Honoring Your Adopted Child's Past

Illustration of a father sitting on sofa with adopted son, each with a large bowl of ice cream
Pascal Campion
My friend Tim is a middle school Bible teacher and kid magnet. The guy simply oozes acceptance and love. But as "Dad" to a combination of biological and adoptive children as well as kids in foster care, he knows firsthand how difficult it can be to help older adoptees and children in foster care open up about their past. "The more they remember, the more it hurts," Tim says, "and the hope you offer takes time for them to digest."

As Tim knows, going after a heart that needs mending is hard work. Older kids often need permission to remember and care about people, places and events that were important to them during earlier — sometimes painful — chapters of their lives. As adoptive and foster parents, we want our kids to heal, to find hope in God’s promises, and to know that even before they were welcomed into our family, their lives had value.

However, honoring a child’s past can be tricky, and it takes time. Steve Pastyrnak, a child psychologist, says, "Parents have to go at their child’s pace ... when it comes to talking about the past."

We must be careful not to let our desire to talk about the details of their past trump their readiness to do so. Kids who are bruised emotionally may not be up for a detailed conversation of what happened. But they might be open to thoughtful reminders of the people and places they care about. When your child is ready, try these ideas:

Encourage meaningful decor. Help your child display photographs of family and friends from the past. If your child is originally from another country, displaying a flag, map or cultural souvenir may provide a comforting link to his birthplace.

Offer a memory token. Give your child a keepsake, such as a watch or necklace, as a tangible reminder of a birthmother, sibling or friend.

Plan special meals. Food, especially favorites from the past, can be a source of comfort. Discover whether there are foods that evoke positive memories for your child.

Go to camp. Heritage camps — for international and domestic adoptees — allow kids from similar backgrounds to connect and celebrate a shared cultural heritage.

Introduce a life book. Part scrapbook, part journal, a life book provides a framework for your child to begin telling her story — at her own pace — through photos, artwork and words.

Copyright © 2013 Focus on the Family.