Talking about the Difficult Parts of Your Adopted Child’s History

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Talking about the Difficult Parts of Your Adopted Child’s History


Sometimes our adopted kids come to us from a history in their birth families or drug abuse, rape, incest, abuse, or prison. Should adoptive parents share this information with the adopted child? If so, how? Host Dawn Davenport talked with Beth O’Malley, author of many books about preparing lifebooks for adopted and foster children, including Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child; and Angela Magnuson, a licensed professional counselor with Bethany Christian Services with specialized adoption training through Rutger’s Certificate Program in Adoption, and seven years experience working with foster, kinship and pre and post adoptive families.

+ Highlights of the show (click to expand)

  • Should you tell your child that his birth parents are in jail, that his birth mother used drugs or drank alcohol when she was pregnant with him, that he was conceived via rape, that his birth mother abused him, that her birth father is in jail, or any other difficult part of his history?
  • How is it best to tell your adopted child these difficult parts of her history?
  • Can you use a lifebook to talk about rape, imprisonment, drug and alcohol addiction?
  • What is a lifebook and what should be included in a lifebook?
  • What if your child brings the lifebook to school or shows to people outside the family?
  • What language can you use with young children to help lay the framework for filling in later with more details?
  • Specifically how should parents tell their child that they were conceived during a rape?
  • What if you don’t believe the birth mother’s story of what happened?
  • Should you tell you child about abuse or neglect if they don’t remember it happening?
  • By what age should you have shared all of your child’s story with him?
  • How do you help your child understand how much of his story he should share with others outside the family?
  • Should you tell a child that her birth mother’s use of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy might be the cause for her learning disabilities?
  • How can adoptive parents help their children understand that they are more than the hard parts of their history and that they are not doomed to repeat their birth parents mistakes?

For more information from this show and a discussion of this topic, check out Dawn’s blog on the show: Should You Tell Your Adopted Child He Was Conceived by Rape, His Mother an Addict, Etc?. Please join the discussion or leave your thoughts about the show in the comments on the blog.

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Image credit: 55Laney69

Show re-aired in 2017.

16/04/2014 | by Radio Show | Categories: 2014 Shows, Adoption, Adoption Radio Shows, Radio Show | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Talking about the Difficult Parts of Your Adopted Child’s History

  1. Avatar Anne says:

    We did not know our sons whole story despite knowing his first family all his life! Out of the blue his birth mother chose to share with him that he was conceived as a result of rape. Unfortunately he is not at home as his girlfriend and her family persuaded him that he needed to assert his independence at 18! We were open always with him and shared what we knew with him, he wanted me his Mom to ask questions and my answer always was” honey, it’s not my story, why not call Dina and ask her”. He never did until now. Looking for help going forward here

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Hi Anne,
      Thanks for reaching out — it sounds like a painful situation for you all. I’m sure you would have much preferred to be together to help him process big hard news like that. I wonder, have you considered therapy for your family – even if he chooses not to live at home right now? A neutral, adoption competent therapists might be able to help you all work through the questions and hurts to plan a path forward.

      Have you joined our online Facebook community? You could certainly ask questions about this scenario anonymously through one of our admins to preserve privacy but also to learn from the other experienced foster and adoptive parents who have faced similar situations. You can find the group here – Once you are in, reach out to me there and I can help you post if you wish.

      Best wishes to you as you navigate this season.

  2. Avatar Cindy says:

    I really liked and valued this podcast. I was a little disappointed, however, at the professionals’ response to the one adoptive mother’s question regarding ‘date rape’. This is a prime opportunity to teach a child, among other very meaningful things, that when a woman says something is rape, then she should be taken at her word, unless and until categorically proven otherwise in a court of law for instance. If the birth mother says it was rape, it was rape. It’s not for the adoptive mother to decide, ever, that it wasn’t rape; particularly not in the context of deciding to tell the adoptive child something that the birth parent did not say or did not characterize. Changing the story or casting doubt on it is fraught with ethical and moral pitfalls: It’s a slippery slope when the adoptive parent gets to choose what happened over the biological parent’s story and truth, the adoptive mother saying she really didn’t think it was rape when the biological parent reported that it was rape VERY possibly demonstrates to the child that a woman who asserts she was raped is not to be trusted and taken at her word, AND it also potentially casts implicit aspersion on the character of the biological parent unnecessarily depending on how the re-characterized information is relayed.

  3. Avatar Linda says:

    What a great, great show!! Every person who is adopting a child should listen to this. Such valuable information. Thank you!!

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Thanks Linda. Please share it online and with your agency.We truly appreciate all the help we can get to spread our resources!

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