In doing the research for my new book, Secrets and Lies: Recovering from the Truths that Change Our Lives, I have encountered many adoptive families who have dealt with the questions of truth and secrets all their lives. The issue of telling (when, at what age, and how) struck me as an eternal one. The culture may change but these issues don’t go away.
How do you tell your children? What do you say? How do you keep transparency in situations where the facts may raise painful questions? Do we protect our family by shading the truth? How do we deal with all the information that is swirling around us in this era of social media?
One of the adoptive mothers I met told me a 21st-century story about transparency. Here’s what happened:
Leslie and her husband adopted their first child from a couple who had one son but could not afford to keep his baby brother. The process was easy and agreeable, and Leslie kept the first mother in the loop. She sent updates and snapshots, and received warm letters in response. When this first mother became pregnant again, she offered her next child to Leslie and her husband. Again, things were good. Now Leslie and her husband had the family they wished for: a boy and a girl, two years apart.
There was never any question about telling the children truth about where they came from. The conversations were complicated, of course. Has this ever been simple? Leslie believes in the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth. She never told her son and daughter about their older brother, who lived with their first parents. And when she learned that the first mother and father had another child, whom they were keeping, she didn’t tell her kids. She thought they wouldn’t understand why she had given them away, but not this new baby. Leslie thought she could skirt the subject.
Then Leslie received a request on her Facebook account to become a ‘friend’ of the first mother. She of course accepted that offer. Complications never crossed her mind. Until: one day Leslie’s daughter was looking over her shoulder at the screen and saw her first mother’s picture on the Friends page. “Is that my mom?” she asked. “Yes.” “Can I see her page?”
Leslie felt that she had no choice. And then the truth came out. On the first mother’s page was a picture of the new baby, a girl. Adorable as only new babies can be.
Leslie’s daughter was crestfallen. “I always wanted a baby sister,” she said. “Why can’t we have her?” And then she saw the picture of the boy her first parents had not put up for adoption. He looks exactly like her brother. Sadness on two fronts set in.
Why did they keep a boy and a girl and give us away? Didn’t they love us, too? Leslie did her best to explain the situation to her children, and she has reassured them time and time again that she is there for them, now and forever.
Could they all have lived without the Facebook revelations? Does the phrase, ‘Too Much Information’ apply here?
I guess the answer to both questions is “yes”, but adoptive parents always face unexpected situations, and they try to do the best they can.