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Ask Rene: Our Daughter’s Adopted – Does She Need To Know?

parents_walking_child - Adoption

Hi Rene,

Our daughter Kelly is adopted – but she still doesn’t know. Now that she’s getting older  (she’s almost 15) we’re wondering when – and even if – we should tell her.

We always planned on telling her but my husband and I kept putting it off – and now we’re wondering if it’s in her best interests to tell her. Kelly can act out and be dramatic and we’re worried this will devastate her.

We have one other daughter, Shelly, who is 13 and our biological daughter. The two girls fight constantly and if this comes out we think it might create an even bigger rift between them.

Are we taking the easy way out by staying silent? Or does Kelly have a right to know? And if we do tell her – how should we handle it?


Adoptive Mom, Maryland


Dear Adoptive Mom:

So glad you wrote. I’ll start by saying I’m not a big fan of secrets much less the family variety so my gut tells me it’s probably a good idea to fill her in sooner rather than later or not at all. I know this is unchartered territory for you so that makes it more daunting. But you have to remember that you love her and she loves you (though the teen years make that hard to remember sometimes) and you will make it through this, hopefully with your relationship stronger than it was before. So brace yourself for what could be a rough patch but here is why I think it’s important that she know.

KEEPING IT SECRET ASCRIBES STIGMA TO BEING ADOPTED: I know you don’t mean for that to happen but it does. It makes it seem like it’s something to keep hidden or be ashamed of and it absolutely is not. If I were you I would hammer home two points in my talk with Kelly; how much you wanted and needed her and that family is more than biology. Then I would have the same discussion with Shelly. Kids can be cruel; I know this because I have a baby sister to whom I was horrid at times! Shelly must know you will not TOLERATE any sort of slight or nastiness aimed at Kelly over this issue.

BE OPEN AND HONEST: My husband was adopted from a hospital in Southern California when he was six days old. Back then they were mainly closed adoptions so he never knew who his birth parents were. I asked him one day if he regretted never meeting them and he said the only thing he remains curious about to this day is his family medical history. Nowadays, tests and preemptive treatments can mean a different path and more favorable outcome for disease. Because of that, it is unthinkable to deny your daughter that critical information. The other thing Buff was curious about, though slightly less, was who his parents were and the circumstances under which they decided to give him up. It’s only natural that there would be questions, probably some you cannot answer. Your status and place in Kelly’s life will not change once she meets her birth parents, if she decides she wants to do that. You are her mother, period.

ASK IF SHE HAS QUESTIONS: You’re going to have to prepare yourself for lots of questions and I would think one of the first would be why you waited so long to tell her. The questions may come at the same time or they may be spread out over a period of days, weeks, months or more. You have to make sure you give her whatever she needs to process every aspect of this.  I would also check out resources for adoptive parents, either online or in your area. Here’s a great place to start.

While the answer to the question of whether you should tell Kelly is easy, I know the process and any after effects might not be. Just remember you can and will get through this together.

Good luck mommy!

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