• SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTER


  • Should You Tell Your Adopted Child He Was Conceived by Rape, His Mother an Addict, Etc?

    Dawn Davenport

    11
    Should you tell your adopted child the hard parts of his history?

    Why would you even consider sharing the hard parts of your child’s history with her and ruin her innocence?

    The unfortunately truth is that sometimes our adopted kids have sad, complicated, and often disturbing parts of their history or birth parent’s history. Should adoptive parents tell their kids this part of their story? Should you tell your precious child that he was conceived through rape, that his birth father beat her birth mother, that his birth mother abuse drugs and alcohol while pregnant with him, or that her birth mother is in jail?

    Why Pollute Their Minds

    Adoptive parents often wonder why they would possibly tell their child information such as this. What possible good can come of it? Why rob this beautiful child of her innocence, why pollute his mind with such information?  We talked about the whys and hows of telling children the more difficult parts of their history on this week’s Creating a Family show. This one is really really worth the listen.

     

    Download

    The simple answer is that yes, you should tell your child. As adoption therapist Angela Magnuson said adopted people have the right to all of their story. We as parents don’t get to pick and choose what they need to know, it is information that belongs to them.

    You Lied to Me!!

    In addition to being information that the child has a right to know, the reality, especially in this day and age, is that they will likely find out anyway. The idea that you will be able to protect your child from researching their history as soon as they get alone on a computer is wishful thinking.

    Not only will kids find out via the Wonderful Worldwide Web, family secrets have a way of leaking out. If you’ve told one other person, the odds are that they’ve told one person, who has told one person…. You get the picture. No matter how much you’ve sworn someone to secrecy, people talk. Secrets spread as fast as the common cold through a kindergarten class, especially secrets involving sex, drugs, and other less than savory details.

    If your child is going to find out, don’t you want to be the one who tells her? Do you want her to feel like you lied to her by keeping this important information from her? It is your job as a parent to calmly and with compassion help your child understand these things that happened to him or to his birth parents.

    From the Child’s Point of View

    Beth O’Malley, author of many books about preparing lifebooks for adopted and foster children, including Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child, was also adopted as a child. Her perspective is that what adoptive parents perceive as shocking and sad, might very well be perceived by the child as a good explanation as to why their first parents are not parenting them. It is the missing piece. Most kids will fill in the missing pieces of their story with their imagination. It might as well be filled in with the truth. Oftentimes the truth is less shocking than their imagination.

    When to Tell Your Child

    OK, sit down now because you not going to like this next part. You should lay the framework for the full story when you first start talking to your children about their adoption when they are toddlers and pre-schoolers, gradually adding more details with each telling. Your goal is for your child to know her full story, the good, the bad, and the ugly, by the time she is cognitively around 8 to 10 years old. I have heard other experts say that they should know their full story by the time they are 12.

    Our guests gave specific language to use and suggestions for how to approach different situations, including rape, incest, drugs/alcohol, and imprisonment. It is really a great show.

    Do you plan on sharing with your child her full adoption story?

     

    Image credit: Tim Hamilton

    17/04/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 11 Comments



    11 Responses to Should You Tell Your Adopted Child He Was Conceived by Rape, His Mother an Addict, Etc?

    1. Big sister says:

      Yes. We adopted my beautiful and wonderful baby sister the day she was born. Her mom was addicted to meth and her father didn’t want a baby. She grew up in a loving home and since the day she was born we told her she was adopted. Mom and dad were stuck with us but they got to choose her! She knew she was loved. When she turned 18, we found out she could have been a product of rape… And didn’t know who her father was. If we could have somehow weened her onto the idea that we didn’t know who her dad was and it could be a tragic story, it would have made the adoption and meeting less traumatic. It was so stressful she began having stress induced seizures. Please give your child the whole story from day one, and prepare them for the idea that meeting them could be traumatic. Do not put the birth parents on a pedistool, and remember it’s all about how you word things. Make sure they understand they’re loved!

    2. Greg says:

      I think those who have said to keep things age appropriate are correct. A child should know but they are only going to understand so much at a young age. It’s like anything when raising a child and keeping things age appropriate. Though it’s more emotionally charged the approach parishes take should be exactly the same.

      Also, as others have said they should just say what they know and not lie about things they don’t know. Admitting they don’t know everything is more valuable than lying and telling a child what you think they want to hear.

    3. Erin says:

      When I finally managed to contact my bio mother she informed me she had been raped. Actually that is not strictly true she told my husband and he passed on her words. I was not to call her under any circumstances and was to leave her into live out the rest of her days in peace. My journey was a long one and a convoluted one but I would not change it now, even if I was rejected. Why? Because it has made me a stronger and more compassionate person. What an adoptee needs most is truth, no matter how ugly it might be. It completes us and learning to accept who we are and love who we are begins with truth.

    4. marilynn says:

      First of all Dawn I agree with your post.
      And Anon AP
      Here is a good rule of thumb, information is yours to keep private so long as it relates to nobody but yourself. The world of adoption tends to forget and works at odds with the rules of life the rest of the world play by where relatives simply know one another and their back story and nothing about it is private because having a sibling, makes me a sibling that impacts who I am in relation to other people so their existence is very much my business. That’s why people can obtain copies of their siblings birth records or their parents birth records, grand parents, aunts uncles etc. Marriage and Death certificates too. What our family does impacts us because it changes who we are in relation to other people and that’s critical information that belongs to the whole family and is not the purview of any single member to keep private or secret. Adoption forgets that. Sometimes outside adoption people forget that as well and they lie on birth records or they withhold names on birth records. That’s wrong its not the way its supposed to work and it messes things up for everyone when people don’t at least have access to the right information. Whether people tell them or not is another story but you can see where making a habit of falsifying records so people can hide the truth is kind of like a cancer it spreads to the brain and people start thinking that they should verbally withhold information or that its a sibling’s story to tell. Well with the records all messed up if someone does not tell the kid then the kid won’t know.

      Under normal circumstances had this child not been separated from her family would she be aware of her siblings birth and the circumstances surrounding it? Unless a parent was doing the wrong thing and hiding the kid and their relationship to the kid siblings are going to know about each other even if they don’t live together. Its only when a parent does something bad like abandon and try to hide their relationship with one of their kids do siblings get left in the dark and of course that is wrong and tragic.

      Just let the rest of the worlds reality be a guide to fairness and think about what the kid would be privy to under normal circumstances. People think the have all this extra right to privacy in adoption and they really don’t. Nobody else gets to stop their relatives from knowing they exist or the circumstances of it – it’s not information that we can even control. If it’s important to know and you know it and you don’t tell then you are hiding something and then blaming her sibling for not telling her. How fair will that be? Oh be mad at your sibling for not telling you we would have told you if it were our information to tell. Well it’s clearly yours to know about, someone told you so now it’s in your lap.

      Be delicate and age appropriate. I know quite a few adopted people whose mothers were victims of rape and some people who simply grew up without their fathers around. My old downstairs neighbor I found her father’s family for her. He raped her mother on the street went to prison and then was killed in prison. Can you believe they left his name off her birth record because he raped her mother? Thanks a lot I guess children of rapists don’t deserve child support or social security death benefits or inheritance of property when they die. Sheesh it’s her father and she should have had the right to have him named and be his legal kin. That is the stupidest law. Oh so the mother won’t be reminded and he won’t assert his rights….I’m so sure get a restraining order send him to jail don’t take away the kid’s rights. It’s not like they are not still really related to his relatives. Her aunts his sisters had been trying to find her and luckily they have a conscience and they gave her some inheritance saved for her. They are family and she’s happy to be part of his family. He was a creep it did not make them creeps. I also found her foster sister’s birth family and her mother’s sister for her. Nice girl. Tragic story that was a real story of not date rape but like violent street rape and her mother kept her. Happened in NYC

    5. Von says:

      Yes it’s hard but adoptees need to know. Often one of the problems is knowing what is ‘true’ as fabrication is alive and well in adoption. Anon AP sometimes the information may best come from a sibling as long as you are there to back them up and support them before, during and after the telling.

    6. Anon. says:

      At age 14, I gave birth to a biracial child. I was raped shortly before my 14th birthday. I chose an open adoption, although after 18 months, I chose to not receive any more updates. This child was born with Down syndrome, so he would likely have understood the concept of rape. I left all of the options of sharing the beginning of that life to the parents. Sadly, that child passed away at age 24 years. I WILL say this: I would NOT have wanted “My Story” to be shared with anyone. MY pain was not a part of the child’s story.

    7. cb says:

      “Beth O’Malley, author of many books about preparing lifebooks for adopted and foster children, including Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child, was also adopted as a child. Her perspective is that what adoptive parents perceive as shocking and sad, might very well be perceived by the child as a good explanation as to why their first parents are not parenting them. It is the missing piece. Most kids will fill in the missing pieces of their story with their imagination. It might as well be filled in with the truth. Oftentimes the truth is less shocking than their imagination.”

      Beth more or less says what I was going to say. I remember on a forum once, one mum said that she was going to tell her child factA but not tell her about fact B, yet to me fact B helped make sense of fact A.

      I think aparents should keep within the facts, i.e. say only what they actally know, and also not put their own spin on it. If one wants to talk about possible motives behind actions, then I think it should be an interactive conversation, eg if talking about Chinese adoptions, then one could sit down and have a discussion of how things are in China yet not invalidate any sad feelings that the child might have. I think also if one only knows something third hand then one should state that, eg “We were told by the agency” etc.

      We older adoptees often have “tamer” stories but in our day, aparents from that generation probably still thought it was a hard thing to tell their child. I grew up attending church and when I was in my very early teens, I did sort of think of sex before marriage as being a mortal sin and was worried about my bmother’s soul – even though I grew out of that, remembering that I had that perspective did help me to realise that others might have had that perspective and thus how hard it would have been for my bmother to tell people about the adoption. We sometimes forget in 2014 how different things were in 1964 and even 1974 when I had those thoughts.

      Btw I haven’t had a chance to listen to the broadcast – it is a bit late right now.

    8. Anon AP says:

      I can’t wait to listen!

      One thing that we are trying to get a better handle on is how to deal with some aspects of our daughter’s birthfamily’s story that are directly related to her birthsibling’s birth rather than hers, but those details certainly impact our daughter’s adoption story. In other words, telling the hard story provides context for our daughter, but would also be revealing information about her sibling’s story that isn’t ours to share. I don’t feel it’s fair to drop the weight of responsibility of deciding to share or not on her sibling, but I also don’t feel like it’s wise to leave it out. Very, very difficult stuff to navigate.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

    Back to Top ↑

    Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.