Parents frequently ask me if Levon knows that he is adopted. Yes, he does, but his understanding of the concept is still very simplistic.
Levon’s adoption has never been a secret. His birth grandparents are as much of a presence in his life as my parents are. We talk his adoption openly and often, but at 5-years-old, he shows only a basic understanding of the concept.
If you ask him what it means to be adopted, he’ll tell you that he has a Tummy Mommy. His understanding is that babies grow in their mommy’s tummies, but that some babies grow inside a Tummy Mommy instead. He has friends and relatives with tummy mommies too, through surrogacy and adoption, so he views it as normal. He’s too young to realize that he’s in a minority. For him, there is no feeling of loss or trauma associated with his story because he was adopted at birth. It is absolutely different for foster children who lived with their [birth] parents before entering a foster or forever home. And it may become different for Levon as he processes his own experience.
When he asks me, “Why didn’t I grow in your tummy,” I simply answer that some people grow in their mommy’s tummies and some people don’t. At five, he is completely satisfied with that explanation.
As he grows, his questions will no doubt become more complex. We will continue to answer honestly, in age-appropriate terms, and leave it to him to create his own narrative. There is often talk on social media about the brokenness and trauma of adoption. While that is absolutely true for some, I don’t believe in forcing that narrative on my son. Adoption can be experienced differently by each member of the triad (birth mom, adoptive mom, and adoptee), and each of those experiences deserves to be honored. Levon’s story is his to write, and we will honor his truth.
How do you explain adoption to your child? How old were they when they truly understood the concept? Share with us in the comments below!
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.