Telling Children

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.

17 Thoughts.

  1. Why didn’t the father marry you, Why didn’t Grandma let you live in her house,Why don’t you know where she is…..
    What an amazing child. Beautiful post Suz, it touched me.

  2. Loved.Your.Post! I got teary-eyed thinking about if/when my birth mom will ever bring me up to my half-sibs. They are 8,7 and 4. I hope someday they think I am just as cool as your boys think their half sister is.

  3. New here. Linked from Claud’s blog. I’m going to link you. I’m Jenna; firstmom in open adoption. Nice to meet you. I often wonder about the questions my Son will ask me. (He’s four months old so there are not questions other than, “GHHHHAHHHHHHAAAAAAHHHHH” right now.) We all ready talk about her frequently. I hope to make it normal. I hope my son is as sensitive and as caring as yours. 🙂
    Nice to meet you.

  4. I’ve had this bookmarked for ages. I have a 7 yo dd and a 9 yo ds with my current husband, and a 22 yo dd I relinquished at birth and re-met a year ago. Husband was resistant to telling the children, but supportive of our reunion. Finally we told the kids last week and they met their half-sister, and truly, it was not a big deal to them. My son was excited to have a half-sister and thinks she’s cool because she works on cars. My daughter is a bit hesitant, she’s always been my “special girl” and is a bit wary of the situation, but mostly concerned about me, she wanted to know if I named her and if I was sad and why we don’t all look more alike and if she was going to come live with us and what happened to her birthdad. We’re all going to be ok though and I feel a million pounds lighter not dragging the secret around anymore. Your story was really helpful for me to read and I thank you for sharing it.

  5. ojandrjzmom – congratulations! how wonderful on all accounts! i am so happy that my words, my experience helped you. when i doubt myself, when i fear that my sharing is a bad thing, comments like yours prop me up and assure me i am doing a good thing – for myself and others. best of luck in your continued reunion.

  6. Thanks for writing this, Suz. I’m dealing with this now — telling my 4 yo and 2 yo about my oldest daughter who I relinquished 12 years ago. I did the same thing you did — emphasizing the differences between my life then and my life now, and how now I KNOW I can take good care of them! Still…my 4 yo had a lot of fears that he’d have to go live with another mommy someday. We worked through it with some fumbling around on my part. Reading about your experience is hugely validating as I navigate this.

  7. I am so glad I found your site. I love reading your posts. They so hit home and Im glad I have touch down on so many things already. Its makes it easier to know that I am doing the right thing when it comes to my family and my first son. I thought I would have a problem telling my kids, but it went pretty good. I dont exactly remember when I told my daughter (who is now 17) but when I did tell her, my son was always mentioned and talked about from then on. When my second son was born ( now 12) my first son was still mentioned in the home, like he was just away for a while. He was and always is in our thoughts and my kids want to meet him and hope he will become a part of this family.I always answer question about their brother, truthfully honestly, and openly. My husbands daughter (may she rest in peace) was a part of our family from a distance, always a part of our family. I never met her f2f but phone calls always. I love her and miss the calls. I guess my husband and I are going through the same thing but at different levels. Does this make any sense?? Thanks Suz for listening to me.

    • Cathy – Good to hear. From what I have learned, the more open you are, the better your family is prepared for reunion, the better it can be for all. So many families struggle with resentment and bitterness and jealousy when the lost family member returns. I mean to blog about this. Perhaps this week I shall. BTW, my son is also 12!

  8. My daughter was born after I met my son so she never realized there was a difference. I told her when she was 4 or 5 explaining what happened etc. She told it very well. We have lots of talks about adoption. Kids rise to the occasion I think if we let them.

  9. Thank you for creating this blog to the other side… I was adopted at 8 and adopted parents divorced when I was in 5th grade. My father remarried when I was 17th after terminating his rights to his 2nd adopted child with issues. I am to call her mom.. It is still hard after 25 years. I have two young children of my own. My oldest is 4. I feel she needs to know at some point my history. My parents pretend that all is normal. In my opinion it is strained..

  10. This made sense for me; I knew it was time to tell my son too. It just made sense. And I had no idea how to do it.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  11. Pingback: Mothers and Sisters Day | Writing My Wrongs

  12. Pingback: Giving Up the Dreams | Writing My Wrongs

Comments are closed.