What to say to an adopted child about bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents

The Covington News - - RELIGION -

Ques­tion: What should you tell an adopted child about his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents in “closed” adop­tion sit­u­a­tions? How do you an­swer his tough ques­tions about why he wasn’t wanted, etc.?

Dob­son: I’ll give you an an­swer writ­ten by Dr. Mil­ton Levine in a vin­tage par­ent­ing book ti­tled “Your Child From 2 to 5,” and then I’ll com­ment on his rec­om­men­da­tion. Dr. Levine was as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at New York Hospi­tal at the time. He listed three pos­si­ble ways to tell an adopted child about his ori­gin, as fol­lows:

1. Tell the child his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents are dead.

2. State plainly that the bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents were un­able to care for him them­selves.

3. Tell the child noth­ing is known about the bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents, but that he was se­cured from an agency ded­i­cated to find­ing good homes for ba­bies.

Dr. Levine pre­ferred the first approach: “The child who is told that his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents are dead is free to love the mother and fa­ther he lives with. He won’t be tor­mented by a haunt­ing obli­ga­tion to search for his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents when he’s grown.”

He con­tin­ued: “Since the pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing one’s par­ents is one of child­hood’s great­est fears, it is true that the young­ster who is told that his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents are dead may feel that all par­ents in­clud­ing his sec­ond set are pretty im­per­ma­nent. Never- the­less, I feel that in the long run the child will find it eas­ier to ad­just to death than to aban­don­ment. To tell a young­ster that his par­ents gave him up be­cause they were un­able to take care for him is to present him with a com­plete re­jec­tion. He can­not com­pre­hend the cir­cum­stances which might lead to such an act. But an un­whole­some view of him­self as an un­wanted ob­ject, not worth fight­ing to keep, might be es­tab­lished.”

I dis­agree with Dr. Levine at this point. I am un­will­ing to lie to my child about any­thing and would not tell him that his nat­u­ral par­ents were dead if that were not true. Sooner or later, he will learn that he has been mis­led, which could un­der­mine our re­la­tion­ship and bring the en­tire adop­tion story un­der sus­pi­cion.

In­stead, I would be in­clined to tell the child that very lit­tle is known about his bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents. Sev­eral in­of­fen­sive and vague pos­si­bil­i­ties could be of­fered to him: “We can only guess at the rea­sons the man and wo­man could not raise you. They may have been ex­tremely poor and were un­able to give you the care you needed; or maybe the wo­man was sick; or she may not have had a home. We just don’t know. But there is one thing we do know. She must have loved you very, very much — enough to give you life and to make sure you were raised in a lov­ing home where you would be taken care of. We’re so thank­ful that the Lord led her to let us raise you.”

Ques­tion: I un­der­stand your em­pha­sis on a child be­ing taught to re­spect the author­ity of his or her par­ents, but doesn’t that coin have two sides? Don’t par­ents have an equal re­spon­si­bil­ity to show re­spect for their chil­dren?

Dob­son: They cer­tainly do. The self- con­cept of a child is ex­tremely frag­ile and must be han­dled with great care. A young­ster should live in com­plete safety at home, never be­ing be­lit­tled or em­bar­rassed de­lib­er­ately, never pun­ished in front of friends, never ridiculed in a way that is hurt­ful. His strong feel­ings and re­quests, even if fool­ish, should be con­sid­ered and re­sponded to po­litely. He should feel that his par­ents “ re­ally do care about me.”

My point is that re­spect is the crit­i­cal in­gre­di­ent in all hu­man re­la­tion­ships, and just as par­ents should in­sist on re­ceiv­ing it from their chil­dren, they are ob­li­gated to model it in re­turn.

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