Legal definition of Adoption Disclosure
Adoption disclosure refers to the release of information relating to the legal adoption of a child. It means telling the child about his/her adopted status i.e. that he/she was not biologically born into the family. It is not a one-off discussion to ‘inform’ or ‘appraise’ the child of the fact of adoption, but an ongoing process. “Acknowledging and talking about adoption is not a one-time approach; it’s a gradual journey for every family, ” says Sahana Mitra, psychologist.
Disclosure is not an option, but a prerequisite
It is of paramount importance talking to your child about adoption, as it is a very integral part of the child’s identity. The child has many facets to his/her identity, yet this remains a significant part in their lives. The dissemination of information can be done only by the parents and not by other family members, friends, or any other person associated to the family.
There could be a probability that the child / adult may find out from another source, such as a family member or other close associates of the family, if parents decide not to divulge the information of the child about adoption. This may not be the ideal situation for the child to become aware of his adoption status, and can lead to trust deficit in the relationship. This could subsequently trigger unnecessary negative outcomes
It is better that boundaries are drawn on adoption disclosure at the very beginning with the extended family members, to protect the sole rights and responsibilities in disclosing about their child’s adoption, and to ensure that speaking about adoption remains within the domain of the parents.
When is the right time?
Many parents are unaware the time to start initiating a conversation on disclosure. To begin with it will be helpful for both, the child and the parents, if the concept of adoption is introduced, and spoken about regularly at home from a young age of the child. Parents can determine and decide when and how they will initiate a conversation with their child and set the context about their adoption. Many adoption experts and psychologists counsel parents to introduce the word “adoption” as early as possible so that it becomes a comfortable part of a child’s vocabulary.
The dissemination of information can be initiated between the ages of 2 and 4. Many parents think children can’t understand the nuances and complexities of adoption when they’re young. This maybe partly true, but one can adopt to impart information in an age related manner depending on the cognitive development in the child.
Please visit https://padme.in/tellingyourchild/ on how you can tell your child about adoption keeping in mind their age and the cognitive development of the child.
Informing the child about adoption during adolescence or later in their adulthood is not an option, as they are building their own identity, and there could be a possibility of more questions coming your way about their birth origin and roots. Forming identity is central to any child’s emotional growth, and this is true of any child entering young adulthood, irrespective of whether they are biological or otherwise. More on this herehttps://padme.in/tellingyourchild/
What prevents families from talking about adoption?
It is normal to be anxious about talking to your child about adoption but there are several reasons why parents do not disclose or initiate conversation around adoption. Mostly, this reluctance and apprehension stems from the larger socio-cultural contexts that we live in.
Many times parents fear what people might say, or what the society may think about their decision to adopt.
Also it comes from a mindset and belief with the larger part of society that adoption is an option only if you can’t have a biological child.
Some parents may not be comfortable with the concept of adoption, and are not prepared to handle the social challenges surrounding adoption. While adoption is intensely personal, you must be prepared to talk about adoption and not feel fear or a sense of guilt or shame when questioned about it.
Another factor that makes parents not disclose is the fact that they don’t know how the child may respond. They fear that the child will be emotionally hurt, and that the parents my not have the skills or techniques to calm them down. It is absolutely normal if the child responds /reacts in a way that the parent were not expecting.
Parents may want to prepare themselves prior to having the conversation with their child , to ensure the skills, techniques and most importantly the mindset is in tandem with each other. It would be helpful if parents decided how they will talk to their child, so that their entire focus will be on talking to the child instead of thinking about what to say.
Finally some tips you can try while disclosing
Note: Being mindful that there is no one size fit formula on how each child processes the information.
It would be good to involve any older siblings that the child might have so that the family can talk together and be there for each other.
Parents can use some specific stories, so that there is no awkwardness when talking to the child.
Families can use children’s books as guides. These stories often use simple, fun, and stories that are easy for children to understand. Reading these books with the child makes him/her more comfortable with the concept of adoption and the child will have a positive feeling about adoption. (Please read appropriate books which are suited for domestic adoptions, and set in the socio-cultural context of the region)
Use the homecoming albums, with family photos, and with extended family photos to begin with, and this can start as early as 8 months.
Tips on creating an ongoing dialogue
Prepare yourself for the child to react/respond emotionally. They can react/respond calmly, anxiously, fearfully, or may not react/ respond. Let the child know that it is normal to feel what he/she is feeling. and listen and answer your child when they have any questions, or ask for any information regarding adoption.
Talking positively about why your child came to live with you and could not stay with their birth parents can be helpful. Keep the story about their background very simple to help your child comprehend it.
Explain to them that being adopted does not mean they are loved any less than a child who is with their birth parents.
Let them know how excited you were when they came to live with you, and how special they are to you and the family.
It is normal if your child becomes upset, confused, or asks a lot of questions about their adoption.
Your child may also be calm while processing the information when you tell them and react later regarding the information.
If you are uncertain about certain questions coming to you while speaking to your child try and stay positive, otherwise, your child may pick up on your feelings and think and feel that their adoption is a negative concept
Tell your child the truth keeping in mind if they are very young, some information may be very hurtful so hold this back until they are ready for it.
Try and think about some of the questions your child may ask and what your answers can be prior to setting the context with your child.
Ensure your undivided attention to your child, without phone calls or interruptions.
Please be aware that if your child becomes angry this is a natural reaction, as they are probably feeling very confused.
*To read the books about telling your child about adoption, click here.
*To read more of Sahana Mitra’s research work, click here http://padme.in/research/.
* life story adoption book: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jan/29/life-story-books-adopted-children
(Please read appropriate books which are suited for domestic adoptions, which are set in the socio-cultural context of the region)
Information compiled by
Tejaswinni Nalegalve, Intern , Mount Carmel, Bengaluru
Gayatri Abraham, Padme
Dr.Aloma Lobo: Adoption Expert