Question: My spouse and I believe in openness in adoption and are practicing it in all ways possible. With the birth mother’s side of the family, it has worked out in a way that suits all of us.
In our case, the birth dad denies paternity. The twins are now at an age (6 years old) where they are curious about their birth father. I have told them I do not know much, which is the truth. I am looking for advice from folks who have walked this path on how to go about making children understand the truth of their situation? — Laila
Birds & Bees
Dear Laila: Your kids are young so you’ll need to keep it simple for now. Have you had the “birds and bees” talk with them yet? It will come up with birth father talk, as they go hand-in-hand. Assuming you have started these conversations, I might say something like this:
It’s easy to tell who a person’s birth mom is because she gives birth to the baby. With fathers, it’s a little different. Remember how a woman’s egg and a father’s sperm meet each other when they have intercourse? And that’s how a baby begins growing inside the mother? Well, because of that, sometimes the father may not be exactly known, even to the father. There is a long time, 9 months, between the father’s participation and the baby’s birth.
But there are tests that can be done, if everyone is willing, to show if the father and the child are connected in this way. We think it’s possible that Steven is your birth father because of many clues ( but we don’t know for sure). He is having a hard time accepting that, though. It means a big loss for him — losing the chance to parent you. And right now perhaps he’s not able to tolerate such a big loss so he may be pretending there is no loss. Also, there are complicated feelings between him and Naomi, your birth mom, that may affect his thinking on the matter.
No matter what, though, you are very loved and you are connected both here in our home and by many people in your birth family.
Your Goals are to:
- be open and truthful with the children
- allow room for uncertainty (unless you are absolutely sure that this man is the father)
- build trust by sharing what you do know
- build trust by letting the children know you are alongside them on their journey
- end with the notion that the children are loved and connected
I write often about the benefits to the child of claiming and being claimed by both his clan of biology and his clan of biology. Readers, have you walked Laila’s path, that of having a non-claiming birth parent? What words of advice or been-there-ness do you have?
- Reunion in an Open Adoption: Telling Tessa about her Birth Father
- Telling Your Child About His/Her Conception
- Telling Your Child He Was Conceived By Rape (or other unpleasant circumstance)
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.
- 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.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.