QUESTION:

We are currently matched with a birth mother who has a 1-year old daughter she is raising. Do you have any suggestions about how, and at what age, to discuss this full biological sibling with our adopted child?

RESPONSE:

Thank you for your thoughtful question.

I am curious if you are participating in an open adoption and if so, how open? You might consider creating a lifebook or document the history of your child’s life before he or she comes to your family. This can include pictures of both your child’s birthmom and her other child. As your child grows up, he or she will know who his/her birthmother is and also become familiar with her other child, his/her sibling. It’s generally helpful to use the first name of the child, as you talk about her, for example, “That’s Jenny your birthmother’s little girl.” Although young children can generally tell their adoption story with ease when the parents have helped them by providing age appropriate information, understanding siblings requires more than just the simple reproductive biology of sperm, egg and “you grew inside of another woman who birthed you.” It requires a basic understanding of genetics. This ability to grasp bigger topics happens around age 8 or 9. Before this age, it can be difficult for a child to understand the concept of brothers and sisters who are related yet growing up in different families.

As with other complex adoption related topics, it’s important to talk about the truths, again, in an age appropriate way. Give your child space to experience his or her feelings and validate them. A common question is, “Why did Jenny stay with my birthmother and I didn’t?” Again, this may be difficult to answer and you may not have all of the specific details. It’s important to reiterate that like adoption, this was a decision made by the adults. It’s ok to let your child know you are not sure of all of the “whys” and again, validate their feelings of confusion, sadness, anger or whatever they may be. An example of this might sound like, “I wonder if sometimes you might feel sad about Jenny living with your birthmom.” Be mindful talking about money if that plays into reasons for relinquishment…the decision to relinquish a child is generally far more complicated than just finances. Rather you might explain, “Sometimes families go through difficult times and have to make very difficult adult decisions. Your birthmom made an adoption plan because she wanted you to have a mommy and daddy to take care of you.”

Your child’s reactions and desire for more information will vary as he or she grows older and they will want you, their best advocate to help them understand their story.
You may also decide to consult with an adoption therapist/specialist as these topics arise. This person can help you “fine tune” the dialogue to your specific situation and your child’s emotional stage.

In any case, all of the information is part of your child’s story and as such, part of your family story. Don’t shy away from talking about it.