Sooner or later, adopted children need to know the truth. Some begin to suspect long before they're told, while others react to it as a complete shock.
There's no denying that this is an emotional journey both for adoptive parents and the adopted child. There's no easy way to have the conversation or guarantees on how your child will react. The only way to prepare is to build an open and honest relationship with your adopted child and to confront the subject directly.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
When it comes time to tell a child that she's adopted, every parent walks a fine line. Your adopted child has become your very own child. You feel as though you gave birth to her. She feels as though you are her biological mother. Should you disrupt her life by telling the truth? Should you tell her she's adopted or should you keep living a lie?
Honesty is always the best policy. Telling the truth to adopted children is not only a good idea, it's the best idea. No one wants to learn by accident that they were adopted. How traumatic would it be if someone else discovered the truth about your child and confronted him with it before you had a chance to talk about it? Your child might be so upset that he runs away. The trust you've worked all your lives to create will be severely damaged, perhaps forever.
Show your pride in having chosen this particular child to be your own. Biological parents do not have a choice in what child they are given, but adoptive parents do. Tell your child the truth: You chose him because he was special to you. You picked him out of hundreds of other children. Tell him what it was about him that was special: his smile, his walk, even his tiny fingers and the way they curled around yours when you held him. Tell him the truth. Trust is fragile, don't risk breaking the trust your child has in you.
What About Birth Parents?
Adoption is a beautiful thing, but it also carries with it some sad qualities. Insurmountable circumstances can put a biological mother and/or father in a desperate position. They may put their beloved child up for adoption with only the child's best interests in mind. That loss may be very real to them. Your child's biological parents may want to rekindle a relationship with your child.
The same is true of your adopted child. If you have been honest, she already knows there are biological parents. If you haven't been honest and she discovers the truth for herself, she may run away to find her biological parents or she may suddenly feel that she's afloat with no one to trust. She might think her biological parents didn't want her, and because you have lied about it all along she can no longer trust you. Not telling the truth can lead to many additional issues that could harm everyone involved.
When Should the Discussion Begin?
The best policy is to begin talking about the adoption the moment you bring your child home. There should be no shame or guilt about the situation. Adoption allows loving parents to provide a home and an upbringing for a child who would otherwise be alone. While the biology is missing, every other aspect of parenting is exactly the same.
If your child comes to you as an infant, it's important to keep all adoption paperwork to show him at an age when he can understand. By the age of three, children are usually able to understand most concepts. Introduce the information calmly and happily. Revisit the moment when you were first united. Tell him how hard you worked to make him a part of your family. Let him know that you love him unconditionally.
If you adopt an older child, she already knows she was adopted. It is still important to confirm your love and trust in every way possible.
No child, whatever the age, should be told the truth abruptly. It's not something you can rush into. If you haven't introduced that knowledge to your child from the beginning, you must assess how you can best explain it. You know your child better than anyone. Is your child old enough or stable enough to handle the truth in little increments until he has the entire story, or should you consult a therapist for help?
Meeting the Biological Parents
Sometimes an adopted child will be overwhelmed with an urgent need to meet her biological parents. If you are in contact with the biological parents and they agree to the meeting, then it's up to you as the parent to help your child find her comfort zone. If either the biological parent or the adopted child choose not to meet, it should not be encouraged. That's a decision they need to make for themselves.
You'll need to set aside your own fears of losing your child if he decides to meet his biological parents. In the majority of cases, adopted kids stay close to their adoptive parents. Be supportive and be prepared to listen. Help to prepare your child for the meeting by countering any fantasies he may have about his biological parents. Kids can develop wild ideas about who their parents are, only to end up disappointed when they actually meet.
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With the number of adopted children rising, especially in international adoptions, many parents are in more need than ever for guidance on when and how to tell their children that they are adopted.