Late Spring in 2005, I found my amazing beautiful daughter. A few months before that, for reasons I cannot exactly explain I finally found the words to tell my son, then 7 years old, about his half sister that was 12 years older than him.
Perhaps it was a premonition of things to come, perhaps I had finally found the words and the strength to tell my son. I don’t know. I just knew the time was right. Furthermore, around that same time, my son became very obsessed with the idea of being my OLDEST, FIRST BORN, child. He would often say “Well, I am your first born…”. I would respond with “Yes, you are my first born SON (whewf!)”. I took his obsession with birth order as yet another sign that the time had come to let him know that he was not my first born child. He was not the oldest. In my life, he was my second, middle child (just like me). To my husband, he is of course, the oldest and first.
I have seen many first moms struggle with telling subsequent children about their half or full sibling that was lost to adoption. I am often asked what to do, how to say it, when, etc. I cannot answer the questions posed. They are not my children. I don’t know them. I only know mine. I can only share my story and experience and hope that others can learn from it.
Since my son was born I stressed about how and when to tell him about my daughter. I have never kept her a secret and I was not about to do that with my sons. However, I was keenly aware that telling them too young could cause fear and confusion. Telling them too old could cause anger and resentment. I looked for books. Nothing existed. I consulted others. I got a few words of wisdom. I read up on child psychology. I decided the best words to use were my own.
My greatest fear was that my sons would think they I would give them away. I felt I had to position the explanation in such a way that it illustrated things were different then. I stressed that mommy did not have a job, did not have a place to live and that children need money, clothing, food and stuff. I did not focus on the lack of a husband as personally I don’t feel that was the issue for me and there are plenty of single moms in our lives. I don’t want my children to think the only “right” way to have a baby was to have a husband. Preferred by some, yes, but not necessarily required. Families come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, etc.
I was lucky in that my son had been exposed to other children who were adopted so he got the concept of being raised by someone other than your natural parent. I capitalized on that.
So it went like this:
My husband and I called my son into our home office. I was choked up. Shaking. Sitting on the floor. I told him we had something we wanted to talk to him about. With very little set up, I just blurted it out. Not like in a crazy way but just got right to the point. He knew I had been helping others with adoption stuff. So I used that as an ice breaker…”You know Mommy helps others with adoption stuff….”. I then explained why. I told him I had a baby when I was a younger. A beautiful little girl. His first response?
“YES! I always wanted a sister!”. (I started to cry here).
I told him I could not keep her, I did not have a job and I did not have a place to live and I wanted her to have all those things and more. I was crying. Trying to hold it back. I told him what I named her. I showed him her baby pictures. He turned around in his chair (swivel chair in my home office). He kept talking but he would not look at me. I took this as a sign he was uncomfortable with the conversation and with seeing mom upset. I kept it short.
I told him I was looking for her and that I hoped I would find her. I told him it was no secret, it was not bad and he could talk to anyone he needed or wanted to about it. That included both his grammas, his dad, even his teacher at school. He said “Ok”.
I paused. He was quiet. I asked him if he had any questions. Long pause.
“Yeah, I have one”, he says
“Sure. Anything. Ask.”, I say.
“How old were you when you had her?”, he asks.
“Eighteen”, I say.
“WOW!” he says.
And the conversation ended.
During the weeks that followed he would occasionally ask me a question. He really did think it was quite cool that he had a sister and he would often talk about her. He amazed me at the questions he would ask out of the blue.
“How come Amber’s daddy did not marry you?”
“Why didn’t Gramma let you live with her?”
“Why don’t you know where she is?”
On and on. Each question would be briefly, but honestly, answered and he would go back to whatever he was doing.
I remember one night (after we were in reunion), out to dinner with him and his brother (my husband was traveling) he was particularly chatty about her. Talking about how pretty she was (he repeatedly tells me she is a “hottie”), how she looks like me, wears jewelry like me. It got me choked up. I tried not to show it to him. Tried to keep the conversation going and allow him to talk as he needed. He got suddenly solemn, looking down, looking sad. I said:
“It makes you sad talking about her, huh?”
“No, not really, what makes me sad is seeing you sad. I know it hurts you and makes you sad and that makes me sad. Its okay she is adopted, I guess, but why does it have to make you cry all the time?”
Okay, yeah, I lost it at this point. My wonderful, darling, seven year old son. How wise he was for his age! I told him it was okay. I like talking about her. I said the tears were tears of joy and happiness.
During the first few weeks of our reunion, I would let him know when I got email from her or pictures. He always said “cool!”. Once, during an AIM conversation with her, I told her he said “Hi”. She seemed excited and asked if it was okay to say “Hi” back (yet another sensitive kid of mine). She asked if that would be “too weird” for him. I assured her it was fine, that he was fine with it and he thinks shes cool. So they exchanged a few words via my AIM.
It is coming up on a year now that I am in reunion. My son is fine with it. He talks about her like she is just a regular part of our life and that is what I wanted. He understands she is adopted, that she has another family and that while I am her Mother I am not her Mommy. He likes to see pictures of her and he even tells people at school, etc. that he has a half sister. That’s always interesting.
My youngest? He is 3. My daughter is as normal in our house as is buying a gallon of milk. He will just grow up knowing about her. No need for a big talk. No secrets. No stress.
Just my amazing boys and their beautiful half sister.