Doesn’t everyone, at some point in their life, wonder if they were adopted? What, with crazy family members and my sister telling me I was adopted, of course that crossed my mind—in fact, I reasoned, it explained a lot. But, alas, I was not adopted (at least not until I was 34; another story, another day).
Oddly enough, despite the fact that my husband and I are white and our daughter is black, we used to get asked often if we were going to tell our daughter she was adopted. Really? The question always makes me chuckle (for what seem to me like obvious reasons). But it also makes me a little sad. Of course we’re going to tell her, what possible reason would we have for not doing so?
I’m no expert, but everything I’ve read and all of the workshops I’ve attended have stressed the importance of making sure your child knows he/she was adopted, from the beginning. There should never be a moment in an adoptees life where he/she remembers being sat down and told he/she was adopted. It should just always be known, one of those things on your list that you know for certain: my hair is curly, my eyes are green, I’m left-handed—it’s part of a person’s story, one more thing that makes you, you.
Think about it this way: Imagine how it would feel if the life you knew suddenly turned out to be a complete lie? That may seem harsh, but it really isn’t. If you grew up believing your mom (and dad) gave birth to you, and that all your relatives were your biological family members, and then one day you were told that wasn’t true, the world you thought you knew could come crashing down. You would likely wonder why you were lied to—what possible reason would your parents have for keeping your adoption a secret? Is adoption a bad thing? Were my “real” parents awful people whom I was taken from? Do they even know where I am? Maybe they’re looking for me?
Hopefully you’re started to get the picture.
These are real ideas that can run through a child/young adult’s mind, as he/she grapples with the unknown (why their adoption was kept a secret from them). I would guess that that moment of “truth,” when an adoptee realizes he/she was adopted, has got to be completely terrifying. If it were me, I would wonder what else was being kept from me. I would be confused about what was “real” and what was a lie. I would think a “secret” this big meant that everything I thought I knew, everything I counted on as truth, was not. And I would feel completely turned upside down.
I heard a woman say recently that she doesn’t plan to tell her two year old anytime soon that he was adopted, because she’d read that when talking with a child about adoption, it should be a “non-issue” or “no big deal.” The truth of the matter is that adoption is a big deal, and this woman completely misinterpreted what she’d read.
What I believe was meant by what she read (as I have read similar stories) is quite the opposite: there shouldn’t be a “moment” in an adoptee’s life where he/she is sat down and told he/she was adopted. (That would be making a “big deal” out of it.) But rather, he/she should just always know. And he/she should know before they even know what the word “adopted” means.
There’s not necessarily a “right moment” to begin talking with your child about adoption, but I believe it’s never too early. We’ve been telling our daughter her adoption story since before she could talk. I believe that an adoptee needs to know that adoption is a wonderful way to form a family—it’s nothing to be ashamed of, which is what I fear keeping it a secret might suggest.