Why We Tell the Truth

At Salon's advice column, Since You Asked, an adoptive mother essentially asks for permission NOT to tell her child she's adopted:
The only problem, Cary, is that despite being educated and well informed, I can not imagine telling my daughter that she is adopted.

* * *

From the start I started getting irrationally offended when friends referred to it. I cut off someone because she said “oh, she has really taken to you.” Like, why should she not, she is my daughter. I regret that this was shared with the whole family and I had a bit of a showdown where I made it clear that this is not something we discuss or even refer to whenever we meet or ever. Everything I read tells me that this information should be shared early. However, I also read that adopted children grapple with the issue, agonize over it. I mean, why should my lovely daughter have to deal with something her peers do not? Also, her birth mother cannot be traced. The information will really not help her get her genetic or medical information. If after a childhood of happy memories she does come to know, would it really shock her so much? Surely she would be strong enough to deal with it then.

* * *

I am going crazy, Cary, I can’t think straight. Isn’t love enough? . . .  I just want to be her mother, not her adoptive mother.
Even worse, after a few stabs at suggesting it might be a good idea to tell her the truth, the columnist gives her the permission she seeks:
What would you learn if you learned you were adopted?

You would learn that what you thought was true wasn’t true. It would be more a kind of unlearning than learning. It would be an acquisition of not-knowledge.

Maybe it would be like learning that most of the universe is dark matter and dark energy. You would have to start over. That might not be a bad thing. You might acquire a new, more flexible notion of selfhood.

For one thing, you would have to conclude that you are not your genetic origin, right? Ideally, you would learn that you are a unique being, much loved, who came to be in a particular family here through unique circumstances.

* * *

Let’s put it this way: What does it matter whose car we came in? We’re at the party now.
Wow.  I don't even know where to start. How about with birth-mother-as-car?  And if it's international adoption, I suppose she's an exotic foreign car?!  Now, I'm familiar with the whole birth-mother-as-medical-equipment thing, as merely a pass-through body, as the wrong tummy.  But this is my first exposure to birth-mother-as-car.  God.

So I guess we need to go back to the basics of WHY we talk adoption with our kids.

1. We tell our children from the very beginning that they are adopted because it is in their best interests that we do so;  whether it is best for us, the adoptive parents, doesn't matter.  It is good for us, too, but the only thing that really counts here is our children.

2.  It is every human's right to know their own story.  Our children's stories begin before we enter the picture, even with newborn adoption.  They have a right to know, we have a duty to tell.

3.  Openness and honesty are FUNDAMENTAL to healthy relationships, and that includes the relationship between parent and child. How would you feel if someone you loved kept a big secret from you "for your own good?"  Once trust is destroyed, it will be nearly impossible to get back.

4.  Keeping secrets is hard.  All the psychic energy put into keeping adoption a secret takes a toll on the adoptive parent and the parent-child relationship.  If you have to be so careful NOT to reveal the secret, and guard against anyone else telling the secret, where's the room for a genuine relationship?

5.  It is almost impossible to keep a secret that anyone else knows.  I remember walking in on an adult discussion as a child and learning a BIG family secret.  Children eventually find things out, and one social worker has written that adoptive children, who often feel the presence of secrets, are more likely to snoop in order to discover those secrets.  How do you think a child would react to learning the truth from someone else, rather than from her parents?  See breaking trust, above!

6.  Don't you want your child to hear it from you instead of someone else?  Who do you think would do a better job of telling your child she's adopted -- you, or her cousin taunting her about it?  Face the fact that it is inevitable that your child will find out.  Let it be from you, who can be gentle and supportive, not from near-strangers.

7.  We keep bad things secret.  So if you are keeping adoption secret, once your child finds out, she will learn from your previous silence that adoption is bad, shameful, something not to be discussed.

8.  Biology matters.  It isn't safe for an adopted person to assume they share the same genetic heritage as their adoptive family.  Filling out medical history forms, needing a blood transfusion, any number of reasons make it important for adoption information to be shared.  This is the case EVEN IF WE CAN'T SHARE INFO ABOUT BIRTH PARENTS BECAUSE WE DON'T KNOW IT!

Can you add to the list of WHY we must disclose early and often in the comments?

Oh, and you might want to check out the reaction of first mothers to the Salon piece at Birth Mother, First Mother Forum. And check out this piece in the Australian Family Relationships Quarterly about late-discovery adoptees and their issues.

I've always thought that the WHY of telling is a no-brainer.  Harder is the HOW of telling, which is why I tend to blog more about that.  Here are some previous posts that I hope are helpful on the HOW of telling:

Ten Commandments of Telling
Talking Adoption Tips
Planting Seeds
Have You REALLY Told Her She's Adopted?
"Let's Play Adoption"
Telling About Abandonment
Crafting Your Adoption Story
Should You Talk? Should You Wait For Questions?