My wife and I adopted a baby boy soon after his birth

Dear Alistair,

My wife and I adopted a baby boy soon after his birth. He is almost five years old and to say that we adore him would be a complete understatement! We are both very fearful, however, of telling him the truth, that he is not our biological child. When and how should we tell him that he is adopted?

Not knowing how your son will respond to the news that he isn’t your biological child is very anxiety-provoking! Although your son is not your biological child he is still your son. (The fact that your wife did not give birth to him is really just a technicality!)
I believe that an adopted child should never remember the moment they found out that they were adopted; they should simply grow up knowing it. The following points may be useful in this regard:

Firstly, tell your child now, at an early age. It is generally best to introduce the idea slowly and over time. Young children tend to ask simpler questions than older children, making it a little easier to start introducing the idea of adoption at a young age.

Secondly, be honest. Adoption is not a shameful thing, it is simply the child’s “truth”. Talk openly and freely about adoption so that your child always knows how he came into your family.

Thirdly, telling your child that he is adopted is an ongoing process, so don’t make a big deal of it. As your child grows older and is better able to understand things, you can explain more and more. Even a one-year-old is not too young to start becoming partially aware of their special identity.

Fourthly, it is important to explain a little at a time. Only answer the questions asked, and answer each question as they come up, so that he is not overwhelmed or confused. He will only understand a fraction of what you say anyway! Reading books about adoption can be helpful.

Fifth, don’t speak negatively about the birth parents. You could say something like: “You didn’t grow in mum’s tummy. You have a tummy mummy (biological mother) and you grew inside her. She loved you very much, but she couldn’t take care of you (…because she wasn’t yet grown up, didn’t have any money, etc.). Now, you are our child and we are so lucky to be your parents.” This type of conversation will help a child to feel less rejected because they will know that they were loved by their biological parents.

Sixth, tell your child’s story. You could tell your child simple bedtime stories of how he came to live with you, and the joy, anticipation and love you felt for him. As he matures, adapt the story according to his level of understanding.

And, finally, remember that your family is defined by relationship. It doesn’t matter whose genes you have. What matters is the love you share and the memories you create.