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Questions About Birth Siblings

Don’t be surprised if your child wants to know about his birth siblings. Such questions are healthy—and normal.

by Joey Nesler

Did my birth mommy have other babies? Were they adopted, too? Why didn’t she keep me?” These are tough, but valid, questions typical of an early grade-school child. Children ages six to eight begin to apply rules and logic to everything, including family relationships. And as your child enters this phase, he may ask questions about his birth family—and his birth siblings in particular.

Tell What You Know

Some parents are caught off-guard by such questions and don’t know how to respond. It’s helpful to remember, though, that an adopted child’s interest in birth siblings is healthy, normal, and age-appropriate. If your child brings up the topic, physically get down on his level and give him your full attention. Say, “What a good question! I can understand why you would wonder about that.”

Then tell your child what you know, in language he can understand. For instance, say, “The agency mentioned that you were your birthmom’s second baby boy. I wish I knew more to tell.” Or “Birthmoms make adoption plans for their babies for different reasons. Your birthmother made a plan for you because she wanted you to have a life she couldn’t give you. It takes the biggest kind of love to make a hard choice like that. She was able to parent your baby brother, though, because things were different.” Then explain in simple terms how that was a different circumstance.

Parents may be concerned that this type of dialogue is hurtful. But it is profoundly healing for a child to know his life story. Children also benefit because such talk only enriches their trust in you and affirms that you will not withhold information.

Thoughts about birth families cross every adopted child’s mind. If a child has voiced one question, you can bet he’s contemplating others. The first question tests the waters; your reaction will determine whether he feels safe enough to broach others.

When responding to your child, use nonreactive, honest, age-appropriate language. What you say is important, but how you say it is crucial. A hushed tone conveys secrecy or shame, while an elevated tone can suggest anxiety. It may help to get comfortable with the information by talking about it with a trusted friend beforehand. However you deal with this issue, remember that you’re laying the foundation for a lifetime of important questions and answers.

Joey Nesler is a clinically trained adoption psychotherapist in Orange County, California. She is an adoptee who has been reunited with her birth siblings.

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