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Adoption and Your Extended Family

September 1, 2014

Adoption begins with loss of a birthparent. Either through death or an inability to parent, your child lost his or her birthparents. The beautiful picture of adoption is the restoration of love and family. However, that initial loss often fosters many questions from family members, your child and even complete strangers. How much do you tell them about your child’s birthparents and how do you politely ask them to respect your child’s privacy? We hear that question often.

First, we always encourage adoptive parents to discuss their child’s adoption with the child from the very beginning. (If you are having trouble doing this, check out our blog on the topic.) We also understand that age plays a factor in what you can or cannot tell your child. A three year old will not understand certain things that may have motivated a birthmother to choose adoption, like promiscuity or drug abuse.

When you and your child are ready to discuss those details, many of which may be painful and difficult, you want to have the conversation yourself, not have Aunt Sally spill the beans at Thanksgiving dinner. If your child’s birthmother had a troubled past, you want to avoid having your child labeled early on because of his or her mother’s indiscretions.

How, exactly, do you protect your child from these situations without completely offending your family by keeping secrets?

Although many people often mistake them, privacy and secrecy are very different. Privacy is given to a person out of respect for their dignity and freedom. Secrecy, on the other hand, involves fear and/or shame that motivates people to hide information. We adamantly advise openness with your child and family, but remember the time before your child came to you is his or her private story. Consider how the things you tell others will affect them later in life.

For example, if your adopted daughter’s birthmother was promiscuous, when your daughter goes through her “normal” teenage rebellion, you don’t want an extended family member to make the remark that, “She’s going to be just like her birthmother.” Rather, you want them to be as supportive and loving of her as you are. Keeping her story private ensures those wayward thoughts are not in the minds of your extended family members.

To help your family understand your decisions, we suggest writing a letter for the entire family before your child comes home. Explain what they need to know about the adoption and your forever child. Include in the letter information about your decision to adopt and positive adoption terminology, like forever family and birthmother rather than adoptive family and “real mother.” Also, give as much of your child’s background as you feel appropriate. If members of your family already know the backstory, you can ask them to respect your child’s privacy, reminding them that it is your child’s story to tell.

Each family is different. If letter writing is not your thing, just have a family conference to talk about these issues. If you have questions about adoption, please do not hesitate to contact us at 662-842-6752.