Parents of adopted children have varying degrees of anxiety about the birth parents of their children. This can be for several reasons for this. Sometimes, adoptive parents possess information about the birth parents that make them uneasy. Sometimes, it is the lack of information is what makes them uncomfortable. And, for many parents of adopted children, the simple idea of the birth parents, of any connection to them or information about them, lays host to fears and insecurities that they could somehow lose the precious children they worked so hard and waited so long for.
Regardless of their feelings about the birth parents of their children, it is important that the parents of adopted children prepare themselves for the inevitability that, at some point, their children will be looking for information about them. It is natural for all children to have questions about where they came from and what makes them who they are. Although many of these answers can be found in the manner in which they are raised, there are many questions that biology alone can answer. For adopted children, these questions often remain unanswered. It is important that their adoptive parents are willing to help them by providing them with what information they can.
The information that parents of adopted children have about the birth parents of their children is widely varied. Some parents have actually met the birth parents and have contact information for them, while others may not even know what geographical region the birth parents came from. What matters most is that the parents of adopted children provide honest answers to the questions that their children ask them. Even if they do not like the answers that they have to give, there is no substitute for honesty in these situations.
Now, I am not advocating that you pass on identifying information or offer to try to contact the birth parents, particularly if your adopted children are minors. If anything, I think that that sort of information would only serve to heighten your children’s sense of confusion about the issue. As an adult child of adoptive parents, I enjoy a very healthy relationship with my birth parents as well. However, those relationships were formed well into my adulthood, and I feel very strongly that it was best that I was without contact from my birth parents until I was old enough to take care of myself.
There are a couple of things to bare in mind when your adopted children begin to ask you questions about where they “came from.” The first is that this is a part of the natural drive of all children to try to unearth what makes them tick. It is a normal part of development, and any information you can provide them will make their process easier. Even if the information you have is not entirely pleasant, and you are drawn to shield your children from it, it is important that you share what you know, and then remain open with your children so that you can help to frame the information in a manner they can understand and place it in the most positive light for them. If you have no information about the birth parents of your adopted children, share that as well, but let them know that you will see what you can find out. Growing up is confusing enough. Not knowing where you came from adds a dynamic that non-adopted children do not experience. Open and informative discussions about what you know about where your children about their heritage, however limited or non-existent your information may be, is important for the development of their senses of self.
Another thing to consider when your adopted children begin asking questions about their birth parents is the long-term ramification of your answers to their questions. If there is information that you do not want to divulge to them about their birth parents, rest assured that your children will discover the information for themselves at some point during their lives. While they are children and living under your guidance is the best time to discuss any problems or difficult situations in their backgrounds, as difficult as that may be.
I am extremely aware that I have lived a very fortunate life as an adopted child, and am able to enjoy a health relationship with my adoptive “real” parents and with my birth parents. I also realize that all sorts of dynamics lead to children being given up for adoption, some of them extremely painful to contemplate discussing with your children.
While they are young and inquisitive, and have their trust in you, the parent, for helping to shape many of their worldviews, you are in the best position to address difficult or sensitive information about their birth parents. This is a position that will only last for a brief number of years. You can help your adopted children to understand where they came from and be available to help them to frame and process the information in the most positive manner.
Most importantly, it is crucial that parents of adopted children never allow their insecurities about the birth parents of their children, or fears about somehow losing their children to them, to cloud their judgment when responding to their children’s inquiries. These insecurities are natural, and are shared by many parents of adopted children. However, they are not an acceptable reason to avoid providing their children with the information they are looking for.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that children are incredibly intuitive beings. The perception that their parents are “hiding” information from them could very well increase their anxieties about the questions that they have, while simultaneously intensifying their drive to discover the answers to those questions.
It is so important for parents of adopted children to be there to help them to process this information. This can best be accomplished by being there for them when they first start to investigate it. Whether the information in your children’s backgrounds is good, bad, or undisclosed, you can help to guide them through the process of discovering where they came from in a way that no one else can.