photo of man looking on child

Cheat Sheet for Talking Adoption

Adoptive parents often ask me, “When should we tell our child she is adopted?” My answer is always–“From day one.” Day one if your child is a newborn, day one if your school aged child’s parents are killed in a wreck and you’re entering kinship adoption, and day one if your teen’s only parent is placed permanently in jail.

I remember being at an event one time and a social worker was “babysitting” a teen who had just been removed from her home. Instead of introducing the teen authentically to me, she chit-chatted in an irritating way. When I got time with the teen, I addressed what had just happened to her with the loss of permanency. This girl needed to know that someone wasn’t afraid to talk about the raw stuff and that she wasn’t alone in her pain. I’m not praising myself, but praising the need of every wounded child to hear truth.

Telling your child about adoption is the number-one fear of adoptive and foster parents…most anyway. “I don’t want to hurt my child any further than what she’s already experienced. Besides, if I talk about the raw realities, maybe I’ll do it wrong and come across as a bumbling idiot?”

Is it possible that this parental fear is stronger than speaking in public? No matter the strength of the fear, it needs to be validated and normalized. You are not alone parents and you are in good company. You can do this, and do it well.

The following is taken from TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW.  I am pleased to share that this classic is now available in audio.

Getting Ready to Talk

What comes to mind when you think about initiating a conversation with your child about his birth family? Do you feel defensive, like the birth family is the enemy to be avoided at all  costs? Do you feel sad, and does your lip begin to quiver at the thought of their possible presence in your child’s life? Do you fear your child will love them more than he loves you? If so, this section is especially for you. Kids are experts at reading body language. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. If you are upset about something and trying to hide it, they will sense it.

In order to converse with your child productively about the issues closest to his heart, you must first develop a healthy attitude about the impact of adoption on the family system. Sociologist and author H. David Kirk, in Shared Fate,  suggests five common attitudes adoptive parents tend to hold about how adoption impacts the family:

1) Insistence: All problems are due to adoption. There is a great deal of emphasis between biological and adopted children: the “bad seed.”

2) Assumption: Parents have a romanticized view of adoption and expect the adoptee to have only positive feelings about adoption.

3) Acknowledgment: Adoption is seen as one of the factors in family problems. Family members have special sensitivities about adoption.

4) Rejection: Parents admit, “Yes, there’s a difference, but…” (want to forget it). They forget that the child feels the difference and needs permission to voice his feelings.

5) Denial: Parents have not told children about adoption. There is a big secret in the family.

Of course, acknowledgment is the most healthy attitude. We can’t blame all family problems on adoption, but it is important to help the adoptee see what part adoption plays in the fabric of his life.  

There are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for drawing your child into a productive conversation about his birth family.

Face Your Greatest Fear

The first thing you as an adoptive parent must do is face your greatest fear, which is being rejected by your child. You may envision your child reuniting with his birth parents someday and then wanting nothing more to do with you. If so, you would return to that lonely place of barrenness once again. 

The truth is, what is likely to happen at reunion is just the opposite of what you fear. Nevertheless, you may feel flooded with a torrent of emotions you never knew existed. Jealously and envy.  Anger…even rage.  A sense of betrayal by the one you held closest to your heart over the years. 

The empathetic ear of a friend, professional counselor, or an adoption support group can help you through these tough times. That person should be someone who has already faced and worked through her own pain and is not afraid of yours. When you have come through to the other side, you will be able to be truly in tune emotionally with your child.

Give Permission for Open Dialogue

Parents must remember that adoptees need permission repeatedly to talk about the birth family. It is like their “permission button” is broken; your words can go in one ear and out the other.

Adoptive mom Kathy Giles believes that this continual permission-giving is a signal to the adoptee that her myriad questions and feelings are okay. She says, “I find adoptees sense the ‘okay-ness’ of wanting to know about their birth parents from their adoptive parents. The parents must signal that they understand, empathize, and will, in fact, help make it possible for their children to connect with their first set of parents. To adoptive parents, I say, don’t kid yourself, saying ‘I wouldn’t want to know.’ Ask instead, ‘What would/will my child want and need?'”

Here are some suggestions–a cheat sheet– for signaling “okay ness”:

  • toddler: use play situations and talk about a baby bear that couldn’t find his mama and papa bear
  • school age: make a cardboard house, as shown on this post, and play knock-knock. At one point, say you’re the birth mommy coming for the child’s birthday party.
  • teenage: use physical changes as springboards for conversations: “I wonder if your birth dad had pimples like you when he was in high school>’
  • adult: use a fresh copy of TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW. You read first and put all your reactions around the margins. Then, share with your child. This has been a proven ice-breaker, even in residential care.

Using Anger to Overcome Life's Obstacles

What Made Me A Kick-Ass Adoptee

Adoptees and foster kids have every right to be angry. We’ve been kicked around, abandoned, misrepresented, ignored, shunned, marginalized, orphaned, and sent away with few belongings in a black trash bag. 

Hell yes, adoptees are angry! Excuse my French…I’m just a veteran adoptee, finally free from anger’s choking grip, and ready to hunt bear on behalf of my fellow adoptees and foster kids who believe that their anger might be a life sentence.

Up until now, most adoptees have believed there’s no hope for resolving overwhelming and uncontrollable anger issues. They accept “I’m just an angry person” misbelief.  Many adoption agencies hid the topic of our anger, hoping eager, naive, prospective parents won’t find out about it before homecoming day. Truth be told, the majority of adoptive and foster parents are terrified of adoptee anger, for they can’t spank it away, teach it away, woo it away, or love it away. It’s no wonder adoptees haven’t learned to find freedom from anger issues. The solution wasn’t in sight.

However, I’ve found the solution and am leading the pack toward freedom for anyone that wants to follow. Stick with me, okay? Hold on tight, grip the saddle, and prepare for a ride you never knew existed. As you might have surmised, this will not be a feel-good read. No warm fuzzies or heart shaped emojis. No steaming bedtime tea and cookies. 

What I’d like to share today? Anger is a gift, not a curse.

For parents: Validating anger helps your child develop deeper self-awareness.

And…adoptee anger must be validated. Parents, jump in here…ask your child about the following anger items:

  1. I have a right to be angry.
  2. We’re all angry because we’re all hurt.
  3. It’s not our fault.
  4. My first family kicked me to the side of the road and went on with life.
  5. My parents don’t “get it.”
  6. Crude comments are true expressions of my identity.
  7. My non-adopted friends aren’t as angry as me.
  8. I don’t belong in either family–first or adoptive.
  9. I’m not aware of my anger most of the time, but others are.
  10. Will i ever get control of my anger?
  11. Is there any hope for me? 

Write to me here, fellow adoptees!

No One Can Impart Self-Worth To Me

ONLY GOD Can Impart Self-Worth to Adopted Children

No human, even adoptive or foster parents, can impart self-worth to the adopted child. It’s downright impossible. That’s because there is something that remains untouchable –the adoptee’s submerged belief that something is wrong with them. That’s why they were given away. Why was I given away? Was I too small, too big, ugly, crying too much?

I believe the repercussion of this belief is non-existent self-worth and self-esteem. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone can do to heal this false belief, this lie. Throw the adopted child into counseling, affirm his worth to you morning noon and night, and pray with fancy words that he’ll be able to see himself in a healthy way. Nothing works, in fact, your efforts in this regard may prove detrimental.

High School

When I was graduating from high school, I so admired one of my friends who was also graduating. I loved her hairstyle–a pixie–and her dress, which was black with a white scalloped collar. I could have bought a lovely dress for myself. Retha and Mike, my parents would have seen to that. Instead, I borrowed the friend’s dress and got my hair cut in a pixie for my senior picture. I believed that if I wore her dress and copied her hairstyle, I would be strong and confident, even though I wouldn’t have put it into those words back in the day.


For me, self-worth and esteem were non-existent, and I’m certain that many fellow adoptees would identify. When I was about to be married, I chose not to wear a big, white wedding dress because I was a bad girl and got pregnant. One time a dear friend told me that the reason I didn’t was because of my integrity–that I couldn’t present myself in a way that wasn’t authentic.

As a young mom of two daughters, I agreed to move with my husband everywhere Dow Chemical assigned him–a total of 5 cross-country moves. I didn’t think I had the right to say, “I’m tired of moving. I vote to stay.”

Intimidated by Others

When I was asked to be trained as a Teaching Leader for Bible Study Fellowship in California, I felt so insignificant compared to the other woman who got training with me. One time during that week-long, arduous training, another woman peeked inside the car where I was seated and said, “You are just as good and talented as her.” It didn’t help me and made me even more nervous that others could tell I had no self worth. I thought I was hiding it. Then, at the end of the week, I was sure that I was going to be rejected as a Teaching Leader. I hadn’t “performed well” and the challenges were almost more than I could meet. For sure, someone who’s not living their “A game” should be rejected. But, I wasn’t. I’m sure much of my anxiety resulted from this intense experience. That’s the thing with many adoptees like me. We can appear stronger than we really are, and when others put us into places of leadership, it intensifies the pain.

Public Speaking

So, the other woman and I began the first international class in a small Michigan town. But, then, my husband was transferred again. I was happy about this because I wouldn’t have to do public speaking–my #1 fear. 

Leadership Roles

When we made the move, I found out right away that five women in that small town were praying for a Teaching Leader to begin a new class. So, I did. For five years, I led a class of 300 women and 45 leaders. Even though I dressed to the hilt, I had no self worth. How could that be? I’d been trained by the finest of leaders, was convinced I was chosen by God to fill that position, and women seemed to grow from my teaching. But, in the midst of it all,with the expensive suits and high heels, I ached inside. For sure, I want to not let anyone know, though, like at my previous training. Just before the five years were up and my husband got the next transfer to Indiana, a sweet midlife woman made a beautiful, hand-stitched quilt for me. When I thanked her, she said, “Now, maybe you’ll feel good about yourself.” 

When my adoptee heart was put into all these situations, it was silently remembering the hand-off by the First Mother. This is huge, my friends. While researching for my next book, I’ve come to the conclusion that most issues stem from this loss. This is not to throw a bucket of cold water on First Mothers. Many of my friends occupy that role and my opinion of them is epic. 

So, what are adoptive and foster parents to do about this possible dilemma? Can they prepare for it? And, if they do, can it be averted? No, in my experience, there is no quick fix by humans. With all my heart, I believe that self-worth–the life-transforming kind–comes from God. Just know that the ache is real, even though we may be performing well. Many times, we perform well so that you’ll be proud of us–so that your expectations will be met. 

What Parents Can Do

  1. Let go! 

I know this may sound harsh, but it’s incredibly necessary. Quit trying to fix your child! You, nor any other human, can’t do it. It will come across as inauthentic and your child will sense this and either melt down or lash out. It will be heard as an expectation.

  1. Believe in a higher power.

Since parents have no one to go to for facilitating self-worth in their children, they must believe that Someone greater than them can do it. This requires trust….after letting go. When I was boxing recently, the assignment was to hug the boxing bag and stay “afloat” on it. Some boxers had no problem, but I had no hope of doing it myself. When my trainer came by, I asked if he would hold me so I could wrap my legs around the bag. He did, and then kept telling me, “I’ve got you. Don’t worry.”  He then asked if I could let go of him. Oh, no! I did for a second, but then I tumbled to the floor. That’s an illustration of how trust is built. A little bit at a time…trust God. 

  1. Trust that Higher Power knows your child better than you.

After all, you didn’t create your child’s life–your Higher Power did. You don’t know him inside and out–your Higher Power does. You don’t know how to tear down defenses–but, your Higher Power does. 

When I was counseling after rejection from my First Mother, the counselor asked me to go to a local hospital and ask God to show me what I lost. A nurse friend and I went to the local hospital for children and in gown and mask, I asked God what I’d missed. Nothing happened. No great revelation. Just sadness that the ICU babies have to go through such trauma. On the way home, I started crying. Because the tears were so intense, I pulled over to the side of the road. A word and a phrase came to mind. The word was “jewel,” and the phrase was “on the day you were born.” Being an avid Bible student, I rushed home to look in my concordance. I found it in Ezekiel 16: 4-5: “On the day you were born, you were thrown out into an open field. But, I saw you there….and I said, ‘Live, thrive, like a plant in the field. And, you did. You became a jewel among jewels.”

I can still remember where I was sitting on the floor when I read this verse. After I read it, scales fell off my eyes and I could see how precious my life is to God. No one could have ever done this for me. Notice how much He knew about the day I was borne. It is all so incredibly true.

God knows your child as well. In a way that your child can understand, He will bring thoughts, feelings, impressions, truths to mind that he never sought out. He will make it clear that He’s the Heavenly Hound who’s been with him all along.

Your child’s story isn’t like mine, nor should it be. Each adopted child is unique. Trust God to know the unique of his story. So, humbly realize each morning that you have no control over your child’s self-esteem. But, your Higher Power does. Trust, my friends.

The Monkey on the Adoptee's Back is Fear of Rejection

I AM TERRIFIED OF REJECTION Online Adoptee Bible Study

Fear of rejection is like a monkey on the backs of many adopted kids, teens, and adults. Most tend to see rejection when none was intended. The turning around instead of being face to face. An unanswered text. Being stood up for a date with a first parent.

Is this a permanent disability? Will adopted kids ever get over it? Can they throw the monkey off their back?

Only with hard personal work can we heal.  However, healing doesn’t mean that the tendency goes away. No. It means that we aren’t triggered by it anymore.

It is possible! I’m writing a book about it right now.

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So, on to our friend, Moses.

The Story of Moses 

Exodus 3 

Since God had seen every part of Moses, he fully expected God’s bar of justice to come down on him hard. It seemed certain to Moses that God would declare him guilty for killing the Egyptian and therefore worthy only of rejection. 

This fear of rejection came from the primal wound of separation from Moses’ birth mother. No matter how loving the adoption plan, the disappearance of the birth mother translates to the baby as rejection. The infant carries this into all of life’s relationships. Moses’ fear of rejection also came from guilt—true guilt, for Moses truly had sinned when he murdered the Egyptian. In fact, he pursued a sinful lifestyle because he hadn’t loved God with his whole being every moment of every day. 

Much to Moses’ surprise, God revealed a specific plan for his life. A plan that would relieve the suffering of the Israelites and give them freedom. “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (v. 10). 

Could it be? Could it really be that God could and would use me to help accomplish his will?” Moses may have said to himself. 

All of a sudden Moses’ mind flooded with fear. 

Have you ever wondered if the reason your birth mother relinquished you was because 

you were a bad baby? Explain. 

How Moses Saw God 

Moses may have thought that God was “the big fly swatter in the sky,” knocking you down whenever you do wrong.” Moses had an incredibly guilty conscience. More than anything, he needed forgiveness for his sins. Moses couldn’t provide it for himself. If it were possible, he would have done it long ago. He had come into the presence of Jehovah-Jireh, which means, “The Lord will provide.” It is a testimony to God’s deliverance from sin. What Moses didn’t know was that God required that the blood of an unblemished lamb be shed for the forgiveness of sins. The sinner would slay the lamb, take it to the high priest, who would then take it into the tabernacle and ask forgiveness from God. Years after Moses died, God himself, in the Person of his Son, became the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29)! 

How You See God

Please refer to the list of Names for Jesus in Scripture in Appendix B and list three to five names for God that stand out to you. It will be encouraging to look back when finished with the workbook and see how your perception has grown!

You can record your words here:

Learning about Adoption 

Robert S. McGee, Pat Springle and Jim Craddock write in Your Parents and You, “For better or for worse, parents represent God to their children. A child’s emotional and spiritual foundations are to be provided by them. Most of all, parents are to model the love and strength of God to their children. They are responsible for portraying his reliability, his unconditional love, his acceptance and his purposeful discipline.” 

Putting My Feelings and Needs Into Words 

  1. Do you “read” rejection into circumstances and relationships when there is none intended? (Example: a closed door for a part in a play, an unanswered telephone call or letter, your mail icon on your computer indicates you have no mail.) Name specific circumstances when this has occurred. 


  1. What would you feel like if you, like Moses, met God personally? Would you feel guilty or peaceful? Why? 


  1. Do you ever reject others before they can reject you? If so, give examples.


Writing a Letter TO and FROM My Birth Mother 

  • Write a letter TO your birth mother about your fear of rejection, if you struggle with this. If not, write her about what was meaningful to you in this chapter. 
  • Write a letter FROM your birth mother, expressing feelings and thoughts you believe she may want to convey to you. 

 Letters TO and FROM My Birth Mother

Digging Deep for Answers to my Adoption Questions 

  1. Read John 1:11. Who in this verse experienced rejection from family? How does this make you feel? 

  1. What is the antidote to the fear of rejection and the need to be perfect? See I John 4:18.

  1. Where can you find this antidote? See Jeremiah 31:3.

  1. Read Isaiah 41:9-10. What is the message adoptees need to hear when afraid of rejection?

  1. What is the “take away” from this chapter? How will your life change?

Thoughts, Insights, Goals and Prayers 

A close companion of the fear of rejection is a struggle with self-esteem. We will cover that topic next. 


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How Can Adoptees Grow In Self Awareness?

Who’s That Little Girl, Anyway?

Imagine being given an assignment to find someone you’ve never met, but someone with whom you have an unknown connection. 

The person you’re searching for is a female toddler who lives in a bungalow on a prestigious, tree-lined street. She’ll be sitting on the porch steps alone. 

 “Who’s that little girl, anyway?” you may ask yourself. Why am I searching for her?

There are mysteries surrounding this child that you must solve, even if it takes decades. 

Mysteries such as the soldier who walked by her house daily, peering in, like he’s searching for someone. Or, the superintendent of records who kept her hospital records sealed permanently.

There is much shame and pain that this child endured before being adopted. When you solve the mysteries, her life will transform from being nameless to shameless. 

Beneath the complexities surrounding her birth were threads of the divine that were always present, but not visible. Always in the details, but no one would remember. Always faithful, but not obvious.

Don’t worry, my friend. You’ll know this child the moment you see her. She’ll be donned in a pink collared dress, a ruffled bonnet, well-worn white high-top leather shoes, and saggy lace stockings. 

The clincher is that she’ll be holding her rag doll close to her heart. Embed that scene in your long-term memory, for the doll is the key for unlocking the message of comfort that you’ll communicate when the child becomes an adult.

You must be aware that she’s not the biological child of her parents, Retha and Mike, who adopted her ten days after birth. You must also know that she was a failure-to- thrive baby with special emotional and physical needs, such as sensory and learning issues.  

Early in life, her parents told her she was adopted.  As an adult, this child remembered hearing her story for the first time on the dark green French-knotted couch in the living room. 

Sharon was the name they chose, with the middle name of Lee, after her adoptive grandmother named Leah.  Little did her parents know that this  Biblical name would take on significance later in life.

Leah was a bucksome, high-spirited social worker for the county, who single-handedly operated the County Children’s home. Abandoned and abused children hoped to find refuge there.  

No one could have ever imagined that the friendships Sharon experienced in this County Children’s Home would prepare her for her life’s work in the field of adoption and foster care. 

Could That Little Girl Be My Patient?

When a county physician contacted Leah about the possibility of helping a distraught pregnant woman named Marjorie, she agreed. 

Apparently, the woman needed shelter in a local birth mother’s home until her delivery three months later.

Marjorie wanted nothing more than to put the unplanned pregnancy behind her. This certainly would be a closed chapter and a wise move toward saving her marriage. If her husband found out she was carrying a baby that wasn’t his, he’d insist on abortion.   

The next day, Leah consulted with the physician and Marjorie, a beautiful, dark-haired woman in her early twenties. Within 30 short minutes, she claimed rape by a stranger, and refused to reveal the man’s identity. 

There would be absolutely no contact with the baby after delivery- no verbal comunication of the baby’s sex and total privacy about her hospital stay. 

When labor began, Marjorie contacted Leah and the physician, who met her at the hospital. After the last push, Marjorie was drugged and wheeled away, never to be reminded of her baby again, or so she thought.

The daughter she left behind felt something warm dripping on her newborn chest. Something wet. Something comforting. Something sacred. It was the physician’s tears.

No one would know this until many years later when the physician’s granddaughter revealed that he wept at the birth of every baby he delivered, and that he was an orphan himself.

Years later, the baby, now grown, would write about those tears.

Warm tears landed on my newborn body, like a spring rain. 

 I wanted to feel them forever.

To my once-orphaned delivery doctor, life was something to be celebrated, to shed happy tears over.

I couldn’t wait to feel his tears again.

What was it about those tears that soaked into my soul?

Were they saturated with hope and comfort? Were they bright lights at the end of the traumatic tunnel of living my first nine months of life in the womb of a mother who fantasized abortion? Or, were they seeds, planted in secret to produce a great harvest later in life?

Whatever it was, I wanted more.

Orphan doctor held me up, gazed into my big brown eyes, and smiled.

My five-pound body relaxed in his big, soft hands, like a hammock on a summer’s day. I wanted to stay there forever and gaze at the clouds.

But then, the nurse bent close to the orphan-doctor’s ear and whispered something.  

Orphan doctor’s eyes pooled with tears, again.

What did she whisper?

Was there something wrong with me?

Was I ugly?

Was I too little?

Is that why she suddenly whisked me off to a dimly-lit room where pleading and  plaintiff  newborn cries hovered, like smog in LA?

Where were those large, gentle hands that first touched my five-pound body?

Where were the warm tears that celebrated my life and birth?

Where was the orphan doctor, who welcomed me to planet earth with tears?

Then, the nurse shoved me into a box of glass. I kicked and screamed bloody murder.  

I cried and cried, but the sounds bounced back, like ping pong balls.

Where is the orphan doctor?

Why doesn’t he come?

And, so I give up and go inside. It’s safe there.

Thus, the orphan doctor wouldn’t appear again in the hospital, but stopped by every week for a year to see how Baby Sharon was doing.

Could That Little Girl Be My Granddaughter?

After saying goodbye to Marjorie at the hospital, Leah wondered, “Who’s that little girl, anyway?” Who’s this precious little life that hasn’t even been given a name?  

There was something about this newborn that convinced Leah she was going to be her grandmother. Her dark hair, her olive skin, her tinyness, her need for a family and a forever home. 

The scene of the attending nurse wrapping the newborn in soft blankets and placing her in an incubator stressed Leah. And, when the nurse placed a sign that said, “Baby X”, she couldn’t hold the tears back.

Retha and Mike lived just a block from the hospital, so she drove her big black Buick onto their gravel driveway and eagerly knocked at the front door. As usual, she could see them run to meet her through the three little door windows.

With bated breath, she relayed the story about the precious newborn that needed parents and a home.

Retha and Mike said yes. 

Could That Little Girl  Be Me?

Now, I’m going to reveal my total weirdness to you. It may sound way out to you, and that’s fine. It may have innuendos of “inner child” work which I’ve deemed ridiculous for years. Or, it may help you to see the healing process of one adopted adult.

You see, friend, right there in my closet when choosing clothes for the day, I saw something strange. There was a mother and daughter standing off to my left. The mother wasn’t moving, but the pathetic-looking child next to her couldn’t stop wiping the never-ending snot from her nose.

Drawing my chin to my chest and breathing deeply,  I concluded, “What an ugly kid. I’m sure glad she’s not in my life.” 

Then, I tried to process the weird experience. Could  the mom be my mom? Nope, no resemblance. Okay, was I the mom? Not a chance, for, my two daughters were never disheveled.

Oh, no.

Does that mean I’m that disgusting child? Could I really be that child?

And then, just like a megaphone, I heard, “Will you parent her?”

How repugnant. I felt nothing but aversion for this child. and even if she were the Moses of modern day floating in a basket on the Nile, I’d let the alligators eat her for lunch.

But, could this be my calling to parent this child? If it’s my calling, I don’t want it, nor her.

And, who exactly is this child?

I am.

 Deep inside, I am.

And the rag doll? 

Why am I holding it close to my heart?

Because the rag dolly got left behind.

She needs a new mommy and I will be her mommy. 

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Adoptees Can Choose
Quite often, because of trauma, adoptees see themselves as victims. They need to learn to make choices that lead away from victimy thinking and onto their life purpose.