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When do we tell our child he’s adopted?

March 9, 2010

A question I get asked a lot when I’m working with adoptive parents is “When do we tell?” When is the appropriate time to tell your child he was adopted? When is your child old enough to understand what “adoption” means? How have you told your child she was adopted?

When should you tell? My answer to that, unwaveringly 100% of the time, is IMMEDIATELY.

Start talking about adoption to your newborn. When you hold her close as she dozes off after a bottle, talk to her about the day she was born. Tell him about the woman who gave birth to him. Talk about your feelings. Your love. Your anguish.

WHY? Your newborn doesn’t understand what you are saying about adoption, right? So why? Can’t you wait until later?

No. Talk about it NOW. Talking about adoption to your newborn is more for you than for your baby. Talking about difficult topics to a human who doesn’t understand is good practice for when she DOES understand and asks you the tough questions like “Why did my mommy give me away?” Talk about it now so that when your child is older, you’ll feel comfortable answering those questions and that lump in your throat will be a little bit smaller. Talk about it now because putting your thoughts and feelings into words is part of the healing process.

Talk about it now because honoring your child’s other family is the right thing to do. It teaches your child that adoption isn’t a secret. Secrets are inherently bad. Dirty. Adoption isn’t a secret.



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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2010 3:02 am

    It is really hard for a parent to tell his/her child that they are adopted. They are still young and they don’t even have any idea what’s adoption means. But if that will happen to me I would prefer telling the truth as early as possible.

    • March 10, 2010 7:15 am

      Kimberley~ You are absolutely right! It is REALLY hard! The alternative to always talking to your child about adoption is having to sit them down and tell them when they are old enough to understand adoption- which could be even harder! It’s OK for a child not to truly understand what adoption means! Thanks for stopping by~ Robyn

  2. April 6, 2010 1:38 pm

    Thanks for re-tweeting my post and for blogging about this important issue. Our (adopted) sons are now 17 and 14, and people I meet for the first time always ask, “Do they know they are adopted? When did you tell them?”

    For my kids, “adoption” is their normal. They’ve always known. It has always been a part of our conversations. It isn’t weird or unusual and they aren’t strange aliens from outer space, just because they joined our family through adoption. Our kids need to know that so they can become more comfortable with the idea of adoption.

    And we need to work hard at educating others, too, so we can help lessen the stigma that adoption still seems to carry.

    • April 6, 2010 6:45 pm

      Hi Laura! Thanks for stopping by and giving your thoughts on this. It’s funny how this really is one of the most commonly asked question!

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