When to tell an adopted child the truth

It's healthy to allow your adopted child to ask questions, so don't discourage it.

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When to tell an adopted child the truth
Discussing it with your family physician, and perhaps consulting a counselor familiar with children of adoption, in addition to your own observations can be helpful in deciding when to do it.
Foto: Photo by moodboardphotography via CCL

There is a lot of debate on the subject of when to tell an adopted child the truth about their origins. Of course, if they’re not the same ethnicity as you and your family it’s a moot point. They’ll figure it out soon enough. But years ago conventional wisdom, such as it was, dictated never.

Adoptions were shrouded in mystery for children. Many, if most, did not find out until much later in life due to a major illness, or upon the death of a parent, leaving them reeling at the revelation. You have to admit it would be quite a shock to your nervous system. So when, if ever, do you tell your children they’re adopted?

Honesty is the best policy

Though it’s ultimately up to you, never telling your adopted child he or she is adopted is a bit absurd. In the information age, this is going to eventually blow up in your face, and the fallout from it could be irreversible. Also, consider that children who haven’t been told of their adoption seem to inexplicably know or sense that they are somehow different and this intuition can end up having a big influence on their self-image, which is not something you want.

If you’re seriously considering not revealing the truth to your adopted child, ask yourself why. Chances are you already know the answer, and it’s rooted in insecurity. You need to get past worrying that they’ll somehow love you less if they find out you’re not their biological mother, or that they’ll reject you for her. They won’t. Adoption shouldn’t be kept a secret.

How soon is too soon?

A lot of it is dependent on your adopted child’s maturity level as far as how soon is too soon to tell them. Discussing it with your family physician, and perhaps consulting a counselor familiar with children of adoption, in addition to your own observations can be helpful in deciding when to do it.

But most experts on the subject today agree that as soon as they start asking questions like, “Where do babies come from?” it’s time to start paving the way for further understanding. They feel it breeds trust, and it makes sense. Parents telling children when they are developmentally capable of understanding will make the gradual transition to full understanding that much easier.

Answering questions

It’s healthy to allow your adopted child to ask questions, so don’t discourage it. If they ask things like, “Where’s my real mommy and daddy?” don’t take offense to this. It’s obviously not meant to hurt you. They’re just expressing themselves the best way they know how in their limited capacity.

Share a little of the information that you have about them, but don’t feel like you have to go into a lot of detail. Your explanations should answer their questions in a way that is appropriate for their particular maturity level.

Try keeping a life scrapbook of sorts of your child’s adoption, the information you were provided at the time, and their life following it for them to look at from time to time.

The waiting game

If for some reason you haven’t been able to bring yourself to have this discussion with your adopted child yet, and they’ve reached grade school, don’t put it off another minute. Suck it up and do it, because it’s only going to get harder as more time passes and increase your anxiety levels. If you’ve kept a scrapbook, now might be a good time to get it out, and if you haven’t started yet then start one.