Ask AF: Explaining Kinship Adoption

Family members adopting a sister or cousin's child often don't know how to share this with the adoptee. The AF expert explains.

Q: My younger daughter adopted her sister’s child. My granddaughter’s now eight, and knows that she was adopted, but she doesn’t know that her “Auntie” is her birth mother. The girl spent the first 18 months of her life in foster care, and has some emotional and learning problems, so I’m not sure what she’ll be able to handle. When should we explain the family relationships?

A: I understand that your situation seems complex, but many families are formed through kinship adoption. I am certain that your granddaughter will have little difficulty handling the information. I encourage talking with her soon. Younger children can take in new information without complicating it. If you wait until she’s an adolescent, however, she may feel betrayed. Sharing the simple truth will also be easier than presenting “doctored” information.

I think that your granddaughter’s mom should talk with her first, unless you typically talk about things together. Don’t make the conversation a big deal; telling the truth directly and simply is best for everyone. Her mom might begin by saying, “Honey, I’m not sure that we ever really talked about your birth mom, and how I decided to adopt you, but let me explain.” She could go on to say that both of her moms, birth and adoptive, and her grandmother, wanted her to stay in the family.


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