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The Win-Win of Adopting

Dr. Ruth Ann Brinkmann

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Your Child's Evolving Understanding of Adoption

When do you tell your child he or she is adopted? Is it when your heart sings joyously that God has given you this child? Much like a person's understanding of love evolves over time, his understanding of adoption will evolve and change as he matures. An infant learns by associating sensory experiences. For example, he learns the word "ball" through hearing the word while having the sensory experience of playing with the ball. Likewise, when he hears the word "adoption" while experiencing your love, he will associate the word "adoption" with comfort and love.

The preschool child assumes everything is like he sees it. He is too young to understand reproduction and that he was born to another couple. Adults are seen as big and able to do whatever they want. He cannot comprehend that an adult would lack the resources needed to care for him. What he can see and understand is how his family is like other families. During these years, your goal is to build an understanding of what your family is like and to be comfortable with the word "adoption."

During early elementary school years, children begin to understand there are multiple ways of viewing things. This enables your child, for the first time, to understand that families are formed in different ways. He can understand the basics of conception and that he has birth parents. For the first time he realizes that before he could have been chosen by his mom and dad, someone had to give him away. This change of understanding usually develops gradually and brings forth questions. It is important to answer his questions honestly and in a way that shows love and empathy for both him and his biological parents.

A teenager seeks to find out who he is. While this is complicated for any teenager, it is all the more complex for the adopted child who must also cope with nagging questions related to actual parents and birth circumstances. Many a child has looked in the mirror and wondered if he looks like his birth parent. Pointing out a good feature by saying, "I know your mother must have beautiful hair, because you do" is a good way to build a positive connection. After all, genetics are contributing to the development of this young person you love. Encourage your son to celebrate his genetic gifts.

What is adoption? It is all of the following things:

  • Preparing a place for him even before he arrives.
  • Giving him your name.
  • Providing what he needs today and in the future.
  • Setting the stage for his successes.
  • Picking him up when he stumbles.
  • Forgiving his failings.
  • Assuring him that you are a forever family.

    While we, as parents, try to do all those things, we are imperfect and therefore fall short. But through Christ, we have been adopted by our all-loving and all-powerful God who does not stumble and does not fail. Did not God prepare the world for you even before you were born? Does He not provide for you now and in the future? Has He not given you successes, picked you up when you stumbled, and forgiven your failings? Are you not His now and forever? Yes, yes, yes! Thanks be to God for adopting you and me.

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