School has begun at our house. Our youngest two, adopted from Ethiopia are beginning sixth and second grade. Both girls were asked to fill a bag with items that described them as a “get to know you” activity. Megan, our second grader, happily went through the house choosing carved animals and a shawl from Ethiopia. She added a children’s Ethiopian alphabet book and a few other favorites, then eagerly packed her bag chatting about what she would say to her teacher and classmates.
Our older daughter, Shega struggled to pack her bag. She chose a book about Ethiopia and some Ethiopian jewelry. She watched her videotaped Ethiopian lifebook choosing to share a segment showing her as a sweet school girl in Ethiopia, reciting the alphabet and eating injera with her classmates. She chose to wear her Katelyn’s fund “adopted” t-shirt then threw in her 4-H ribbons and a volleyball for good measure.
Megan came home happily talking about what she and her classmates shared. Shega, however, had decided not to share any of what she packed. After listening to a few of her classmates talk about themselves, she decided not to share anything. She told her teacher she forgot her bag and started over avoiding anything about her adoption story or Ethiopia.
It can be tricky to help kids decided what to share about their adoption story. My kids come in and out of their willingness to share. Sometimes, they flip flop in the very same day like Shega did this week. As school begins and kids meet new classmates and teachers, it’s a good time to talk to your kids about their adoption stories and what to do when other people ask them questions about adoption. It can be helpful to practice responses to common questions.
Families vary in what they are willing to share. In our family, we have decided that the ultimate decision on what part of their story to share is up to them. Here are a few common questions and possible answers. Some kids like to deflect the questions with humor, some kids just want permission to say, “It’s private,” and still other kids are willing to share their stories. Either way, it is good to review your family’s preferences as kids go back to school.
Q – What happened to your real parents? (common variations to that question include: Are you real sisters?)
A – My parents (or my siblings) are all real! My imaginary family lives in…. (wherever they like to imagine!)
Q – How much did your parents pay for you?
A – I would love for the girls to just ignore that one….but we could try, I’m WORTH IT! Or Priceless…or….I don’t know but if you want to talk to my parents and ask them they love to talk about adoption.
Q – Can you speak your language?
A – Can you understand me now? or….The language in Ethiopia is Amharic. I have forgotten it now, but I hope to learn it again.
Q – Why did your mom give you away?
A – Adoptions happen for all kinds of reasons. I love my first mom and pray for her all of the time. (or… that’s private and that’s not a nice question to ask.)
There are many ways to help all kids, adopted or not to feel like adoption is a positive way to build a family. Giving our kids positive ways to discuss adoption can help present lessons in difference and tolerance that all of us can learn.