Where do your big life questions take place? Because they will be asked. We can’t avoid them. And we shouldn’t. But they do have a habit of coming our way when we least expect them.
It is so true that children often have no filter. That generally they say what’s on their mind. Of course, there are some that are more of a closed book. That struggle to be open. Find it difficult to articulate thoughts, so hide behind their silence. Often adopted children struggle with this. But I do love how sometimes children are the champions of inappropriate timing!
There is an awful lot to process when it comes to adoption. As a grown up, I find it hard sometimes. So how children get their heads around the complexities often baffles me.
Laura (Instagram account @laura_cromp) has had similar experiences. We are aligned in many ways. I used to joke to my husband that I’d had another “car chat”. A time when my daughter found a safe place to pose a question or two about her life story, and it seems I am not alone…
My daughter is 3 years old. We adopted her when she was 16 months and we’ve always enjoyed car journeys. A chance to catch up, listen to music and sing at the top of our voices. But my daughter has realised they are a place where she can ask questions that I have to answer. Ones I can’t distract her with puzzles, games, or colouring!
About 6 months ago car questions started. Those questions that make mummy’s heart beat a little faster as my brain scrambles to answer in an age appropriate way! The first question that made me feel like this was – ‘Mummy, when will I die?’
We hadn’t really talked about death much before. After taking a breath I went into a long explanation of how she doesn’t need to worry as she’ll live a lovely long life and not die until she’s a really old lady. In May this year we celebrated my mum’s 70th birthday. You can probably guess the car question that followed – ‘Mummy, Granny is very old now is she going to die? I don’t want her to go to the angels’. A reminder that children are very smart. And never forget!
In February we celebrated 2 years of being a family and whilst enjoying some cake we shared our daughter’s life story book with her. At the time she only seemed interested in looking at pictures of herself when she was a baby. But she spotted the one photo we have of her biological half-brother and asked who he was. We explained he was called * and lived a long way away with his adoptive family. We talked about how he grew in birth mothers tummy like she did so that meant he is her half-brother. Nothing else was asked or spoken about it, and to be honest, I forgot all about it.
Around this time our daughter was enjoying lots of imaginative play and often her imaginary friends would come and have tea parties or play with her at the park. She liked to tell us who was there, and we’d all play together. One day we were getting in the car, and she said -‘Mummy can my pretend friends come?’. I said of course and asked who was there. In her list of friends, she said * (bio brother’s name).
I was so surprised that she had remembered. It is clearly a piece of information she stored away until she felt ready to talk about. Now she often tells people that she has a brother, and he lives a long way away. It always surprises me how much our 30 second conversation whilst looking at that one photo impacted on her. One tiny piece of her life puzzle that to her, is so important. And rightly so. He is a part of her life and a piece that will grow as she understands more.
Recently, we went to her friend’s 4th birthday and on the way home in the car she asked another car question – ‘Mummy when it’s my 4th birthday will I still live with you and Daddy?’ This made my heart break a little. I replied – ‘Of course sweetheart, you’re with us forever’.
A couple of weeks later we were talking about rope climbing and I said maybe she could do it when she was a big girl, aged 6. On our next car journey, she asked – ‘Mummy will I still live with you when I’m 6?’ Again, I said of course and asked if she understood what forever meant. She didn’t. So, I tried to explain it better to help her grasp that she wasn’t going anywhere. That we would be together. Always.
On the surface she is so settled and confident, but these little conversations bring it home. She has so much to process and consider. A reminder of the challenges that adoption can bring.
Last week we visited a friend who’s had a new baby. On the way home came so many car questions. The visit was clearly a trigger. Got her mind working overtime. I was totally unprepared for them as they came thick and fast…
‘Mummy why was I chosen? I don’t think I want to be chosen’ ‘Why couldn’t * (birth mother) look after me?’ ‘Why don’t I live where I was born?’ ‘Can I see her?’ ‘Why did I only stay with my foster carers for a little bit?
Again, with my heart was beating at an alarming rate. I answered each and every question as calmly and age appropriately as I could. We got home played with Daddy, ate our dinner, and tucked her into bed just like normal. But once she was settled, I cried.
I cried that my lovely little girl has to process all of this information; most children her age have never even heard of adoption or foster carers. But I also cried with happiness that she feels she can ask me. I always want her to feel this way. I hope that by being honest and sharing her journey from such a young age that at 3, 13, 30, she’ll still come to me. Will ask me the questions she’s searching for the answers to. That she’ll let me help her find them as I hold her hand through it all.
She is so loved. She is wanted, chosen. She is awesome. And she can ask me as many car questions as she needs to.
This blog totally highlights the need to be open. To start life story work as early as possible. There is a fine balance to reach, but slowly and steadily – age appropriately – is the way forward. Too much information too soon, can be overwhelming. You must work with your child. At their pace and level of understanding. Their curiosity. Or their hesitance.
I love how Laura’s daughter has found her safe place. And that it’s the same as my daughters! Over the years I’ve tried to work out why she opens up in the car this way. Perhaps it’s the physical sense of safety, belted in and secure. Maybe not having eye contact allows freedom of speech whilst providing an element of privacy. But I don’t really know.
I’m sometimes glad my children can’t see my face for some of those really tricky heart wrenching questions. I know I should look them straight in the eyes. But I can’t help but find it difficult to hold back the tears. Especially for those around why they can’t see their birth mother. The big question I find the hardest. That raises the biggest emotions. In us all.
There is an awful lot for little ones to comprehend. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know, is that Laura’s approach and attitude is spot on. I got a little teary thinking of her commitment to helping her daughter every step of the way. Hand in hand.
Adoptive parents need many strings to their bow. Being open and honest is right up there. We need the understanding ourselves to help the understanding of our children. Our instinct may be to wrap them up in cotton wool. Redirect their curiosity. But that’s not our place. I am a firm believer that it is their story – their life – and it is a story to be told.
Thank you so much Laura…and don’t forget – you’ve got this.
For help and support around life story work, contact your local adoption agency or visit @adoptionuk.