Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sibling: Should I tell my sister she's adopted?

Here's a 16-year-old sister with much more sense than her mother, who's been lying to the 10-year-old sister about her birth -- and an advice columnist who's got it right:
Dear Amy: I am a 16-year-old girl with a 13-year-old biological brother, "Paul," and a 10-year-old adopted sister, "Natty."

My parents have never told Natty she's adopted. She resembles our family, so I don't think she notices.

She recently started asking questions about her birth, and my mom has made up elaborate lies to cover up her adoption. My mom says she'll tell her when she's old enough. Paul and I think she deserves to know but don't want to defy my mom.

Can you help? — Distressed Sister

Dear Distressed: Your mother's refusal to tell your sister her adoption story has now devolved from lying by omission to outright lying.

Your mom is putting all of you in a terrible position, and it has the potential to profoundly affect everyone.

Your sister is old enough to learn her adoption story. She was always old enough to know this story, because it's the truth. It's nothing to be ashamed of or worried about, except, of course, when it becomes this big and powerful secret that the whole family must keep.
Just when you think things are getting better -- more openness, more understanding -- you get proof that adoptive parents can still be mired in the bad old days of adoption secrecy and shame.  We're talking about an adoption that happened only 10 years ago, not in the last century, not in the decades when social workers insisted that adoptive parents did best by keeping the adoption a secret.  Only 10 years ago. 

And do we need a better reminder that if we, as adoptive parents, shirk our responsibilities to talk openly and honestly with our kids about their adoptions, then someone else with step in to tell them.  And as sensible and well-intentioned as this 16-year-old big sister seems to be, do you really want her to be telling your child about her adoption?!


-J.D. Humenay said...

"She was always old enough to know this story, because it's the truth." I couldn't agree more. Since I'm adopted, friends looking to adopt ask me about when my parents told me. I get asked, "How old were you when they told you?" I was in 2nd grade, though they never hid it from me. They just told me when I started asking. I always had books about adoption around - but I always felt 'different'. They just waited until I communicated about it.
"Do you wish they would have waited?" NO. It would have felt lik they lied to me. No matter how much the truth hurt and no matter the questions it raised, they never lied to me and THAT is what's important in my relationship with them. Openness and honesty. I can trust them - and from an adoptee, that's a big deal.
"How did you feel when you found out?" It justified a lot of the feelings I couldn't communicate clearly as a kid.
"Would you do it any differently with your child?" No. I believe in celebrating our uniquiness. Sometimes, that weight is hard to bare, but again, with honesty, I don't have to bare that load alone. I know they are there for me.

Further proof that, like so many adoptees, I won the parent lottery.

Oh - and for the record, my brother (adopted as well) looked enough like our dad growing up to pass as his biological son. They never lied to him either.

Meredith said...

If the parents won't tell, the sister should tell. My niece waited until I was 28 to tell me I was adopted. I'm thankful everyday she told me, but wish she had told me at 11 or 14- then maybe I wouldn't have the intense hatred and loathing I have for my adoptive parents.

Truly Blessed said...

Hmmm, my opinion is that the 16 year old needs to have a heart to heart with her parents and tell them that they're doing a huge disservice to the 10 year old by not telling her her story. I think I would then tell the 16 year old that she should give an ultimatum to her parents (heh. not every day you hear an adult telling a 16 year old to give an ultimatum to their parents, is it?) that if by XXX date, if they haven't told their younger daughter her story, that she will.

It's a terrible secret to keep, even more so when extended family members are required to keep it as well.

Anonymous said...

I think it doesn't matter when, how, or who gonna tell her the truth. What really matter is the way you lead her. And I think this option should be left with the parents because they are the ones who know what's good.

Aiko Dumas