Who’s Afraid of 5-year-olds?

The following blog was written in honor of National Adoption
Month by Diane Tomaz, a Child Services Coordinator at the
Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange and an adoptive parent of
two boys.

National Adoption Month is not on my five year old son’s radar,
but he was very excited to have his two moms visit his
kindergarten class to talk about adoption. We were excited, too,
but we were also daunted by the task of explaining something
complex in simple enough terms that his classmates could
understand. We wanted our short time in the classroom to be fun,
but informative.   What we discovered is that five-year-olds
already know a lot about families, the differences within and
between families and what families need.  Just ask them about who
looks or doesn’t look like whom in their family.  Or who has brown
eyes, green eyes, curly hair, or straight hair and who doesn’t.  
Ask them who lives in their house and you’ll get answers that range
from my mom, dad, three brothers, two sisters and Nana to me and my
mom. Ask them what children need and they’ll come up with a
proficient list including milk, water, love, parents, shelter, and

We also knew from the outset that we wanted to read Fred Rogers’s
Let’s Talk About Adoption; it is straightforward and
relevant to all kinds of adoption, and we thought we’d answer
some follow up questions and be done.

Our son had other ideas.

When we told him of our plan, we reassured him that we wouldn’t
read his adoption story.  He wondered why we weren’t
planning to read his adoption book to the class. As his moms, we
had never considered sharing his personal story, at least not in
detail, with his classmates.  His adoption book, a story we wrote
about how our family came to be, felt somehow too personal or that
it could somehow make our son feel too different from his
classmates, but it was actually what he was most excited about. The
amazing truth is that our son was not worried, and we were thrilled
by the affirmation from the kids themselves that all families are
wonderfully different.

Talking to our son’s class about adoption revealed a few
surprises for his moms:

1. As I said, our son wanted to share his own story. Sort of. He
wanted us to do all the reading, all of the talking, all of the
explaining. While I, Mommy, read his adoption story, he sat snugly
on his Mama’s lap, beaming proudly.  At the end, he asked if we
could leave the book behind for his friends to take a closer look.
It was clear that he wanted them to know and appreciate this part
of him.

2. The children were not confused by the concept of adoption. When
I asked if anyone knew what the word meant, one child responded,
“It’s when you join a family who will love you and take care of
you.” Yes! How simple, how perfect.

3. The kids wanted to relate and to share their own experiences. We
asked lots of open ended questions that invited them to become part
of the conversation: Who are the people in your family? Do you all
look alike? How do you look different? How do your parents care for

4. I was glad that we had a loose structure for how we wanted the
conversation to flow because the time passed quickly and the class
steered it in different directions at times. Near the end, our
son’s teacher asked if we had named him or if he had his name at
the time of placement. We never could have predicted that our time
would end listening to sweet stories of how each kindergartener
came to be named, the meanings of names, and even a story or two
about the names they were almost given.

The surprises made the experience so much richer for our family.
Every child is different in how she or he wants their story to be
shared. Or not shared, for that matter.  For our son, our visits
to his classroom have been partly about showcasing his family,
something that is important to children at this stage in
development, and largely about answering his classmates’
questions about having two moms, about having a brother of a
different race, and about what it means to be adopted. We are on
this journey together, supporting one another, and honoring our
story of family.