and 9. My now strong, sort of manly looking 13 year old weighed just over 35 pounds when we met. That isn't a typo. For context my current 4 year old weighs 36 pounds. So to say they were grossly neglected isn't an overstatement. They wore a size 5t, which is the size my 5 year old is outgrowing at the moment.
But I'm an adult and I still don't understand the why behind the situation so we say things like "Your first mommy made sad choices that made it so the Judge thought you'd be safer with Daddy and me." She wants to know what those choices were, so I answer with things like "She didn't make sure brothers had enough food. Sometimes her and your first Daddy would hurt them. They loved them but they didn't know how to make safe choices." "They hit my brothers?! That was rude." Well it is more complex than that but saying "beat them over the head with a beer can" seems more information than she needs and honestly, if the conversation keeps going this way my controlled voice is going to break. "Yes baby, it was rude, but more than that the judge didn't think they would be safe with you. They didn't take care of you even when you were brand new. So you're with us now. It makes me happy-sad. I'm happy that you're mine and Daddy's and that you live in our house. I'm sad you couldn't grow up with your first family like lots of other kids get to do. I don't know why God gave you to those other people but I'm glad you're mine now. I wish for you it wasn't so complicated but I'm glad you're my little girl." She is generally satisfied with that answer but it will pop up in conversation again, I know, in a week or two. Her usual follow up is to ask to be held, and to be told about when she was a baby. That part I don't mind at all. I wonder if I'm doing her story justice, all the time.
The truth is , just like with so many other questions my kids have for me, I just don't have the answers. I wish I could explain it but I don't understand. Was it mental illness, addiction, lack of a role model, lack of money, or plain selfishness? A combination of all of the above or something completely different. I'm so thrilled I get to parent these kids. I'm delighted they are mine even when the road gets tough. I cannot fathom the things they have lived through and seen. I continue to read books, send my kids to therapy, attend training, and seek support to parent these kids well. I know I mess up, but I hope they will grow up knowing that their parents love them. Even their first parents that made sad choices made the choice eventually to say goodbye so their kids had a chance at a future they couldn't give them. At the very least that is what I want to believe and will continue to tell them when they ask. The big kids each have their own way of seeing the matter. They feel differently and I don't blame them. It is their story and everyone views their own individual story a bit different from outside perspectives.
I guess if I had to make a list of an actual how to, I'd list it like this:
1. Be honest but not graphic with your honesty
2. Be willing to answer questions that are hard
3. Be willing to answer again and again and again
4. Let them know it is okay to ask questions but sometimes you don't have the answers
5. Don't make adoption a secret, let it be a beautiful, complicated part of their story
6. I'm not an expert so freely disregard any and all advice I offer.