Needing Adoption Advice
She was just needing adoption advice, the caller said. She had never told her child that she was adopted, and the caller was feeling like it might be time to break that news, perhaps? She hadn’t adopted through Abrazo, but she didn’t know where else to turn for help.
We offered her all the encouragement we could, assuring her that adoptees need to know of their own adoptions from the earliest possible point.
She said she knew she should’ve already told her child, but she loved her child so much, she didn’t want her child to ever feel rejected or abandoned.
We affirmed this mother’s love for her child, but reminded her that the sooner she told her child the truth, the better it would be for both of them. She admitted this was the same thing her eldest child had told her. “So your older child knows about the adoption?” we asked. She said yes, everyone in the family knew except the adoptee.
“I don’t want (the adoptee) to be angry at me for not having told the truth before now,” the caller worried.
We reminded her that the adoptee may indeed feel anger or sadness or frustration or sorrow, but that it would be important for the mother to empower her child to feel whatever was felt upon learning this news, and to be assured that those feelings do not threaten the parent’s love for and support of her child.
We suggested that disclosure of the adoption would ultimately be a relief for both parent and child, since the mother is clearly struggling with guilt over having not shared the truth before now, and many adoptees sense that there is more than their origins than they know, even before knowing of their adoption?
“Oh, my, that’s a sign right there, that you said that,” the called said. We asked why this is, and she said she and her child were watching a television program about adoption and the caller had said to her adopted child that someday she had things she needed to share, but that she wasn’t ready yet, and the caller sensed that the adoptee might already have an inkling based on that passing exchange.
“Well, how old is your child?” we asked.
The caller then revealed that she is a retiree, and her child is already a grown adult.
We talked a bit more, and then we offered the caller resources in her own locale, where she might be able to get further counseling and support to complete the important task at hand.
(And we sure hope she does.)
When to Tell
Talking to your child about adoption is not easy, no matter how young or old they may be.
Yet every adoptee (whatever their age) deserves to know the facts of their birth and adoption from the earliest possible point in life. Every adoptee (whatever their age) needs to know the facts of their ancestry. And certainly, every adult adoptee should be given legal access to their original birth certificate.
Adoptees who are not told the truth of their origins until later in life (at age 13, or 18, or 25, or 50 or 75 or whatever) are what is known as “late discovery adoptees.”
For late term adoptees, the burdens of being adopted are complicated considerably by the grief of having been lied to for years or decades on end by the very people they were supposed to be able to trust beyond all others: their family. Their adoption grief is compounded by the loss of trust, and even more so when they discover the truth of their adoption too late to ever reconnect with their birthparents.
However, for anyone who may be reading this having kept a living child’s adoption a secret, please note that it is never too late to do the right thing.
Don’t make your passing from this life even harder for your son and/or daughter by waiting until you’re on your deathbed to reveal the truth. Don’t force them to learn the truth on their own by going through your papers after you’re gone.
And in this day and age, don’t wait until they do DNA testing on their own and find out without you the truth of their genetic relationships.
If you did a legal adoption, then you made a sacred promise before a judge to always do what was in your adopted child’s best interests, no matter what.
If you’re wondering why adoptees need to know, then spend some time learning from Kevin Gladish, author of a blog called “A Story With No Beginning. In Chapter 3 of his blog, Kevin writes “Adoptees would often be asked: What do you have to gain from knowing? The real question should have been: What do you have to gain by keeping us from knowing? What I have come to discover is that, even for those of us who learned at an early age that we were adopted, the need to search can serve a deep purpose. For me, having been kept in the dark my whole life, It’s like turning on hundreds of lamps, one after another. Like many adoptees whose stories I have read and heard, I have always felt a little fractured, out of place, and distrustful. A deep part of who I am, my history and identity, was hidden away from me. A wall was built around a core part of myself, and I was not allowed entry beyond it.”
In Chapter 7, he follows that theme with this thought: “I have a right to want this… without explaining myself or apologizing for it… That matters. Because it’s who I am. This idea that it’s better to pretend that adoption is irrelevant, not true, or that it “shouldn’t matter” is an idea that doesn’t work. It discounts a deep truth that adoptees know and feel down in their marrow.”
With secrecy comes shame. With honesty and transparency can come release and forgiveness.
How to Tell
Now is the time to do right by the child you adopted– if you haven’t done so already.
Say to your adopted child, in a private setting: “I have always taught you the importance of telling the truth, right? Well, it’s important to me to talk about your truths. I need you to know that I will always love you. And that our family is bigger than you know, because you also have a birthfamily. I didn’t tell you sooner because I didn’t know how. But now I do, and I need you to know that another mother carried you before I became your mom, and if you want my help to look for her, I’ll help you with that. I understand that you may have a lot of different feelings and questions, just as I do, and I want you to know it’s okay to talk about them, with me or with (our pastor, or a counselor, or another trusted adult.) But please remember: I love you, forever and always.”
This will not be an easy conversation. (It shouldn’t be, frankly.) It’s going to feel uncomfortable, and it may be scary (for both you and your child.) Your child may respond with confusion or anger or fear or sadness, and you will want to “make it all better” but you can’t, because they need time to process what this means to them. It may change nothing or it may change everything, of course. But everything that it could change is ripe for the changing, because the truth truly does set us free.
If you have photos or letters or mementos from the birth or gifts from the birthparent(s), this is the time to share them. Put a picture of the birthparent(s) in a frame, if you have one, and leave it in the adoptee’s room. Give the adoptee time to look over these things in private, if they need to do so. Keep in mind that many adoptees fear that expressing interest may be misinterpreted as disloyalty, so find a healthy balance between encouraging their curiosity and letting them explore what this means about their identity at their own pace.
If the adoptee wants to find the birthfamily, the search is your responsibility, as parents, if the adoptee is a minor; if the adoptee is an adult, then it is your job to support the adoptee in their efforts to search.
And if you, as the parent, are struggling with your own emotions about the adoptee’s reaction to the news of his or her adoption, please talk with a professional. Don’t make your child responsible for your emotions, and don’t make this be all about you and your needs. (And note: we say this with love. We know this isn’t easy, and we commend you for wanting to make things right.) We’re not here to cast blame; you did the best you knew to do, given what you knew before, but now you know better, right?
(Please note: the same message applies to birthparents who may not yet have told the sons and daughters they are parenting about the child/ren they placed. Honesty IS the best policy, after all.)
As the caller on the phone said, when she called Abrazo needing adoption advice: “Hard as this is going to be, I don’t want my child to have to find out without me.”