Ask AF: How Do We Tell Our Teen Tough Information?

An AF reader asks for advice on how to share difficult information about her birth mother with their daughter.

Q: Our daughter’s birth mother committed suicide several years ago. We’ve never told our daughter, who’s now 13 and in a rebellious phase. I just read something that said you should tell your children whatever you know about their adoptions before the teen years, but we can’t go back in time to do so. Should we tell her now, or wait until she’s older?

A: Yes, adoption professionals do advise parents to tell a child about her adoption at a young age. However, it is OK to wait until a child is a young adult before revealing extremely difficult or emotionally charged information.

As you know, adolescence is a hard time. Teens are dealing with developmental changes and questions of identity. Learning that her birth mother committed suicide is likely to add more stress than a teenager could manage in a healthy way.

Don’t get me wrong – parents should never lie or fabricate a story. If your daughter’s been pushing to learn more about her birth mother, you could say that you’ve learned that, sadly, her birth mother has died. I don’t think you need to talk about the suicide before your child is ready to handle it. An exception to this may be made if you think the child might learn about this on her own or from others.

If you do wait until your daughter is in her late teens or early twenties, begin by explaining your reasons for waiting. Before the conversation, it might be helpful for you to speak with a therapist who is familiar with adoption.

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