Having "The Talk": How To Tell Adoptees They're Adopted
Probably the most horrifying moment in an adoptee’s life is the moment we find out we are adopted. It is scary, there are million and one questions, some that will never be answered, we experience emotions we didn’t even know existed and we don’t really know what to do next. While I’m always on the adoptee’s side and my concerns always lie with them before anyone else, I am also old and mature enough to understand that this time is also most likely very stressful for adoptive parents too. How do you have the conversation? How much info is too much? What if you can’t answer all the questions? While my own parents messed up on a lot of things, I can say that they actually did a very good job with this discussion and always making me feel like they supported me 100% on whatever decisions I made on my adoption journey. I can’t give you a blueprint that will ensure this discussion goes perfectly, because every adoptee and their stories are different. What I can do, is give you some general pointers that helped me and I think may help most when having this discussion.
Do you bring the topic up, or wait till they come to you?
For most transracial adoptees, we are probably going to come to you. Why? Because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we are a different color than everyone else. When I had this discussion, I went to my parents. I was the only black person in the family at the time and it did not take me long to figure out something was off. I remember asking why I had brown skin and no one else in the family did, and they had this talk with me. For same race adoptees or if they never do approach you, I do believe you should bring the topic up. You do not want to instill a belief that they are your biological child, because they are not, and you are lying, which makes you a garbage person. When to bring the topic up is tricky, but I believe you will see your “in” to have the discussion. You know your kids better than I do and you’ll be able to tell when the “right” time is. Even for adoptees who are the same race, there is still confusion and question about who we are and where we come from, that is your time to address the topic. Use those parental spidey-senses I know you all have, to feel your way in to have this discussion.
Don’t lie but use appropriate discretion
You would think this something that wouldn’t need to be addressed, but you would be surprised how many adoptive parents lie to adoptees about being adopted and/or their backgrounds. As I frequently talk about, many APs have this weird sense of saviorism, and they lie to make themselves seem like saviors thinking it will make the adoptee love and appreciate them more for “saving” them. We don’t, we just think you’re a lying trash bag, like you are. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. I really don’t care what justification you come up with, there’s not a valid one. Look, we all know not all adoptees come from loving families. Many come from very violent, abusive and manipulative birth families, which can be very hard to process. Lying about it doesn’t make it any better. We will find out, and then we are going to never trust you again because you lied our whole lives. That being said, depending on when you have this discussion, I do think using reasonable discretion is appropriate. Obviously, a 5-year-old isn’t going to be able to handle or even understand that their birth parents were abusive or a drug addict. You can be honest and make the situation easier to understand for the adoptee without lying. Maybe you don’t tell them they were drug addicts but you say they were sick and when they get older you elaborate more. Don’t be telling them their birth families were such loving and perfect families if they were not, there is no reason to lie. We will find out your lies and we will not trust you.
Leave it open for revisitation
I don’t believe this talk ever really ends. There are always going to be questions and wonderment, so when you have the first talk, make sure you make it very clear that we (adoptees) can always come back to you with questions or help for anything. The worst thing you can do besides lying is to make it seem like you don’t trust or support us on this journey. We’re going to have the journey regardless, with or without you, so if you want to be a good parent, that we can trust, you should be supporting us, not dismissing it. I am 27 and still having these discussions with my parents. I haven’t ended this talk nor is my adoption or unification journey over. It most likely never will be. I’ve spoken to adult adoptees in their 50s who are still processing. Be prepared for this to be a lifelong, ongoing, revolving door of a discussion because it will be.
Don’t push for results
Adoptive parents tend to get really antsy after having this talk. They want to know how we’re doing, what on our mind if we questions etc. I get it, you’re a concerned parent, and while it’s appreciated that you care, we need time to process and there is no one amount of time that will take. For me, it was nearly two decades. I had the initial talk around 5 or 6 and at that age, I was not concerned about all the details. My main concern was why my skin color was different because it was scary, I got that answer and went about my day. It wasn’t till a few years later when I started to consciously experience racism and dealing with things like being in the doctor's office and not being able to answer anything about my family medical history, that I really started to have questions about my background. My parents did a very good job having the talk with me, and they always made it clear that they were ready whenever I was to have further discussion and start the search for my birth family if I wanted to. I started with getting my file and I would look at stuff, get overwhelmed, and walk away for a bit. This went on for years, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I actually felt ready to look for my birth family. That is just my experience, some adoptees may be ready right off the bat, some adoptees might never want to revisit the topic again, and that is something you need be content with because you are here to support, not lead this journey. This is why I always say you need to be a parent and an ally. You also need to be prepared to not be involved in the journey. I did not want my parents involved in my reunification process, at all. It was something I felt I needed to do on my own, trying to keep everyone happy and involved was too stressful for me when this was my journey. I also just like to process on my own, without involving other people. But that is just me, there are some adoptees like my other adopted family members who wanted everybody involved. It varies for each adoptee. Regardless, you can still be supportive from afar but be prepared to not be hands on all the time.
Note to adoptees
Lastly, I just want to drop a quick note to the adoptees reading this. I want to remind all of you that this is your journey, first and foremost. It’s hard, it’s emotional, it’s okay to be sad, confused, angry or anything else you feel. If you need to cry or are so angry you feel like punching someone in the throat, I understand and I validate you, just try to find a substitute for an actual person to punch so you don’t end up in jail. But my point is, don’t let anyone push or intimidate you into doing anything you don’t want to do. If you want to get the ball rolling, great but it’s also okay if you never want to do anything further with this information, it’s your life, your story, don’t let anyone else control it but you.
..and if you prefer, I also made a video about this topic :)
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