I had never considered that one day I would have to discuss the son I had relinquished with my now parented children. Perhaps it was naive, even still, no one had warned me that it would be a conversation that would come in the future. When my eldest son was about two years old, it hit me that one day, I would have to share the reality that he had a brother he had never met. Obviously, I didn't tell him then, because I knew he was far too young to comprehend what that actually meant.
In retrospect, if I had been talking about my son from the very beginning of life, the conversation may not have been so big and scary. If I was in an open adoption, and the merging of my first son's life, and my parented children would have occurred naturally. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
How do we introduce the idea of siblings, and other family to our children? The obvious answer is to be open and honest from the beginning, but that doesn't always happen for a number of reasons. For some birthparents the idea of reliving the process can keep them in silence, some just don't see the need to discuss it, or even believe that it impacts their life in the here and now. For adoptive parents, especially those in a semi-open adoption, it can be difficult to fully discuss what adoption means on the whole. What if the birthparent isn't engaging in contact? How does an adoptive parent discuss this without it impacting a future relationship?
Ideally, we would be approaching the relationship from the beginning with as much honest openness as possible. When the time inevitably comes, a discussion would still need to be had about the dynamics. The explaining of how each person plays into that process, and what it means for all of those involved. Making sure that you are open and willing to answer any questions is the most important part of this discussion.
I won't pretend that the way I told my own son was perfect. In fact, I put it off for a lot longer than I wish I had. The year before I told him, I had been at a gathering with other birthmothers, who all told me they had pictures of their kids up, and that their now parented children knew of them. I was the lone birthmother, still in my own isolated silence, who hadn't come clean to her family. It was a strange feeling of realizing that I was holding something back from my own son that was very much a part of his family.
A year later, I sat down with pictures of me while I was pregnant with my first son, with my husband one side and our son on the other. We thumbed carefully through the pages of those albums, and I carefully explained what was happening. I explained my pregnancy. I even told him that I had wanted to keep my son, but was pressured to relinquish my parental rights. For what seemed like an eternity, he sat there, taking it all in, and not minding one little bit. His response to my sharing was so kind, and so gentle. It was as if he understood it better than any other adult ever had.
Now, there are pictures of my first son in the house. My kids know his name, and we refer to him often. Every so often, I'll find my son picking through pictures, and talking to them, because he seems to identify with the other little boy in the photographs. He should, I guess, as they are brothers.
There is no right or wrong way to have these conversations, and I believe that it's never too late to start an honest discussion about these dynamics. Often we don't give children enough credit for being able to understand; I think that a lack of pessimism and innocence allows them to see the bare bones of the situation, and if we are encouraging a conversation with honesty, they'll hopefully feel comfortable enough to discuss these tougher adoption subjects.
Credits: Danielle Barnsley-Cervo
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