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Ask AF: When Only Negative Details Are Known

by Gregory Keck, Ph.D.

Have a question? Ask our panel of experts.

Q: Aside from the birthmother's age and race, the few details I know about her are negative—including the fact that my daughter was removed from her care at birth. I feel that I can't honestly say that her birthmother "chose adoption" or anything that's positive. What can I say?

A: The best thing you can do is to be honest with your daughter about her adoption story. Children deserve a complete picture of the hows and whys they were available for adoption. With this in mind, you'll have to decide how to talk about the "hard stuff."

You might begin the discussion by asking, "I wonder what you remember about your adoption story." If she can recap the basic outline you've given her so far, continue with, "There are some other things that happened in your birth family. I want to share these with you, so that you don't have to wonder about them." Give explanations that are factual, but age-appropriate. For example, "Your birthmother was very sick, and not able to take care of any baby" (if there was a history of drug or alcohol abuse), or "it wasn't a safe place for any baby to live" (if there was abuse or neglect).

Don't wait until you think that she is "old enough" to understand the details. Share information so that she can understand it at her age level; as she gets older, re-explain things in a more complex manner. I have never seen a situation in which truthful disclosure has caused problems. Conversely, I have seen many situations in which a lack of truth has complicated the adoptee's relationship with his or her parent.

-- Gregory Keck, Ph.D.
Coauthor of
Adopting the Hurt Child (NavPress) and founder of the Attachment and Bonding Center, Cleveland

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