Here are two responses to a difficult dilemma that one family is facing.
"We are the proud parents of two children, a girl and a boy, both under the age of 5. The children’s biological parents are parenting two other children. Though we would like it, the birth parents are emphatic that they don’t want an open adoption. Despite this, we leave photos and letters with our agency. Our adoption agency has told us that the birth parents have not told their children about their adopted siblings. We live in the same neighbourhood and feel concerned that, at some point, they will meet through school or some other activity. Apparently, our children bear a strong resemblance to their unknown siblings. How should we handle this? We want to be honest with our children, but feel concerned about all the complications of this situation?" --Jake and Melanie Simpson
Dear Jake and Melanie,
You are right to be concerned about future implications for your children and their siblings. The first step would be to speak with your adoption agency about your concerns and ask the agency to contact the birth family to discuss the ramifications for all of the children if the circumstances of the adoption are made known to them through community rumour rather than from their parents.
The birth parents need to be made aware that the failure to disclose the adoption to the children they are raising may result in a loss of trust in them when those children eventually find out. It sounds like you are already aware of the potential trauma for your children when they learn that they have siblings and birth family living nearby.
Ultimately, the responsibility for what gets told to each of these children is the responsibility of the parents who are raising them. In other words, the birth parents are ultimately responsible for what they tell their children. You are responsible for what you tell your children. It would absolutely be in the best interests of these four children if the adults could sit down and come to an agreement about how this problem is going to be resolved. Your adoption agency may be able to arrange a meeting. If you are able to engage the birth parents in a discussion about how to resolve this, you may wish to consider using the services of a trained professional mediator.
Marg Harrington, Social Worker, Sunrise Adoption.
Dear Jake and Melanie,
Micky Duxbury, the author of Keeping Family Ties through Open Adoption says, “Open adoptions today are undeniably complex and result in ever-evolving relationships that may not be as easy as the secrecy of the past.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
What you can control, to some degree, is the surprises for your children. You and your husband will want to be the ones to tell your children about their birth parents and siblings long before anyone else does, either intentionally or accidentally.
Deciding how to tell, to which child and when, isn’t easy. Only you and your husband can decide. Your children are both very young and are really only able at this stage to grasp the concept of adoption. As they grow you will have lots of opportunity to share more. What I know from raising two children in semi/open adoption is the earlier they have the information the better the child is to integrate the information into their story.
You and your husband will want to role-play the “what if’s” now. What if someone approached or openly questioned us?, What if the children were with us? What if they weren’t? What would be our response? What if someone shared information about the birth family with you in front of the children?
I know that you are feeling unsure and concerned. Take it one step at a time. Learn, share and prepare. If you practice these role plays your family will be well prepared as the years go by and your story unfolds—and it will unfold.
Karen Madeiros, AFABC Executive Director.