Recently I finished reading Beth O'Malley's book Lifebooks: Creating A Treasure For The Adopted Child because I had heard about creating one but I didn't really know what was supposed to go in one. When our son Benjamin was born, I started a baby book filled with photos, information, and stories all about him. So I assumed that a Lifebook would be the same. One of the first things I did was take Benjamin with me to Hobby Lobby to find one that we could make for our adopted child. I specifically took our son so that he could feel included in picking out what will be a very important part of our adopted child's life.
I must admit, since we don't know if we'll be adopting a boy or a girl, it was difficult to find a neutral looking book that could use for a Lifebook. Here's the one Benjamin and I ended up choosing:
We picked this one because the cover was a map of the world and we thought this fit perfectly with our adoption journey. The kit also included stickers of arrows that say "From Here" and "To Here" which we'll use by putting a map inside that shows North Carolina (we'll use the first arrow to point "From Here") and Ukraine (using the arrow "To Here"). There's also a sticker of a plane and a passport.
I fully expected to use the Lifebook to write entries just as I have this blog to tell about our family's journey to adopt the child, but when I read Beth O'Malley's book, I learned that I should save that for a journal because the Lifebook should be about the child and his or her story. She writes that the purpose of a Lifebook is to provide concrete information about the child's background so that it can be used whenever the adopted child has questions about his or her past.
Because of this, it's critical for the adoptive parents to find out as much information as they can from the orphanage the child comes from. I learned that we need to try and find out not only as much information as we can about the child's birth family, but also who his or her favorite staff member at the orphanage is (take a photo of them). Get quotes from the staff of the orphanage about your child. Try to uncover as much as you can: parents' names, information about their childhoods, their interests, etcetera. Although much of this information may or may not be available, ask. Try to uncover as much as you can. Since adoptive children often create their own fantasy worlds about their birth parents, the more concrete information you can give them the better.
Another thing this book taught me was that Lifebooks are not scrapbooks. I'm partially relieved since I'm not a real "craftsy" sort of person anyway. Instead, the Lifebook deals with the child's birth, their birth parents, and reasons why the child was adopted.
Of course, a Lifebook can be a very difficult and painful thing to assemble since it can often deal with hard topics such as abuse and neglect. Many might shy away from dealing with sensitive subject matters, but it is best not to hide such information. O'Malley writes that it's best to be open from the start because:
1. It never gets easier. The longer you wait, the worse it feels.
2. You run the risk of someone else telling your child the "secret."
3. You child picks up on your guilt.
4. By sharing all the facts early on, it means that you never jeopardize your child's trust in you.
Her suggestions for writing the Lifebook are as follows:
- short, colorful pages
- child facts versus parent facts
- strong visual focus for each page
- use action words and dialogue
- be funny - forget about grammar
- brainstorm if stuck
- consult with peers and friends for input
She then goes on to break a Lifebook down page by page as to what you should have in the Lifebook and in what should be addressed in what order. O'Malley has sample pages from Lifebooks others have created for their adoptive children.
In the back, she has a list of resources and websites that can help the adoptive parents as they create their child's Lifebook.
This is definitely a book worth owning for any adoptive parent as they struggle to create a Lifebook for their adopted child. I know I will be returning to it again and again as I work to create our child's Lifebook.
For more information about Lifebooks, you can go to Beth O'Malley's website at:
For those of you who've already created Lifebooks for your adopted children, please send any tips you would give as to what was successful with yours.