"What Do I Tell My Teen About His Birth Father?"

As he gets older, your teen will want to know more about his birth father—and his birth parents' relationship.

A teen boy sits and thinks about his birth father

It’s important to include your child’s birth father in his story from the beginning—even if you have little information or if your child doesn’t seem to be curious. Before the teen years, however, few children will ask questions about him. Parents, too, tend to focus on the birth mother. This may be because they actually met her at the time of placement, or they may just be following their child’s lead.

In adolescence, however, as teens strive for a deeper understanding of their adoption story, they’re likely to have lots of new questions about their birth father—and about their birth parents’ relationship.

Sharing What You Know

These new questions can pose challenges to parents. You may have been told that there was no information about the birth father, and didn’t push to learn more. Perhaps you have information, but worry that it will trouble your child. The conversation may be difficult, but now is the time to share whatever you know. [See Honest Explanations, below, for suggested language to use in specific situations.] Teens can understand emotionally complex topics, and they deserve your candor. Withholding information will set you up for conflict in the future, after your teen discovers that youve been keeping a secret.

As you share what you know, watch your child’s reaction carefully. New information may lead your teen to see both her birth parents in a negative light. Was my birth mother promiscuous? Did she lack morals? How could my birth father leave her to deal with this alone? Did he ever care about her?

Because self-esteem can be fragile during the teen years, being of people who are viewed with such negativity can be damaging. We cannot change hard facts or avoid talking about them, but we can help our teens see their birth parents as real people, with real strengths, real vulnerabilities, and real-life, challenging circumstances. Maybe the birth mother who had many partners suffered from low self-esteem. Maybe the birth father who was physically abusive was abused himself as a child. Perhaps the birth father was never told that he had fathered a child.

Such explorations are not meant to excuse behavior thats undesirable, or even horrific, but they can help a teen develop empathy and come to peace with his story. He needs to see that his own circumstances allow him to reach different conclusions about relationships and his identity. Don’t let anything that is known (or unknown) about either birth parent or the relationship become a stuck spot for your teen—taking up emotional energy that is better used toward growth and maturity.

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