To Tell or Not: When to Tell People Your Child Is Adopted

4 years ago

Great tranquility of heart is his who cares for neither praise nor blame. ~ Thomas a Kempis

Credit: geekyspaz.

One of the typical challenges I find as an adoptive mother is when to tell people my son Jed is adopted and when not to. I’m not talking about family members or close friends here, and I’m certainly not talking about small talk at an office holiday party. No, I mean neighbors, teachers, bus drivers, doctors, babysitters; people you know and trust but maybe aren’t really in the "let’s share secrets" circle.

Now, normally I wouldn’t really care to tell anyone Jed is adopted, mostly because it’s personal and really nobody’s business. How would you like it if your mother went around telling everyone you were adopted? Besides, I can’t say that my neighbors, bus drivers or grocery store clerks have ever said to me, “Hi, I’m adopted.”

No, where my challenge comes in is when I am dealing with Jed's special needs. Jed has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder because he was exposed to drugs and alcohol prenatally. He has all of the primary symptoms of FASD, a lot of which are unfortunately behavioral. So, to tell or not to tell? Let me give you some examples.

We went to our pediatrician to get a referral for a child neurologist for Jed. This particular pediatrician had only treated him for colds and such, so when we told him what we were there for he started lecturing us about the effects of alcohol on children. Halfway through he looked at me and said, “Is he adopted?” to which I replied yes, he is. He said, “Oh, good, ‘cause you don’t look like a closet boozer. I’ll skip the talk about you looking into rehab.”

Example number two. When Jed first started kindergarten he took the bus. I knew that the school district put an alert for FASD on his transportation paperwork so the bus driver would know that he was impulsive. The morning bus driver who picked him up (different than the driver that dropped him off) was very friendly and within a week or two we got to chatting every morning. We even went out to lunch a couple of times. After four months of this, she finally said to me one day, “What’s with the FASD?” I said, "What do you mean? Have you had any problems with him?" She said, “No, I was just wondering if you start your drinking in the morning after I pick him up.”

As you can see, I tend to err on the side of not telling people. I guess if they think I’m a closet boozer who starts drinking at nine in the morning, then that’s what they think. If they ask me out right, I tell them, yes, he is adopted. I’m not ashamed of adoption; it’s been a miracle and a blessing for our entire family. As a matter of fact, if I think talking about our adoption story may help someone considering adoption, you can’t shut me up about it. (In case you couldn't tell from my adoption blog!)

But if I find myself wanting to tell someone that Jed is adopted just so they don’t think I’m to blame or I have a problem, then I keep my mouth shut. I don’t mind taking one for the team.

The other side of the coin is unwanted praise. It’s just as annoying as the blame.

For example, when we first moved in to our house, I met the neighbor who had all sorts of questions. She wanted to know why Jed wasn't attending the kindergarten class at the neighborhood school down the street. I explained he had "some delays" and that he was going to a special ed class at another school. After a few more questions (that were clearly part of a fishing expedition), she asked me flat out if he was adopted. I told her yes, which opened the gate to a gushing speech on how wonderful it was that we adopted a child "with problems" and did I know he was delayed when we adopted him (as if we wouldn't have had we only known!), and how special we were to have done such a thing.

Geeze, I’d rather be a closet boozer.

To be fair, she was only trying to be nice. People who haven’t considered adoption don’t really understand that, in our mind, this is OUR child, meant to be OUR child since the moment he came into this world. We don’t see it as "had we only known" but rather as "what can we do to help him meet his personal potential?"

I guess my best advice is this: Play it by ear. If you feel you need to tell, then tell. But make sure your family’s personal business doesn’t become fodder for the gossip mill, and if you think it might, then take one for the team and say as little as possible. If you think it helps someone to understand your child better so that they can help him/her, or someone considering adoption themselves, then by all means, get talking!

Oh, and one more thing: Don’t let the praise, or the blame, become a personal insult to you. People generally don’t say things like that to be mean. Thinking they are will only get in the way of tranquility.

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