When a child is placed for adoption, there is a chance that a lot of questions will go unanswered because they are never asked. It is very true that a child’s adoptive family is, in fact, their real family. However, there are some things that the child should know about their birth family to understand their genetics and culture.
I do believe it is important that a child have answers to the same general questions they would ask their parents, such as:
- Where did you meet?
- When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- How did you do in school?
- Where there any subject you struggled with?
- What was your first job?
- What about your first car?
I think questions like this are important so the child has the opportunity to really get to know their birth parents. But those are just the surface questions. I also think it’s important for the child to ask about other birth family members and how everyone grew up so they can learn about their history.
- Where did you grow up?
- Did any of my ancestors join the military?
- What sectors of the military were they in?
- What country did grandma’s family come from?
- What languages did they speak?
- Can you tell me more about the culture?
- What is my religious heritage?
- What was it like growing up with grandpa, grandma, and my uncles?
Learning personal history can help a child understand tendencies they may have, why their hair is a certain way, why their body is shaped the way it is, etc. It’s not just about the knowledge; it’s also about recognizing those traits and tendencies within themselves.
But again, that’s not all.
Although those are probably some of the most important bits of information they should ask about, I would say there is another kind of question that can be equally as important: medical questions. Now, some of this information may already be in a child’s files at the doctor’s office and adoption agency, but it can be minimal and only stretch to one generation. They should also consider asking:
- Does mom’s side of the family show male pattern baldness?
- Do twins run in the family?
- Does my face just get flushed because I was running or because I might have asthma?
- Does anyone in the family have a history of heart disease? HIV? Cancers? Blood diseases?
- How old were my relatives when they passed away?
- Has my family had a record of needing a lot of dental work?
- What are some family member’s blood types?
- Do a lot of family members need glasses?
- Do any family members have allergies to foods? Metals? Animals? Bees?
- Are there many alcoholics in the family?
I can think of almost no other questions that would have such a profound effect on a child. Their health is of the utmost importance, so it’s something the child and their parents should be aware of. Having that information could just be information they put on doctor’s forms when they go in for a checkup, or it could one day save their life. It not always possible to get that information, but that’s why the child should ask. The more they know, the better.
The last grouping of questions I can think of are for the child’s peace of mind. They’re not easy questions, and at times can be met with very strong emotions on both sides, but they can be meaningful to the child.
- Why did you place me for adoption?
- Didn’t you want me?
- Why didn’t you place your other children?
- Why didn’t you marry my dad/mom?
- Why doesn’t my dad/mom want to meet me?
- So, are you my real dad/mom?
- Where is my dad/mom?
I personally dread the day my son asks me these questions, but should he ever want to know, I will tell him. Not all questions are easy, but if a child knows to ask, it must be important to them.
I do always recommend, with all answers people give children, that they are made age-appropriate to ensure the child understands and isn’t overwhelmed. You can tell the truth without telling everything. A child doesn’t need to know that their birth mother got raped and became pregnant. A child doesn’t need to know what drugs the parents were doing when they were conceived. A child doesn’t need to know the gruesome details at a young age, and they might not need to know later either. Just try to be honest and loving.
To the birth parents, please also understand that the answers you give can still be upsetting. Regardless of how kindly you respond or how many details you leave out, it might still be hard for them to hear. If they get angry, or sad, or distant, or silent, please let them feel whatever it is they’re feeling, and give comfort when appropriate. Adoption isn’t just hard on the birth parents; it’s hard on everyone. Give them the space and time they need. So long as you did your best, that’s all they can ever ask of you.