When is the right time to tell a child they are adopted?

October 6, 2010

Looking Down BW2 BLOG IT
A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.
~Author Unknown~

Most of you are long time, faithful followers and know that Reagan will not be the first child brought into our family through the wonderful world of adoption.

So many new readers/followers never realize that although Sarah is caucasian, and in some ways resembles our family, she was adopted domestically approximately 6 months after we were logged into China's system in 2006.

Her adoption is closed, as requested by her birthparents, so we do not know them and they do not know us. She came as a complete surprise and her story is one that was definitely orchestrated by the man above. {If you have not had the opportunity to read about our journey to Sarah, you will find it HERE}

She was brought to us at just about 36 hours old, so she has no recollection of life with anyone except for us.

Let me start by saying that we have never ever implied that we were not going to tell her she was adopted..... that could not be farther from the truth. We have always said that we were going to be completley honest with her...... but after that is where it begins to get a little difficult.

When do you tell your child that they did not grow in your belly, but in your heart?

I know.... this is kind of a loaded question that does not really have an answer that is going to be right for every child, family, or situation.

Over the last few years, I have visited many blogs and read posts so eloquently written by fellow adoptive parents..... but most of the time, the subject of adoption is brought up by the child and not the parent.

I don't mean to state the obvious here, but I am going to.....

It is probably more common for a transracially adopted child to bring up the subject at a pretty young age because most of the time they will recognize that they look different than their parents, which will cause them to ask lots of leading questions and open the doors to their adoption story rather quickly.

In our case with Sarah, she does not recognize any difference in appearance and has never questioned us, but now that we are about to adopt Reagan, she has started to ask lots of questions about her new baby sister.

I thought that this would be the perfect segway to begin to tell her about her own story, but she really is not even grasping what I am telling her about Reagan.

So do I venture into this territory? or not?

My feelings are so mixed right now.....

On one hand I feel as though maybe we should start telling her small things in a way that she may understand, but on the other hand I am worried to dive into this subject too deeply with all the changes that lie ahead for Sarah.

It is going to be a big adjustment for her as Reagan becomes the new baby of this family and I do not want to totally rock her world.

For now, I am just taking my cues from her and I don't believe she is ready to hear much more than a few of the small details we have already shared that obviously went right over head.

My gut is telling me that once Reagan comes home and is more real in Sarah's mind, she will begin to grasp what we have told her. I also think she will become even more inquisitive and continue to ask questions that might ultimately lead to her own adoption story.

This subject is something that I have been struggling with for a while and since I am surrounded by so many adoptive families here in the bloggy world, I thought I would share some of what was going through my head and also open up the subject for discussion.

UPDATE: I felt the need to come back and clarify a few things that I may not have articulated late last night when I wrote this post.

We use the word "Adopted" and "Adoption" in our conversation quite freely.....especially in the last few months. Adoption is not something we are ashamed of or that we try to hide from Sarah or anyone else for that matter. We have said and used the words "Adopted" and "Adoption" in front of Sarah and we have even told her that just like Reagan, she was adopted, but that is where it ended. She does not get it...... and can't really comprehend it.

My reservation and the point of this post was to question whether I dig a little deeper with her and explain in greater detail now? or just let it go until after Reagan comes home when I can explain that they share this bond and use Reagan's story as a way to introduce hers.

A lot of my friends in the China Adoptive community have made beautiful LifeBooks for their children that truly tell the story from the beginning which I think is a fabulous tool in opening up the dialogue with them at a young age.

In Sarah's case, her babybook looks no different than Nick's. Yes, I know that is something that I should have thought about, and in retrospect, I should have done differently, but at the time, I didn't know or think to do it any differently.

I thank everyone for posting their advice and opinions......I have read each and every comment and have been digesting a lot of differnt points of view. Some I agree with...... others I do not.


Wanda said...

Hmmm Lisa - like a lot of things in life, I think adoption is more an art than a science. I think your gut is steering you in the right direction. You need to take the cues from Sarah. If she's not ready for the facts, even simple ones, then she's really not ready. (Though mentioning a few details, casually, is a good way of softening the reality when it finally becomes clearer to her.)

Sarah will begin to be more curious naturally when you get home and begin telling the story of your China trip. And don't think you should feel in a hurry to tell her too much right now and I hope you're not feeling pressured to do so. This really should be personal and natural - never forsed or rushed.

This is such an important subject however and I'm glad you're bringing it to the table.

You're right on track, I think.

Love of love, my friend!

Halie said...

What can I say?

I admire your commitment and love for your wonderful daughter.

Here's a prayer for you and your little Sarah that when the right time comes for the truth to be known, open hearts and love may rule.

Take care and thank you for sharing this heartwarming story.

Brightest blessings to you and your family.


Buckeroomama said...

I wish I have an answer, but I don't. All I can offer up is a prayer for you and your family that you'll know what to do and say when the right time comes.

Like Halie, I really admire your love and your commitment to your family. :)

Michelle said...

I was adopted domestically at birth, like Sarah. I don't remember the exact moment my parents sat us down and told us(my twin sister and me) that we were adopted. We just always knew. I have a friend who was also adopted at birth and her parents waited to tell her until she was six years old. She was devastated. She said it felt like her parents lied to her for the first 6 years of her life and she wondered if there was anything else they had kept from her. I never felt different for being adopted because I never knew anything else. It was just a part of who I was. I don't know what the right answer is, but these have been my experiences.

Christine said...

wow, what an amazing & inspiring story! good luck with your incredible journey, she is quite a precious little one. keeping you in our thoughts ♥

Cathee said...

The best advice we received from our agency social worker is to tell our daughter her story from the very beginning. We were fortunate enough to meet her birthmother, but have not had contact since. We have always shown her pictures of her birth mother and told her exactly how she came to our family. So for her it is her story and not a secret kept from her. It is something we felt we needed to discuss early on as a transracial adoption. On thing we are very protective over is her adoption story. I refuse to answer prying questions from strangers, so that my children know that their personal history is not to be discussed casually with strangers. We are doing the same with our son. I think every situation is different and as a family you discuss what works best for you. Blessings on your journey to bring your daughter home!

M3 said...

Hi Lisa! We've always subscribed to the "tell them early and often" scenario. So TubaDad and I stumbled around talking about adoption and the fact they were born in China since the minute we met them. The stories we told were necessarily high-level at first, since we kind of groped around to keep things age-appropriate. We just keep adding details all the time, whether they asked or the situation just naturally lent itself. And every time we talked it got a little easier. The first time I used the word "birthmother," by the way, I nearly fainted. Honest to god. I only mention this because now it does get easier to talk about and I've worked out all the kinks when they were younger and didn't really pay much attention. Our whole thing was that we didn't ever want Ro and Ree to be staring at us in anger saying "What??!! Why didn't you ever tell me that?" We just wanted the infomation (again at an age-appropriate level) to always have been there. Their lifebooks (I've been working hard on them this year) are a great way to introduce info also. You can just skim the pictures the first time you read it to them, throw in a few more facts the next time, eventually read every word. The girls wanted to look at theirs this week and talked alot about it.

Good luck, sweetie!

Unknown said...

Hi Lisa,
I am fairly new to your blog and I might not always leave a comment but I follow your post.
I wish I had and answer but I think when the moment is right you know when to tell her

Anonymous said...

Lisa- I've been following your blog since meeting you at the I Heart Faces photowalk. I've loved following your journey as you have waited and prepared for Reagan.

I thought I would chime in here, as I am adopted. I was adopted at 3 days, and had a closed adoption. I can't ever remember my parents having the conversation with me, because they always told me. I always knew and it was no big deal, because they made it no big deal. My younger brother is biological and I'm adopted, and they made no difference or distinction between us. They talked about my adoption the same way they talked about his birth.

But I've heard stories from both experiences, good and bad. I would say, if your a praying person, talk to God about it. He knows your daughters heart and what's best for her. Between Him, you and your husband, you know your child better than anyone else, and can determine what is best for her. There is no universally correct answer, each child, family, adoption is unique, that's what makes it so amazingly beautiful!

Thanks for sharing your stories!!

Jodee said...

Now seems like the right time to tell her since you are talking about adoption so much. However, she still seems so young. Maybe you could just casually mention -- on occasion -- that both she and Reagan are adopted so she always knows but may not truly understand yet.

Hoping and praying you have the right words when she is ready. This is a tough topic.

Melis said...

I am not an adoptive mom, nor am I adopted, but I don't think the question is much different, really, in terms of the nuts-and-bolts, from an older sibling asking where he came from on the eve of a new baby's birth. I had to explain to my son (2 years old) that there was a baby (well, two of them) in my belly and that they would be coming out, thanks to doctors, and we'd be bringing them home with us. Clearly, most of that was over his head also... but it doesn't mean that it was inappropriate to tell him. As he gets older and another baby is about to join us, he grasps a little more, and later, it'll be a little more and so on... it's gradually building knowledge. So, even if she doesn't "get" much of it now, it doesn't hurt to lay an honest foundation, I'd think, at this point so that as she gleans more knowledge and things make more sense, it's a gradual process instead of having to absorb it all at once. I would think it'd be similar to our kiddos knowing from a young age "where babies are made" and being comfortable with that instead of shocked senseless by the knowledge later in school, after growing up thinking a large, silly-looking bird brought them... BUT, that being said, no matter what you decide to do, you are a loving, strong family and it will be the right decision since it will come from your heart regardless. Good luck and many hugs!

Missy said...

For once in my life, I am at a loss for words (and you know that doesn't happen often!). I guess I never thought about what to do when a child doesn't realize they are adopted. Like you said, transracial adoption makes it more obvious to the child.
You are such an amazing mommy and I know that you and Pat will do what's best for your sweet girl! In my opinion, I don't think I would overwhelm her with dialogue while she is little. Like you stated, just little bits when you think she is ready. She is a smart, precious child and will do great with what you tell her. Thinking of you sweet lady! Sarah is so blessed by you all and vice versa! xoxo

Freckles & Dimples Photography said...

this certainly is a difficult question...as an adoptee who always knew my story, i was always comfortable with the fact that i was adopted. As an adult, i credit this to my parents who were open and honest with me about my story, starting at a very young age, particularly when i was adopted at time that adoptions were closed and there wasnt such an air of 'openness' about adoption as there is today. For what its worth, I cant remember the exact 'talk' they had with me...rather, they just introduced the subject gradually over time and answered my questions as I grew and started to understand it at different developmental levels.
You know Sarah best and whether now is the right time to start the discussion with her. She will be going through a lot of changes with the addition of Reagan, but with change also comes opportunity.
the bottom line is that she has incredibly loving and caring parents, so whenever the discussion is had, she will be able to lean on you and work through her feelings and questions.

Rochelle@AFamilyofLooneys said...

I think you are doing the right thing by taking cues from her. What a inspiring story.

Heather @ Simple Wives said...

You will know in you heart when the time is right. Blessings!

Katie said...

I don't have any experience with adoption, but I am a mother and I know you'll do what right for her...like everyone else has said, it sounds like you're on the right track by letting her lead!

Reena said...

I am an amom to two young girls born in China. I subscribe to the tell them from the beginning. If you don't talk about it early on then when you do talk about it later on it becomes a big deal-- otherwise you would have talked about it sooner. If adoption is a wonderful way to build a family- why would you not want to talk about it? By not talking about it-- waiting to talk about it, your child may end up with the message that there is something wrong with being adopted.

There are some books you can use such as "Tell me again about the night I was born." I believe that one is about domestic adoption.

I also made an adoption story book for my girls with pictures from our trip to China and their first year at home. My oldest is not yet 4-years old. I've always mentioned her adoption and her first mom and we have a few adoption themed story books. I gave her-- her adoption story book for her 3rd birthday and she wasn't really interested in it.

A few months later we traveled to China to adopt her little sister. When we returned, DD#1 was very into HER adoption story book.

I guess the concern I have with totally letting an achild 'take the lead' on when to tell them they are adopted and talk about it-- is if they don't know they are adopted how can they take the lead? Also, most kids, at any age will not bring up questions or concerns about their adoption-- they worry that it will upset or hurt their parents.

Personally, I think it is better if it is just something that they always know-- but you know your daughter best.

Best wishes with whatever you decide.

Briana's Mom said...

This is such a tough question. Like you said with transracial adoption it is so much easier because it is so very obvious that Bri is adopted. I'm able to talk to Briana about being born in China, so it is just something she has just always known. Now that Sarah is starting to inquire about things, I think it is the perfect way to start just lightly touching on the subject. I have a toddler lifebook I made for Briana. Though she is not super interested in it yet, it is there for her when she is more interested. That might be a great idea to have for Sarah too. Wishing you all the best with this. Hugs.

Ashley Sisk said...

I think your heart is leading you in the right direction but I think you've got a wonderful opportunity right now to tell her the story as she awaits her new baby sister...it may be a wonderful bonding opportunity for them.

My niece's birth father left before she was born and she's since been adopted by my sister-in-law's new husband. They've been very open about what happened without completely bashing the father and I think she's very healthy as a result. She's now 6 and hasn't known anything different. Best of luck to you!

Carolin said...

That is a tough call, and I know even though our daughters are from China - that I still find myself not even thinking of them as being adopted, much less being diligent about discussing the facts. With Emma's adoption, i wrote a "lifebook" when she was still little and read it to her very often so that she had the facts from her earliest memory, even though she might not completely understand what those facts me. I just didn't want there to be a "day" that she found out.

still haven't done this for Rebecca, but since she was adopted at 3 1/2 she still remembers things about China and so it's easier for me to answer her questions - but still, I need to do the same thing!

The Byrd's Nest said...

That is a tough question. For Lottie, I waited until she noticed our differences and she asked. (obviously, that is different with Sarah) For Emma, I talk with her about it but honestly she is too immature to even understand yet and she is 5 1/2 years old. Same age as Lottie but emotionally immature. She just now understands she is Korean but that is still just a word to her. You will know my friend. Do you have any books about it that you can just begin reading with her to spark some questions? I will be praying for both of you and for peace in her little heart when she understands. Hugs:)

Gail said...


You are getting really great advice so far, Lisa. I think you are doing the right thing first of all by even thinking about what you need to do. You have a marvelous teachable moment for Sarah when you bring Reagan home to introduce the concept of adoption. She'll be 4 soon and should be able to understand it somewhat at her age. I would start with reading her a few children's adoption books. What I've found with my own kids is they take time to process it. I may read them a book and talk a little about birth moms, they may not say much then. A little while later(it may take days or weeks), they come back with a few questions. I'm confident you and Pat will handle it beautifully and find the right words.

Beautiful and thoughtful post Lisa.


Tanya said...

Hello Lisa! I am so excited that you will meet your youngest daughter so soon! I wish you the very best on your journey to bring her home. I think it is so powerful to have discussions like this and to all learn from each other. I write from the experience of a mom who has two children who were adopted as infants internationally (one of our children resembles me so it is not obvious that she is adopted) and from the experience of having a sister who was adopted. Adoption involves loss. That is a fact and we can not predict how our children will respond to that loss and we can not wipe it away. So as hard as it is to approach any loss with our children, I believe we must delve into that loss with them. We should, I believe, do this by taking clues from the questions our children ask and from where they are in their understanding and I think that your new daughter's adoption is the perfect time to start telling more details about the story of your daughter's adoption. Books on how to write LifeBooks for adopted children really helped me alot when I began wrestling with this issue and we wrote a Life Book for each child. We have always openly talked about their birthmothers and shared how they did not grow in my body but in their birthmother's. We share how their birthmother loved them, took care of them in utero and made an adoption plan for them before they were even born. We share the reasons for why their birthmothers had to make this plan and that these reasons had nothing to do with them as they were just "goo goo ga ga babies" :) Again, I highly recommend those Life Book books as it helps you prepare how you will address all aspects of adoption with your child. And so as you follow those cues from your daughters, you will have your response well planned and well thought out ahead of time :)
I have found it to be easier than I anticipated. I think we fear "hurting" our children by bringing these topics up but I do believe we risk hurting them more by not. So in fact on their birthdays and other times as is appropriate (it it comes up at the oddest times :)) I bring the discussion up - I want them to know that it is ok to talk with us about their birthparents and about their adoption. I do not want them to worry at all about hurting us by talking about it. Does that make sense? I have written a book here but it is a topic that has been on my mind that I have wrestled and studied for the past eight years (and before growing up with a sister who was adopted). You will do just fine!! :)

Jboo said...

That's a tough one and I'm sure your heart will help you and I think it is good to follow her lead a bit too. I made a little book for my girl and we have a short video of our time in China. We've watched that -- more when she was smaller than recently. Obviously, her questions have gotten more detailed as she has gotten older. I think a photo book might help you talk about it. For me, the very hardest was telling her she was abandoned and the questions after. I know it's only a word, but it choked me up to say it out loud. Will keep you in my prayers.


Stephe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephe said...

I think this is the perfect time to open up dialog with your daughter. She and Reagan will have an extra special connection. Things that we might never fully understand...they will understand without words.

My daughter was born in China and we became a family when she was 11 months old. I've been trying to find my way with this to. She's always known that she was adopted, she was born in China and waited for a mommy. She knows this is how we became a family. We talk about "family" a lot, what it means, how this family will LOVE each other FOREVER, and how there are many different kinds of families. I however have not brought up the concept of birthmother...yet. My daughter is two and I think that this will only confuse her at this time. She's super smart and processes things well beyond her age and I think that it's best right now to establish and ground our relationship before talking about a birthmother. I will expand on the word "adoption" to include birthparent soon. I have found peace in my approach and I hope it's as how I feel Giorgia needs to hear it. All kids and families are different. I DO BELIEVE that honesty is most important in an appropriate time. Personally I think this is a blessed/AMAZING time and opportunity to open this door with her.
ENJOY this new journey!

Michelle R Photography said...

This is such a tough question. And a tough subject. Most people think Leila is my biological child, but since she was almost three when she was adopted, we talk about Russia often. I remember the first time we had "The" talk about what adoption actually meant. I was so nervous, yet it didn't even phase her. She was too young to really comprehend it all. The same thing happened with Mia - probably when she had just turned 4. (We had always discussed their adoption, just not birth mothers.) But, they already knew they were adopted, so it's not the same situation. And Kara... well, if she doesn't know, we have some serious problems. LOL! Actually, I really want to talk to Kara about what she knows and understands about her birth and life in China, but her English is not yet at a level where we can communicate complicated subjects. I will say a prayer for you Lisa, that you will have the right words and know the right time. {{{{{hugs}}}}}

Donna said...

My girls know they're adopted but don't really grasp what that means. I suspect Sarah would be the same. You could start by just simply telling her that she and Reagan will have something very special to share -- that both of them grew in your heart and came to Mommy and Daddy through the wonderful gift of adoption. Then just leave it at that for a while.

As you read books to Reagan about adoption (there are lots!), Sarah will hear the stories and come to understand more about the subject. She'll probably have more questions and, frankly, I think the questions she'll have will be harder than Reagan's.

My advice is to ease slowly into this. Sarah is very young and if you start gently introducing a few concepts now, she'll grow up feeling as though she's always known the truth.

Our Blog: Double Happiness!

Unknown said...

Hi Lisa! I think you definitely need to listen to your Gut! And I really think this is the perfect time to tell Sarah about her adoption (by the way I had NO idea!) I think the clue is simply not to make a big deal out of it! I don't even remember when we told our son, it was always just a matter of fact, part of life, so there was no surprises, no big news, no big deal! They may not understand right away what all really means and implies, but at least is already there and it just becomes a natural part of their lives and as they grow all it makes more and more sense to them!

Our thoughts and prayers are with you!

Christine @ 12,450miles said...

This is one of those questions that I could probably ramble on and on about, and get no where. Does that make sense?! I think it's truly a matter of following your gut. We've been talking about adoption since S came home. While he's too young to grasp what that really means, he's at least hearing the words. We also have lots of great books that we read to him, mixed in with his other books. We don't make a big deal or event out of it, we just do the best to incorporate it into our lives. This doesn't feel very helpful at all!

Patricia said...

In my opinion, for what it's worth, now is a great time to talk about adoption with Sarah. Perhaps you can approach the subject like:
"There are many different ways to make a family" and go from there, baby steps, in a way that she can start to process the information.

We are of the "tell early, talk often" philosophy as well, but having said that, it is easier for us because Kiara is from China. When Kiara was just home from China, at 11 months old, I would "practice" telling her life story to her, it was easier for me, knowing she didn't understand what I was saying & this way I could practice using the words "adopted, birthparents, etc." This way, when she was older I wouldn't stumble over the words & they would come out more nonchalantly.

Kiara doesn't like to talk about her adoption at.all! She always shuts the subject down & always has. Once in awhile she has questions, but once she gets her answer, that's it, closed topic. But that's OK...I know she knows & we are there for her whenever she is ready to discuss it further. Still, I do bring it up every now & then to open the door to the subject, so to speak; it's my way of checking in with her to see if she's ready to ask/talk about it.

Whatever you decide, you are such a great mom, I'm sure you will handle it beautifully!!


asj said...

I think that your heart will guide you in the right direction, there might not ever be a "perfect time" but this segway with Reagan just might be it...

Leah Maya Benjamin said...

Right now I"m happy that Maya (adopted form Guatemala) will be our first adoption. From the start I scrapbooked her story, and she's always known she was adopted. She's almost 4 now but this summer she would talk about how my tummy doesn't work (or my boobs as she's seen frined breastfeed) and how she was born in Guatemala and grew in her birth mom's tummy, lived with her Abuelita, then I moved to Guatemala with her until we all were finally home together. So we are now trying to adopt domestically so after having this experiance with Maya we will start from the get go with her brother or sister's adoption story. All kids are different, but i would have been like the child that felt lied to the first 6 years of life, but not every kid is like that. Do you have any other adoptions in your family? Whats really nice is that I can add in how aunt Jodi, Uncle Jim, etc etc were adopted too and how cool that is.
Maya goes to dance class with a little girl who's family is struggling the same way you are, she's Maya's age and she looks just like her family and they are wondering how to start telling.
I think Reagan is the perfect way to start it, after you talk about how amazing and wonderful and awesome adoption is. Good Luck, that is a tough one, international is definetly easier on this one.

DiJo said...

First of all, gorgeous photo of Sarah!

I have not read thru your comments, but I will tell you how I have been gently doing this with Ruby.. Whom to this day, asks me what it was like when she was in my belly... I tell Ruby that she has a VERY special story just like her new sister, Sienna. It took a while but she now asks me to tell her about her special story. I give her all the details of "the call" and our trip to bring her home. She does not understand that she has a birth mother.. In time..

Thankfully, we come at this from a Christian perspective. We 100% believe that this was God's plan for our girls. That before they were born he knew they were going to be Ruby and Sienna R. As hard as that may be for them to understand I hope it brings them comfort. It is no different than the way God has adopted me as his child. I think the love you have for Sarah, and the love you will have for Reagan is a perfect example of how our Heavenly Father loves us. As you know, love has no boundaries. Only a mother of an adopted and bio child can truly understand there is no difference in your love for them. Only in the way they were delivered to you!

I have no doubt that you will handle this with love and grace no matter how difficult it may be!


Kim of Mo Betta said...

1st time linking up! I think adoption is a wonderful thing - and personally I think it's great to tell kids they are adopted early on, like you said, they "grew in your heart". Then it just becomes a part of who they are, and not a shock as they get older. As her mom, you'll know in your heart the best way to explain things so that she understands. Darling pics on your blog!

Izzy said...

That's a tough one. I don't have much experience in the adoption world, but I do have friends who were adopted. They've known since they were very young, I guess they were told very early on? I am not quite sure, but I am quite positive you will do what you feel is best for your family.

Kim said...

Thank you for this post. The above responses are helpful to me as well. Sam & Lucy (our twins adopted domestically as infants) have heard the word adoption from day one. But at four years old, I don't think they have any idea what it really means or how their story differs from that of our bio kids.
Much like the "where do babies come from" questions, I have planned to unfold their story in age appropriate doses. Always celebrating God's perfect plan for their lives and His perfect plan for growing our family!
All that to say, I trust in your gut to follow Sarah cues and agree that Reagan's homecoming will provide the perfect opportunity to talk about the miracle and blessing of adoption!
Love & Blessings from Hong Kong,

Sharon said...

I talk to Linhsey about how we went to Vietnam for her and she really doesn't "get it" yet. She knows we went to China for Marissa and she can remember some from that trip, but I think she sees herself different than Marissa. Just recently Linhsey talked about how she was in my tummy and I casually brought up that she was in Vietnam and we went there to get her. She just doesn't get it though and sometimes thinks she was in my tummy in Vietnam. She is a thinker and very sensitive and so far to be honest, I've just been a big chicken about this topic. And I know from everything I have ever read is that I should be talking about it from the start. I show her things we bought in Vietnam. One time last winter I showed her the pictures of when we got her (at her orphanage) and she burst into tears and said they scared her. I hadn't even told her anything about the pictures, but just the sight of them made her scared. I have to be honest, I wanted a child sooooo badly, sooo desperately, and I didn't really stop to think about how it would affect them and their life. Once she entered my world though, it all changed. My heart aches at the thought of my L's feelings.
I would begin now with little conversations here and there to Sarah. Linhsey doesn't notice she looks any different than us. Even Marissa has issues with this. She just drew a picture of our family and gave Linhsey dark hair, but gave herself light brown hair.

Justine said...

What a hard decision to make. I hope you work out when the right time is.

Natalie said...

Our approach has been to be open and honest with the basic story of how she came into our family. As for all the deeper questions, we let our daughter set the pace. We don't force information on her if she's not ready, but give her the information she requests when she asks for it.

Lovely photo!

Unknown said...

Wow! You ask and bring up some very good questions. As you said, the timing is different for every family, and for every child. I'm sure you'll know when it's 'right' for you, and for her. In the meantime, she is loved and she is with her forever family and that's what's important. I pray that you will have peace about whatever you decide on the timing of telling her, and that her heart be ready. Hugs to you! Great post, and beautiful photo of your beautiful little girl! Love, Angie.

Unknown said...

That is a really hard question to answer. My aunt was adopted by my grandparents at birth. She didn't know until she was 16. They waited until then to tell her and the reaction wasn't what they hopped for. It was bad. She started doing things she she knew was wrong. I don't know if she did it to see if they would stop loving her, they let her make her mistakes, fought through them and loved her through it all. She knew she was loved more than anything else in the world but she lost a little bit of herself when she learned at such a older age. Now as an adult and we lost our mother/grandmother she has had the hardest time in her life this past year, she lost the one woman she has always admired. She never wanted to know who her birth mother is because as far as she was concerned her mom was her mom even after knowing.

It will come at the right time to tell her. It might be when she is young like now or when she is 30 but when it does she will always love you.

LadyFi said...

I would recommend telling her right away. It's not a big thing for a kid; they are so adaptable. It will only be a problem if you make it so. I can't think of anything more special than knowing that you are truly loved for who you are. I believe it gets harder and harder the older the kid gets, which is why I would say: tell her sooner rather than later.

Naturally, you must do what is right for your family. I have two adopted kids and we have always talked about them being adopted right from day one. We often talk about their birthmothers, what they might be doing etc... It's just another kind of family, that's all.

Love isn't about blood ties, but about the ties of the heart.

3 Peanuts said...


I know you have done what has worked so far and there is NO judgment here AT ALL (I adore you) but...My professional opinion as a Ph.D. in marriage and family and as a Mom to an adopted child is that it is not "a" conversation but should always be part of "the" conversation. So, if Sarah does not know now, you NEED to work in into the conversation. I would start my saying, you know how we are adopting Reagan, well we adopted you too when you were a baby. Let he sit with that. Invite her to ask questions but get the conversation going. Whether a child looks different makes no difference at all. It should always be part of the family dialogue. Otherwise it feels like a shameful secret to a child. PLEASE call me if you want to talk about this more at all. I am not claiming to have all the answers at all but I did study this stuff and I am passionate about it. Hugs to you:)

Chelsey - The Paper Mama said...

That's so hard. I don't know. Since I can't have any more babies, we plan to adopt. I never actually thought about the need to have this conversation. Maybe because the idea of adoption is so new.

Jenney said...

I am here for the first time, but I have had other blog friends wo have linked up for quite awhile now. YOu have a beautiful blog and a beautiful family.

I don't know a lot about adoption that isn't international, and even that I have limited knowledge on. However, from people I have known who are adopted the ones who were the most settled about their adoptions were the ones who knew from the time they were very small. The ones who found out they were adopted later in life, or found out details later in life(ie your cousin is your birth mother) carried around a lot of anger and felt...betrayed.
However, all of my firends who are adopted all say the same thing: it makes them understand more fully what it means to be adopted into God's family. What a blessing.

Frogmum said...

I can not even begin to know what to say to you in this situation, but I do know that you are a good, loving mother and your heart will help you :D Beautiful picture of Sarah. Look forward to hearing more of your adventures in China...

Laureen said...

LOVE the comments you have received, Lisa! I ascribe to the "tell 'em early and tell 'em often. Of course, it is much easier with a transracial adoptee because of the obvious physical differences. I do, however, think that this a a perfect time to start telling her with the baby's arrival. Let her lead but don't not tell her. The longer the wait, the more there is a tendency for the child to think that there is something wrong with adoption. Let it be a natural flow of the day. Use it to show the connection that she has to Reagan that allows them to have a special bond that only they can have as sisters.

I think the worse thing to do is to withhold information because of our adult fear... That fear or awkwardness is easily interpreted by a child as shame. Celebrate how special adoption is.

Let you heart lead you, Lisa. You are an amazing mother with a heart for your children. You will know what to do.

Much love!

Anonymous said...

I guess you have benefited from the *luxury* of not having to discuss it(adoption) as your physical appearances more closely match one another.

But please understand that those of us with transracially adopted children (or most of us anyways) didn't *wait* for them to begin asking.....how can a child ask about something they don't have a dialogue for? A beginning for.....?? Physical differences yes, but that doesn't equal adoption in a child's mind.

Thankfully we were given the sage advice to begin sharing early on with our children while they were young.... and in essence began practicing the telling of *their* stories immediately.....for us it began in infancy and it WAS heartwrenching(at first) gazing into that beautiful tiny face(each time) and using terms like *adoption*, *birth or First Mother*,.....but we did it and were better off for it. Obviously we didn't share all the details and as they age you allow their understanding to help guide you in what to share and when.

Did our children understand all the nuances at first? Of course not and I'm quite certain they still don't. That takes a lifetime I would imagine.

I'm sure everyone is going to weigh in carefully and thoughtfully.....here is my 2 cents: tell her.

She might not yet understand, but how easy it is to say, "this is not the right time" or "maybe next year then" or to get caught up the business of a new baby. Please don't let that cycle begin....there may never be a *perfect* time to tell her.

Moreover she both needs and deserves to know.

You are about to bring home a baby that is going to bring abundant blessings but also a more conspicious element to your family. You will encounter inquiries from strangers and you will need to be able to use respectful and clear language in addressing those people. You will not have the luxury of time or shared characteristics anymore.

Moreover Sarah will, in all likelihood, be present for many of those occurances and needs to understand that its not simply Reagan who is adopted, but her too.

That you are an adoptive family and proud of it.

I understand the timing is poor and she is going to be facing a major transition. But if allowed, she may only internalize that her sister is adopted....it may create a chasm, where unity and shared understanding could instead grow between the 2 girls.

How lovely that she can witness your joy and anticipation in bringing R home.Allow her to understand that this celebration closely resembled the surprise and celebration of her homecoming too.

Allow her to *own* that part of her birthright in whatever way she can at this age. However small it might be, right now.

I wish you so much luck in whatever you decide.

BTW, my name is Diane and for some reason I can only post in Anon.; but I have followed your journey for a long time now and wish you well.

Emily Roe said...

This is my first B/W Wednesday post! I just found your blog yesterday and I'm enjoying reading your posts. Your photos are amazing!

runninggal said...

I agree with 3 Peanuts. As a mother, a teacher, and someone who has several adoptive siblings... you need to tell her ASAP. When Sarah starts to ask about you going to China, just work it into the conversation. You went to get her, now you need to get Reagon. It doesn't have to be deep or teary eyed...just talk. LiLi has always known. She will come to me a different times to ask questions. She even cried the last time we talked but then she was fine the next day. She will probably have other days she cries...that's ok. We will work through it.

The longer it goes that you don't tell Sarah, the harder it will be to do it. You don't want this to be "the family" secret.

My brother and sisters always knew they were adopted. It was no big deal in our family. I also have has several children in my class that were adopted. They all knew (and did great socially) but one. She didn't find out until she was in 2st grade. By 3rd grade, she began to shutdown and acting out. It was a very sad story because she just didn't trust them. I am happy to report, she is doing much better now. She is in 7th grade and doing well but it took a long time to get her back and trusting them again.

I will keep your family in my prayers for this time. I will also keep you in my prayers for a safe trip. Yeahhhh!!! I can't believe the time has finally come.

Lisa Gordon said...

I have an adopted daughter who is now 22 years old. She knew that she was adopted from the time she could understand, because we always celebrated 2 birthdays with her; her actual birthday, and the day we brought her home. Every situation is very different, as is every child. In our case, we felt that it was something she should know "up front." It's a very difficult decision, but you must do what you feel is right for her and your family. I wish you the best.

Aspiemom said...

Lisa, we adopted our son domestically. We were told it was a closed adoption, altho we found out 2 wks ago the birthmother was told it was open.

We always told Ryan he was adopted. When we would tell him stories when he was little, we would tell him the story about a mommy and daddy who couldn't have a baby. They prayed and prayed for one...and so one...and when we got to the end he loved to yell "It was ME!" or something like that.

When he became a teen he became obsessed with where he came from and he sneakily located his birthmother 2 wks ago. He feels were were "keeping things from him" (adoption facts such as names, etc.) so I'm glad we told him he was adopted from the start.

Even if Sarah doesn't quite understand right now, my advice would be to continue telling her so she never questions your honesty. They often enjoy a book made about their adoption story, as it's something they can connect with.

Mimi said...

Hi Lisa, I think that Sarah probably gets what you're saying to her on some level, maybe more than you think. Now that my eldest is 18, she often tells me of things she got that I had no idea she understood at the time. Nothing to do with adoption (she's not adopted) but of similar complexity.
I like the idea in the comment above of talking about the longing for a baby/child, and "it was ME!".
I'm sure you'll do a brilliant job with any issued that arise, and they will.Nick may also feel left out, being the only non-adopted child.
I will say a wee prayer to my angel friends (Gabriel is great for communication) asking them to help you in the coming months.
You're a wonderful mother.

Nicole said...

Your photo as always is beautiful. Your daughter seems very curious and bright and I can't imagine what you are going through and how to even go about commenting on your difficult decision. I can say that I hope for the best for you and your family and that I know you will make the right decision when you are ready.

JMCS said...

Hey girl!

What a good post for discussion. We started early on telling the girls that they were adopted and to tell you the truth, I think that they still don't really understand the concept yet. But if we continue to mention it here and there I think that they will understand a little bit more each time. It can be such a tough topic to explain but I know you are doing an awesome job and giving Sarah what you feel she is ready to handle. Each kid is so different. Good luck sweetie and I am so excited to follow along on your trip to China for Reagan! :)

BTW, I just LOVE John Mayer and was so happy to hear Daughters on here. I listen to all of his CDs constantly.


Shari said...

I didn't take time to read ALL of the comments, but I can tell you how I've approached it with Amelia.
We started reading books about adoption and families when she was very little. We've always talked about her being adopted, and at first I may have been too over zealous with the adoption talk.
As she's grown we've grown her book collection with her. We've gone from The Family Book (Todd Parr) and I Love You LIke Crazy Cakes, to How I was Adopted (JoAnna Cole). Choosing books that are age appropriate and explain things in a way she can relate to has been much more effective for me than telling her story to her straight up. The books open the discussion and often lead to me telling her story, and I can add details based on what she asked about the book.
This has worked for us and I'm sure you'll find what works for your family too:)

bella said...

When she was 2 years old we adopted a beautiful little girl through a domestic, private adoption. We always told her she was adopted and used to read picture books to her about the subject. She loved them! When her sisters came along, by birth, she seemed to understand the concept of adoption. Her sisters both at some point said they wished they were adopted too as they thought it meant you were extra special. My daughter did have a problem in junior high when they had a family tree assignment. She said it made her feel different than the other kids and she was upset by it. We talked it over and tried to be as open and honest as we could with her questions. She had some rebellion problems as a teenager but so did my birth daughters. As an adult she is independent,creative,happy,and successful in her career. When she turned 21 I gave her all the adoption papers I had and told her they now belonged to her. She is now 35 and has never chosen to search for her birthparents. If she does in the future she will have our full support. I think being open and honest is the way to go!

Mia_h_n said...

Very interesting and important topic.

I'm an adult adoptee and I highly recommend telling as soon as possible - or rather starting to make part of daily awareness as 3 Peanuts said.
It's always possible to work into a conversation in an age appropriate language of course, perhaps with the help of books or made up stories.
I believe the child will have the easiest time dealing with it, if it doesn't come as a surprise, meaning if the child isn't really aware of when he/she was told because it was just always out in the open.

I also did notice that you say you have already told her she's adopted like Reagan. So you have already taken the first step.
Bringing Reagan home will be a good opportunity to talk lots more about Sarah's story.

I was a little surprised to see only one other person mention, that perhaps it could do something for Sarah's transition with becoming a big sister. I think that maybe it could give her a sense of a special bond between her and Reagan that could tie them together rather than having Sarah become jealous.

I have to mention something else. I noticed that a lot of other comments applauding you taking you cue from Sarah. I understand "taking you cue" from her as letting it be up to her, when she's "ready" to ask the questions you will answer. I strongly have to disagree with that.

Of course I understand the intention behind, but talking openly about these things should start way before a child's brain is matured enough to be able to contemplate these issues, let alone ask questions about them. In my opinion.
I think it's unfair in a way to leave the responsability for these subjects to the child.

A final though is that I agree that many things come more natural/easy with transracial adoption, but that doesn't mean that the importance of opening up the issues as early on as possible is any less with transracial adoptees.
If transracial adoptive parents doesn't create an enviroment from the start where questions and talk about adoption and mommys and daddys and all that is relaxed and common, it can very likely cause the adoptee to not talk about what's so obvious. At least that's what our experiences say.

I'm sorry for going on and on. I just feel very strongly (obviously) about this area.

Anonymous said...

There is no perfect place or time, to start this type of conversation, but rather as my wise adoption agency director suggested, just start a conversation, as young as possible. While both of my girls are adopted from China, the director suggested I start talking to them, at 2, about their adoption, so it would always be a part of their life. I did that and I am very glad that I did. As the girls have gotten older, I have added more specific information and they have asked questions. It helps that they know they can chat anytime about it too. Initially, I just told them they were adopted from China and had a birth mother, as they didn't grow in my tummy. That was good for awhile and then I need to expand a little more. I remember thinking it was scary to start, but once I did, it felt great.

Love Letters To China said...

Wow what amazing comments you've gotten to a great question. I'm chiming in a bit late. I've been sick for the past 5 days. Glad to say I'm feeling much better now. I think you've been given a lot of wonderful suggestions from people that have been in your shoes. I'm going to go back and re-read some of the comments so I can use their suggestions. We've always told Liam he was born in China and that daddy and grandma brought him home. I actually think I need to have an in depth conversation with Natalie so she understands more about adoption.

You're an amazing mother and I'm sure you and Pat will find the right words to explain this to Sarah. I agree that this will bring her relationship with Reagan even closer.


Kim said...

With my kids, it was always "out there". I was very matter of fact about it (something like "you know, you had a mommy before me, you grew in her tummy but she wanted me to be your mommy forever because xyz and so on and so on). With my kids they have other siblings so we'd talk about them and *their* adoptive parents. The biggest emphasis was always that God meant for ME to be their forever Mommy and He is taking care of their first Mommy. How God has always had a plan for them from before they were even born.

They are 16, 13 and 12 now and they handle the fact of their adoptions really well. Now of course I have 2 birth children and I get to explain adoption all over again in regards to their big brothers and sister.

I personally feel that emphasizing God's plan and just being really straightforward is the best way. You'll figure out a way that works best for you!!

Reena said...

Thanks for the update-- so you have talked to your daughter about adoption. That was not clear (at least not to me). At her age, I think what you are saying is likely fine. Just bring it up here and there when it seems appropriate. With our nearly 4-yo, there were a few times we had the opportunity with a PG mom. I would tell DD that there was a baby growing in there just like she grew in her first mommy's tummy before we adopted her. Grantes, she doesn't really "get" what I am saying, but it is being said.

Little bits, as they seem to fit, I think will go along way to setting a good foundation.

BTW: Love-- LOVE your pictures!
Best Wishes,

Ani said...

Hi Lisa, I just read your post and it really, really hit home for me.

Both our children were adopted domestically as newborns (they are now 5 and 1), both were closed adoptions as per their birth parents' request. Our 1 year old is oblivious to most everything in life, but interestingly enough our son (who is 5) seldom asks questions.

He knows he was adopted, he knows he did not grow in my tummy, he knows (and remembers) the details of his sister's arrival into our family... but, like you, I have taken his lead talking about adoption and there are topics that we have not yet covered (birth parents, relinquishment, adoption plans,etc). I often wonder if I need to bring these topics up or if the questions will come as his little brain processes information.

I made him a baby book of his first year and I have pics of him at the hospital (provided by our agency) and of the day we met him at the foster home (when he was about 4 weeks old), I have a page dedicated to his adoption day (he did not come to court with us, along with all the other usual baby book memories (first holidays, first haircut, etc) and we look at it every once in a while - usually at my suggestion. Then again, he is not curious about pregancy (my sister is now pregnant with her first baby, and his only question was "how is that baby getting out of there?"!), he is not curious about his little friends who don't look like their parents (adopted transracially); he just seems to take things in stride and at face value.

It is my hope that he will continue to ask questions and I pray that God will grant me the wisdom to provide him the answers he needs.

I am bookmarking this post bc I want to go back and read all the comments, I am sure I will learn some valuable insights!

nicole said...


i have been following ur blog as we just got our chinese match and are going to travel late this year. thanks for the updates and pics!

a thought on your adopted daughter...even though she has been with you since 36 hour old there might still be lingering feelings, thoughts or memories from inutero or alone in the hospital that she can not put words to. our 4th was 3 weeks old when we got her and she for SURE had a few attachment issues we had to work through and still do at time. from the reading i have been doing it seems attachment starts in the womb and if the BM is unsure she can care for the child this can be a source of anxiety for the unborn child. just a thought...we got out the ergo and brought back to bottle for additional cuddle and eye contact time and have noticed lots of improvement.

goo luck on your trip!

sweet momma luv u said...

Hi Lisa,

This is such a delicate topic. Our daughter was adopted domestically also. Unlike Sarah she is hispanic. We have been reading books to her since the day she was born about adoption. Does she completely get it No. I think she has a better understanding now that she has a new brother from China though.

Regardless follow your heart and it will be okay.
That is what makes our children so special though because they were born in someone else's tummy but they were born in our hearts!!


Mimi said...

Lisa, I've left a little award for oyu over at my place. I know you probably don't have time to accept it, but i wanted to give it to you,along with my very best wishes for this last leg of your journey.
"Go n'eiri an bothar leat"

wife.mom.nurse said...

Hi Lisa,

I truly believe that you and your husband, as parents of Sarah, will know when it is right.

My friend's parents told her when she was in 6th grade (not even insinuating here that is what you would to) and it was so difficult for her. As you can imagine, it was devastating. She was full of hormones and this rocked her world at a vulnerable time.

This post just brought up memories from long ago.

I hope that you do not mind that I shared.

praying the transition for all of you on your adoption journey will go smoothly. I am so excited for you!

Nicolasa @ {My}Perspective said...

I am so excited for you to be able to fill that gorgeous room with Reagan herself. I wish you the best!

Sharyn said...

Hi, there. You don't know me but I've been following your blog and am very excited about following your trip to China. We adopted our daughter in 2005.

I had to add my 2 cents about talking about adoption. It's very hard to talk about adoption to kids before they are old enough to understand the birds and bees. You might think it's much harder with a child who is Caucasian because your Chinese daughter will automatically see the differences but I've found that my Chinese daughter (now 6) doesn't see any differences. If I ask her what looks different between us she'll wrinkle up her nose and say things like "you are older" or "your hair is shorter" but she never keys in on our eyes or hair texture.

We've always talked about being adopted and her being born in China. She knew I was born in Texas so that was different. Then, when she was about 3 I started pointing to pregnant women's bellies and saying they were going to have a baby and the baby was living in their tummy. Sometimes I'd even muse: I wonder if the baby will live with her or with another family (just planting the seed!). Then we'd talk about how she lived in a woman's tummy, too. That all babies start out that way.

As she got a little older and friends parents were pregnant I'd point out that their little brother or sister was in the mommy's tummy.

I knew she got the idea of adoption when she asked me, around age 5, is I was in Grandma's tummy.

My daughter doesn't exhibit any overt curiosity about being in another's tummy or having birthparents elsewhere but I still bring it up, just so she hears the words and knows it's OK to talk about.

Good luck with explaining adoption to both your kids. And have a wonderful trip to CHINA!!!

carolinagirl79 said...

Adult adoptee here....I don't remember ever not knowing. My parents always told me that their life started the day they took me home from the hospital. I grew up feeling so special!!