Category Archives: Adoption

Denying Adoption vs Dwelling on It: When to Tell

Question: We already have an open adoption. My son is 4 years old and I keep wondering: when is a good time to tell him that he was adopted?

I still think its too early right now, but when do other parents start to open up about this? I just don’t want to make it a huge thing in his life, but he does have other half-brothers and sisters out there and I do want him to reach out to them if he ever decides that’s what he wants.

~~ Mary
open adoption advice

When to Tell a Child S/He Was Adopted

Dear Mary: I’m a little confused because I can’t figure out how you have an open adoption without your son knowing he was adopted. Maybe you’re meaning you have an open adoption around a different child?

In any case, let’s address when to tell. Adam Pertman, President of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, tells of his social worker friend who once advised that you should tell, “On the way home [from the hospital].” This is because it’s arguably more about you becoming comfortable with delivering the story as it is about your child being able to receive it.

Trust is a fundamental part of your relationship with your son, upon which everything else rests. So you must tell, and soon. If you have a series of little talks, you won’t have to have The Big Talk. The more you can normalize the way you yourself think about it, the more matter-of-factly your son will be able to take it in and incorporate it into his identity. He will take many of his cues from you, so it’s wise if you first see if you have any sensitive spots in talking about it — much like having the Birds & Bees talk.

Denying vs Dwelling

I can understand your not wanting to make adoption bigger than necessary. But by waiting to tell, you run that risk. Why? Because avoiding the discussion may mean that the subject carries an emotional a charge for you. And by not dealing with it, that emotional charge does not get resolved and may even intensify.

As adoptive parents, we want to find the sweet spot between dwelling on adoption and denying its effects. Somewhere in between is a healthy place to be.

I find that bedtime is a good time to have focused and relaxed conversations. My children loved Jamie Lee Curtis’ Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, and I’ve also heard wonderful things about Gayle Swift’s ABC, Adoption & Me. To find others that fit your situation, check out the collection at Tapestry Books.

See also: check out the comments on this post about giving an adopted person ALL of their story.

Dear Readers, what say you?

~~~

About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own open adoption question. I’ll either offer an answer or find someone who can address your issue.

How to Explain to Children Differing Levels of Openness in Adoption

Dear Lavvie:    How do we explain different levels of openness to our children? We have a very close relationship with our son’s birth mother and his biological brother and grandparents but because of our daughter’s birth mother’s lifestyle our relationship with her and her other children is limited.

Our children are only 2 and 3 right now but I know soon enough they will start to question this.    ~~ Jamie

open adoption advice

Take Away the Adoption Charge

Dear Jamie:   First let’s look at HOW you decide what to say. To get yourself into a clear mindset (e.g., you’re not freaking out about the adoption part), let’s reframe things in a way that neutralizes the adoption charge. Here’s one way to do that:

Imagine that 10 years down the line one of your children qualifies for an advanced math class and the other doesn’t. Or one makes the team and the other doesn’t. How would you approach such a situation of imbalance with each child?

My guess is that you’d aim to meet both your children where they are. You probably wouldn’t aim for absolute fairness — reducing the benefits available to one in order to make things equal for the other. Nor would it be in your power to elevate the child who is experiencing lack to the level of the child who is experiencing bounty.

You would probably help each understand, gently and age appropriately, why things are the way they are, and you’d abide with them if/when they feel sadness. You can’t protect them from all sadnessnor should you — but you CAN help them develop resilience as they process sadness and disappointment.

We Don’t Always Get to Deal with the Ideal

As parents we must help our children to live in their world as it is. Sometimes things aren’t ideal, and our choice is to either change it (if possible) or accept it (if change is not possible). It’s great that you’re asking about how to explain so that you can do exactly this.

Words I might use would be:

I wonder how you feel about your birth mom not being around the way Brother’s is.

(Pause so Daughter can express herself…and listen.)

I’m sad about that, too. Right now, she’s not in a place where she’s able to be in our lives, but we are open to that one day happening.

I would then be silent and let Daughter do the talking so I could discover where she is. Offer the space for her to share her thoughts with you, if she chooses. She may not choose to at this point — she may have a lot going on and be unable to make sense of her own emotions — but making space for her to do so helps her know she can open up to you in the future if she is grappling with an issue.

This is more on this in my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, in Chapter 5, “Openness and the Adoptee.” Just keep in mind that adoption relationships – like all relationships – have an ebb and flow. Things may change for either your son or your daughter in terms of birth parent contact. While you can’t always control WHAT happens, you can support your children in how they RESPOND to what happens.

Dear Readers, what say you?

~~~

About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own question for possible inclusion. Subscribe so you don’t miss anything.