Ask Amy: Sister worries about adoption secret

June 20, 2012

DEAR AMY: I am a 16-year-old girl with a 13-year-old biological brother, “Paul,” and a 10-year-old adopted sister, “Natty.”

My parents have never told Natty she’s adopted. She resembles our family, so I don’t think she notices.

She’s recently started asking questions about her birth, and my mom has made up elaborate lies to cover up her adoption. My mom says she’ll tell her when she’s old enough. Paul and I think she deserves to know but don’t want to defy my mom. Can you help? -- Distressed Sister

DEAR DISTRESSED: Your mother’s refusal to tell your sister her adoption story has now devolved from lying by omission to outright lying.

Your mom is putting all of you in a terrible position, and it has the potential to profoundly affect everyone.

Your sister is old enough to learn her adoption story. She was always old enough to know this story, because it’s the truth. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or worried about, except, of course, when it becomes this big and powerful secret that the whole family must keep.

Tell your mother you worry that another family member will tell your sister the truth, and this would turn a wonderful story into a confusing and traumatic event for everyone.

I assume that you have quite distinct memories of your sister’s adoption. You should also say that you will never lie about this and that if asked you will tell the truth. You don’t mention your father, but he would be the obvious choice to help you advocate for the truth.

A book that would provide inspiration to her is “Talking With Young Children About Adoption,” by Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher (1995, Yale University Press). This book not only suggests ways to have this talk, but anticipates the many questions that children frequently ask.

DEAR AMY: I am turning 27 soon. I have always thought that birthdays should be special. However, although I know a lot of people and have friends where I live, I don’t have any close friends. I think it’s up to me to make my day special. I want to have a party at a club, but I know the timing is bad. Exams are coming up for many, and others are short on cash.

Should I invite everyone anyway and deal with the awkwardness/disappointment when many decline? Should I only invite those I think can come? Should I just forget about the whole thing? Maybe next year there will be more special people in my life. -- Afraid of Disappointment

DEAR AFRAID: It’s tough to have a birthday on your own, but one challenge of adulthood is the knowledge that you don’t always have a built-in cheering section.

You should plan something easy where you would be happy if very few people showed up. If there is one friend you know well, ask her (or him) to go out to the club with you on that night. Then you can tell other people where you’ll be and ask them to join you.

DEAR AMY: I am a retired New York City firefighter. I always read your column first thing, and the letter from “Conflicted Mom” about her fiance contained a statement that jumped out at me: “Things were great until he came back from deployment.”

I have PTSD, and I believe this soldier does too. Your advice to this young mom was good. She should never rush into relationships with her young son in tow. But I also had bad behavior episodes before I got help.

I now volunteer for The Soldiers Project. We provide free confidential counseling for vets and their families returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amy, these people need our help; they fight for our country and they come home forever changed. -- Concerned FDNY

DEAR CONCERNED: I agree that this returning soldier displayed signs of PTSD. I was concerned with answering “Conflicted Mom’s” question about her son and did not mention the possible PTSD.

You and other compassionate readers caught this possibility and I thank you all. The Soldiers Project is an amazing organization; thank you for your advocacy (thesoldiersproject.org).

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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