‘You’re adopted’
Not telling a child’s true birth story can cause hurt.
Some years ago a Dad and Mum told my wife and me that their eldest daughter was in fact the product of a relationship that preceded the mother’s marriage. They also had a younger daughter together.

The older daughter was by this time 13 years old and ignorant of her roots. Her relationship with the man she believed to be her father was excellent, as was her relationship with her younger half-sibling.

As a Christian minister for 20-odd years, I have regularly had to deal with families where truth has not always been held in the esteem it has deserved. Clandestine affairs, dodgy financial dealings, badly veiled favouritisms have all been a part of my ‘professional’ experience.

In this case, Dad and Mum asked us when we thought they should let their eldest daughter know the truth about her origins. Our immediate response was she should have been informed already. Of course the parents were concerned at what her reaction might be given the issues that come with children passing into their early teens.

After some prompting, the parents concerned told the eldest daughter the whole truth. After a brief period of confusion and no few tears the girl adjusted and moved on with her life. The saving grace in this instance was the stable family life that each of the members enjoyed and appreciated.

In the dark about adoption

Things could have been quite different as in my own story. I grew up as an only child, and spent my early years in England before my parents immigrated to South Africa in 1970. I passed through life unremarkably and eventually settled down.

At the age of 48 I found out that my parents were not, in fact, my parents at all. I had been adopted at the age of 2 months. To say that the news came as a shock would be something of an understatement. My world shattered.

All that I had received as truth with regard to my roots and where I belonged disappeared like a morning mist. Nothing, outside of my faith and my marriage, could be trusted. What was truth and what was not?

When we become adults we often fail to appreciate the importance of our formative years – the very foundations of our lives. So many decisions, attitudes, ideas, prejudices, etc. spring from the well of our upbringing. When the water of that well is found to be impure, all that it has produced becomes uncertain and unsupportive.

The next 6 months of my life were a swirl of unexpected emotions, doubts, questionings, “if onlys” and “what-ifs”. Fortunately, I have traced my biological parents and my relationship with my biological mother is strong and ongoing.

Failing to tell the truth about a child’s birth story is to fail your child in the extreme. You may have what you believe to be well-founded reasons for maintaining silence on the matter, but truth has a way of getting out. When it does, its arrival is not always marked by rejoicing, very often its appearing brings with it pain and confusion. No child deserves that.

When should a child be told he or she is adopted?

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