There is a horrific story in the news right now about the devastating toll that adoption secrets have taken in the lives of a Texas adoptee who grew up in New York. Unless you’re living underneath a rock, you probably know which one we’re referring to, and if you’re like us, you are reeling at the news and trying to make some sense of this tragedy.
Out of regard for some adoption professionals who fear that the retelling of that story will only be injurious to adopted people and those touched by adoption, we’ll defer to the philosophy of adoption secrets and not retell that sordid tale here.
Out of genuine concern for adoptees and their parents who may not be aware of the devastating toll that adoption secrets can take in the lives of both, though, we feel compelled to offer some advice.
Learn all you can about the dangers of closed adoptions and adoption secrets before adopting.
As a very wise adoption therapist recently reminded us: “trees without roots fall over.” (And she is right.) There is no circumstance in which any adoptee should be denied the truth of their origins all their life long. (Read that again: no. None. Zip. Nada.) And the best way to ensure that an adoptee grows up equipped to deal with that truth is to start early by helping them understand who their birthrelatives are and how they came to be part of their adoptive family and why. You don’t have to have all the answers, but as the parent, you do have to encourage the questions and support the adoptee’s interest in their own truth.
Adoptive parents and birthparents benefit from having genuine and healthy bonds between them throughout the adoptee’s lifespan.
Parents teach by example, so modeling for an adoptee what healthy adoption relationships look like is an essential parenting responsibility. Adoption visits and reunions should include everyone, because that’s what being family is all about, right? It takes work to keep open adoption relationships open and healthy, but the benefits for the adoptee definitely make it worth the effort in the long run.
Adoption counseling and education is an essential tool by which to counter the ill-effects of adoption secrets.
Adoption is a lifelong journey, so it stands to reason that adoption education and counseling should be revisited as needed across the lifespan of every adoptee, birthparent and adoptive parent. (If you get a 50k mile tuneup for your car, why not for your forever family?) Adoption counseling and education can even be done online in the privacy of your own home, so there’s no excuse for not staying up on all the latest information and research, folks.
Adoption secrets have a toxic half-life. Transparency and truth are the antidote.
We understand the concerns of adoptive parents (and birthparents) who worry that disclosure of adoption secrets to their child/ren may be harmful, but in our experience, there are no truths with the potential to do the damage that adoption secrets can. And the betrayal an adoptee feels at learning how long everyone lied to them is generally far more devastating than the original secret itself (whether that entails sexual assault, infidelity, drug exposure, mental illness, incest, child abuse, incarceration or whatever.) Get professional guidance from qualified adoption therapists, provide minor adoptees with age-appropriate information, and you will free yourself and your child/ren from the weight of toxic secrecy.
Lest you think we’re oblivious: we’re not. We know adoption is complicated and openness sometimes feels scary, and parents desperately want to shield loved ones from sadness or danger or disappointment. (That’s not wrong.) Still, adoption secrets are not healthy, and all they do in reality is spread shame and stoke curiosity, which can become obsessive and yield even more damaging side-effects, like identity issues and GSA and worse. (Don’t believe us? Just think of how the adoption secrets fueling the horrific news story mentioned in the first three paragraphs above piqued your own interest, and you just proved our point.)
Adoption secrets are not in any adopted person’s best interests, and it’s time that the adoption community makes this truth known– without equivocation.