Any time I hear a story about a late discovery adoptee it absolutely breaks my heart. I used to think that it was just horrendously deceptive and cruel to keep such an important secret from your child. As I have gotten older and have become a parent myself, my views have somewhat shifted. While I still think the situation would be terribly traumatic, I now realize it may be unintentional.

I’m sure at least for some parents, the time just slipped away from them. Imagine bringing a baby home from the hospital. You devote all of your time and love to him. He’s so tiny, and he doesn’t understand your words. Then the toddler years come, and your head is filled with the running total of how many green vegetables he had that week and how to keep him safe despite his curiosity. Those magical words “mom” and “dad” melt your heart every time you hear them. How do you explain the complexities of adoption to someone who can’t tie his own shoes?

As the child grows, time flies by and the words keep getting stuck in your throat. Before you know it, he is older than you wanted him to be, and you don’t want to hurt him. I understand how it can happen, but it’s your job to make sure it doesn’t. You can’t allow it too. When an adoptee learns later in life about his adoption, a horrible thing happens. He finds out his entire life has been a lie. Everything he thought he knew he no longer does. He can no longer believe or trust anyone who kept the truth from him. Someday, you may be able to move past it. He may forgive you, but I don’t see how he could ever forget. You have been blessed with the opportunity to raise a child. You shouldn’t jeopardize that relationship because you don’t know how to navigate the hard subjects.

My parents haven’t been the perfect example of adoptive parenting, but that’s one aspect they got right. I have known I was adopted since before I can remember. They explained that we were chosen by God for them. My mom always said I grew in her heart, not in her belly. I was told that she couldn’t carry babies, so another woman carried me for her.

It doesn’t really matter how you explain it, just that you do. Bring it up here and there along the way, starting before the child can even talk. If you do that, then it’s a conversation that evolves over time, not an event comprised of confusing information. Handling it over time from the beginning ensures he doesn’t see his adoption as a deep, dark secret. It lets him know that being adopted is not a negative topic that needs to be avoided. Instead, you teach him to be the person that he is—including his biological history and heritage. Give him the power to embrace his identity, not betray it.