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Adoptive Parenting/How to tell the kid that she is adopted

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Question
Hi Cathy,

I have a cousin that is adopted since birth. Her biological parents were not able to take care of her. So she came to our family and we all love her. She's 10 this year. She actually heard from someone else that she's adopted when she was 6 yo, but that time we were not ready to tell her yet so we told her it's just a rumor, something like that.

I think it's time to tell her, in fact it may be a bit too late. We are Asian family and we don't do bed time story since young. I read somewhere that they advice to tell the kid some stories about adoption so that she can get the idea but I don't know how to bring it up out of the blue and she is 10 already.

I will compile her photos since young and let the parents assure her that they love her dearly. But we really don't know what to expect. We don't know how this could affect her when we told her the truth and what kind of question will she ask. She loves her parents dearly( my aunt and uncle), will she be disappointed after she learns the truth?

We don't wanna loose her and she's growing up fast and we are afraid that during her teenage year, she may get rebellious.
How do we approach her in the first place and what must we say and must not say to her.

Your advice is greatly appreciated.  
Thank you.

Sincerely,
Vic (girl)

Answer
Hi Vic,
    Thanks for seeking advice on this. I'm an adoptive mom of two and while my children have open adoptions and have always known about their adoptions, I can imagine how scary your aunt and uncle must be to tell her the truth of her adoption.

    That being said, the only people that should be telling her that she's adopted are her mom and dad. I'd be as supportive as you can be to your aunt and uncle, but let them be the ones to sit down with her and share this very important information. They'll want to share this at home, in private. I wouldn't do it in a public place or with other around-- they'll want her to have the safety of home to absorb this news and be able to share her feelings about it.
   
    Being told that everything that you've thought about your family isn't true, is not something that will be taken easily. She very well might get angry, feel betrayed, and even decide that she's not going to trust anything being said to her anymore. It's important that she know the truth and that she know why her biological parents placed her for adoption. She may cry and feel really betrayed by them. She might shrug her shoulders and put up a front and act like she doesn't care. It all depends on how she processes things.

    Using adoption-friendly language is also critical. I'd make sure that she know that her biological parents loved her so much that they placed her with a family that could give her what they couldn't provide. I'd avoid using phrases like "gave you away," and instead use words like "place for adoption" and "choose adoption."

    Some books for kids her age that might help open the doors for conversations (they're not going to be able to just have one conversation and be done with this-- it's going to be something that is discussed again and again) include:

- Anne of Green Gables
- Annie
- The Great Gilly Hopkins
- Heidi
- Pollyanna
- Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (movie)

    If she threatens to leave home, has difficulty managing her anger, suddenly shuns social activities although she's typically outgoing, behaves in a way that is a dramatic departure from her usual personality and temperament, or suddenly starts to challenge authority in school-- they may want to encourage her to see a therapist that specializes in adoption. There are a lot of therapists that can help adopted children and their families with support and helping a child cope with the grief that WILL come from learning about being adopted. A therapist to help with this process, should be seen together as a family, and separately for her if she needs it. Otherwise, they shouldn't send her to a therapist on her own because they won't want to send the message to her that something is wrong with adoption.

    Some of the things that she will have to process (which takes a lot of time and patience) include: Loss of her biological family (Why couldn't they raise me?), loss of being in a "normal" family (I wish we could just be like other families), and loss of status (real or imagined)-- "Will other kids tease me about being adopted?" By recognizing these losses, grieving them, and coping with them, she'll build inner resources and vital life skills.

    The key is to be honest with her. She may ask why they waited ten years to tell her. She may ask where are biological parents are. They'll need to have these questions already answered before she asks. She may want to see them and meet them (which is TOTALLY NORMAL AND EXPECTED). If there's no chance of her ever finding them, tell her up front. If there's a possibility of meeting them in the future, they need to be honest and supportive and tell her that when she's an adult, they'll do all that they can to help her find her biological family.

    She might already know (as you suspect that she was told at age 6) and just hasn't been able to share that she knows. She may take hearing about it and not have much of a reaction at first-- but once they've started the conversations, they need to keep the communication flowing. Don't expect her to come to them with her thoughts and feelings, they'll need to go to her as well.

    Most teens go through a rebellious phase-- and they're not adopted. It's part of our growth and development and trying new things and seeing what we can successfully do independently. However, being told at age 10 that she's adopted, could be something that really throws her off and makes her rebel simply out of sadness, anger, and mistrust. They'll need to be prepared for her to be upset.

    This website lists a lot of children's books about adoption and they could read them to her: http://www.parents.com/parenting/adoption/facts/childrens-books-about-adoption/

    There are adoption-related magazines that they might want to subscribe to (Adoptive Families is one that we subscribe to and we love). There are online support forums that they can join to get more information from adoptive parents, birth mothers, and adoptees.
http://forums.adoption.com/communication-between-adoptive-parents-adoptees/
http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/forums/viewforum/39/
http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a10245/adoptive_families

    Lastly, they need to make sure they tell her soon. If it were me, I'd apologize for waiting so long to tell her, and let her know that it's been really hard for ten years to not share this critical information with her. I'd let her know that I love her very much, and that it was important to me, for her to know the truth. I'd explain why I waited so long to tell her.

    I have two adopted children and they've known they were adopted from day one. I read them books, we have visits with their biological families, and they will always know. It's so important for children to know where they come from, and I'd make sure your aunt and uncle clearly define where she comes from. She will have questions and even if they don't have the answers, they need to make sure she knows that they'll do whatever they can to help her find the answers to her questions. They need to instill a sense of trust in her that will be lost when she finds out that they've lied to her for ten years.

    Best wishes and I'm praying that it all works out for the best and she's able to feel some peace and a bit of relief by knowing the truth.

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Cathy Walker

Expertise

I can answer questions related to domestic newborn adoption. I cannot answer questions about the foster care system or international adoption.

Experience

I have two adopted children and both were adopted at birth here in the U.S.A. Our first adoption experience began with an agency and then we ended up using an adoption attorney for the adoption. Our second adoption was a private adoption with an adoption attorney only.

Organizations
International MOMS Club Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority Phi Sigma Pi Coed Honors Fraternity Golden Key Order of Omega

Education/Credentials
BS in Elementary Education MAEd in Curriculum and Instruction MAEd in Administration and Supervision

Awards and Honors
Teacher of the Year for my school (2011) Semi-Finalist for Wake County Teacher of the Year (2011) (Wake County Public School System- NC) Scholastic Teacher Advisor (2010-2012) Scholastic Mom & Dad Squad (2011-2013)

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