Talking to Adopted Children About Birth Parents and Families of Origin: How to Answer the “Hard Questions” by Rhonda Jarema, MA

Source: http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/

By Rhonda Jarema

Introduction

7620090_orig_thumbOver the years, I’ve had a number of parents question me about what they should say to their child when that child asks about his or her biological parents. Adoptive families may have been provided with varying amounts of information, from an extensive background that includes APGAR scores to just a birthdate. Sometimes there is a vague family history, or the child might even have some memories of their birth family if placed as an older child. Most families have something in between: usually a very basic history of parental death, abandonment, voluntary placement, or removal from parental care. This leaves a hole that is often difficult for both child and parents, as they attempt to fill in the blanks from the past.

It is the responsibility of adoption professionals to try to guide the parents in this area. Adoptive parents often expect that professionals have some hidden store of information that was not provided with the referral, or that the information expanded while in the file and will provide the magical answers to their child’s questions. Sometimes parents become anxious when they receive questions from their child about their past prior to adoption. It is important for parents to give information appropriate to the child’s level of development; offering all the specifics at a young age may increase anxiety for all involved.

Just as it is important to share the information the parent has on the child’s family, so it is important not to fill in blanks when the answer really isn’t known. Sometimes the adoptive parent may not have any information, and the answer might be “I’m sorry, but I don’t know.” Another option would be to ask the child, “What do you think?” As a parent, these are not always easy discussions, but they are important to have.

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