Merriam Webster’s first definition for family is “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. The second definition is “all the descendants of a common ancestor.” As many adoptive, blended and foster families are defined by who lives in the home, and not by blood relationships, the first definition is the one I am partial to.
Children as young as pre-school are asked about family. They are asked to create a timeline from birth. Instead, I have always advocated for a “How I Have Grown” timeline, starting with whenever they want (they can include a photo) and ending at the present. This way if they don’t have an infant photo, it doesn’t make their timeline stand out. In kindergarten, they are asked “Who is in my family? -often done as a family tree. If you ask a young child “who is in your family?”, they will include human household members and often add pets, nannies, grandparents, and other important people in their lives. As children grow, they are taught that only direct household members make up their “immediate family” and who is in their “extended family.” Adopted kids also learn about “birth family.” I like the concept of a family tree with the birth family as the roots and the current family as the branches. I also like the idea of a forest instead of a tree. If a child is in contact with their birth family, they can have each household as a separate tree, both as part of a forest.
Many adoptive parents struggle with the complexity of “who is family.” They are advised to tell their child information about their birth family. Some are having in-person meetings with them. Such knowledge and contact do not diminish an adoptive parent’s role in a child’s life. Nor does it mean there is co-parenting. It is just providing children with knowledge of their full background.
Birthparents give children the foundation and adoptive parents nurture their talents and spirit. Like growing trees, it takes many years to mature, each year adding height and bringing new opportunities. You need to water, prune and correct and encourage new branches. Your efforts will be worth it.
You put a great deal of energy, emotion and resources into raising your child. This should include conversations about their background. One day they will make decisions about who to include in their “family” and circle of friends, as well as, in which community to live. You can then stand back and watch them continue to blossom.
Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. Through her private practice and agency affiliations, she has prepared thousands of adoption homestudies, counseled expectant, birth, pre/post adoptive parents and adopted persons, as well as trained professionals to work with adoptive families. She was Director of the Ametz Adoption Program of JCCA and a member of the Advisory Board for POV’s Adoption Series and the Adoption Advisory Board of Path2Parenthood, She is currently on the Adoption Professional Advisory Council of HelpUSAdopt , a member of the Advisory Board of the Family Equality Council and active in the Adoptive Parents Committee in New York. Her blogs and written contributions can be seen throughout the Internet, including her BLOG and as Head Writer for ADOPTION.NET She was named an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. You can reach her directly.