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Talk to Your Kids About Their Adoption…part 1

February 9, 2011

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“Don’t ask don’t tell” at one point seemed to be a great solution to a national dilemma. Now older and wiser, America has figured out that there are inherent problems in a policy such as “don’t ask don’t tell,” not to mention we’ve (thankfully) grown as a nation and have outgrown a policy designed to helped the majority feel comfortable. The problems with “don’t ask don’t tell”? Well for one, it insinuates that the proverbial elephant in the room is shameful. Two, it only takes into consideration the feelings of the majority while completely disregarding the feelings of the minority for the sake of (perceived) harmony. Three, it robs an individual of a piece of their soul. An undeniable aspect of themselves that without, leaves them less than whole.

Should “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Apply to Adoption?

How does an outdated policy on gay soldiers relate to this adoption and parenting blog? Countless times I’ve sat with the parents of older adopted kids and had them tell me that their child isn’t impacted by the core issues in adoption (loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy & relationships, control/gains- as described by Silverstein and Roszia in 1982). The reason the parents are so certain of this is because their child has never talked about. Adoption isn’t a secret in their house, but their child has never mentioned grieving for their birthfamily or feeling rejected. Their child never talks or asks about their birthfamily. Because their child is silent about adoption issues, parents assume that adoption issues don’t exist.

I Invite Parents to Reconsider This!

Can you think of a time in your life when something was really weighing heavy on your mind but you didn’t talk about it to anyone, even your closest confidante? Or a time when you just couldn’t get something out of your mind but you were afraid that it you talked about it, you were certain you’d hurt the very person you love most in your life? Or maybe you’re just a more introverted individual and you aren’t really one to divulge your innermost feelings. There are probably thousands of reasons why people (and children!) keep quiet even when something is really pounding away at their heart.

I recently stumbling across a blog (thank you Twitter) about an American family who is currently vacationing in China- and during this vacation they have had the opportunity to meet their four-year-old daughter’s birthfamily. WHAT?!?! Yes, I wrote that correctly. The story is nothing short of amazing and the mother is understandably short on details in her blog. But I was struck by the blogger’s brief recap of this meeting. Her beautiful four-year-old daughter asked her birthmother “Do you love me?” and then a few moments later “Do you miss me?” (Read the whole piece by heading over to American Family). What a beautiful look into the questions that had been tugging at this young preschooler’s heart. Did her birthmother miss her and love her. Her mother writes about how this little one “doesn’t say much about her adoption.” But these two questions show that she is processing and experiencing those feelings of grief, loss, and rejection EVEN THOUGH she doesn’t say much about it.

Sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) it’s hard to keep those lines of communication open. In my next article, I’ll talk about ways to encourage your child to express his thoughts and feelings, and ways to support them even if they don’t want to talk about it.


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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin and Bastrop Texas specializing in adoption and attachment.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2011 9:44 am

    Thanks, Robin, for another great article. It’s a great reminder to keep bringing it up, even if our kids don’t. My son NEVER talks about his birth family and rarely about his foster family. Because of his cognitive abilities, we question if even thinks about it. We wonder if he blocks out the birth family experience. We wonder if he really has no memories of it because of the circumstances he was under. ALWAYS a puzzle. I really appreciate the encouragement to keep lines of communication open.

  2. February 9, 2011 10:12 am

    Wow. Beautiful post. Well written, well informed and just beautiful.

  3. February 9, 2011 10:32 am

    I remember the time when it wasn’t ok to reveal to others that you had been adopted. There was so much guilt and shame that surrounded the life of someone who had been adopted- even though they aren’t even able to make a decision at all!

    Growing up, I was around so many kids who were adopted. In my youth group at church, there were about 25 who were adopted out of 120. It was a matter of fact kind of experience- either you were or you weren’t. Because it was so open and matter of fact for all of them, while there have been the normal “musings and wonderings”- they’ve been able to be supported through their adult experiences of meeting biological parents and becoming parents.

    Great post about how far we’ve come and how important it is to be real about adoption!

  4. February 9, 2011 11:55 am

    That’s an interesting dynamic, Robyn. When families of older adopted children are in your counseling office, what are the reasons they attribute for the office visit?

    Now I’m thinking of my own child (non-adoptive), and wondering how many issues he may be harboring by not talking about them…

    I remember working with a family who adopted an older child, and it was super difficult to naviagate the teen years, being physically different from the other family members, and of course, the deep-rooted anger, rejection, and the other issues you mentioned.

    Thanks for a wonderful voice to the lack of spoken language. How wonderful this resource you offer.

    I look forward to Part 2.

  5. February 9, 2011 3:05 pm

    Really powerful post, Robyn. Thank you.

  6. February 10, 2011 8:21 am

    This is such an important topic. Thanks for sharing. I had a teenage client I was working with who had a box full of letters to her birth mom about her thoughts and feelings. Her parents were very supportive and encouraged her to talk about her feelings, but there were still some things she couldn’t say to them because she felt a little guilty about wanting to know about her bio parents.

  7. February 11, 2011 4:05 pm

    Thanks Robyn what an important topic. And Linda, I wonder too what I have neglected to talk about and what my kids are not saying (non-adopted).
    A very good friends of mine is adopted. He tried to reconnect with his birth mother years ago (as an adult) and got turned down. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS ! I was horrified, so sure that she would be a loving mother that just was too young or whatever…. Apparently the story is that she has never told her husband and kids about the adoption, and was not ready. But still, reaching out and get turned down – that sucks.

  8. March 9, 2011 6:48 am

    Your site is great! It’s great to come across sites that talk about adoption or are solely about adoption. I have two adopted kids my oldest being from China and youngest from Ethiopia. We have told them openly and honestly about their adoption since day one! I think it establishes an even higher level of trust. They know that if they have any questions they can talk openly about them with you.

    • March 9, 2011 7:41 am

      So glad to see you here! Thanks for the comment. I absolutely agree that it establishes trust and teaches kids that their adoption isn’t shameful. I hope you’ll come back! I’ll be putting “Part 2” up very soon!

  9. April 24, 2012 4:58 pm

    So good to be reminded of this. Thank you.


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