Who and What to Tell

As parents and parents to-be of older adopted children, we will continually be faced with decisions as to who and what to tell about our child’s background. Are they adopted? When were they adopted? Why were they adopted? What about their birth family … ?

Nowadays, most adoptive families strive for pride and openness with our children when it comes to discussing adoption. Generally, we all talk about our kids, about different ways to create families, and share what we know about our children’s background.

Outside the immediate family, however, you may decide to create parameters on who you tell and what you tell.

Friends and family …

When you tell your friends and family that you’re adopting, this is the opportunity to set the tone for how much you tell. There are several choices. Be very open and share everything you know about your child’s background. Share the core information about your prospective child, but tell family and friends that further details are up to your child to share if and when she decides to share. Find some middle ground that fits with your personality and views on openness of information.

School …

Many parents take the need-to-know approach. If there’s no reason for the teacher to know, they’re not told. If, on the other hand, a teacher does not use positive adoption language or requires inappropriate class assignments, parents may want to step in for a discussion to help educate the teacher. Also, if your child has delays or issues relating to their background, it may be appropriate to inform your child’s teacher so that they have a full picture of your child.

Medical personnel …

What most parents hope for with doctors, psychologists, and other support personnel is an awareness of adoption issues such as attachment, adoption medicine, and related topics; along with a willingness to look at the whole child and not assume that every issue relates to our child’s background. When filling out medical forms, some parents choose to fill in blanks where appropriate with “adopted.” Other parents simply leave places blank and make no comment until asked.

Acquaintances and passing strangers …

Whether your child looks like you or not, there will be instances when someone in line at the grocery store or someone at the park will ask about your child’s background. Many parents look at these chance conversations as opportunities to educate people about adoption and families. However, there are times when you will be asked questions you don’t feel comfortable answering, or you’re being harassed by a nosy person. Develop a phrase or sentence that fits your personality and the situation. It might range from, “Thanks for asking, but we don’t share that information outside the family,” to “And why do you want to know that?” to just smiling and walking away.

While we’re all proud to have created our families through adoption, there may be limits to what we want to share and who we want to share it with.

Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan’s training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She’s also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is OlderChildAdoptionSupport.