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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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  1. kim

    March 11, 2011 at 11:47 am

    wow. my 8-year-old daughters have never NOT known that they are adopted. we raised them, and are still raising them, with the promise that they grew not in our bellies but in our hearts. they have an older sister who is my biological child. they fight, yes. but the twins being adopted never, NEVER comes up between them.

    this maryland mom needs to tell not just her adopted daughter right now, but the younger sister as well. knowing might cause rifts at first but i’m 100% certain that things will eventually get better. as long as the parents create an environment of love and equality, the girls will model the good behavior and figure it out in their own teenager way.

  2. Rene Syler

    March 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    @Kim Great response.. thank you! I remember when you brought them home 🙂

  3. Joss

    March 11, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I think the family is lucky that she hasn’t already found out from a cousin or aunt/uncle who assumed she knew. This kind of information can come up randomly and would be far more devestating coming that way. I think it’s imperitive that she is told as soon as possible because it could come up at any time.

    On a lighter note, when I was 15, I desperately wanted to hear that I was adopted. I wasn’t, but I thought it would have explained everything so much better!

  4. M.E. Johnson

    March 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    She may already suspect, especially if she looks different (they’re all blond, she isn’t). Rene has given you excellent advice. You may want to question your own feelings about adoption, i.e., why you couldn’t tell her way earlier. Good luck to all of you.

  5. juli

    March 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    How could you not have told her? I am adopted and luckily I had parents like Kim. I never knew I wasn’t adopted. I can’t even remember a sit down talk about it. Only time I ever had issues was because my twin brothers (also adopted) would sometimes make fun of me about being a loner. But that is just sibling stuff. I lost my adopted mom when I was 5 so yes I often wondered what it would have been like if I had a mom. But any young child with out a mom would feel that way.
    I think this mom blew it. She had better hire a good family therapist because there is going to be some issues coming up. She owes her daughter the truth.
    Good advice Rene.

  6. Leslie

    March 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I am the younger biological with an older sister who was adopted. We were told when she was 12 and I was 11. My parents were told they could not conceive and went the route of adopting so they could have children. I was an unexpected addition and we were always raised as their ‘children’, nothing more or less. It made no difference whose womb we came from.
    I can honestly say that it never occurred to me to somehow think I was something more than she was just because I was biological, so there should not be an assumption that it would ever come up. I think in this day and age, children can recognize that “family” can come in many different shapes and sizes, and bio/adopt combinations are not rare. What is rare is that the parents have put a stigma on it by not being open about it.
    Waiting until 15 is late, she should have been told as soon as she could understand the concept, but it now needs to be done immediately. As Joss, states above, I am surprised she hasn’t already found out from someone who was there when it happened. Or maybe she does know, and she is just waiting for her parents to actually bring it up.

  7. Niki

    March 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Well, in defense of the adoptive mom, Maryland. I’m sure you & your husbands intentions were good, when this all started. Having a “drama queen” teen can be taxing in itself. I think you should tell her, but if she’s already having some “issues” I’d get her into therapy 1st. I’d also ask the therapist(once they’ve built a repore to assist you in your process of telling her, just be prepared for the rocky road that you may initially travel when she 1st finds out. I’m a true believer in “love can conquer all”. Years ago I went 2 college with a young lady who found out right before she came 2 the college. She had the worst case of acne I’d seen in a long time with all the acne medicines out now, she showed us pictures of her from a year earlier and earlier in her life, she had had beautiful skin. She attributes the break out to finding out she was adopted so late in her life, unfortunately her face never did clear up. If you’re spiritual pray specifically for God’s direction & timing, it will make a world of difference. I pray that things will work out for my fellow Marylander.

  8. Peppercorn16

    March 11, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Yeah I think she should tell herbefore she finds out. She might should have told her when she was 12. The more they put it off the harder it will be
    Things have a way of getting out by mistake or on purpose in a not so nice way. So if this mom doesn’t want someone else like another family member say something by mistake and the young lady over heard it or someone else come right out and tell her. The mom and dad really need to call a family meeting and tell herand I hope they let her know that they love her dearly

  9. Akilah

    March 11, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    studies show that open adoptions are best for the kid, so it follows that no secrets is also good

  10. adoptiontalk

    April 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I blog about adoption issues, and especially talking to kids about adoption, so I had to blog about this letter under the title “DON’T let this be you!”

    It’s so important that kids be told from the beginning that they are adopted, even before they can understand what adoption means. Doing it while they’re young gives parents a chance to practice and means there will never be a “BIG TALK” to reveal the news. Kids will just see it as a matter-of-fact part of life.

    And kids need to know EVERYTHING — even hard things — about their adoption before they reach teen age. They need to know everything so they can use that information during those important identity-formation years.

    I’d advise this family, since they’ve put it off so long, to find an adoption-competent therapist to talk to them BEFORE they tell their daughter and to talk to their daughter AFTER they tell her.

    Good advice, Rene, and good luck to Kelly & Kelly’s family. And if you’re an adoptive parent, DON’T let this be you!


  11. adoptiontalk

    April 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    P.S. A place to start to look for an adoption-competent therapist might be their adoption agency!

  12. Rene Syler

    April 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    @Malinda: thank you for sharing this. I believe this approach works well with a lot of things, for instance, the sex talk. I think it’s much easier to handle when it’s a “series of talks” instead of one BIG one. My husband as I said was adopted as an infant. His parents were always open with him about how he and his sister came into their lives and this was in the 50’s! But he grew up with such a strong sense of self and I can’t help but believe that was due in part to his parents being so open with him. I guess the thing that worries me is this feeling that if they’re not telling the truth it’s because there’s something to hide or be ashamed of. That’s a tough thing to saddle a child with. Thank you again for your insight.

  13. Shannon LC Cate

    April 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I have little to add to what Malinda said above, but yes, get an ADOPTION competent counselor.
    This kid has every right to be furiously angry and she needs affirmation for those feelings. If the parents have been unable to tell her up to this point, they are not likely to handle her anger well.

  14. Rene Syler

    April 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    @Shannon: absolutely! Thanks for weighing in

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