How and when do I tell my child that they’re adopted? This is a question I receive from parents who often feel panic inside as they grapple with the and how of sharing a truth that must be shared. Mothers and fathers may fear their child’s response to this truth. Will they still love me? Will they be angry? Will they still call me Mom/Dad?
Parents lose sleep over worrying about if this conversation needs to occur. There’s uncertainty in the outcome and an ever-present longing to stop the passing of time. If I could just freeze this moment and avoid the inevitable!
Yet, freezing time is beyond a parent’s power. We don’t have that kind of control. Children-of-adoption will grow and their natural curiosity will mature, requiring attention. There’s no running from it. One can try, but the need for answers will always find your child. There’s no shame in that! Your child’s need is another name for longing. Adoptees long for truth.
My parents were urged by social workers, in the United Kingdom, to avoid talking about my adoption. Fortunately, for me, my parents realized that—as an ethnic child adopted by white Americans—questions of how I came to be in their family would arise. Ignoring that I was adopted was not a realistic plan. The fact of my adoption was plain to see; it was right before my eyes. When the truth is impossible to hide, the truth must be confronted.
However, what if the truth is more easily concealed? What if the child you adopted resembles you physically? What if their eyes could be your eyes? What if their smile could be your smile? What if you wonder if your child really needs to know that they are adopted? What if you tell yourself that it’s better to shield them from unnecessary pain?
What I want you to understand is this: They do need to know. They need to hear the words that they already feel deep inside of themselves.
With compassion and consideration, these words of truth should be spoken sooner, rather than later. Words about adoption should not be an awkward, forced telling. Rather, they should be an honest, supportive sharing of story and a coming together. The kind of sharing that creates a loving and inclusive atmosphere; one of acceptance and openness.
As one adult adoptee expressed, “I am adopted and never remember being told. I always knew. My parents talked about it (adoption) before I even understood it.” This adoptee goes on to say that, although parents shouldn’t treat adoption casually, the conversation about adoption should feel as natural as the air we breathe. In this way, parents can greatly help their children to feel comfortable in their skin. Sharing a child’s truth means offering them a consistent safe space to grow and deepen understanding of their adoption. The conversation doesn’t need to feel like a dreaded event.
Healthy relationships are built on truth and trust. You cannot have one without the other. Don’t make the mistake of holding the truth from your adopted child. You won’t gain their trust if they, first, don’t have your truth. Reflect on this as you go deeper with me, now.
Has there been a time in your own life when you didn’t receive the truth from someone you loved or looked up to? How did it make you feel? Dive deep into that feeling. Explore it. Ask yourself these questions: Did you deserve the dignity of truth? Why wasn’t truth freely given to you? How did the denial of truth affect your ability to trust? It’s important to ask yourself these questions and to feel how truth denied can impact a life.
Every adoptee has experienced loss. Our first parents, for whatever reason, went away. That loss can cause us to look for reasons not to trust. Don’t give your child a reason not to trust you. Go to the truth, every time. Be honest about their adoption. If you haven’t yet, start now. This is about your child and the lifelong relationship you wish to build. An adoptive parent recently commented on Facebook, “Parents, we CAN do this because adoption isn’t about us and our needs. We are put in our child’s life to stand in the gap.”
Don’t let the words, you’re adopted, be a struggle. Surrender to the truth. Let it guide you in your conversations with your child. Trust in the process. Trust in your wisdom. Trust in your love. Don’t let fear get in the way of your ability to parent your child through life’s harder conversations. Keep an open door and an open heart. Your child will return to that openness and trust in the safety of that openness as they grow.
You won’t lose their love or your place in their life—not when truth and trust are present.
Please share this blogpost if you know others who might benefit from it. After all, we’re in this together. xoxo