Last year, I received a phone call from Susan*, an adoptive mother in Ohio. Susan explained that her 8-year old child's biological father had just committed a murder and that the local news would be covering the story. With panic in her voice, Susan asked; "How do I shield him from seeing this? He knows his birth-father, so he'll recognize him on the 5 o'clock news. I don't want him to know that he's related to a murderer!"
I happened to be in Columbus, Ohio the following week as I was consulting with the Office of Children and Families Department in their adoption unit, so I offered that we meet while I was in town. She breathed a sigh of relief, while I inhaled deeply hoping Susan might be amenable to my approach. My straightforward, adoptee-centric stance on sharing difficult information has long been that fearing the worst is worse than knowing the worst. I was about to advise her to tell her son about his birth fathers' crime.
Susan and I had a few phone conversations leading up to my arrival. She shared about her son’s developmental age and his ability to handle difficult information. I learned of his temperament and about the other aspects that combined to create his busy life. We discussed the potential what-ifs, and her concern for his emotional well-being and ramifications if she chose not to tell. Ultimately, Susan decided that now was the right time and thus she and I were able to work together to inform her son about his birthfather’s crime in a way that he was able to handle. We also offered space for him to ask any questions that he may have. His first question? "Can we go drive by the jail? I want to see where he lives now." So we did.
Susan texted me a few months later, stating that her son often wants to make a point to drive by the prison when they're on their way to his dance lessons, basketball practice or simply to the grocery story. As they drive by, he typically inquires about 8-year old stuff, for example "Do they celebrate Christmas in jail?" or "Does he get to play any video games?" or “What kind of food do you think he gets to eat?”
On Friday, March 30th, I will be continuing my Honestly Curious series on Facebook Live. I've invited Beth Hall, co-author of Inside Transracial Adoption, to join me to discuss scenarios which may elicit fear and apprehension on the part of adoptive parents. The Facebook Live medium allows viewers to comment during the broadcast, so we can respond in real-time. I'd love to hear from you! What difficult truth are you wondering about sharing with your child about their history?
*Susan is not her real name to ensure privacy.