When Encouraging Reading Brings Up Parenting Issues

May 8, 2007 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Parenting Dilemmas, Reading | 9 Comments


I love to read and hope that one day my daughters will as well.  While reading to them this weekend, I encounter text that negatively mentioned adoption.  My oldest daughter was domestically adopted at birth.  Here is what happened to me over the weekend… 

Every Saturday morning we have a young woman come to the house to watch the girls so we can get things done around the house.  E is currently working on a MFA in Writing Children’s Literature.  She let us borrow some books to read to the girls.  These books were amazing even though they were a little above Emma and Allison’s comprehension level.  One of the most interesting and creative of those books was The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman.  I loved reading the book.  The illustrations were great.  I think children would have even more fun reading it themselves because of the way it is put together. 

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it posed a parenting problem that I wasn’t anticipating.  At one point during the book, a brother gets mad at his sister and torments her by telling her that she was adopted.  I was on a roll and read through it without before I had a chance to think about it.  I immediately looked over at Emma while I continued to read.  She didn’t have any reaction this time.  The next time I read that book, I can easily skip over that part.  That isn’t the issue.  The issue is that Emma isn’t always going to be in the company of people sensitive to adoption issues.  They will not know to insert something else or to avoid it all together.  Even then, Emma will one day soon be able to read herself.  I won’t be able to review everything she reads to make sure that it is adoption friendly.  Emma is going to hear someone refer to adoption as an insult. As much as I want to shield her from the ugliness in this world, sheltering her would hurt her more in the long run.  She is going to have to learn to come to terms with adoption in general just as she will have to come to terms with her own experience.  The same is true for me.  I wonder if it would be the correct thing to do to skip or substitute unflattering references to adoption.  Should I protect her from that or use it as a teaching moment when she gets older?  She’s too young to catch on to what was read yet.  When that time comes, should I bring it up myself or wait for her.  Not saying anything about such literary references lead her to believe that I agree with those statements or don’t care about her feelings?  Would saying something make an issue where this isn’t one for her? 

I’m unsure of how to handle this.  Has anyone else come across this before?  If so, how did you handle it?  If not, I would really appreciate your thoughts or suggestions.


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  1. I would NOT skip over it. I would read it, put the book down and say, WOW that was a dumb/mean thing to say! That will let you know that you are on her side, that you are going to stand up for her when people are ignorant are mean.

  2. Susan, thank you so much for that suggestion. That is a wonderful and helpful idea!

  3. I’d communicate what I thought in a way that was appropriate to my child’s developmental age, and after she had time to consider what I’d said, I’d ask what her thoughts or feelings were about the book.

    Many times, our reactions as adoptive mothers are quite different than are the reactions (if any) of our adopted children. :o)

  4. My son was adopted (at age 3) so adoption is part of our vocabulary. I think the older kids get, in anything, they will have to face issues. I believe my job is to protect their self image and build up their confidence in themselves and let the world deal with reality.
    If something is not too damamging I would use it as a teachable moment. Like your previous comment advised.

  5. My children were both adopted at birth (domestically). They are 9 and 10 yrs old now, but I have been in this exact situation numerous times. I think it’s best to not skip over, because even if kids aren’t visibly reacting, many times they are internalizing things and it won’t come out until (much) later. My youngest (3rd grade) only recently told me about a comment that was made to her by a friend in kindergarten. She said something about being adopted, and her friend said, “That means you don’t have a mom. She got rid of you.” She didn’t tell me or say anything at all until 3 years later!! She waited that long for a real explanation. And there were tears, even after 3 years. It breaks my heart that she kept it inside for all that time. My youngest is the one who never wants to talk about it, where my older one asks questions and is more open with her feelings. ANYWAY– I don’t know how old your child is, but I wouldn’t let it go without some sort of positive comment to balance it out.

  6. We adopted my oldest, who will be 6 in October, domestically. My youngest is was born to us 25 minutes shy of exactly two years later and was a complete surprise. We have an open relationship with Emma’s maternal birth family. She verbalizes that she has two mothers – and Allison often asks why she doesn’t. 🙂 I haven’t had any of those tough adoptive parenting moments yet, but I know that they are coming. That tears me up to hear about your daughter’s experience. Three years is a long time to carry that around. Bless her heart!!! I haven’t had another such experience, but I will definitely be more prepared. Did you tell the school about the adoption? Since I’m preparing Emma for kindergarten, I’m not sure what to do. This is really her story to tell, but is it good to let that just come out and blind-side the teachers? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. On the other hand, it might provide an opportunity to teach other children about the reality of adoption. Emma doesn’t like to have a ton of attention on her and I wouldn’t want to embarrass her. It might be neat to write a children’s story about how she came into this world and created our family. I know that there are many other such stories, but I’ve always wanted to write and what could be a better gift to her than that?

  7. I decided to tell my kids’ kindergarten teacher, actually all their teachers up until this year (my 5th grader asked me not to). I thought long and hard about it, though. My reason for telling was so that if the girls got in over their heads conversationally, the teacher could bail them out. My oldest told a friend in K that she grew in her birthmother’s tummy instead of my tummy.. her friend was like, HUH? and then my daughter explained how bmom couldn’t take care of her so she found her mommy and daddy for her. Her friend had this reaction- “uh huh..let’s go get a snack!” This was all related to me by her K teacher, who didn’t feel the need to step in at all but was hovering just in case.

    We are very open about everything at home and my kids know their stories, but they don’t automatically tell their friends. My oldest just “came out” (LOL) to her best friend this year. I think she worries that kids will think she’s different.

    When they were babies, I felt compelled to tell anyone and everyone that they were adopted. If a clerk at the grocery store said something like, “She has your eyes” or “Wow, they’re going to be tall” (because my husband and I are) I would feel the need to set them straight. It almost seemed like lying, in a way, not to tell. I got over that, though, and now if someone compliments my kids, I just say thank you. I only share our story if and when I feel like it, to people I care about. I used to think it was really important to educate the world on adoption, and positive adoption “speak”, but now I seldom bother with it, because it embarrasses my kids. And, like you said, it is their story to tell.

    Yikes, this is long! I apologize and would not be offended if you felt like deleting it!

  8. Hi, me again. I’ll try not to be so longwinded this time. Just wanted to tell you the reason why I thought about NOT telling their teachers.. I worried that any little problem with behavior or anything else might be seen through “adoption” colored glasses. I didn’t want them to be treated differently or have adoption seen as some sort of excuse. Make sense?

  9. I wouldn’t think of deleting your comment! Thank you so much for your input. I can see both the positives and the negatives for telling teachers about it. To an extent, adoptive parents have some of the specter of every issue being seen through those adoption lenses. I remember at one point when Emma was a tiny infant and wasn’t sleeping very well (hence I wasn’t sleeping very well). Anyway, someone close to me suggested that perhaps she was missing her birth mother. Emma probably wasn’t even 4 months old yet and that was already being bandied about. Still, it would be nice to have an adult there who could jump in if needed. Maybe this is something that we can talk about as the time to start school gets closer (and that will be way too fast!).

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