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Ask AF

AF answers your parenting questions. July/August 2005



Have a question? Ask our panel of experts.

What’s the big secret?

Q: My eight-year-old son has been fielding questions about adoption since he was very young, and he is comfortable with the topic. Recently, though, he’s been telling classmates that he was adopted, but asking them to keep it secret. Should I be worried about anything? Is he testing the waters to find out how other kids view adoption?

A: Yes, this is the age when non-adopted children become curious about adoption. It sounds like your son has discovered this and is enjoying both the attention and having control over who learns his “secret.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Still, you might want to have a heart-to-heart talk with him about how hard it is to keep a secret, so he will not be hurt when he learns that his “secret” has been leaked to other children in his class. This might be the time for you (and your son, if he wants to help) to give an adoption talk or presentation in his class. If your son agrees that it’s a good idea, talk with him beforehand about how much personal information each of you is comfortable sharing.
—Vicki Peterson,
Wide Horizons for Children, Waltham, Massachusetts

When to share birthparent information

Q: My 5-year-old has been asking a lot about her birthfather recently (I assume it’s because I’m a single mom), but I only have information about her birthmother. And, as far as I know, her birthparents aren’t together, but my daughter assumes they are. What should I say to my daughter and should I show her a photo of her birthmom?

A: Answer your daughter with basic, honest information. Tell her simply that she has a birthmother and a birthfather, but that you know a lot more about her birthmother. You don’t need to raise the question of whether her birthparents are together. If she brings it up, tell her you don’t know for sure.

It’s O.K. to share photos of birth family with children of any age. If she wants to see the photograph of her birthmother, let her decide what she wants to do with it. She may ask to take it to school to show to her teacher and friends, or she may want to put it in a special place in her photo album.
—Ronny Diamond,
Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City

A: One of the most difficult parts of adoption is not having answers to some of the questions your child asks.

You are probably correct about why your daughter is more curious about her birthfather than her birthmother. Be honest. Tell her that you wish you had a picture of her birthfather, too, but you don’t.

Try to get some trusted male family members or friends involved in your daughter’s life, if you haven’t already. She is aware that some of her friends have a dad, and she might greatly benefit from a relationship with someone who can fill that role.
—Vicki Peterson

Talking about sex

Q: My children (4 and 6) have been asking a lot of questions about babies recently. Can you suggest any resources to use or guidelines to follow when talking specifically to adopted children about sex?

A: Read “Birds, Bees, and Adoption,” by Marybeth Lambe, M.D. You’ll learn what to talk about, age by age, and find links to adoption books for kids that don’t leave the facts of life out of the picture. Good luck!
—The Editors of AF

Telling children about a change of heart

Q: Our 5-year-old son (also adopted) was very excited for the arrival of a newborn sister, but we recently found out that the birthmother changed her mind and has decided to keep the baby. How can we break the news to our son?

A: This is a great opportunity to explain another aspect of adoption to your son. Explain that, in order for your family to adopt a baby, the birthmother has to decide that she isn’t able or ready to be a mommy. Tell him that his birthmother felt that way, and that’s why you’re his forever family, but this baby’s birthmother decided that she was ready to be a mommy. Your family will just wait for another baby.

Many states require birthmothers to wait 30 to 45 days after giving birth before relinquishing parental rights. Thus, I always advise parents to tell their children that they will be taking care of the baby for a little while to give the birthmother time to decide what’s best. This way, you’ve prepared the child for the possibility that you will not adopt that baby.
—Ronny Diamond

Adoption leave

Q: Is there any law that allows adoptive mothers to take sick days from work after adopting?

A: Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers are required to allow up to 12 weeks’ leave for specified circumstances, including the adoption of a child. By default, the FMLA leave is unpaid, but employers can require employees to use any accumulated vacation, sick leave, or other paid time off during the FMLA leave. Thus, you cannot, for example, take the full 12-week unpaid FMLA period, then tack on additional vacation time.

The amount of paid time off you can take depends on your employer’s policies. Inquire at your Human Resources department.
—Douglas Dormire Powers,
Employee-benefits litigation specialist, Baker & Daniels, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Reappearance of a birth child

Q: My birth son contacted me earlier this year, and my wife (not his birthmother) and I have enjoyed getting to know him. He’d like us to come to his wedding, but I haven’t yet told our 9-year-old son and I’m not sure how.

A: What an exciting time for you! Since you and your wife have welcomed your birth son into your lives, I suspect that your younger son will be just as enthusiastic.

Set aside a quiet time to have a talk with your son. Tell him that a long time ago, before you met his mother, you had a relationship with a woman, and that a child was born as a result of the relationship. Explain that you and the woman were not ready to be parents, so the child was adopted by another set of parents. Then, tell him what happened recently.

Let your son know that he doesn’t have to have a relationship with this older half-brother, but that you’d like them to meet. If he protests, don’t push him. He may need some time to get used to the idea. My guess, however, is that he’ll think having a new big brother is awesome.

Have a great time at the wedding!
—Vicki Peterson

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