The decision to tell a child that they were adopted or not is a huge one. Not everyone is in agreement with how to handle it. However, more of the information out there about it encourages adoptive parents to tell their child about it at a very early age. This is going to be less traumatic than them finding out later in life.
Some adoptive parents hide that information because they don’t want the child to feel left out or unwanted. However, there are ways to take care of this. For example explaining to the child that their natural parents gave them up to provide them with a better home. They can also tell the child that they are special because they were chosen to come live with them.
That is the option that my parents took with my brother, sister and I. Since I was the first to be adopted, I have more clear memories of visiting the Brightside Home for Children in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where we were chosen one at a time.
We were taught that it was special to be adopted. Something to be proud of. Not something to be shrouded in secrecy. In fact, how my parents went to Brightside and chose us, one by one, became our favorite bedtime story. We never tired of hearing it. I’ll share this one story from my childhood that will put it in perspective.
I was probably around 6 or 7 years old at the time. I was playing with a little boy that lived down the street. We played frequently so this was not someone that I did not know relatively well. Evidently, he had overheard an adult conversation at his home about the fact that I had been adopted. So he made it clear that my parents were not my real parents and his were. So, like any child faced with the fact that he was “different”, I ran home to my mother and shared the conversation as best I recollected. Needless to say, my mother was less than thrilled and told me to go back and tell the little boy that at least I knew that I was wanted. And that his parents HAD to have him! And that is exactly what I did. The result was that the other little boy now ran home to his mother crying. Now HIS mother was upset. So she came storming over to our house to express her displeasure with the second part of our conversation. My mother simply told her that there was no way that her son could have come up with what her boy had said to me and that it had to have come from overhearing adult conversations in the home. She told her that her sons dismay was her own fault and to deal with it! Yes, this is a true story. I did not make this up.
“There is always the risk that the child will find out on their own”
If you are on that side of the issue you may be interested in learning more about the reasons why a child should be told that they are adopted. There is always the risk that the child will find out on their own. They may be looking at documents around the house or someone in the family may tell them on accident or even to be malicious. It is much better for the child to learn about the adoption from the parents than in such ways. That way they won’t feel it is a huge secret that has been kept from them.
Medical concerns are another reason why a child should be told that they are adopted. They may have a genetic predisposition to certain medical problems. However, if they don’t know they are adopted they may not consider them. The doctor won’t either because on the medical history it can sound like both parents are in excellent health. Should the adoptive parents die without disclosing any information they have, it can be very hard for that child to get their family medical history.
Later in life, I reconnected with my birth mother, and she was able to convey a wealth of information pertaining to family health history. As I age, this information will prove to be of more value.
Many children are fine with learning that they are adopted, especially if the parents have told them early on. It doesn’t make them feel that they aren’t a real part of the family. It allows them to be open about it and to ask questions about it. If there are other children in the family it can help them to understand why they may have some different physical characteristics. It also allows the child to grow up understanding the value of being honest with others.
“This is often a reason why some people choose not to tell them about it”
It may be natural for an adopted child to want to find their real parents later in life. This is often a reason why some people choose not to tell them about it. However, their desire to find out about their natural family shouldn’t be viewed as a reflection that they don’t care about their adopted family. There is also the chance that a natural parent will be looking for them and one day contact them. You don’t want that possibility looming over your household all the time either.
I had never had a desire to locate my birth mother. Simply because my adoptive parents were the best that a person could ever hope for. But, when my wife and I were preparing to adopt a child ourselves we spent a lot of time with our birth mother. She lived next door so it was quite convenient. Anyway, watching the emotions play out that she experienced throughout the pregnancy, I became more aware of the fact that there was someone out there that had given me up. Someone that wonders if I’m ok. Did I have a good childhood. Was I in good health. Did she make the right decision. So I reached out to Brightside and they put us in touch with each other. I already knew that she was open to establishing contact so there was no doubt in my mind when I made that first phone call. Since then, we have developed a wonderful relationship. And, oh, did I mention that I also have a wonderful sister? Yes, life is good.
While it is the final decision of the adoptive parents to tell a child that they were adopted or not, careful consideration needs to be given to the issue either way. By evaluating the pros and cons of the situation you can do what you feel is right for your child. Should you decide to tell them though, try to do so at a very early age. If you don’t you will procrastinate and there will never be a good time. My parents told us before we could even comprehend what adoption was. So as our level of awareness increased, it seemed as if we always knew. If you wait until they are older it can be more difficult for them to accept.