When it comes to the issue of telling a child they were adopted, there are many different points of view and scenarios that can come into play, but no matter what your attitude is, the best strategy is to be open about it from the beginning so that the child doesn’t grow up with a lie. My daughter has always known that she was adopted and has always accepted it as just another way that families are made. For me the challenge hasn’t been explaining that I adopted my daughter, but rather explaining why her birth mother gave her up. The following questions provided a thoughtful guideline for me when it came to talking to my daughter about her adoption, and the truth about her harsh past.
What Do I Know?
What the issue comes down to for me and for many parents by adoption is how much of the truth is too much. I sometimes feel jealous of the parents who know nothing about their child’s birth mother because they can honestly say that they know nothing. There are far too many of us, however, who have to deal with ugly truths and struggle with the question of whether to tell the whole truth, some part of the truth, or to just sugarcoat it all in an effort to spare the child grief. And does that really spare them grief or could it ultimately cause them even more angst?
What Does My Child Need to Know?
This one can be rather complex. In my case it came down to the following questions. Does she really need to know that her birth mother abandoned her at birth? That her maternal grandmother didn’t want her? That her birth mother was a prostitute? Would it be better to sugarcoat the story and tell her that her mother was unable to care for her and gave her up for adoption so that she could have a better future with a mother who could take care of her and love her. Is it better to be kind or to be honest? This last question really plagues me as my daughter’s adoption paperwork contains information that would allow her to begin a search for her birth mother if she chose to do so. Would I be setting her up for a possible greater hurt in the future by trying to spare her now?
What is My Child Ready to Know?
In many ways I have been very lucky. My daughter’s birth mother drank throughout the pregnancy and as a result my daughter has fetal alcohol syndrome and some fairly significant developmental delays. I know it has to sound crazy for me to say that her disabilities are lucky, but in a sense they are. Her disabilities have meant that my daughter has had a chance to grow up more slowly and they have allowed me to adjust the telling of her story to match her ability to accept it.
What Does My Child Want to Know?
So far, I have chosen to let my daughter guide me through this particular quagmire. I do feel certain that my daughter has not felt any shortage of love or that anything is missing from her life. She knows the basic story of her adoption—that mommy lived in America and wanted to have a little girl and that she lived in an orphanage in Russia and wanted to have a mommy and that God matched us up so that we could be a family. She knows she has another mommy in Russia, but so far has expressed absolutely no curiosity about her. I hope that when she does begin to ask questions, I am strong enough to give her the truth in a way that is unbiased and nonjudgmental and wise enough to know how much of the truth she needs. I would like for her to see her birth mother’s abandonment of her as a good thing—a chance for a life with a loving parent—and not as the deep pain that I know it could be. Remember the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy? As long as she doesn’t ask, I am going to enjoy the luxury of not telling.
How Do I Handle the Aftermath?
It’s human nature to want to know where we come from. That doesn’t always mean we are ready to deal with that information or with the emotional response it might engender. Be prepared for anything—your child might easily accept the information and move on or they could be emotionally devastated, experience hurt, anger, denial and disbelief. In the latter case, be prepared to listen, to accept, and to comfort, but also be prepared to discount and ignore any negative reactions directed at you. If that is the reaction you get, recognize that your child is dealing with a major hurt and that you are simply a convenient target. Continue to be that loving and supporting parent that you have always been and allow your child time to deal with what they have to deal with. Make yourself available to answer questions or just to give hugs, as needed. Be prepared to call upon professional counseling if needed, but most of all, be patient.
No one ever said being a parent would be easy—and if they did, they were lying! It can, however, be the most rewarding experience you ever have—especially if you are a parent by adoption.
Featured image by Heidi