African American mother with little girlMy daughter thinks she has three moms. This stems from my fumbling attempt of explaining that she is adopted. You would think it might have been easier to have this conversation the second time around, but it wasn’t. Danielle was placed with me when she was 10 months old. By then, my son was in the first grade, and our daily routine was long established. Danielle’s arrival into our lives brought more joy and more laughter. It also brought new concerns — like how I would manage two kids solo. I knew I would figure it out, and I set about juggling the responsibilities of raising an infant and a school-aged child, forgetting that neither child is flesh of my flesh.

Danielle was walking when I introduced the “A” word. Like her brother, I wanted her to know that, just as she has brown skin, she is also adopted. No big deal, except it is a big deal. While adults recognize adoption as a common path to parenthood, children assume there is one route to life: mommy’s tummy. It is up to parents to set the record straight. Children will believe whatever explanation is given so it is crucial that parents are honest.

Telling your child that they are adopted can be scary. As parents, our instinct is to protect. We never want our children to feel separate from us, and this is especially true for adoptive parents. We fear that if we reveal to our child that they did not come from our womb, our bond will be less special, less permanent.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. We know this intellectually, but emotionally, we have a hard time forming the words, “You are adopted.” If only we could channel Dinosaur Trains Mrs. Pteranodon — who declares, “This is your family and I am your mom” — then our job would easy!

But real life isn’t always that simple. If you need tips on speaking with your child about the day you became a forever family, here are a few ideas:

  • Adoption books for kids like Jamie Lee Curtis’ Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. Books like this provide warm and loving ways to engage your child. Reading with kids is such an intimate and safe way to share information.
  • Adoption books for parents — like Be My Baby: Parents and Children Talk About Adoption by Gail Kinn — are another great resource. This book gives adoptive parents insight into how adoptees feel, and parents can learn how to present the topic of adoption from a child’s point of view.
  • Watch television programs like Dinosaur Train, where adoption is integrated into the storyline. Anyone who watches this program soon forgets that Buddy is adopted because the focus of the show is about the daily life of the Pteranodon family.
  • Ask your child’s social worker for suggestions on how and when to talk about adoption.
  • Use your child’s baby book with photos of her biological parents for a visual explanation of her family tree. This is a great way to tell the story of how your family was formed.
  • If your child has adopted siblings, incorporate them into this important task. They can relate to their brother or sister in a way that you cannot.

Emboldened by my son’s support, I opted for this last approach. I told my daughter that she was adopted and then smiled and clapped like a maniac. She laughed at my silliness, and her enjoyment of this little game made it easier to keep saying, “I adopted you.” She was into it and began mimicking me — though whenever I said “adoption,” she said “doctor.” She began saying she was “a doctor.” Close enough. For the moment, I dropped the subject, knowing that sooner rather than later, we would revisit that discussion.

My daughter is now four years old and knows that she has a biological mother, a foster mother and me. I’m not exactly sure if she fully understands the ideas, and at this young age, she doesn’t have to. We’ll have lots of years to discuss adoption. For now, when she announces that she has three moms, I go with it.


Read More About This Topic:

Picture Books About Adoption

“My Friend is Adopted”: How to Talk About Adoption with Your Child 

About Nefertiti Austin

Nefertiti Austin is a certified PS-MAPP trainer who co-leads classes for adoptive and foster parents. She blogs about adoption at, and writes about adopting as a single woman of color. Austin lives with her children in Los Angeles.

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