Care and Feeding

When Should We Tell Our 7-Year-Old She’s Adopted?

When she’s a teenager? Next week? Or, like, seven years ago?

A father sits beside his daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Azlan Baharudin on Unsplash.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I adopted a wonderful, healthy, newborn girl 7 years ago from a local adoption agency.

When and how do you feel is the ideal time to inform her of her adoption? I have a pal who was not told about his adoption until the entire family was gathered around his dying father’s bedside. He was in his mid-20s, and this took several years for him to come to peace with it.

I have no intention of waiting that long with our daughter, but I don’t know when or how to bring it up. She has a teenage cousin who is around on occasion, and I am afraid that he would just up and tell her someday out of pure numbskullery, and this isn’t a conversation I wish to have around the family Christmas tree, birthday party, or Easter egg hunt.

If you have any advice on this matter I would certainly appreciate hearing it.

—Our Adoption Book Didn’t Cover This!

Dear OABDCT,

Oh, shoot. So, there’s no point in nattering at you about a good-hearted mistake, but since many, many people read this column, I do briefly want to outline best practices: Ideally, your children should never remember even being told about being adopted, because that information was handled so early and so matter-of-factly that it never came as a surprise.

You, using the safety clippers to delicately trim their teeny petal-like newborn nail: “You were adopted, shall we put on your Dora the Explorer bathrobe?”

You, using the Frida snot-sucker to unclog their nostrils: “Mommy and Mama wanted to have a baby and couldn’t on their own, so we had to think outside the box.”

In an ideal world (which, again, call me when that happens), your 7-year-old would just now be at a place to have more serious conversations about what adoption actually means, as opposed to it just being a way to describe how one arrived in your home as a newborn.

So, let’s split the difference between best practices and your unfortunate pal who had to hear it from his dying dad: Tell her this weekend. Sit down with your spouse, hash it out, commit to it, and have the talk. It won’t be perfect, but it’s not going to be any easier at ages 8, 9, 10, or 100. Does she have any little friends who were also adopted? That might be a nice way to ease into it, because then she’s not the odd one out. An adopted character on TV? Find some commonality and go from there. There are some wonderful books out there; make sure that in addition to getting one for yourself, you get one that’s her speed so she can read it and have time on her own to process it.

Her emotions may not be positive, and they may evolve over time, and I really want to challenge you to accept that and to not make her feel that you need her to react about this in a particular way in order to manage your own feelings. If you find that difficult, family therapy may be a great step.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old daughter doesn’t totally get the concept of Halloween yet, so I’d like to do an easy costume this year while I still can. She has a very fancy tulle-y flower-girl dress from earlier this year sitting in her closet, and I thought it would be fun for her to wear it again before she grows out of it. She has expressed very little interest in princesses (again: so far), and while I’m happy to roll with it eventually if she does, I don’t want to be the one who nudges her in that direction. Can you think of a fun, nonprincess costume for a very princess-y dress? Or should I just chuck the dress into storage, and ask her what she wants to be?

—The Last Year Before Princess Takeover

Dear TLYBPT,

I myself repurposed an obvious Snow White costume into a Queen Esther costume for Purim, so I am right there with you.

Ideas for the dress:
• Flower girl (get her a little bouquet of rose petals to strew)
• Glinda the Good Witch
• Ballerina
• Tooth fairy (bag of coins, a wand)

I bet that you’ll find something really fun and that when the Princess Storm settles, you’ll all stumble out relatively unharmed.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I don’t generally like posting pictures of my daughter on social media. I particularly don’t like it when other people post pictures of my daughter at a family event on their Facebook pages, hence a lot of strangers looking at pictures of my child.

For me, it’s a personal issue that revolves around my daughter being too young to consent to her image being shared with hundreds of mostly strangers. I don’t judge anyone for sharing pictures of their family (they’re often very cute!), but until my daughter is old enough to consent, it’s something we generally avoid. With that said, I don’t freak out if someone posts pictures of her at a family event online, but I do politely reach out if individual pictures of her are being shared on other people’s pages.

Usually everyone is fine with this and this is a nonissue, except for one relative who feels the need to comment on this now at every family event. I’ve made it clear to her that in group shots, it’s fine if she wants to post pictures of my child, but please, no individual shots. I’m not even asking her to not take pictures of my child, just to not share them on social media. If she asked me not to post pictures of her kids, I just wouldn’t. I wouldn’t make passive-aggressive comments about it at every family event. Am I being unreasonable?

—She Has Plenty of Time to Ruin Her OWN Social Media as an Adult

Dear SHPoTtRHOSMaaA,

You are being eminently sensible, and once the first wave of memoirs by parenting bloggers’ kids hits, you’re going to get to feel extremely smug.

The important thing is that your aggravating relative is merely running her mouth and not disobeying your very reasonable boundary for your child. This means you can proceed to be as polite or rude as befits your general relationship with said relative. If you like her, you can opt for “hmm” or “I’ll think about that” or “I will give that due consideration,” and if she’s awful, you can take it to “THIS again?” and wandering off to compliment Aunt Belinda on her date squares. The nuclear option is to look worried and say, “We’ve had this conversation at least four times, is everything OK?”

Keep fighting the good fight.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Who gets to play their music in the car? Me or the kids?

—Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

Dear PWaRS,

Half of the reason the human race has survived into 2018 is that you can force your kids to listen to whatever music you want to play in the car. Someday, their little arms will get long enough to grab the aux cable and then this will be out of your hands. Until then, my car is exclusively bumping the singer-songwriters of the 1970s and Hits 1 and they can bitch about it in their memoirs if they want to.

—Nicole