Many parents pick up the phone and call for coaching services when they realize that it’s time to tell their child a part of their adoption story that they have been holding. Perhaps you have photos you haven’t shown, know about a birth sibling, or there are circumstances surrounding your child’s conception or relinquishment that you have not yet shared. Best practice is for adoptees to know their full story before they transition through adolescence. There are exceptions to this, but generally this is a sound guideline and we have also found that even parents who would prefer to wait longer, tend to feel uneasy withholding information as their child moves deeper into the teen years. An understandable, but common mistake, is to expect there to be a “sweet spot” or the perfect time to share information so that it is pain-free. This may be too much to ask, but there are definitely some things that you can do to help the conversation be more comfortable for you and your child.
Here are some tips to support you and your family as you move into sharing more difficult information
Review your information. One of the most helpful things you can do is to go back in time and pull together all the information that you have about your child’s adoption—everything from the handwritten notes you may have taken, to documents from your agency, lawyer, or oversees representative. Any photos, videos, and correspondence with anyone connected to your adoption process from the very beginning to the present. There are two main reasons ask parents to do this. The first is so that you, as the parent, can make a clear inventory of what you do know about your child’s adoption. Most parents’ memories of the adoption process are filled with gaps or their memory of what happened is different from their partner. The second reason is that by sifting through these items, you are likely to be flooded with memories and to feel emotional— we ask parents to do this exercise as an important task to get familiar with what comes up for them and addressing this so that they can feel more comfortable sharing this difficult information.
Write down all the facts. Write what you think you have told your child on one page and what you have left to share on the other. Write out their story in a way that you think they can absorb. Your children are looking to you for the truth. The more in control and prepared you are the easier it is for your teen to take the information in and process it on their terms. This is one of the areas where a coach can help you formulate and articulate the information and your intent.
Consider the timing for your child. It’s important that you be the one to provide your child with the truth about their story. The older your child gets, the more likely it is that they will learn information about their adoption from other sources—they may stumble upon the information in your computer or file cabinet, hear it from someone that you confided in, or search for information themselves on the internet or by using social media. So, yes, it’s important that you not wait too long to provide your child with their full story. But with your newfound readiness, be sure to consider if it is also a good time for your child. Think about their overall mental health, their current ability to understand and process information, other transitions they are experiencing with friends or at school, and significant changes in your home life (parent separation, illness, or other losses.)
Address your own anxiety and fears. Addressing your fears and anxiety head-on is a critical step in preparing to share difficult information with your child. Parents worry that this new information is going to cause distress for their child and, understandably, want to protect their child from this pain and protect themselves from witnessing it. Parents’ worry tends to fall into two main areas. Their first concern is that the child will feel more rejection or shame as a result of having this new information. The second area of concern is that this information will change the relationship and create distance between the parent and the child. This is an area where I find coaching can be most effective because parents need a place to express their own fears and worries without judgement. Often coaching provides relief for parents, enabling them to have difficult conversations with their child without becoming overwhelmed with their own fears. Your coach can help you develop language, determine timing, and build your own resilience so that you feel more confident in your parenting decisions.
Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you as you explore how to share difficult information with your teen. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or [email protected] to schedule an initial consultation.