Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Should You Tell a Child He's Adopted?

Continued from earlier post in answer to questions posed by a prospective adoptive parent: 
"Also, in your opinion what IS the most loving, sensitive way to distinguish to a child their parentage?  It would be my desire to ensures/he knows that s/he is loved by both the mother who allowed him/her to be adopted and the woman who is raising him/her with love. Of course, as the child/ren's adoptive parent, I would want for him/her to call me mom (or some derivation) and still treasure the mother that allowed me to share the joy of motherhood."
My first thought was: When the child asks about where he came from.

We understand your fears, and being prepared ahead of time is best for everyone, especially the child. He should be your main concern, not how you feel about answering this question. Our advice is to answer the questions honestly as they come up. Some experts suggest that in order to allay other fears you not explain more than the child can understand--or asks. If the child only asks if she grew in your tummy, you can honestly answer, No, without adding more information. But if--and when, there will be a when--he asks the next obvious question, Did I come from your belly? answer it truthfully. It is important to get the child thinking about the process as he grows up, not to be confronted with news that will be emotionally devastating if he discovers it much later on.

Some therapists suggest not using the word "adopted" or "adoption" when the child is very young because he will not grasp what it means. Others feel that since the word will be a part of his life experience and vocabulary, you might as well not run from it but introduce it early. The child will come to understand in time. My own daughter said that when she was told she was "adopted" she understood it as, "she was a doctor," and did not understand why her parents said that, since she knew she was not a doctor. Other adoptees tell of the same confusion. In time, of course, my daughter did understand, but never expressed any dismay over accepting the meaning of the word that way.

Being adopted is the single most crucial fact of your child's existence, and he will have to grapple with this primal issue. Nothing you, as an adoptive parent, or even his first/birth mother, can ever say will erase that one basic reality, and no matter how the information is couched, the news will be life-changing. And the issue that he will understand immediately is that being adopted means that he was available to be adopted, that is, that someone gave him up for whatever reason. On some level, he will probably feel he was abandoned by his real mother, and that is how he thinks: his mother, the one who gave him life. That is the primal reality of his life. That he is adopted. That he is related to someone else.

Not telling early on is a sin of omission
Children can absorb bad news, such as death or divorce, but deception will color not only your relationship with the child, but possibly lead him to feel that such lying is the norm. Hayley, we understand you are not suggesting that in the least, but since we are writing here not only to you but the wider world, we need to talk about this, as so many adoptive parents still struggle with relating this information, as your question indicates.

Certainly, the child should be aware of his parentage by or at the age of reason. Delaying beyond that will increase the anxiety for everyone. And the adopted individual will feel cheated, as if you had been lying to him, because, in fact, you have. You have committed a sin of omission by concealing the truth of his origins. The longer you wait to tell a child he is adopted, the more likely he is to learn this hard fact of his reality from someone else--a neighborhood child, someone at school, a cousin, a grandmother making an off-hand comment.

You, as the adoptive parent, must also confront the reality that you are not the child's biological parent. As satisfying a relationship as you have with your child, it is different from the one the child would have with his natural family, different from the one you would have with a child you bore. You also need to be honest about the reason for the adoption: that you were unable to conceive, that an earlier child died, how you went about getting a child. Don't go and and on about this, and put more baggage on hm, simply state the facts honestly and briefly. He doesn't need to know details of how many tries at IVF there was, how many miscarriages. And no more stories of how you went up and down a row of cribs looking for the perfect baby, and there he was! The Chosen Baby is a myth, and your child will appreciate the truth as he grows older.

How one relays the information that a child is adopted is crucial, and just as important as when. If you are apprehensive and show your discomfort, this will immediately convey that adoption is not something that can be talked about easily in your house. If you act secretive and tense, so will he be secretive when he thinks about it. If you are open and accepting, he will feel he can talk to you about his feelings, and he will be more comfortable with his life situation, in his home. Do not interpret his lack of talking about adoption as meaning that it does not existentially alter his view of himself; it only means he is going underground with it.

Less is less
The more you know about the real mother, the better you and your child will be. Even today, in closed adoptions of recent vintage, I hear adoptive parents who say the less they knew (about the birth/first/natural mother) the better, because they did not want to imagine who that other mother was; and when asked, they would be able to honestly say, I don't know. But what a terrible loss that is for the individual. What a terrible thing you have done to him by denying him information about himself.

You also need to convey, in the strongest terms possible, that he was given up because his mother could not find a way to keep him--possibly because she was very young, her own parents could or would not help, because she was impossibly poor, and so, faced with impossible odds, she consented to his adoption, unquestionably with much sorrow and many tears. He should know that she loved him desperately, but could not keep him and so surrendered to forces greater than her ability to mother. She did not give him up because she "loved him so much."

The lie of: She loved you so much...
Yet that is what we hear from the writings of many adoptive parents, and the noxious language the adoption industry has popularized today: Your (poor, unfortunate, young, pick one) mother loved you so much she gave you up. In reality, this makes no sense and your child will recognize this immediately--he thinks, If she loved me so much, why didn't she keep me? She must not have loved me at all. Writing this today I am reminded of the television ads for a credit-card caveats that try to pull the wool over a child's eye by saying one thing but meaning another--you can "ride" the bicycle only in this impossibly small area, so small you can't ride; one child is offered a plastic pony, the other gets a real pony, etc.

If "love" were the reason that mothers gave up their babies, the most "loved" babies would all be available for adoption. A child is given up, or surrendered, because his real mother can find no way to keep the child at the point in time. A child is not given up because he was loved so much his mother decided that someone else could be the better parent. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as drugs or life in prison, every mother knows she is the best mother for her own child. She will instinctively better understand that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic stranger ever can or will.

After I found my daughter, and she was visiting in my home and we would shop or have makeup put on at a department store for fun, or put makeup on at home, she kept repeating how this never occurred with her adoptive mother, that she never learned how to put makeup on from her mother, that her mother did not enjoy shopping, that she missed doing this with her other mother. At first, I did not think much of it, and even found ways to excuse the woman she called Mom--she was busy with the boys, she was working--but I came to realize that my daughter Jane was expressing her own personal sorrow at not growing up with a style she longed for, a way of doing something--shopping and putting makeup on--that just felt right. This was way more than not fitting into the schedule of a too busy mother. No matter what, I would have found time with shop with my daughter the way I had shopped with my mother. I remember the time I gave my daughter a bottle of my Max Factor makeup that for some reason I was not going to use. I said, Do you want this? I'll try it, she said. And then, what she could not get over was that it was my makeup and it was the right color for her own skin tone. So much was contained in that simple fact. The right skin tone. My skin tone. And hers too.

Shopping. Makeup. Seemingly superficial, but the stuff of a life. Connective tissue. Like the way we both sang off key and climbed steps with the footfall of an elephant. As an adoptive parent, you may find certain similarities with your child, and some things undoubtedly gel because of nurture, but you will have to deal with the differences; and understand that your child will always note them, even if you do not.

Always opt for an open adoption
As for whether an open adoption is better than a closed adoption? There is no contest. No matter the truth of one's origins, it is always better to know than to live a life full of wonder. Open adoptions are better for the natural mother, and better for the child. We understand that some adoptive parents become frustrated when the natural mother does not maintain closer contact or visit more often; people are different, life is complicated and these things happen; but no matter what, for the individual who is adopted, dealing with reality is always better than shadow boxing with fantasy.--lorraine

38 comments :

  1. This is a great post and ought to be required reading for prospective adoptive parents.

    I would like to add that adoptive parents should be sure to bring up the topic of adoption since, as you say, adoptees may not talk about it but they are certainly thinking about it. But when you do bring it up, be sure to LISTEN. Adoptees want to tell their adoptive families how they feel, but they may think no one wants to hear or that they are the only people in the world who feel that way. It's important to let the adoptee know that questions are welcome and will be answered honestly, to the best of the adoptive parent's knowledge. Giving them the chance to meet and talk with other adoptees is a blessing.

    It's also important to try to keep your feelings about adoption out of it--as in how difficult infertility was, how hard the adoption process was, how badly you wanted a child etc. Adoptees have a hard enough time processing how they feel without also feeling like there are world-class expectations heaped upon them. It's better to process your own feelings in a support group for adoptive parents than to seek support from a child who has their own processing to do.

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  2. Given that you're not an a-parent, your advice was pretty good. But I'm going to take exception to this.

    "She will instinctively better understand that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic stranger ever can or will."

    That may be a stretch. Biological parents do not *know* their adolescents because they are connected to them. If that were the case, then all natural parents would instinctively understand their kids (which they don't) and all kids would feel comfortable around their parents (which they don't). I think parenthood may be too shaped by cultural expectations for such a thing as pure knowing of this sort. Besides, adolescence is a time for parents to acknowledge that parts of their children may be unknowable to them. Just because you're Mommy doesn't mean you get to peer into the soul of your child and know all four corners of it. Adolescence is a time for kids to look and their parents and say, "I'm nothing like you." That's what they should be doing to move beyond all this parent-child stuff.

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  3. My son's parents didn't tell him he was adopted until he was 13. I was so floored when he told me this (during our first conversation in reunion), I was speechless. As shocked as I was, the best reply I came up with was something lame like "that must have been weird." He shrugged it off as if it weren't shocking, but I can't imagine being in the middle of teen years and finding out something like that. After my daughter was born, I really struggled about when/what to tell her about her older brother (there's about 16 years difference between them). I wasn't anywhere near reunion when I had her, had no idea if I ever *would* be, but I wanted her to grow up knowing about him, I didn't want her to remember some big heavy conversation where I broke the news. I'm sure she doesn't remember, I think she was three when I told her. It was tough, she obviously didn't get it, but I'm still glad I told her early. I'm a big fan of your saying, "less is less." So true.

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  4. Osolo, I knew that comment would draw commentary, and I know that we all feel that our parents do not understand us as we grow up and away from them. But I will stand by the statement that some things will be better understood because they are so similar, so alike, the biological parent's demeanor, style, looks, and attitudes that are recognizably inherited.

    However, what I could never do was have my daughter appreciate Polish food, such as the golumpkis I'm mentioned before. She was always talking about the "brats" she had in Wisconsin.

    I get your point, I really do, but allow for this one too.

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  5. Agreeing with Osolo, being a biological mother does not make one a mind-reader or kindred soul to your adolescent child. Having raised three sons, I had no idea what they were thinking, which is a good thing. Most teens confide in their friends, not their parents, whether the parents are blood related or adoptive. Adopted teens may have a fantasy of the perfect mommy who is so much fun, and mothers who surrendered may yearn for the perfect soul mate child, but eventually reality comes around and smacks you in the face. Everyone is just human and doing the best they can.

    When I was a teenager, the last thing on earth I wanted was for my mother to know my thoughts on anything.

    "Instinct" helps when you are breastfeeding. It is long gone by the time the kid is a teen.

    Not being an adoptive mother, I do not have much advice on how or when to tell your child about adoption, but feel it is very important that adoptees be told and some good points were made in this post.

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  6. To add and negate.

    First off, it needs to be told prior to questions coming up. In an age appropriate manner it has to be talked about from the beginning. My son has "always known" that my parents, his grandparents are not biologically related to he and I. That I am adopted, something I've "never" not known. There will be bumps along the way (adopted=doctor) and questions to be answered honestly with care as no child truly understands the meaning of it all until they're much older and understand where babies really come from. I agree it's best to have as much information as possible about the child's parents because we always want to know. Let me warn you, and I know this to be fact since I am from a family of three children with the oldest and myself being adoptees and the youngest being biological to my adoptive parents, every child reacts differently and has different needs so if you're unable to admit or realize this, you're screwed. You need to be in tune with your kids individuality, period.

    Not telling is not an option.

    "Being adopted is the single most crucial fact of your child's existence" This is a blanket statement and doesn't apply to every adoptee. Another thing that doesn't apply to this adoptee is feeling abandoned by my mother. Never have, never will.

    "She will instinctively better understand that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic stranger ever can or will." I'm sorry but this is a line of horse shit. The proof is all around us. Biology does not ensure a more intuitive, understanding, and loving or anything else parent.

    "No matter what, I would have found time with shop with my daughter the way I had shopped with my mother." This is not because you are her mother, it's because you're a good mother. My son's father and I are competitive and athletic by nature, my son is so not. Biology does not ensure common interests or abilities.

    "As an adoptive parent, you may find certain similarities with your child, and some things undoubtedly gel because of nurture, but you will have to deal with the differences; and understand that your child will always note them, even if you do not." This is good, but it should read, EVERY parent may find certain similarities etc.

    I cannot comment on open adoption as I've never been involved in one.

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  7. "She will instinctively better understand that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic stranger ever can or will."

    Yes, mothers do.... even if others cannot understand that. Mothers are bilogically wired to know their children/teenagers etc. My mother is always aware of what is going on with me and my sisters even if we haven't told them! (and we are all adults, this has happened since we were infants). She just knows, feels it in her bones, it is a weird physical feeling apparently and I have experienced this with my own children. And I have seen how this DOESN'T happen with adoptive parents who have bothe bio and adopted children in their families. Ie, it happens with the bio kids and not the adopted kids.

    It has nothing to do with letting a child grow up and move beyond the parent-child stuff. It is about the conenction we all have to our bio parents whether some feel it strongly or not.

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  8. Your point about that recognition moment is well taken; however, what you recognizably inherit is a millstone as much as a blessing.

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  9. Myst, I have to disagree. If your theory of biological determinism were correct then there would be a natural connection between mothers and their kids, period. And that is clearly not the case. What is 90% the of English literature in view of your statement: "She just knows".

    Actually, she just doesn't know.

    The older people get, the less they need their mothers and fathers. Basically, by the time the child is grown, the whole mystical connection people keep going on and on about is going to bite you, parent, in the ass. The task of a parent is to raise an individual. Not someone connected to you.

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  10. This is not to be rude to anyone else, but I've heard so much advice from adoptive parents on parenting adopted children, I'm eager to hear any other triad member whose willing to speak out too. Adoptees need to start giving more advice as well; we have lived the life of an adopted person. Adoptees, IMHO, have very litle power as a group in setting the standards for how society and even the law feels about adoption. For example, even many adoption stereotypes are socially acceptable for any person to ramble off at the mouth with and people don't give it a second thought--(not that anyone here made any stereptypes, I mention it as an example of how bad social misinformation about adoption is). If an a-parent hasn't been adopted themselves, how in the world should they know any more than any one else does how I feel? Yet, that's the only people I ever got adoption advice from growing up (1) my adoptive parents (2) other people's adoptive parents and (3) a Christian community who was ga-ga over adoption but none were actually adopted themselves.

    I agree with what you said. All adopted children should be told that they are adopted as early as possible. It needs to be integrated into their upbringing, their questions need to be answered and their thoughts invited and listened too. ALL adoptees deserve ALL the information possible about themselves at an age-appropriate time. My conception story is probably up there among the worst but I and only I should decide what I am better off not knowing. Withholding information from an adopted person, especially past adulthood or age-appropriate times is really forcing them into perpetual childhood.

    I agree with Triona, it's important to keep your own feelings out of it. I grew up knowing my a-mom was threatened by the thought of my First Mom or another First Family member popping back up and wanting me back. I also grew up knowing that I was adopted BECAUSE my parents were infertile. Despite having the best a-parents in the world, who, by all standards really did do "all the right things," I can't even begin to explain to you how the burdens of the parents improperly placed on the child can cause loyalty, guilt, and even shame issues to say the very least.

    This is my opinion and I understand many people won't like it....IMHO, I absolutely agree that mothers are wired on multiple levels to be connected to their biological children. Yes, all kids go through an angst-ridden period where no man, woman, child or expert on this earth may be able to decipher the code. But I believe Lorraine was referring to a connection on a whole 'nother level. This is not to undermine adoptive parents but to say that yes, there was some things you may never be able to see eye to eye on with your adopted child and YES, for these things it may be because they are adopted. This isn't a pitty party I throw for myself to feel badly that I was adopted but rather a reminder that adopted children have unique needs that ought to be properly addressed.

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  11. Would she say this if she adopted a child of a different race? That kid would know from day one he was adopted.

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  12. Osolo Mama is missing a major point. And that point would be that many Adoptees are like one or both of their Real Parents as a teenager. Let me elaborate. In 7th and 8th grade, I was a "straight ass" as my generation labled other kids. I had interests at school that had nothing to do with drinking and being cool, like the majority of my other classmates. But then in 9th grade, at the high school, when my entire scenerio changed, I began to hang out with different kids in my class-popular kids who were friends of another freind I had-the hippie type-I changed my hairstyle and how I dressed and starting listening to hard rock music. My AM freaked out-she was the upper middle class type who loved the ivy league scene (ie: prep school nerds) and that is what she wanted to me be, and that was the last thing I was going to be. So because I had changed, from a goody two shoes, to being like almost everyone else in my generation, she decided I was literally insane and started making me go to a psychiatrist. My point is, or perhaps it is a question-who could of proved to me then and still now, that one or both of my Real Parents WERE'NT hippies? You see it all the time. Geeky kids whose parents are scientists or math teachers. Jocks whose parents are gym teachers. I think what I am trying to say is obvious. Alot of teenagers are how they are because of genetics....and alot of Adopted kids get cruxified because we are being who are genes tell us to be and not who AP's demand we be.

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  14. "one child is offered a plastic pony, the other gets a real pony"

    Just saw that commercial yesterday.

    Child 2: Hey, that's no hair. You didn't say you had a REAL pony.

    Man: You didn't ask.

    Reminds me a bit of the exchange I had when seeing my family photos.

    Me: I didn't know you had these.

    Mom: Yeah, we kept them in case you ever wanted to see them.

    Me: But I didn't know you had them...

    Mom: All you had to do was ask.

    *sigh*

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  15. Lo, you mention adoptive parents being "genetic strangers". I assume you mean that they are not blood relatives. Hopefully, most of us (rednecks excluded:-) do not marry blood relatives, yet that kind of instinctive, deep connection of lovers and spouses has been the stuff of literature, song, and general knowledge forever.

    Then there is the connection of best friends, real BFF's like the 3 women I have known since we were kids. We are very close, although no longer living in the same area, and we all know more about each other's inner life than any of our parents ever did.

    There is more to life than biology. There is more to family, and to love. I do not think we have to degrade the connections that exist in good adoptive families that make them much more than "genetic strangers" to prop up the very real connection those of us here feel to all our biological children.

    I love my sons, all of them, but I do not feel I have any more of special connection to them than their father, their friends, their wives or girlfriends. I did not feel I had a more special connection to my own mother, although we had some things in common, as I do with my sons. We are all unique, and the value of being a parent or child is not in how much we mirror or resemble each other or not, but in how much we each respect the others' uniqueness and autonomy as adults.

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  16. I totally agree with everything. I am an adopted adult and love your blog!

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  17. As an adoptee, I agree with a lot of what I'm reading here. I can never remember when I didn't know I was adopted, and I believe that this made it so much more "natural" to me, even though it obviously wasn't natural at all. This should be taken care of as early as possible, in the simplest way initially and then with more insight as the child can handle it. My adoptive parents handled this well for the most part (much better than the "sex talk" LOL!), and they conveyed to me the facts they had, limited as they were. I appreciated any scrap of information I could get.

    My parents really could not have waited for me to ask questions or for the proverbial "right time" to tell me I was adopted, because they adopted seven more kids after me. I would had to have been pretty dense not to figure that one out. But I think Triona is right that adoptive parents shouldn't wait until their kids ask questions. As a searcher, email list moderator, CI, and adoptive sibling, I have run into so many adoptees who are afraid to broach the subject with their adoptive parents, for fear of offending them. Parents need to take the onus off the kids, and as adults, take the first stop.

    And don't take it personally when the kids are keenly interested in their backgrounds. This is only natural. Why wouldn't they be? This is not an indictment of your relationship with your child, and you need to make sure the child doesn't sense any hesitation on your part. If they do, they may clam up fast, and you will be missing out on providing a vital part of development for your child and also foregoing a real possibility for a good bonding moment.

    Although I can't entirely explain it, my relationship with my adoptive parents, which was never bad, grew much closer and more demonstrative after I reunited with my first parents. Finding out "where I came from" gave me so much more confidence in who I was, and made me much better able to engage in relationships with those around me, including my adoptive parents.

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  18. BRAVO Lorraine! BRAVO!

    So many great points, eloquently written and very honest.

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  19. Great post, Lorraine. I'm going to put a link to it on my blog.

    My son's a-parents caused irreparable damage by not telling him he was adopted. He found out at 12 when a psychologist saw it in his file and asked him how he felt about being adopted. Apparently they never meant to tell him. His behavior went from bad to worse (this I learned from him) and they basically made him a ward of the state at 13.

    He has MAJOR trust issues and he truly believes that "lying isn't wrong if it's for a good reason." (his words)

    A-parents, however or whenever you do it, tell your children the truth.

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  20. Just a follow up note about whether we natural parents have a leg up on understanding our children better than parents who are not genetically related: My mother had a severe case of PMS; it was at its worst perhaps when I was a teenager, and it evinced itself as a terrible temper and high emotionality. I was determined "not to be like her;" yet in my 30s, my own PMS--now called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder)--was diagnosed as the reason for my suicidal thoughts, my up and down depression and high spirits (I thought I was bipolar), my crying jags, etc. I tried various treatments (eating right, exercising, meditation, vitamins, no alcohol at all, yoga, you -name-it) to no avail.

    Fortunately for me, my very progressive GYN doctor knew about the treatment used for severe PMS in England--progesterone. It worked like a miracle for me, including stopping the bloating, breast tenderness and zits I got every month. While those physical effects were noticeable, the emotional ones caused the most anxiety.

    One time when my teenage daughter was visiting me, I noticed she was going through the same kind of spell, and gave her one of my tablets. Presto! She calmed down, stopped crying and we went out to dinner where she met a young man who asked her out to dinner a few days later. An hour earlier, she was simply crying on the bed. I saw myself mirrored there.

    Her adoptive mother had no PMS problem, and to her, Jane's ups and downs were just that.... While my daughter's other problems (epilepsy and its concomitant issues) contributed to her state of mind, I could not, from this distance, convince her to take the progesterone when she needed it. As many of your know, she ultimately committed suicide. While I do not blame myself for her death, I do feel that if I had mothered her more, she would have been more likely to have at least her PMS under control. I write this here today to explain what I meant about first mothers/ birth mothers, natural mothers understanding their children as no one else can. It doesn't mean that there are rifts and breaks and feelings of "who is this person?" that are the natural part of growing up in the mother and child relationship. It just means there is a knowingness that is available to natural mothers and it comes with connected DNA.

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  21. This example clarifies what you meant, Lorraine, but it seems a different kind of knowing than what you were discussing earlier.

    Recognizing a physical problem that runs through 3 generations in your family when you see it in your daughter is certainly something an adoptive mother might miss, but it does not make for the kind of connection you were talking about in the earlier post, which involved an instinctive emotional connection.

    What you described about PMS in your family is a matter of knowledge, not emotion. In closed adoption, this is knowledge that an adoptive mother would not have, but in an open adoption she would have access to it and could act accordingly. It did not take anything instinctive or special to mothers. It was just a matter of knowing your family medical history and observing the same symptoms in Jane.

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  22. Improper, I still don't get what you are saying . . .

    "Osolo Mama is missing a major point. And that point would be that many Adoptees are like one or both of their Real Parents as a teenager"

    . . .because you haven't shown that this is so in your story. And we don't even know if biological children are like one parent or the other (if they are) because of biology or because of the environment. I can appreciate that you weren't like your a-parent. And you said, your a-mother punished you unreasonably for it, which is unforgivable. Parents should let children be who they are, natural or adopted. But how does that prove that you were like one of your original parents or that anyone is?

    I think you are kind of mixing up the cruel treatment of adopted children meted out by some a-parents with the core issue: whether genetics determines sympatico personalities.

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  23. Lo, excellent piece but I have to disagree with you on one point.

    "A child is given up, or surrendered, because his real mother can find no way to keep the child at the point in time. A child is not given up because he was loved so much his mother decided that someone else could be the better parent. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as drugs or life in prison, every mother knows she is the best mother for her own child."

    I did not know when my daughter Megan was born that I was the best mother for my child. I could have kept her. I won't say it was love which made me give up -- that would be saying that if I hadn't loved her, I would have kept her, which of course makes no sense.

    I truly believed, however, that no matter how hard I struggled to raise her, there was a perfect couple who would be better. I envisioned Megan asking me when she was a teenager "Why didn't you give me up so I could have had a better life?" How would I explain to her that I was too weak and selfish to give her up?

    I thought I had nothing to offer. I had been raised by my biological parents. Big deal! I had never heard that there was any benefit to being raised by biological relatives. I believed that adopted kids were lucky, loved, rich, special, chosen. I believed this even though adoptees I had actually known including my cousin didn't seem to be better off.

    I thought that children were blank slates. I remember being shocked that Megan looked like me when I saw her in the hospital. I just assumed that she would look like some kind of generic baby.

    Today, of course, I know the value of being in a biological family. I instinctively connect with biological relatives, even those I don't like very much.

    I see in Megan common habits, gestures. Our thinking processes are the same although our knowledge bases differ.

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  24. I have to add to my last comment. While I told myself there was nothing special about bio relatives, I remember bursting out crying when I was in the hospital. The nurse asked me what was wrong and I said "I am worried that the people who adopt her won't understand her soul." The nurse asked what I meant and I said "I don't know." Years later, I came across ALMA, an adoptee rights organization. (ALMA is Spanish for soul). "Yes!" I thought. Someone else understands this.

    I guess the truth is that my thoughts were contradictory --still are. They changed just as the sky changes when the sun goes back and forth behind the clouds. I just can't take my experience down a logical path.

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  25. When I originally asked my question, it wasn't about whether or when to tell. My plan has been to include that from the day I bring them home. Really the question was directed at the post that I originally commented on...about hating the name "birthmother." I was actually asking what the "better" choice to call my adopted child's mother (should I adopt) would be, in your opinions.

    Prior to reading Lorraine's response to my original comment, I had hoped that "Godmother" (meaning the mother God brought the child into the world with) and "god siblings" would be one way that I could have approached my child's adoption...(the child being considered is my best friend's). I'd hoped that we might find a way to raise the child being fully loved by both families...with full disclosure in a loving way. Her circumstance indicates that she may not be able to parent her child in the way she'd like (I do NOT mean financially, although that is a concern)

    However, it has seemed, based on several adoptees postings, that abandonment is the biggest issue.

    My friend does not feel that she can be the kind of mother for this child that she wants to be (see my post on Lorraines post about "is adoption ever a good option" for details). She loves her unborn child very much, doesn't think she can handle another (this is her 5th and she's single), doesn't think she can surrender him/her, and doesn't want to terminate (but has considered that as an option).

    To the point, as a Pros. AP, I would never want to keep my adopted child's background from him/her (other than that which would be harmful to know -e.g. being a product of a rape, etc.-and other information shared at an age appropriate time), would be VERY open, and would want them to be secure in knowing how very much s/he is loved by all parties and how much s/he is WANTED by all parties.

    I just wanted to know what the best moniker would be for the child's mother which would show that she is treasured, loved, and loves him/her that wouldn't create more confusion if I'm "mommy" since "birthmother," "natural mother," "first mother," and many other silly nicknames seem less respectful and undesirable.

    It just seems that if the APs are mommy and daddy that calling the parents/mother who surrendered the child the same thing would be confusing to the child and might diminish my own relationship in a way.

    Thank you for responding to my comments/posts with so much detail and honesty. I have gained a tremendous amount of perspective and new information to consider before going forward with adoption.
    ~Hayley

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  26. Contradictions.

    This is what I think adoptees are forced to live with and try and heal our souls from our whole lives.

    Some try denial and end up burying all of their feelings in the process, some try to integrate and end up feeling pulled between two worlds, some turn to anger and some depression and shame. Maybe a few are sucessful, or else they just can't aknowlege it yet (I was 46 before I could even start to look at it.)

    Adoption turns our world upside down and tells us its right. Its hard to imagine how that can be made better, but I guess talking about it early on might at least allow more time to process.

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  27. To clarify about PMS and the physical/emotional states: For those with PMDD, the worst aspects of the condition manifest themselves not as physical issues, but as psychological. For years, starting during my teen years, I was alternately suicidal and then, not suicidal. Was this thought to be physical problem? Not at all. It was thought to be purely "emotional." I did not ever relate my feelings to my menstrual cycle.

    The sense of one having enough reasons to be suicidal overwhelms any thought that the problem might be physical. While this is a very specific occurrence, I maintain that there is a certain amount of simple psychological connection between genetically related persons that can not be replicated with genetic strangers. The laundry list of psychological characteristics that are found to be genetically related speaks to this issue, if not proves my point.

    To learn more read Shared Similarities: Family traits not erased by relinquishment or adoption

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  28. "The task of a parent is to raise an individual. Not someone connected to you."

    Why can't you have both?

    I believe in the roots to grow, wings to fly method of parenting. my hope is that my children will grow to be individuals who still feel very much connected to their family.

    How sad to think people are raising their children simply to have them totally disconnect from them in the end.

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  29. Anon, I see where you're coming from. And I want to clarify about personality being heritable--it definitely is. What I meant is that the bigger task of kids is to separate. The connection is already there, a mixture of biology (for born kids), socialization, parenting style, culture, and it's hard for some kids to find their voice and place in this world.

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  30. Dear Anon:

    Why do you think this is about someone raising a child and then having that person "disconnect?"

    Adopted people have feet in two families--and it's not either/or, or should not be. The problem is that so many adoptive parents see their child's interest in his natural family as a rejection of them. It's not, and if that is the way you feel, you are undoubtedly visiting that conflict upon your child. Read the posts and comments here--adopted people do not reject the families who raised them. They simply want to know all the pieces of their lives.

    You can't have peace until you have all the pieces.

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  31. Well, that was my point osolomama. Since I wouldn't be like her (and she probably considered me ungrateful, and that I wouldn't go with the flow of how she wanted our family to be)and I was probably being like my Real Parents, or another member of my Real Family, instead of seeing that most of my entire generation was hippieish and again, my DNA was also dictating who I was going to be as a teen, she decided it was just ALL me(as in I have a problem, which I didn't)-which was total crap.(She is a very control freak personality btw) And yes, she used psychiatry to punish me. I will say too, that out of all of my hippish friends, NONE who were Adoppted I was the ONLY one who had to go see a psychiatrist. I think that says it all....

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  32. I think the connection has a lot to do with the nature of the individuals, I feel very connected to my mother. That has takne a lot of adjusting to, and felt very connected to my son in adolescence and still in his young manhood.

    I saw him repeat some of the very behaviors of his father and my own in his adolescence. Things that he had no way of knowing about like the way he drew obsessively.

    Connection is easy for me though, some people are so blocked and thick and slow that I imagine they couldn't even be aware of such connections.

    I agree with Lorraine although I understand that it may not be true for all natural mothers, that some may be to obtuse.

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  33. Amen, everybody, This is not the place to argue. Please take it elsewhere. More of these comments will not be published, and all may come down.

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  34. Let's see. This post's header is " When Should You Tell a Child He's Adopted?"
    Hardly a controversial question and there seems to have been a general consensus that transparency from the get-go is the only way to go.

    But then the post morphs into an argument that a biological mother "instinctively better knows and understands that little person at her breast, that angst-ridden adolescent, that troublesome teenager than any genetic teenager ever can or will."

    Some people, including myself, disagreed.
    If all things were equal it might be more likely that there *would* always be a connection where DNA is shared.
    However, all things are NOT equal. As somebody else has already said (I think), there are too many variables for it to be an all-encompassing rule.
    I believe that many children are born un-alike their mothers in far too many respects for that instinctual connection to work much beyond infancy. And that, as these children grow older and develop their individual personalities, they may - probably will - even grow further away from their mothers.
    IMO this is where social influences such as respect, (which includes not indulging an expectation that the child will mirror the mother - which after all, is really nothing more than a kind of narcissism - and *not* respectful of the individual) and simple consideration become really important.
    Everybody knows or should know, IMO, that love on its own is not enough. Respect is equally, if not more, important.

    I certainly don't think that my lack of connectedness to my mother had anything to do with her being 'obtuse', or 'blocked', or 'thick', or 'slow'. She most certainly was none of those things.
    But we did have very different personalities, with very different abilities and interests. Consequently we were not 'sympatico'. Even our appearances were dissimilar.
    I think she'd dreamed of having a daughter who would reflect and confirm her, but I was not capable of doing that. I agree that this kind of discordancy is more likely to happen in adoptive situations but it's not at all uncommon in biologically related families either.

    I don't think that conjuring up some kind of magical mystical umbilical cord that supposedly stretches from here to eternity is going to be helpful to young people who are struggling (as we all do in our time) to self-actualize.
    Besides, not accepting the above as a 'truth universally acknowledged' is no reason not to have and enjoy feelings of 'togetherness' or close affinity where they exist.

    I liked what Daryl Royal said, "Finding out "where I came from" gave me so much more confidence in who I was, and made me much better able to engage in relationships with those around me, including my adoptive parents."

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  35. I don't disagree. My experience with my mother says I don't have that but then that goes towards Joy's theory. My mother in my opinion does not have clarity in certain areas (polite way of saying obtuse)

    With my own daughter I myself feel a powerful connection. I'm a bit shy about claiming that from her but I do have to say that I see so many things in common that yes there is a very strong bond.

    I feel a bit shy about going into details and I also worry that I invade her privacy....but yes if anyone is counting me as disagreeing then I have to say that I agree more than disagree.

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  36. This thread has shifted a lot, from discussion of what to tell an adopted child, to natural parents having insight into the soul of their child that makes them better parents, to feeling a connection to our children.

    I most definitely feel a connection and see many family similarities in my son who was given up. I do not feel I can see into his soul, read his mind, or would have been a better parent to him as an adolescent because of us being blood relatives. Not believing in psychic stuff does not mean I feel no connection to my child. Not having felt such a bond with my mother does not make me or her "obtuse", just very different people. Please allow me to clarify this.

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  37. I have to say that I was adopted and I have an adopted daughter. What I feel most offended about is that so many mothers who have abandon their children assume they know how I should feel about my own abandonment. I suspect that no one really wants to hear my opinion because I have also adopted, but I've had so many of these feelings before i adopted. I have never felt any "biological connection" with my birth mother, EVER, and she terminated her rights with be after infancy, so my guess is we did partially bond. But on those sad nights, when I was crying in the night because my teenage boyfriend cheated on me with my best friend, I was soothed by the woman who raised me, and even in my full throttle of adulthood, when times are tough, and life seems unbearable, I do not want to be comforted by the women who gave birth to me. I want to "want to" be comforted by her, if that makes any sense, because somehow I feel like that would make me feel more normal, but I can't make myself feel a connection with someone I don't have shared memories with, and now that I'm adult I just don't think I could ever allow myself to emotionally open up to a virtual stranger. I understand so many things about adoption, about my own adoption, and i made a lot of connections after i adopted my daughter. I understand that the women who raised me, loved me, deep in her soul, and I understand now how dang scary that must have been for her, to take that chance, and love me as her true daughter, because I think she understood (although I've never asked her) that it was risky to love someone with no restrain,t who isn't your biological daughter. Love is so risky in itself, and then to love in a way that is outside of the social norm, to call someone mother/daughter who doesn't fit the absolute term in the "normal" way, I feel flattered and grateful that she took this chance on me, I feel like somehow she passed this strength and ability on to me, this ability to love without fear or reserve, and this helps me believe that this commitment I have to my adopted daughter is something separate and has nothing to do with her and the disruption between her and the women who gave birth to her. I am my adoptive mother's daughter, and I guess i don't need a community of women who have not made these commitments to their off spring telling me that somehow the women who raised me didn't understand me to the core. That she didn't have bad feelings when I was out too late, or that she didn't "sense" when i was lying to her or when I was in trouble. I'm sorry, I know the birth connection is all you'll probably have with your children, and it is a real scientific connection, I don't deny that, but the real magic, the intuition, the gut feelings, the dread, the love, the fear, I know that all happens because of the love you have for someone. If my adopted daughter died right now, I can promise you that the pain I would feel would be tens times more painful, more horrific, more real for me than the women who gave birth to her, only because it would be immediate, and immediate pain is the worst of all. My pain would be primitive and real. I would hold myself, and cry until I couldn't recognized my own voice, I would cling to her favorite stuffed animal and search for her scent, I would mourn like any poor animal in the wild for my baby, and, although I don't doubt her birth mother would feel her own pain, her animalistic loss, (when she too held and rocked herself) happened many years ago when she first relinquished her child.

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  38. Iever *would* be, but I wanted her to grow up knowing about him, I didn't want her to remember some big heavy conversation where I broke the news. I'm sure she doesn't remember, I think she was three when I told her. It was tough, she obviously didn't get it, but I'm still glad I told her early. I'm a big fan of your saying, "less is less." So true. t-shirt torino

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