As parents who have adopted children, an important question we continually face is how do I talk to my adopted kids about their birth family? How Do I Talk to My Adopted Kids About Their Birth Family?|The Holy Mess

If a child comes from a birth family situation that was not ideal, included drugs, alcohol, dysfunction, or abuse, these conversations are tricky.

I’m not here to judge birth families. Look, all families have dysfunction.

The goal is to consider what is best for the child, and this child may be emotionally in limbo between two worlds. The child might wonder about and long for his birth family. (Not all children, but many do.)

Adoptive parents wonder:

  • When do we tell a child about his past? What are the signs that the time is right?
  • How much do we reveal?
  • How do we do it?
  • How do I honor his birth family yet share honestly?

There are parts of our children’s history that are everyday aspects of life. We talk about adoption on a daily basis. We talk about birth moms and adoption days. These are always open for discussion. Sometimes my kids bring up the topic. Sometimes I bring it up.

Other areas are not ones I tend to bring up, but I would gladly talk about should my kids ask. Specific questions about birth parents, family history, and previous visits are topics that come to mind.

Generally, I have believed that honesty is the best policy. I want my children to believe that:

  1. Mom tells me the truth.
  2. It’s safe to talk to mom about these topics. (By “safe” I mean, mom won’t crumble into a puddle of sadness when they bring up the topic. While I feel it’s fine to share my own emotions on a basic level, if I’m a total mess, I know they won’t feel safe sharing anymore.

Both of our adopted sons have a history that is significant. For their sake, I am not going to disclose full details here.

I believe his history is his-story and belongs to him.

Regardless, what happened to each of my sons before they came to our home is serious, it’s preverbal, and it’s real.

His History is His-Story

I believe the body holds memories. This is beyond what I can fully comprehend, but while I know each of my sons didn’t know what happened to him, I believe a part of him knew on some deepest core level.

These experiences had changed their brains, their processes, and their beliefs about themselves.

I once had a therapist suggest to me that we never tell our sons about their history. After all, what purpose would it serve? It would only upset them and could cause such emotional pain.

I hear the theory behind this, but this had never sat right with me.

A child’s history is his history. It belongs to him. I don’t feel I have a right to hold onto something so vital about him — or withhold it from him — even if I feel it’s for his own good.

So I’ve always believed we would fully disclose all we know to each of them when the time was right.

When to Share?

Yet when is the time right?

I think I had this idea in my mind that we would tell each of them someday when the boys were 18 years old or so.

I know I pictured us sitting in a therapist’s office somewhere, with a kind soul guiding us through this process. Each boy would of course be very upset, but would have the adult resources to handle this news of how he came to be in the foster care system, why he was removed from his birth family, and the things that happened in his past.

Realistic? No, probably not.

Not Perfect

We’ve been careful to be respectful when speaking about birth parents in our home.

I show respect to the families who gave our children life.

But I might have also taken this too far. The truth is that our kids came to us as foster children for a reason, and the reasons are not good.

If we are not truthful, how will our kids understand how they came to be where they are in life?

Talking about these things is painful, but it’s true, and the truth is better than pretending.

As our children get older, the time has come to discuss the tougher realities of their birth histories.

A Decision

May, 2015

Still, I had not in any way, shape, or form planned to tell my son about these most serious issues from his past when he is 10 years old.

My son’s behaviors continue to increase. We are seeing a new therapist, and one of his first suggestions is that Mike and I consider disclosing to our son the full truth of his birth history.

A part of me is taken aback at the thought of this, but another part of me is ready to do it as soon as possible. Maybe I am seeking something — anything — that can potentially help my child’s behavior.

We know the behaviors will surely get worse for a time, but we think maybe then he will get better with the right therapy.

Is full disclosure now the right timing? Generally, secrets in therapy aren’t good, and as our son is getting older, the likelihood of him discovering information on his own is possible, and we don’t want that.

Mike and I go home to think about it and pray over it, but we both know we will probably share with him soon.

Still Standing

Bible Verse

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Philippians 1:27How Do I Talk to My Adopted Kids About Their Birth Family?|The Holy Mess

Journal Prompt

How might you use your life experiences to be a witness to others?


Other Books for Children About Adoption
The Family Book by Todd Parr
The Day We Met You by Phoebe Koehler
“A” is for Adopted by Elieen Tucker Cosby
All Families are Different by Sol Gordon
All Families are Different by Nina Pellegrini

Yes, I’m Adopted!


Foster & Adoptive Parents

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*Foster & adoptive parents, grandparents raising grandkids, if your child has experienced trauma or loss -- this resource is JUST FOR YOU!

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