Every adopted child benefits from a Lifebook, which chronicles the child’s life from birth.
When I think about all the positives that Lifebooks provide for adoptees and their families, I am always surprised that more families aren’t utilizing this important tool with their kids! Often parents are so busy with daily parenting tasks, they have long forgotten the advice from a past social worker or agency training where it was suggested that a Lifebook be completed for (or with) their foster or adopted child. Other times there are foster/adoptive parents who haven’t heard of Lifebooks. And too many times parents simply state, “we don’t have any pictures” as their reasoning as to why their adopted child does not have one. This speaks to the main confusion often surrounding Lifebooks – that it is just a photo book! When done correctly, with or without photos, it is a therapeutic tool that can help a child make sense of his or her past, while providing an opportunity to increase positive self-identity.
The good news is it’s never too late to start a Lifebook! A Lifebook chronicles your child’s life from birth. The information contained in a Lifebook helps validate your adopted child’s “whole self” and helps him or her process and make sense of the past. It helps explain part of the child’s history that is not shared with you; therefore creating a space for the whole child – the child’s biological roots, the family history (including placement into yours), a “timeline” if there have been several placements, and can help make sense of an often difficult reality that some children can’t grow up with their biological parents. By taking time to create such a book, either for or with your child, you are helping to strengthen your relationship with your child simply by letting the child know that his or her entire life matters. Making sense of the past and often grieving the loss of prior relationships is necessary and a healthy part of healing past wounds.
A Lifebook can help make sense of the past as a child grows and help answer the more sophisticated and more difficult questions that come with age. It can help parents get comfortable with sensitive subject matters and strengthen their ability to build upon their child’s story at an age and developmentally appropriate level over time. This often decreases parents’ anxieties about tackling difficult details of the child’s history.
Do not let perfection stand in your way with getting started. The BEST Lifebook is a completed one, even if it is small. You don’t have to organize everything now and it is a tool that you can add to over time. If you struggle with limited information, you can still build an adequate Lifebook. Pictures are great to add but if you don’t have any ask your child to draw a picture for the Lifebook!
For additional information on creating a Lifebook, contact Sierra Forever Families at www.sierraff.org for our next training on Lifebooks, and/or continue your education on the subject by reading “Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child” by Beth O’Malley (www.adoptionlifebooks.com), as well as from other professionals in the field, including Deborah Gray, Jayne Schooler, and Joyce Pavao.
Kim Mechem, LCSW is a social worker and trainer at Sierra Forever Families/PlacerKids