Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Secrecy in Adoption

To the best of our ability, Pedro and I aim for a "no secrets" family life with our children. We enforce this when two of our kids try to whisper together and leave out another sibling; when one of our kids wants to tell Mommy something but not Daddy; and even when one of our girls has a friend over and the temptation is to whisper secrets with the friend and leave her sister out.

We feel strongly that secrets are usually harmful and hurtful. Most of the time, there is no good - ie., healthy, positive - reason for them. On the contrary, the mere fact that something important is kept a secret often connotes that there is something shameful or wrong about it. This is especially true when it comes to secrecy surrounding adoption.

Obviously, in our transracial family there is not much of a secret to keep! (Even so, you would be surprised how many people have asked us if our children know they were adopted or if we plan to tell them.) To be honest, I am glad this is the case because it makes it that much easier to talk about adoption openly and forthrightly. We choose to make adoption something to celebrate rather than to hide. From the time they are placed in our arms we begin to tell our children their individual stories in an age-appropriate way, filling in the blanks as they grow older.

What troubles me is that here in Chile, adoption is still shrouded in much secrecy and misunderstanding. I unexpectedly came face to face with this at church several weeks ago. After the service, a mother who attends with her adult daughter began chatting with me and told me that she, too, had an adult son who was adopted. "But he doesn't know," she was quick to assure me. Frankly, I was horrified! We were talking about a 36-year old man with a wife and children whose beginnings have been hidden from him his entire life.

I was caught so off guard, in fact, that I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "That is not right," I responded. "Your son deserves to know the truth." To which she explained that he has no living birth parents and so she wonders, what would be the point? She feels it is too late to say something now. She thought about telling him when he was younger, but then he went through a very difficult period in adolescence and she feared losing him altogether if she told him the truth. Now he's grown and has a good life, and she doesn't want to rock the boat.

As gently as possible I told her, "Our children's stories are their stories. We do not have the right to keep their stories from them. As much as we wish we were the only people in their lives, they have a history before us. And it belongs to them. It is wrong for us to keep that from them."

Afterwards I doubted myself because I had been so unprepared for that conversation, and I hoped I wasn't too forceful or unsympathetic to this mother who obviously loves her child. But it is a recurring theme here, these adoptions outside of legal channels and the children whose roots are hidden whether for that reason or a confused definition of love.

I found this article which speaks well to the subject: "Adoption secret a betrayal." Ultimately, that is the scar left by the secrets - this loss of trust and feeling of betrayal. If those closest to them keep secrets, who can our children trust? We must be the ones they can always depend on to speak the truth in love.


Bethanie said...

We don't have our child yet, but I've already gotten that question a couple of times. There is no question that our child will know that he/she is adopted. I can't imagine not telling.

HatchersInChile said...

Thank you!! As adoptive parents, we have also from the beginning spoken to our children about adoption. I had/have a wonderful example in the lives of my parents and my brother who was also adopted. My mother counseled me to talk to my children about their adoption from the second we got them (at 6 months and 2 months) even though they obviously did not understand. What it did was help US to practice the words so that they came naturally and continuously and that way there is no BIG surprise. Books help, too! We read "When God Found Us You" weekly or more if the kids want it. I STRONGLY recommend this book for adoptive kids from 3 - 5 yrs old. I can barely make it through without crying (which is what my 4 year old waits to see!) The only problem with this book is it uses the pronoun "us" but it totally from a Mommy's point of view. My husband and I take turns reading it and change it to Mommy or Daddy depending on who is reading as the story is great for either parent.