Explaining Big Things to Your Child

Talking about big things

A member of an Facebook adoption group recently posed an question: How should adoptive parents talk adoption with their children? It got me thinking, and I realized the question goes beyond adoption, to other Big Things like death and sex.

What we do: We answer exactly what’s being asked, and no more. Kids, of course, have no idea what they’re brushing up against, and this method lets a child absorb Big Things at her own pace, bit by bit.

When one of our cats died, I waited a week or two for the penny to drop on FD: “Do people die?” “Yes, sweetheart.” A few weeks later, in the bathtub, out of nowhere, “Will I die?” “Someday. A long time from now.” A few more weeks, and “Will you and Mom die?” Like that.

With SD, it was:

“Do people die?”


“Will I die?”

“Someday. A long time from now.”

“Will you and Mom die?”

“Hopefully not for a long time.”

“Who will take care of me?”

The whole exchange with SD took less than a minute.

Last week SD asked, “How does a baby get into a woman’s belly?” I answered, “Women have eggs and they get fertilized.” Satisfied, SD moved on to telling me about the Wild Kratts.”

We’ve always told our daughters their adoption stories, so they’ve always known. Bear in mind, though, the word “adoption” has no meaning unless you know what pregnancy is. Since as older parents, we’re not surrounded by pregnant mothers, it’s not something ours see all the time.

Sometimes you may need to ditch the plan. When FD asked why her birth mother didn’t keep her, we said that for some reason we don’t know, she couldn’t take care of FD. At nine, we realized FD had become terrified she would find herself with a baby she couldn’t take care of, just like her birth mom. And so, breaking our rule, we bought a book and immediately explained reproduction in all its disgusting—that how she felt about it, anyway—glory.


Eye-catcher by Stephan Hochhaus