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« Workout Wednesday | Main | The Act of Giving Back: Should More Women Be Placing Their Children? »

January 11, 2010



As an educator it has been my experience that all children between the ages of 4 - 6 begin to realize that bad things happen. Whether it is the death or loss of a pet, a grandparent or the grandparent of friends, or just watching tv, movie or reading a book, bad things happen. And being intelligent children they begin to wonder if those bad things could happen to them or to people they care about. I agree that this natural developmental stage probably has more impact on children who have already had bad things happen to them. I am always shocked at those people who do not realize that children are thinking and processing information from the moment they are born. They then use that information to make generalizations, predictions, decisions and forming beliefs. The hard part is that if they don't talk to us about what they are thinking they often don't get misinformation clarified. What a lucky woman you are to have a child who shares his thoughts with you!


I remember having those "unnatural" fears as a very young child also. I agree that our bodies remember.


I agree that kids think of these things on their own and it's natural and normal. I think it's great that your son is comfortable talking to you about this. As a parent of an adopted daughter who is now too young to articulate these fears (20 months), but who will undoubtedly experience them someday, I wonder how you responded. I feel like a "don't worry, Daddy and I will always be here response" would be tempting but is not really defensible; our kids already know that parents can disappear. So, do you acknowledge the fear and explain what would actually happen--which adults would take over? Or what?


Paula- Thanks for this. The recent loss of my father has most certainly brought up adoption loss issues in both of my girls-way bigger than just developmental fears around loss. I need to write about this topic soon.

Paula O.

Diane, I am so sorry for the loss of your father. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Paula O.

MS: I absolutely agree that a "Don't worry, sweetie - we'll always be here" kind of comment isn't the best response. I cannot promise to either of my kids that their dad and I will ALWAYS be here no matter what and I personally would never try to reassure them of that, because it's just not true.

Instead, I told my son that his dad and I certainly did not plan on going anywhere and that the chances of him losing us both was very, very, very, VERY small (in his mind, the more adjectives, the more compelling. :) ) I told him that I understood why he would worry about that, that they were okay feelings to have and that I sometimes felt that way at his age, too. Without going into any details, I told him that I could promise that no matter what, on the very, very, very small chance that something did happen to both mommy and daddy that someone he loved very much and who loved and cared for him very much would always be there to take care of him. (And that I could promise per our will.)

I explained to him some of the things that we do to keep as healthy and as safe as possible, as to do our best to make sure that we will be around for as long as possible. I tried to use concrete examples that he can understand and actually "see" - ie. that mom and dad eat healthy, that we always wear our seat belts in the car, that mommy goes on runs and does her exercises, etc. - things that hopefully he can perceive as tangible measures toward feeling that we are doing something in our control to stay safe and healthy.

I also try to give him some feeling of control, too re: my husband's and my whereabouts and making sure that when I'm not at home with him that he knows where I am and when I'm coming home.

And yes, I do my very best to acknowledge, recognize, affirm and any other action that validates whatever thoughts and feelings that he's shared with me.

Initially, I hesitated to share this in my post or even here in my comments, only because I don't want to presume that I know what is best for each individual child or family. Obviously, each parent will know what's best for their own child in terms of how to handle these kinds of conversations. My conversation with my son was very much "tailor-made" based on what I think is best for him and knowing him the way I do, but each child is different.

Ultimately I did choose to share some of our conversation as an example of what one adoptive parent thought worked best for her and her family.

Tonggu Momma

We experienced two significant losses last year when my FIL passed away and also when our next-door neighbor/ my close friend/ the mom of one of the Tongginator's best friends died at age 48. The deaths occurred within weeks of one another. What followed was several months of sleep issues for the Tongginator and many, many Tongginator-initiated conversations about what would happen if either (or both) my husband and I died. And yes, she dealt with adoption loss and grief, too, during that time.

My neighbor (the widower who lost his wife) once told me, about three months after his wife's death, that he found comfort in knowing that his daughter could talk to my daughter about the loss of her mother... that the Tongginator would be able to understand a lot because she, too, had lost a mother. Different, yet similar.


Another amazing post, Paula. I miss you so! Really hope to meet your family in the new year now that I'm headed in your direction. :)


Great post, Paula. Our son is a year younger than yours and we, too, have had similar conversations lately. He's recently asked if he's getting another family. I explained that someday he might have a family in which he's the dad. No, he said, that wasn't what he was thinking. I explained that he has a Korean family and he has us and we have many friends who care for him, but that he isn't moving to have another home with another mom and dad as long as we're here to care for him.

And he's always asking us to "protect" him. We tell him that someone who loves him will always be around to take care of him, but don't promise that we'll always be here because that's not a promise that's completely within our control to keep.

I have an adoption blog as well where I chronicle our adoption journey. One adoptee after reading the blog accused me of pigeon-holing our son so that we only see him as an adoptee, as if all we do is talk about adoption issues, Korean culture, and race. Of course that's not the case (although the blog might seem that way since it was created to deal only with adoption).

I think people assume we must push these topics for such a young child to be thinking and asking about them, which isn't the case at all. We talk openly about the topics and regularly read books that present these topics to him. I truly believe that a parent's avoidance of a topic makes it taboo so we're very open and like your son, our son feels comfortable asking questions and telling us what's on his mind. I'm thankful that he opens up to us and feel it's the most healthy thing he can do.


Awesome post Paula,
I was referred to your blog by Diane's. For some odd reason though, I think I remember reading your blog like a year ago...your profile picture seems familiar? I think we talked before: you were adopted yourself? We talked about how unusual that seems to be?

Anyways, excellent post. I've had similar conversations with my parent while I was growing up. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at my father is an estate lawyer. It is fortunate because he knew all about this subject, it was unfortunate because I got to learn way more about that subject than I ever want too!!! LOL

I would totally agree with you that a 5 year old can understand this topic. And I like how you acknowledge his fear as a "real fear". I know when I was growing up, part of my fear stemmed from a fear of being sent back to the orphanage if my parents died. I think Hei Sook Wilkinson does a great job talking about some of these fears in her book: Birth is More Than Once

Anyways, the way you handled this topic was almost identical to my parents handled it. They explained to me about their will (which every parent should have), and how they had life insurance which would be used to pay for things I would ever need growing up, and who would take care of my sister and I (and made sure that I was comfortable with that decision and relatives). Im a little fuzzy but one thing I think I remember is that the legal document for who will take care of your children is actually separate from a will? I believe the will only takes care of the estate (ie money matters), but not legal guardianship? I can confirm with my dad...I might be

One interesting thing I was wondering (assuming you and I have run into each other before, and you were adopted), I found it odd that you didn't mention, thought, or write about your own experience growing up and dealing with this fear?


I just found your blog and I love it! I am the adoptive mother of a little girl from Russia and I have recently been questioning adoption in general after making contact with her birth family. I will continue to read your blog for great insights. I find myself nodding my head in agreement as I read throught your posts. Every PAP shoule be required to read blogs such as yours. I wish I had before adopting.

Alicia In Texas

We haven't gotten that remark yet from Nate....because I think it's just too scary for him to even go there. He has ventured to ask if it would be okay if he doesn't marry when he grows up. Could he just live with us forever and not get married? Would it be okay if he doesn't get married and could he still adopt a child? These are his questions and yes, they're asked with the kind of concern I imagine your little one is projecting. It's heart-wrenching to know how REAL that fear of loss is to them. They HAVE experienced it before and know that it's possible in a way that a child who has never experienced it would never understand. My answer to Nate is that he can live with us for as long as he wants...and that even if I'm an old lady, he can live with me. I tell him that, most likely, he'll decide to move out one day but if he doesn't, that's okay, too. :) We can revisit this when he's 30, if need be. LOL. For the meantime, helping him feel secure and safe is most important.

Alicia In Texas

Oh...I also wanted to add that I think it's really awesome that you're able to talk to him about this. As a mom to three kiddos, ages 7 to 17, I find that the best way to help them feel "heard" and comforted is to sit with them and share with them a story where you felt this way as a child. You may not have had the exact experience but I bet there were times when you were afraid and you could talk about where in your body you felt that fear and what you think might have made you feel better. I've found that my kids have been more willing to open up and share feelings and fears with me, when they know that I'll take the effort to really understand those feelings and share stories about when I went through similar experiences.


my child is not adopted, but she's 4 and she's already told me she's afraid that I will die and she wonders what will happen to her and her baby brother...
this is not unnatural, and certainly not limited to adoptees.

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