Although the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly 2 million children under the age of 18 currently living in the United States are adopted, the issue of how parents tell their chosen children about their origins remains a deeply personal one.
While child psychologists and psychiatrists don’t all agree on what age is the most appropriate for informing a child, there does seem to be a consensus that it’s always best when this conversation is initiated by the adults.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children should “learn of their adoption from the adoptive parents.” This, the Academy states, forms a basis for trust and sends a positive message about adoption.
That’s a piece of wisdom that many adoptive moms in Circle of Moms’ Mothers of Adopted Kids community agree on. Andrea G. wrote that “keeping things a secret might feel like a betrayal, or something you were ashamed of when they (the adopted child) finally found out they were adopted.”
Danie B. says that the biggest mistake an adoptive parent can make is not talking about a child’s adoption from the very beginning of life . She’s told each of her children their adoption story because she “can’t rob them of the truth about their birth.”
And Tonya T., who learned at age 13 that she was adopted, made sure not to repeat this mistake with her own son, adopted from Russian at the age of six months. She told him about his adoption when he was very young. As she explains, “I had kids telling me I was adopted,” and was angry with her adoptive mother because the silence made her wonder what other things she hadn’t been told.
According to the Academy, this is a very common response. “If the child first learns about the adoption intentionally or accidentally from someone other than parents, the child may feel anger and mistrust toward the parents.”
Tina R. echoes this idea: “If she finds out from someone else or finds out as a teenager she will definitely resent you.”
Meghan O. said she’s seen this happen. She herself is an adoptee, but was told early on. “I always knew I was adopted, it was just something that was accepted as daily life,” she writes.
Not so for some of her friends, who did not discover their biological identities until their teen years.
“Some of my friends didn’t know until later in life, and let me tell you, kids always find out in the teen years if they’ve never been told before. Not good. Teen are going through all kinds of hormonal imbalances and identity crises. Finding out they were adopted throws them into a more violent identity crisis.”
She believes this propels the newly-informed teen to do the one thing adoptive parents fear the most: Reject them and seek out the biological parent.
While honesty does rule, timing is also important, says Gina A.: “I feel a child ALWAYS has the right to know the truth and their history. There is a way to do it and the right timing is everything.”
The Academy advises adoptive parents to consider the maturity level and personality of their child. For some children, sharing adoption information too early can cause confusion. For others, giving only simple answers in the beginning provides a basis for filling in the blanks with more specific information as the child grows up.
Often, the adoptive parent’s viewpoint molds the child’s. With this in mind, one adoptive mom, Kim, even sought professional advice before telling her daughter about being adopted: “The counselor I talked with said that the way the child accepts the adoption story is in direct relation to how the parent talks about it. If the parent is very emotional, it can be traumatic for the child. So, we talk with our daughter in very matter of fact voices and talk about her life prior to us just like it is normal – which in her life, it is.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.