Most adopted children will encounter at least one class in school where they are required to create a family tree as an assignment. This creates stress for many adoptive families. Parents may be relieved to know that – a family tree CAN be quite helpful for your child in understanding the overall concept of “who he is.” Adopted children often feel the need to know where they “come from,” and the family tree can be the perfect way to explore that with your child.
The family tree gives adopted children a chance to look at their “roots.” As a parent, if you have presented an honest and up-front account of their life story – including the existence of a birth family, he or she will be happy to and easily include them on their family tree.
Take a look at this example of a family tree drawing and see how easily you might personalize it to your own adoption story.
Your child can fill in whatever information is truly known about his birth parents – but be careful that the project doesn’t become a work of fiction. With closed adoptions, the parents’ names might not be available, in which case they can simply be noted as “Birth Father” and “Birth Mother.” If there are biological siblings, they can be included as well. Represent only the facts… but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the unknowns, if your child wants to explore that information.
Regardless of how you decide to complete the assignment, make sure your child is comfortable with the final product. Some children prefer their adoption story not become public information. If this is the case, they might rather complete the project with just their adoptive family for school. You can, however, create a family tree just for yourselves including the birth parents, then turn in the other to his or her teacher.
You can also take it a step further and create two family trees for the school assignment. Adopted children often want to represent both families in full, especially if they were adopted at an older age. The tree might include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even great-grandparents to fully recognize both types of families.
Be your child’s advocate:
If your child isn’t comfortable making a family tree, or is worried the other kids will make fun, talk to his or her teacher to find out what you can do to help. For example, if students are expected to present their family trees to the class, perhaps you can advocate why this is difficult for your child and encourage the teacher to accept only “volunteers” for this presentation (instead of requiring it of the entire class).
Your child might be worried that his or her family tree is different from everyone else’s. Explain that “being different can be neat,” and that he or she possibly “has the most exciting family tree of all.” This can be an opportunity for your child to teach other children about “differences.” (IF they feel comfortable and are confident to do so!)
If your child has another friend at school who is adopted, consider advocating that they be encouraged to work together on this project. This could allow them to take courage and strength from one another as two of a kind.