Dear Carolyn: Six years ago my teenage niece, "Tara," became pregnant and my wife and I adopted the baby, our son, "Jake." We've always been open with Jake that he is adopted. When he was old enough, we showed him a picture of Tara holding him when was born, and let him know he could learn more about his birthparents any time he wanted. He never expressed any interest so we didn't press.
Our daughter is also an open adoptee, and three years ago when her birth mom visited us, Jake was concerned that "that lady" would take his little sister away. We tried to explain away his fears, but since then he has been very resistant to hearing anything about his birthparents.
Since we live halfway across the country from my family, Jake has only seen Tara a handful of times and has never connected her with the picture of his birth mom. In fact, she usually avoids us when we're visiting, which we were always respectful of.
Our annual visit is scheduled for next month, and Tara has suddenly asked us to tell Jake the truth so they can interact in a "more authentic way." My wife is adamant that we follow the advice we were given years ago to never give Jake more information than he wants. My parents and the rest of my family are saying it's high time we get it all out in the open since it's bound to come out sooner rather than later.
I'm torn between the two perspectives and could really use an outside opinion. What do you say?
— Tell My Son?
Tell My Son?: I have a lot I'd like to say but I'm going to stick to this:
One of you is looking out for Jake.
One of you is on the fence.
The rest of you are looking out for Tara.
Jake is 6, yes, or 5? Jake needs both parents on Team Jake.
The intricacies of open adoption have sprouted an industry of counsel around them. Please use your contacts to find a good therapist who works with families on these issues. Develop a strategy for bringing Jake into the full truth that minimizes the potential for (further) bad associations.
Doing this would ultimately be a gift to Tara, too. If a healthy birthparent relationship is what she wants, then develop and present to her your plan for giving her that.
Re: Jake: Sadly, you need to move fairly fast, I fear, because someone soon will spill the beans and take control of the message away from you.
Rod123: You're probably right, unfortunately. The letter-writer needs to be absolutely clear with the "high time" side of the family: This is not their decision to make.
Re: Jake: I think Jake's birth mom can develop an authentic relationship without telling Jake she gave birth to him. She can meet Jake right where he is and spend time with him on family occasions when they're together. No need to add to Jake's anxiety right now; give his brain and emotional maturity time to develop and see what happens.
XNP: There's risk of its evolving into a lie of omission, though, so there has to be a plan for that going in.