Secrets are toxic. That’s the general rule that I follow. But there are certainly some situations that are more delicate than others to broach, especially with children. And when a child is conceived as a result of rape, the conversation becomes difficult and uncomfortable if it is to be one of truth.
As always, the child’s age should be considered when it comes to decisions about what facts to reveal and how to reveal them. In any adoption, my belief is that it is always best to tell a child from the outset that he or she is adopted. I know in my own situation that I would have been very upset if that truth was hidden from me and I found that out as a teen or as an adult.
So what happens when the situation involves rape? I don’t think there’s a clear answer. However, I do think there are some basic tenets to follow. First and foremost, don’t lie. Second, take cues based on the stage of development the child is in. Are they learning about human sexuality, including how babies are conceived? Third, identify what your child is really asking. Is he or she simply expressing curiosity about their situation or expressly asking who his or her biological parents are?
First and foremost, don’t lie.
Not lying does not necessarily mean revealing the whole truth. It simply means that you shouldn’t make something up that isn’t true. If, for example, your adopted son asks what you know about his biological mother or father, don’t lie and say that his parents were killed in a car crash. If and when your son ever finds out the truth, the bond and trust that you have worked to build with him will be compromised, potentially in a very significant way.
Maybe your adopted daughter is of the age where she is learning about human sexuality, and she asks more specifically about how she was conceived and who her biological parents are. What do you tell her? Perhaps you can say initially that the circumstances were very difficult and see if she follows up with additional questions. If you feel that she is still too young to learn about the full truth, be honest and tell her that you will tell her more when the time is right.
When a child reaches adolescence and early adulthood, he or she is likely to have more specific questions about their particular set of circumstances. If your son hits on the right set of questions, it may be time to tell him that his biological mother was the victim of a sex crime. If it comes to that, be prepared for the flood of emotions that are likely to follow. Give him a shoulder to cry on. Lend him an empathetic ear. Tell him that he is not responsible for what happened and that it has no association with his value as a human being. Use it as a moment to teach him the importance of respect for women, and of the mutual nature of a healthy sexual relationship.
Why is it important to go there in the first place? I believe that parents, and especially adoptive parents, have a responsibility to be open and honest with their children. They depend on it, and it’s a bond and trust that is often developed from the very beginning. Let’s face it. They can find out anyway, and it is becoming more and more likely that they will. With the advancement of DNA analysis in recent years, it has become easier and easier to find the truth about our own biological histories without any other information at all.
As a parent, don’t you want to be in the position to help unfold the truth of your child’s story with them by your side?