Damaging Secrets

An advice columnist offered sound advice as it relates to adoptive parents keeping their child’s adoption a secret.

k16326532Agency staff members repeatedly say that we never want an Adoption STAR child to remember the day they were told they were adopted. We say this because we believe adoption should be discussed and acknowledged in the home from the very beginning of the adopted child’s life. Through the regular utilization of appropriate adoption language, children’s literature, and pictures of (or even visits with) biological family members (all of which are much more common, thanks to openness in adoption), adoption becomes normalized and readily accepted by the adopted child, in that it’s been a part of their story for as long as they can remember.

In the syndicated advice column “Ask Amy” dated 12/30/15, a writer sends Amy the following letter:

Dear Amy: My brother has two children, the oldest of whom he adopted when she was an infant. She is now an adolescent, and I recently learned that he and his wife (the child’s biological mother) have decided not to tell their daughter that she has a different biological father (who, according to them, is a drug addict). They said they will never tell her and are just hoping she never finds out.

Their daughter’s biological father has family in their small town — some of her cousins even attend school with her. I am concerned that someday, one of those cousins may tell her that they are, in fact, related. Or that she may find out in some other less-than-ideal way.

I know this isn’t easy, even for highly functioning adults (which, quite frankly, my brother and his wife are not), but I can’t imagine them keeping it a secret forever. What about potential genetic health concerns? What about her potential desire to know her own ancestry? Is it a right for someone to know this information? I feel uncomfortable having this important information that seems relevant to her (I wish that somehow I didn’t know this truth).

I plan to honor my brother’s request unless I am for some reason asked by his daughter directly, in which case I would suggest she talk to her parents or insist they be honest with her.
Can you give me some perspective? Am I being too nosy or judgmental? How damaging is it for a child to stumble upon information like this, versus having it shared directly with them by their parents? What would you advise a parent like my brother in this situation? — Concerned Aunt

Dear Aunt: Children should be told the truth about their lives, even if the truth yields challenges.

Imagine the burden that would be lifted on the parents (for instance), if they found a way to be honest about this — keeping this secret affects their family relationship in all sorts of unseen ways, as it has already affected their relationship with you and yours with your niece. If the child finds out from others, she may choose to hold this secret, too — creating a lingering chain of secrecy and a big burden for her.

You should urge the parents to disclose the truth — with a professional counselor’s involvement. A family therapist can help guide the adults and child through the disclosure and beyond.

I also agree with your choice not to override the parents’ decision but to make clear to them that you will never lie to the child if asked.”

Adoption STAR concurs with Amy; every adopted child deserves to know the truth about their lives, even when the adoptive parents perceive or feel that the truth is going to be difficult or uncomfortable.

If you’re an adoptive parent in need of advice regarding how to talk to your child about their adoption, please contact Family STAR for post-adoption support services – 716-639-3030 or visit their website – www.familystar.com.