How Much Should You Tell Your Child and their Family?

Birth parents often ask us how much information they should share with their child or their child’s adoptive family. Let’s talk about how sharing personal information before, during, and after planning to place a child for adoption can help relieve pressure on birth parents, help children form positive adoption identities, and form trusting relationships with adoptive families.

birth mother

Personal information is….well…personal. Especially for birth parents.

Whether you consider yourself a private person or someone who is pretty open with others about who you are, it can be hard to decide how much information to give your child and their adoptive family about your personal life. After all, when you place your child for adoption, you still don’t know their adoptive family as well as you do your friends and family members, and there might be aspects of your life and adoption story that you’re not sure you want to share.

We ask all of the birth parents who decide to work with us to fill out a “Social and Medical History,” which is basically just a packet with lots of questions about you. We used to ask only for basic information about your health, like whether you had any pregnancy complications or a history of any type of illness in your family. We still ask those questions, because they help the adoptive family and your child stay healthy; but now, we also ask many other questions that are just about you, like your hobbies, your favorite food, and what type of music you like.

It might seem too personal or even just silly to share information like where you grew up or what style of clothing you wear, but we know from experience that adoptees are grateful to have it. Adoption is a big part of your child’s life story, and no matter what kind of relationship you have, you’ll always be important to them. The more they know about you, the more secure they can feel in knowing where they came from.

And don’t worry – knowing about your life won’t make your child upset or confused about why they were adopted. Kids are capable of understanding adoption from a very young age. If there are aspects of your adoption journey that were particularly upsetting, like drug use or violence, your child’s family will simply wait to share that information with them until the time is right, and will talk to them about it in a way they can understand. Also, if your relationship with your child’s other birth parent has been difficult, you might be tempted to leave out information that you have about them, but think about it this way: wondering who their other birth parent was, and what they were like, will be much more emotionally difficult for your child than realizing that they weren’t perfect.

Laurie Elliott, who works with adoption courts in Pittsburgh, asked the teenage adoptees with whom she worked what questions they wanted to have answered about their birth parents. Some of those questions included what kind of students their birth parents were, what religion(s) their birth parents practiced, whether anyone else in their birth family knew about them, and what hobbies, special talents, or abilities their birth parents had. What type of information did you share with your child and their adoptive family? How did you feel about sharing it?

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