Next month is my daughter "Kiri's" birthday. She will be 5-years-old. Next month will also mark the 4th anniversary of the day that I adopted her from a Chinese orphanage. She was only one-year-old when I took her home, so Kiri does not know she is adopted. I know this will sound strange to you, since you do not know me, but I am Asian American so Kiri does not look very different from me. I realize that one day I will have to tell her that she is adopted; do you think she is still too young? Should I wait until she starts asking questions about where she comes from? I was told that her parents were killed in the 2008 Chinese earthquake, only a few days after she was born. Isn't this information a little harsh to tell a young child?
Dear Kiri's Mom:
You do realize that not all Asians look alike, right? Because unless you are Chinese American, like your adopted daughter, she has probably already noticed the differences in how the two of you look. Like most parents and children, she will see the similarities between the two of you (dark hair, dark eyes), but you most likely have variant skin tones and facial structures. Although this is not something a 5-year-old can express, it is something they will notice.
My next question for you is, why do you feel the need to keep your daughter's adoption a secret? Her parents untimely demise and the horrors surrounding it, yes, but her adoption? Adoption is a wonderful institution and one should not feel the need to hide the truth about it - especially from the child who has been adopted. Usually when a young child asks about where they came from it means one of two things: it is time to have the "how humans reproduce" talk with them (this usually occurs between the ages of 7 - 10) or they want to know where they were born and/or once lived before living where they are now. I came from the local animal shelter!
If Kiri is not curious about where she came from or why Mommy's face looks different than her own you could institute a new celebration in your home: Adoption Day, to commemorate the anniversary of the day you brought your daughter home. For this first Adoption Day celebration, you can explain to Kiri that she was chosen by you to be your daughter; that you flew halfway around the world to come get her; and that you would go to the ends of the earth to keep her safe and happy. Answer any questions she has with just enough information for her to process, and answer on her level. A 5-year-old processes things differently than adults. If she asks what happened to her real parents, you can say that they are living in Heaven right now, or whatever your spiritual beliefs teach about death.
As Kiri gets older she is bound to have more questions about her birth culture and her birth story. Share with her what you know; research with her what you do not. If possible, contact the orphanage and/or adoption agency you worked with to bring Kiri home to you. In time, Kiri may decide she does not like the idea of celebrating adoption day as it might make her feel different, or she may look forward to it like an additional birthday celebration. Take your cues from Kiri as to how to move forward with any information she seeks, if she seeks any information at all. Know that the longer you wait to tell Kiri she is adopted, the more difficult it will be for her to process this information. I say start sharing this information now, bit by bit until the entire story unfolds.
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