When Should You Tell Your Child He Was Adopted?

by Laura Christianson

We adopted our sons when they were newborns, and adoption has always been a normal part of the vocabulary around our home.

When Ben was 6 years old and Josh was 3, we went to the hospital to meet one of their newborn cousins. The boys looked around in wonderment. Babies were born in hospitals!

“I thought all babies came from the adoption agency,” remarked Ben.

We have never led our sons to believe that all babies originate at the adoption agency; that was just their assumption. To them, adoption is the normal way to join one’s family; they thought it odd that babies appear on the scene in any other way.

When Should You Tell Your Child Who His Birth Parents Are?

Recently, I spoke with an adoptive mom who shares an open adoption with her oldest daughter’s birth mother. Her daughter, age 4 ½, has always known her birth mother. However, she doesn’t know that the woman is her
birth mother – she thinks she’s just a good friend of the family.

I recommended that the parents and birth mom reveal the identity of the birth mother sooner, rather than later. I believe that the girl will be less apt to resent her parents and her birth mother for keeping secrets, which will save everyone potential heartache in the long run.

Children are so resilient…if the girl learns who her birth mother is now, at age 4, in a couple of years, it will seem as if she’s always known who her birth mother is.

There are two viewpoints about when to discuss adoption with your children.

Theory #1 recommends postponing the discussion of adoption until the child is between the ages of 5 and 7. At that age, say some psychologists, the child will have the inner strength to incorporate and cope with the information.

Theory #2 recommends discussing adoption from the moment the child comes into the family.

I adhere to Theory #2. We have shown our sons photos of their birth parents since they were infants, and we have identified them as their birth parents since day one. We display pictures of their birth families on our fridge (including siblings, grandparents, cousins, etc.) along with the rest of our extended family. I’m hopeful that our sons are growing up with a healthy view of both adoption and of their birth parents.

Yes, I realize that our sons silently grieve over what is often referred to as “the primal wound.” I realize that they wonder why their birth parents made an adoption plan for them. I realize that they may struggle with attachment issues and with rejection issues, even if they aren’t able to articulate them. And I do my best to make sure they feel loved, accepted and welcomed, by both their birth and adoptive parents.

Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner says it well in her book, The Spirit of Adoption: At Home in God’s Family:

“It is essential that adopted children be helped to understand that relinquishment can be tenderly undertaken. Hopefully, the pain of being given up, which connotes abandonment, can be ameliorated with the understanding that an adopted child is given to a welcoming family, a phrase implying loving intent. When possible, it is beneficial to tell adopted children how lovingly the plans for adoption were made. It is of utmost importance that adopted children be told of how expectantly they were awaited, how they grew to life in the hearts of their adoptive parents.”