As parents who have adopted children, an important question we continually face is how do I talk to my adopted kids about their birth family?
If your child comes from a birth family situation that was not ideal, included drugs, alcohol, dysfunction, or abuse, these conversations are tricky.
I’m not here to judge birth families.
Look, all families have dysfunction.
The goal is to consider what is best for the child, and your child may be emotionally in limbo between two worlds. Your child might wonder about and long for his birth family. (Not all children, but many do.)
As adoptive parents, we wonder:
- When do we tell a child about his past?
- What are the signs that the time is right?
- How much do we reveal?
- How do we do it?
- How do I honor his birth family yet share honestly?
There are parts of our children’s history that are everyday aspects of life.
We talk about adoption on a daily basis. We talk about birth moms and adoption days. These are always open for discussion. Sometimes my kids bring up the topic. Sometimes I bring it up.
Other areas are not ones I tend to bring up, but I would gladly talk about should my kids ask. Specific questions about birth parents, family history, and previous visits are topics that come to mind.
Generally, I have believed that honesty is the best policy.
I want my children to believe that:
- Mom tells me the truth.
- It’s safe to talk to mom about these topics. (By “safe” I mean, mom won’t crumble into a puddle of sadness when they bring up the topic. While I feel it’s fine to share my own emotions on a basic level, if I’m a total mess, I know they won’t feel safe sharing anymore.)
Both of our adopted sons have a history that is significant. What happened to each of my sons before they came to our home is serious, it’s preverbal, and it’s real. For their sake, I am not going to disclose full details here, but here is what is most important to know.
I believe his history is his-story and belongs to him.
His History is His-Story
The body holds memories. This is beyond what I can fully comprehend, but while I know each of my sons doesn't consciously remember, I believe a part of them knows on some deepest core level.
These experiences had changed their brains, their processes, and their beliefs about themselves.
I once had a therapist suggest to me that we never tell our sons about their history. After all, what purpose would it serve? It would only upset them and could cause such emotional pain.
I hear the theory behind this, but this has never sat right with me.
A child’s history is his history. It belongs to him. I don’t have a right to hold onto something so vital about him — or withhold it from him — even if I feel it’s for his own good.
So I’ve always believed we would fully disclose all we know to each of them when the time was right.
When to Share?
Yet when is the time right?
I had this idea in my mind that we would tell each of them someday when the boys were 18 years old or so.
I know I pictured us sitting in a therapist’s office somewhere, with a kind soul guiding us through this process. Each boy would of course be very upset, but would have the adult resources to handle this news of how he came to be in the foster care system, why he was removed from his birth family, and the things that happened in his past.
Realistic? Perhaps not.
We’ve been careful to be respectful when speaking about birth parents in our home.
I show respect to the families who gave our children life.
But I might have also taken this too far. The truth is that our kids came to us as foster children for a reason, and the reasons are not good.
If we are not truthful, how will our kids understand how they came to be where they are in life?
Talking about these things is painful, but it’s true, and the truth is better than pretending.
His history is his-story.