Last week our blog focused on living the reality of unconditional love under extremely challenging circumstances. This week we will look at some challenges to telling the entire truth of “their story” to our children.
Some children come to adoption because of tragic circumstances of neglect, abuse, or parental inability/unwillingness to care for them properly. Some children were conceived through rape or incest. Such circumstances hold the power to hurt our children. However, time has shown that withholding facts actually damages children even more. It must not be a matter of “if” parents will tell but “when and how.”
When sharing difficult information, consider the child’s age and maturity. Gradually share facts in a way that ensures the core truth. Do not tell him something that must later be retracted. In the face of these kind of painful realities, a child must be able to count on parents as consistent truth-tellers. Discovering that parents have lied to him destroys a child’s most important sanctuary. In addition to confronting extremely challenging information, he then must face these facts without the bedrock of parents whom he trusts. EVERYTHING a parent has said, shared and advocated becomes tainted.
Some parents may question the sanity of sharing every ugly piece of their child’s story. In Keefer and Schooler’s excellent book, “Telling the Truth to Your adopted or Foster Child,” this reluctance is explored in great depth. A frequent reason parents offer for their decision to withhold information from their child is a desire to protect him/her. Inevitably this attempt to shelter backfires. Kids can sniff out “secret-keeping.” It is not a kindness to “whitewash, ignore or erase” a child’s history. In the absence of information, they will always attribute the reason for secrecy as their fault. This worsens shame, weakens self-esteem, stirs fears and leaves kids floundering. Not exactly what the parents intended.
Keefer and Schooler ask parents to scrutinize their own motives; they assert: “Parents who withhold or distort key information about a child’s past may be, in effect, protecting themselves from a task they find difficult.”
Truth-telling requires compassion, planning and patience. Reveal information in small moments of day to-day life instead of a momentous we-have-to-talk conversations. Watch body language for clues that a child has heard enough at that moment. Always reassure kids that adoption is a safe and permissable topic. (In the absence of a consistent attitude of openness kids will infer that it is disloyal/offensive to raise questions about their adoption.)
Keefer and Schooler lay out detailed scenarios that can help you design a strategy that works for your family. For example, if incest is a factor, when your child is little, point out that some siblings care deeply about one another. Over the years expand the conversation to include power struggles between kids, poor boundary-setting, etc. Lay the groundwork of a pathway to truth; stay on a path that includes more and more pieces of the picture until it is finally complete. Truth builds trust.
One of Keefer and Schooler’s main points: kids must know all of the detail prior to adolescence:
“Therefore, adoptive parents are advised to share information before their child enters the argumentative, stormy stage of adolescence. Paradoxically, children of eleven or twelve will understand and accept information that an older youth might not.”