Here are some creative ways that I've found to help your children integrate their dual-identity--birth and adoptive, nature and nurture.
Start At An Early Age with a Coloring Project
By the age of two or three, when your child shows likes coloring, grab the opportunity to engage him with a coloring project called "The Story of the Braided Ribbons," (Soon to be added to Resourses).
To make it a keepsake, print it in color on parchment paper. Reinforce the words "Birth Mother/Father," "Mom and Dad," and "Adoptee." Explain to the child "Red is for you, because you were adopted. Purple is for mommy and daddy because we adopted you, and green is for your birth mother and father because we love them for giving you to us." Every time you mention a color, have the child color part of the braid. Coloring will be scribbles, but you will be taking your child to the next level of adoption awareness and understanding. Perhaps your child can create one of these each year and you can include them in his Life book.
Buy Ribbons for a Braid
When your child reaches seven or eight, her cognitive abilities have further developed and she'll be able be able to reason, "Yes, I was adopted, but first I was sent away." Questions and tumultuous emotions will arise at the most inconvenient times (while you're in the bathroom or in the car at a busy intersection). "Why did she give me away?" "Was I a bad baby?" "Did I cry too much?" My children's book, Forever Fingerprints: Proof Adopted Kids Are Special, provides a tool for parents to know when and how to talk to their kids about adoption.
This is prime time to teach them how to braid their ribbons because they now have the ability to begin understanding abstract concepts. Tell your child that you're going to do a fun adoption project together. Prior to this, you may want to show him the braids he colored when younger, reminding him of the meanings of the colors. Take him with you to the fabric store and let him choose red, purple, green, and gold ribbons.
Tell her that an exciting part of being an adoptee is coming to understand how each person involved in her adoption is related to her and what they have given her bon has a purpose, each a vital contribution, and each a unique position with the other ribbons. Each ribbon is a work of art, but braided together, they become a magnificent masterpiece."
Teach that every time she discovers something new (feelings, thoughts, or facts) about her birth and adoptive families, whether hurtful or happy, it is an opportunity to make an addition to her braid. Explain that it's okay to feel sad, mad, glad, or scared about adoption and that she can share these feelings with you.
Deepen the message about the significance of the colors. "The purple ribbon represents your adoptive family, chosen to nurture you when you were given to us from your birth family. The green ribbon represents your birth family and their special gifts to you, like the gift of birth. The red ribbon represents you--a unique weaving together of nature and nurture into one marvelous human being, with awesome potential. The gold ribbon should be wound inside and outside, representing God's care for your child.
Teaching your child to weave every part of their story, whether painful or pleasurable, opens the door for helping them resolve upcoming teen identity issues of integrating their dual identity, of nature and nurture, and biology and adoption.
How to Begin
- Young Children: Color the Braid (www.sherrieeldridge.com)
- School Age: Make a May pole with long, streaming ribbons
- Teens: Make a friendship bracelet with purple, green, and red
- Teens: Do a DNA test if there is missing history for your child. Go to 23andme.com or gtldna.com. Most DNA tests are inexpensive and they will give your child a sense of ancestral history five centuries before your child's birth.
I hope these suggestions get your creativity flowing!