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how to bring DD up knowing about her family history

(22 Posts)
sliceofsoup Thu 13-Aug-15 15:17:06

I have tried googling things about this, but can't seem to find anything. Which is odd, as I am sure this is a common scenario. So any advice would be very much appreciated.

DH was adopted at birth, he always knew about it growing up, and although he has gone through some rocky times with his parents, they are wonderful people who have been a huge support to him, and our family unit.

DH has tried to locate his birth mother, and was successful in finding out her name/location and some other info, but sadly she was not up for having any contact, and so he has respected that and although we occasionally mention her and talk about it, day to day he has moved on.

What I want to know is, how to approach this with DD she gets older? She is only 2 so we have some time yet, but I do not know how to go about telling her. She loves her GPs and they adore her. I don't want to hurt them by making note of it (and it would hurt them, they don't know that DH has searched for his birth mum, and although they are open about their children being adopted, it generally isn't spoken about) but neither do I want to leave it until she is older and have her feel we kept it from her.

DH is not forthcoming when I ask him how we will handle it. And if left to him, he would probably never tell her. I want to respect his opinion, because it is his life, but I do also feel that I have to do the best for my child.

Mostly I am worried that his parents will think I am somehow devaluing their role in her life if I bring it up. His mum can be insecure about it at times, especially when DD was born, and I don't want to drag those feelings back up.

Hoping that someone else has had a similar situation, and to hear how you handled it.

Aranan Thu 13-Aug-15 22:56:31

My eldest niece was adopted by my brother when he married her mum. When my kids came along I had similar worries about not wanting to devalue their cousin, but also not wanting to appear to be keeping it hidden. As it happens, as they grew up, the odd opportunity to mention it came up. No big moment of sitting down, opportunities just arose to mention it in a completely normal way. They have therefore grown up knowing the facts but not thinking it's a big deal at all. I hope some of that rambling makes sense!

Aranan Thu 13-Aug-15 22:59:21

Just to clarify when I did mention things indie so entirely positively - about how family is about love and so much more than simply generics etc.

LastingLight Fri 14-Aug-15 09:38:51

At some point you are going to start telling her about babies growing in mummies' tummies. After a while you can introduce the idea that in some families the children grew in a different mummy's tummy. Look for age appropriate books you can read her. Then when an opportunity presents itself you can tell her that daddy didn't grow in granny's tummy. However I'm uncomfortable with the idea that you will tell your daughter if your husband isn't ok with that.

sliceofsoup Fri 14-Aug-15 11:18:29

So what do I do? Not tell her and then be complicit in this with him and get the blame when shes 15 and finds out? It isn't a secret in the wider family, and I would rather she found out from us than from some throwaway comment at a family party or the like. (This sounds a bit snappy but I don't mean it to.)

I am not comfortable with going against his wishes either, but I am not about to be making it into some dark family secret, which is what will happen if left to him. He isn't opposed to telling her, more like he will just not bother to tell her, and part of me suspects it is because he doesn't know how. But instead of us talking about it and figuring it out together, he just shuts down. I think he is worried that he will tell her when shes 4 or 5, for example, and she will then make a clumsy comment to his parents about it, as young children do, and they will read more into it than what it is, and think he doesn't consider them her "real" grandparents. (I agree with this btw, it is my concern too. They were really insecure when she was born.)

We have an older DD who is mine with my ex, and shes 6. I am not sure if we should be telling her from now, I know we have made comments in the past about how families are made up in many different ways, but that was more because of her situation with step parents and joint custody etc. And I am worried that she would say something to them as well, which is why we have held off.

Gah. It is a mess actually. I think I am going to have to press DH on it again. I want to be prepared when the questions come so that I get it right and don't have to fumble an answer on the spot.

LittleMissMrs Fri 14-Aug-15 12:04:09

There is no rush to tell her. If it was you as her parents adopting her then it would obviously be a complete different story. I'd wait until at least 4 and if you're worried about her accidently saying something you could wait until maybe 7 or 8 without her thinking she's been living life as a lie. As there is a need to wait anyway I wouldn't push your OH on it now. He could agree to anything right now and you may still be repeating the argument in a couple of years time.

It's his life and it's a difficult thing adoption, he needs to decide when's right for him and not feel pushed into it, even if eventually (years away) you kind of have to. But my opinion and obviously it is just one opinion, is that you pushing him to make decisions that aren't going to be even acted upon for at least another couple of years will only end up in resentment. Besides a lot can change in that time, he may change his mind naturally when she starts asking questions about family, as all children do and you'll have put a wedge in your relationship that needn't be there. It sounds very much like you want a decision made so you feel like you can move on and are ready. However, I think this is about taking one for the team and accepting you need to just wait a bit as his needs come first on this occasion, after all, you can put his needs first for at least 2 years with no impact on your daughter.

Sorry, that sounds harsh, I know. With just text it's hard to convey the sympathy I do have, alongside my point of view. It's just one point of view with your right to ignore of course. Adopted children can feel like they're living a lie if they were born somewhere else, lived with someone else, have other family members and you've kept all that hidden. For a grandchild it will not be the same, their parents are still their only parents, the life they know is the only one, and in your case, as there are no other family members to meet as they don't want this anyway, it's especially true. You sound very worried but it will probably end up being dropped into a conversation in a few years time and you'll have wondered why you were so worried in the first place. I wish you the best for the future.

StaceyAndTracey Fri 14-Aug-15 12:38:18

I agree that you shoudo tell her as part of the general " babies grow in ladies tummies " talk . So perhaps in a couple of years, when she starts to ask about this .

You would quite naturally be talking about different ways of making a family, and adoption and step families can be discussed as a part of this .

FWIW I'm an adoptee and I told my children in this way when they were quite young . We are also a step family and they know that although their half siblings live with us , they had a mummy elsewhere . Of course , it was easier because they had met her.

They vary in their attitude towards my adoption . One never mentions it , one is quite sad about it

diplodocus Fri 14-Aug-15 12:53:20

I think you'll be surprised how well your dd takes it all in her stride. We had something a bit similar - DH was adopted by when his mum remarried (his birth father had died). We didn't e

diplodocus Fri 14-Aug-15 12:55:55

sorry - pressed too soon
We didn't talk about it as dd was very anxious about death, and we didn't want to upset her. We therefore didn't explain the situation until she was 8 - she didn't bat an eyelid and certainly didn't see her "granddad" in a different light. We had similar telling her that her cousins were actually adopted - once we reassured her they were still "real" cousins and it didn't make any difference she again took it in her stride.

StaceyAndTracey Fri 14-Aug-15 14:13:59

"Adopted children can feel like they're living a lie if they were born somewhere else, lived with someone else, have other family members and you've kept all that hidden."

That could equally be true for adopted grandchildren - they also have other family members and family information you have kept hidden .

I agree with your instincts OP - keeping this a big family secret is not a good plan . Like other secrets, it will come out at a time and in a way you don't want or expect .

I know someone who was told at a relatives funeral " well of course it's not as upsetting for you as you're not her REAL granddaughter " ( it was her step grandmother but she'd never been told ) .

I think you are right that your Dh doesn't actually want to keep it secret , he just doesn't know how to deal with it and his default position is to do nothing. Which is understandable but ultimately not helpful

mintysmum Fri 14-Aug-15 16:48:52

Sliceofsoup
I agree totally that this being a dark secret would not be good at all, that could be upsetting and unnecessary. But I also think there is no need to worry about it - as long as you mention it at some point in childhood your DD will accept it as normal and non-threatening.
I am adopted and told my first child when he was 4 during a conversation about babies growing in tummies. He didn't bat at eyelid at the time but about a year later he said something to me along the lines of "Grandma's not your real mummy is she?" It was just a testing-out ideas sort of comment but it really stung and I was very relieved my mum wasnt there to hear it.
Given that first scenario I didn't mention being adopted to my youngest until he was 7/8 ish and again he took it in his stride but I felt he was more capable of understanding. I was able to say that Grandma was my real mummy and that I called the tummy mummy my 'birth mother' and 'birth father' as I wanted him to have actual names for them.
Incidentally my sons have met my birth father and totally easily adapted to having an extra grandparent. They have a very special and close relationship with my adoptive parents and I was not concerned that that would be affected by my birth father coming along.

slippersmum Fri 14-Aug-15 17:43:42

I waited until my children were a bit older to tell them and as others say they took it in their stride. My dh left it totally up to me. I think I would have been upset if he had started saying that I needed to tell them before I was ready as there are times when I find the whole thing very painful. Maybe some reading around adoption would be helpful for you to help you develop your understanding of the whole thing.

mintysmum Fri 14-Aug-15 17:54:05

I agree with slippers - it needs to be within your DH's control sliceofsoup. If your DD gets to 9 or 10 and he hasn't managed to find a way of telling her or agreeing to you telling her, then maybe a stronger approach needs to be taken but I would leave it to him for as long as you can. It's his story and he needs to feel in control and not under pressure.

JaneDonne Fri 14-Aug-15 18:21:27

Hmmmmmmmm. Of course it's HIS story. Under normal circumstances that's incontrovertible. But it has become her story too hasn't it? And when you have kids, however you have them, I'd say part of the deal is that sometimes the grown ups have to suck it up and do what's right for the child. And I think this is just that scenario unfortunately.

How you convey that to Dh and gps?

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mintysmum Fri 14-Aug-15 20:05:15

But why does the child need to know this when they're in childhood rather than early teens? I can see no need to discuss with 5/6 year old.

My oldest is now 14, youngest 10 and we have interesting conversations about where we all get aspects of our personalities and looks from - nature or nurture. I would not like to have those discussions without them knowing the truth about their genes. But I'm sure we only have those discussions because I raise them and due to their ages. Not so likely at 5/6yrs.
If it's something that has been upsetting for family members, adoptive parents in this case then I would be treading even more lightly out of respect for them.

StaceyAndTracey Fri 14-Aug-15 20:28:55

Minty - you are obviously blessed with an entirely rational and non emotional teenager . But they are not all like that , and are known for making A BID DEAL of issues which they might well have taken in their stride aged 5.

Because adolescence is a time of working out who you are , and it's not a good stage to be given new information about this

Because all parents of teenagers are stupid , whereas parents of younger children are a lot smarter and can give advice and perspective on important things.

Because many smaller children have more empathy than many teenagers . It's always" all about me " with a teen .

Because children of 5 or 6 are learning about basic biology , how babies are made and how families are made . And adoption fits right in there . You might as well say " why do I need to tell my 5yo about couples with two mums or two dads ? I'll mention it at 14."

if you don't tell them before 14, someone else will . And maybe not in the respectful and positive way you'd like .

sliceofsoup Fri 14-Aug-15 21:03:38

Of course it is his story, but it is now mine too. I have read a lot about adoption, but as I said in the OP I can find nothing about this, which seems odd to me, as I am sure it is very common.

I sat with DH while a SW told him devastating details about his birth and his early days. It was harrowing for us both. I was there for him through the search, every hope raised and every rejection (and there were many, it wasn't a flat no straight off). I watched him go through the pain of it all. I am not ignorant to adoption, nor am I ignorant to DHs feelings.

Hopefully I will have calm and rational teenagers, but I think the more likely scenario is that they will go through phases of being angst ridden and terribly dramatic, teenagers in my family all seem to go through similar, and the last thing I want is a perfectly normal thing being turned and twisted by a teen, especially as it could hurt the GPs more.

We talked about it earlier, and again he said he wished he didn't have to tell her at all. It turns out he had been looking at the whole thing as all or nothing. When I pointed out that only him and me know about the details and info of his birth and birth family, so there was no need to tell her that until she was old enough to cope with it (ie mid twenties) he has now said he wants us to speak to his parents about telling her, and then tell her, so that we are all on the same page. I hadn't even considered that as a possibility, because I wasn't sure if he would have wanted to approach them.

Anyway, he seems much more positive about it now.

mintysmum Fri 14-Aug-15 22:08:52

Stacy - you're right, my 14 year old is calm and rational and not phased by his/my story at all. But as I said earlier on, when I first told him at 4yrs that I was adopted he then said something which I shouldn't have found hurtful but I did "so grandma isn't your real mummy then?". It was then that I wished I had held back from telling him. My 10 year old said a similar thing recently about my birth father "but he's not your real father" and my adoptive mum was there at the time - she leapt in quickly to agree with him!

I feel this whole business of real/proper/adoptive/birth Parents confusing and I'm an adult, not sure a very young child is best equipped to handle it. It certainly made no difference telling one of mine at 4yrs and waiting till 8/9yrs to tell the other.
Sliceofsoup - sounds like you have a really good plan there in involving the GPs. What a sensible suggestion from your DH though unlikely to be an easy conversation. But they already have experience of this if they told your DH so they might have useful thoughts on it.

StaceyAndTracey Fri 14-Aug-15 22:54:06

I agree that the real / proper parent is a useful conversation to have . My experience is that small children have a very pragmatic view - your parents are the adults who care for you, usually the ones you live with . Their view of the biological role of s father is often a bit vague until much later. And they care nothing for legalities . Which is exactly the way it should be .

We found it helpful to explore the 3 main parts of being a parent

- the legal part
- the biological part
- the daily caring part

In some families , the same one or two people do all three of these. In others, some adults do some bits but not others .

Obviously the first and third parts can change over time, but never the second part .

In adoptive and step families , same sex parents , single parents , surrogacy , Some IVF families and children brought up within the extended family - there are different combinations of these . But they are ALL real - just real in different ways.

I think we own it to our children to see their own reality and validity and that of their family . And we owe it to other " non traditional " ( horrid phrase ) families to bring up our children with an inclusive concept of love and family life .

StaceyAndTracey Fri 14-Aug-15 23:03:19

Slice - my children only know the basics of my adoption - none of the sordid details . When they did ask, it was just the typical questions that adopted kids ask too

Eg " why didn't she want you ? "

" well it's not that she didn't want me , but she had no job or money and no where to live. And in those days it was very shocking to have a baby when you weren't married < cue disbelief from kids > so her parents wouldn't have her live with them . "

" that was a bit mean wasn't it ? "

" yes I think it was a bit "

" can we go and play now ? "

Velvet1973 Sat 15-Aug-15 08:58:06

StaceyandTracey that's a brilliant way of teaching them! I hadn't really thought about breaking it down like that for them simply and factually (to be honest not really thought about it at all yet as lo is only 1!), we have some nice adoption story books that we read at the moment but this will be great when he's slightly older. smile

Italiangreyhound Sun 16-Aug-15 15:43:48

sliceofsoup hope you find a way through this. For my part I totally agree with JaneDonne and StaceyandTracey.

I am really pleased to hear you say "..he has now said he wants us to speak to his parents about telling her, and then tell her, so that we are all on the same page. I hadn't even considered that as a possibility, because I wasn't sure if he would have wanted to approach them."

Getting your in-laws on side with the need to be the first to deliver this information in a matter-of-fact way is essential. That way any potentially negative comments later from anyone will be able to 'arrive' and be processed on a 'cushion' of awareness!

This in contrast to a rather stark - what - is it really so, and - does that really mean X,Y,Z?

Because, for example, everyone relevant will know that yes, grandma did not give birth to their dad and Grandma and grandpa did not have him as a tiny baby (use words appropriate of course) but they had him from XY years and loved and cared for him, and had legal responsibility to make decisions, (good point, StaceyandTracey) and so they are the real parents and they are her real grandparents too. I also do not like the word 'real; in this context so would explain what the different things meant bio vrs adopted and then also make a joke about being real, of course they are not imaginary. I would include all your children in this and would start as soon as grandparents were on board, or very soon if they are not and will not be soon! Teenage years are too late for revelations unless absolutely necessary. IMHO.

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