Creating Lifebooks for our children is one of those things in life that some parents follow through better than others, like sending out Christmas cards. The desire is there, we’ve pictured the outcome, we understand the appreciation it will bring others, and some have gotten as far as making a Shutterfly account. But then, before we know it, it’s December 24th, December 25th, January 1st, January 30th and we’ve convinced ourselves that next year we will do better.
I get it, life is busy, especially now that we’re parenting. But unlike Christmas Cards, that are eventually thrown away or tossed into a drawer, Lifebooks serve as lifelong tools for our children. It connects a child with their past. It helps them make sense of their experiences, the good and painful. It’s a vehicle that facilitates discussion about the often-messy circumstances leading to their adoption, helps navigate their grief of losses and past traumas, and aids to dispel magical thinking or false beliefs that somehow they caused the separation from their birth family. All of which, if handled correctly, contributes to strengthening a child’s positive self-identify.
Through a quick internet search, you can find a lot of wonderful resources about creating a Lifebook for your adoptive/foster child. Most of the blogs and articles are better than I could ever recreate. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned from my thirteen years working in the adoptions and foster care field.
- Lifebooks are not reserved for the Pinterest parent. Lifebooks are not meant to be perfect or even pretty. They are filled photos, artwork, words, historic information and journal entries. No Shutterfly account needed. Use a book were pages can be added and rearranged, such as a three-ring binder.
- Don’t know where to begin? Start with important dates and places. Stuck again? Search the web for template pages and ideas. Iowa’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Association IFAPA has created over seventy free life book pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. http://www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp
- Do a little legwork. I know of one fost/adopt family whose daughter attended twelve schools in only eight years. To help fill in her story, they retrieved the names of the schools from former case workers and spent one summer visiting each school, taking photographs of the schools and asking the school offices for their daughter’s yearbook picture.
- Involved the masses. Contact important individuals from your child’s past and ask them to contribute notes and memories. These people may include case workers, foster parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Even if you don’t have many contacts from your child’s past, you must have had contact with a social worker who facilitated your adoption.
- Involve your child. The life book is for your child and in order for it to be a useful therapeutic too., they must contribute. When they are young it may be a drawing they made of their birth family. As they get older they can contribute more. They also must be allowed to handle it, carry it around, land ook at it when they please.
- Remain honest. A Lifebook should provide a child the truth about their own life history. The story can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. As painful as it may be, recording the reasons for the child’s adoption is important because truth dispels false beliefs that a child may otherwise have that they caused the circumstances that led them to be separated from their birth family and false guilt that may affect their self-worth. Lifebooks also allow for feelings, complicated and real, such as how much a child loves their birth parents and positive memories living with their birth family even when those parents may have been neglectful, abusive or primarily absent
- Leave lots of blank pages to continue to document your child’s growth, development, school progress, hobbies, and relationships etc.
The simple fact is there is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook, but by not doing a Lifebook you’re missing a powerful way to positively impact your child’s sense of self and the way they view their past, present and future. It’s also a great way to deepen the parent/child relationship. The Christmas cards can wait until next year, your child’s Lifebook should not.