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Telling a Child She's Adopted
Q: Our daughter is seven and a half years old and in second grade. We adopted Stephanie at birth. Our problem is, we have not yet told her that she was adopted and now we don't know the best way to tell her. We always thought that someday the subject would just "come up", or that she would ask us questions about her birth. Well, she hasn't asked any questions and the older she gets the more worried we become that we have waited too long. Hindsight tells us that we should have told even before she could really understand and then the information would have just always been known. We want to tell her, but we don't want to sit down and make a big announcement to her. We're afraid that would be devastating. We'd rather give the information in a more relaxed, less formal way. Any suggestions? Stephanie is a delightful, well-adjusted child. She is loving and caring and a good student. We love her above all else and are terrified of doing this the wrong way.
A: You have known instinctively for a long time that keeping this adoption secret from your daughter was not healthy. Your hindsight is correct and there are many resources and organizations that advise adoptive parents on how and what to tell adopted kids at every chronological and developmental age and stage. Rather than go on at length in this forum, I will supply you with many superb resources whom you can contact personally. These resources will link you up with support groups, printed materials, Internet access to voluminous expert advice, and answers to any and every question you would or will ever have about being adoptive parents. Although experts in the adoptive field may differ in some content areas, there is unanimity in loudly declaring that keeping a child's adoption a secret can only breed distrust, anger, insecurity, confusion, and shame. You do need to tell Stephanie. These resources will suggest the best, most compassionate ways to go about it. No one will suggest it take place as a one-time major revelation.
General Adoption Information
(If you look at no other resource, look at this comprehensive one)
Explaining Adoption to Your Child
Adopt: Assistance, Information, plus options and searching
Tapestry Books, Adoption Book Catalog
Tel.# 1-800-765- 2367
On your behalf, I have also personally spoken to a nationally renowned expert in adoption (she herself was adopted) named Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao. You may call her personally at her Center for Family Connections in Boston (1-800-KINNECT) and use my name. The Center will be able to tell you of people in your area who could help you.
It's obvious you love Stephanie deeply. You are doing what needs to be done and with Dr. Pavao's help and the resources I've provided you, you'll be able to handle this in the best way possible. Let me know how you're progressing.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.