Into the Open
Diving in to the Dangers of Secrecy
Being an adoptee is different from not being adopted. Not better or worse, but different. As an adoptee grows up, there are unique issues to consider at home and at school. This “extra layer” can be prepared for ahead of time, and adoptive parents can arm themselves with the tools to help their child navigate these delicate moments.
Depending on their age and individual personality, they may wonder, “Do I have any birth-brothers or birth-sisters? Do my birthparents think about me on my birthday? Are my parents happy they adopted me? Why didn’t my birthparents keep me?” There are a broad range of feelings and attitudes among adoptees depending upon the situation of each child and family. Everyone has their own way of reacting to the realities of adoption, and there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to feel.
Luckily, adoption is more openly acknowledged and discussed today than in previous generations. Children now grow up knowing their adoption story from the beginning, without the memory of “The Day They Were Told They Were Adopted.” Adoption has become a mainstream way to build a family, and your child will grow up knowing other adoptees. Whether they inquire about their birthparents as a young child, or express interest as an adolescent, the majority of adoptees do in fact want to meet their birthparents.
This information is presented to provide a forum to start a conversation with your child. The voices of adoptees should be heard. Ideally, you want your home to be a safe place for your child to feel a range of feelings about their adoption as they grow up.
Children who are raised in an environment of secrecy, where their adoption story is vague or avoided, receive the unspoken message that the subject is taboo. They often develop fantasies to explain things they don’t understand or have answers for. If they do not have information about their birthmother, they may have exaggerated fantasies that she is a princess in a far off land, or in the other direction, fear that she is someone awful.
Dangers of Secrecy
If your child expresses curiosity in meeting their birthmother, it might feel like an unnecessary complication, and the “easier” answer might seem to discourage their interest. The danger in dismissing this is that they may think that as their parents, you are protecting them from something. Children may eventually leap to the natural conclusion, “I know I came from her, does that mean I inherited something bad too?” Ultimately, not allowing them to meet their birthmother can send a message that something must be bad about her, or shameful about being adopted, or why else would they have to be kept from her?
Bringing the subject out into the open can normalize the concept of adoption. If children grow up in an environment where their birthparents and adoption story is easily part of the conversation, it can be something they ask about without fear of upsetting their parents. Additionally, if they meet her, they can also hear from her directly about the reasons she sought out an adoption plan and about the story of how she “just knew” that these were the people meant to be the parents of the baby she was growing inside her. This is the most effective way for your child to feel confident that they are meant to be your child.
Ultimately, open adoption brings peace of mind to birthparents, adoptive parents and, most importantly, to children. It provides individuals with an opportunity to solidify a strong self-esteem and a sense of pride in their adoption story. They can feel confident that everyone came together on their behalf, and made this plan out of love.