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Hambayuti's avatar

What would be the right age to tell a child that one of the parent he/she grew up with wasn't his/her biological parent?

Asked by Hambayuti (1380points) June 29th, 2009 from iPhone
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

41 Answers

sanari's avatar

Tell them early [as in, like 5 or 6] – but reassure them that they are loved and seriously reassure them that they are your child no matter what.

Source: I was adopted.

Jack79's avatar

I think day 1. Take it as granted, mention it casually whenever it comes up. At first they won’t even know what you’re talking about, but when they’re old enough to ask, they will. And you can provide more details as they request them. I think when you keep something like that a secret, the more you postpone it, the harder it gets.

My daughter was not adopted, but I told her about the operation she had. And that me and her mum cannot live together in the same house. I did not tell her how she almost died or the medical details of her condition, nor did I mention all the evil things her mum has done (though she’s figured some out herself already). It’s the same with everything. My daughter is 4 and knows that children are born when a daddy puts a seed somewhere in an egg in mummy’s body, and the egg grows and becomes a baby. The only lies I keep up are the ones that make the world look more beautiful, and even then she knows I’m being metaphoric, eg that the sun is smiling at us, that our car has a soul, or that the presents under the tree come from Father Christmas and that he reads all the letters.

mcbealer's avatar

This is a conversation that I would like to think one would build on. Always explain it in terms appropriate for their age. Along they way, if you keep it an open topic, the child will ask more questons, and for more details. I’m sure there are many books written on this topic specifically.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My husband and I are parents to our two children – our first is not his bio child, but he’s parented him since he was 1 – the child is aware that he has a bio-dad but I haven’t called my husband his dad just yet.

pats04fan's avatar

Not to late, and if you never want to make sure not to many people know. I had a friend who were mad at their parents for a while. Make sure it is early, maybe even showing it at day 1. I think no matter what, if they are over 6, they will have some emotional reaction. maybe even earlier. I think the reaction will be greater, the greater the age. Maybe, though until they become adults, they might be able to take it better.

Ansible1's avatar

Do it early on. I was adopted and discovered the fact when i was 14 and it was devastating. On vacation in California my brother (who is also adopted) asked me how i felt about being adopted assuming i had already known. I hated my parents after that. I clearly remember a time when i was 5 or 6 laying on my mom, i pointed to her stomach and said: ‘mommy did i really come from in there?’ and she sincerely said yes you did. I understand now their reasons for keeping it from me, but at the time it turned my world upsidedown.

ubersiren's avatar

I would definitely tell him/her from birth so he’d grow up with it. I’d say something like, “I’m your mommy even though you came from someone else’s belly” or “you have two mommies…” or something like that. I’d explain that kids come from all types of families.

MrItty's avatar

Day 1. There is no better way to do it than explain while most children are random productions of their parents, your child is extra special – he himself was specifically chosen, and that he should be happy with how loved he is, how much that choice means.

The man I call “Dad” is my step father. He joined my mother in raising me when I was 5 years old. It was never a mystery to me, and there were no surprises. Doesn’t change the fact – he may not be my father, but he’s absolutely my Dad.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I was going to say as soon as they’re old enough to understand, but you all have better answers than that. I guess since there’s not been any adoptions or step parenting in our family, I’m not one to say.

DrBill's avatar

I was adopted at 18 months, and was told at 4. It was never a secret to anyone, and they justified it with ’“your birth parents could not take care of you, but they loved you so much they wanted to find a family who would love you and able to take care of you.”

I went to school with someone who found out at 23 when he needed family medical history, he was devastated.

Judi's avatar

I met my first husband when my daughter was 8 months old. Her biological father was no where to be found.
I made the decision to always be honest with her. I never conveyed any judgment about her biological father. She just knew that she had another dad right from the start. These things are only tramatizing for the kids if the parents feel somehow tramatized themself. My daughter is a healthy, happy 28 year old wife, mother and teacher now

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

If the child asks or when it becomes relevant to something else going on.

Tink's avatar

Before they are pre-teens

loser's avatar

Day 1! I grew up with a book in the house called, “The Chosen Baby” and it was often read to me so I could be reminded of how special I am. Of course, I didn’t really get it until I understood where babies came from and that I was somebodys New Years party error. (Born in September) but at least there were no surprises sprung on me and I could gradually deal with it.

JLeslie's avatar

Day 1. They should just simply always know it.

ru2bz46's avatar

When they ask the question, they are ready for the answer.

MrItty's avatar

How many children randomly ask their parents “Am I adopted?”? Almost none. Waiting for them to ask the question is absurdly irresponsible.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

@MrItty: you mean you and your cousins never sat around playing, “who’s your daddy”?

MrItty's avatar

can’t say that we did.

wundayatta's avatar

No one ever asks “Am I adopted,” unless they are feeling alienated from their parents in some way. You can’t wait to tell them. It has to be part of family lore. There should be a story of how they came into the family. It should be a special story, just for them, and it should be the truth.

My kids are “test tube” babies. Except, when my son refers to that, my daughter, who is older, always corrects him and says that they are “petri dish” babies. We even have a picture of the petri dish with seven or eight embryos in it. Two of those pictured ended up being our kids! Anyway, they’ve always known this, even before it made any sense to them.

Darwin's avatar

Both of my children are adopted, and we have never made a secret of it at all. So I have to join in with the Day 1 chorus. Each child has a notebook of their first year, with all of their adoption papers, pictures of their birth parents, letters that their birth parents wrote, and all the usual naked baby in the kitchen sink photos.

In fact, we recently made contact with my son’s birth father and his family and will be spending the 4th of July with them.

ru2bz46's avatar

Two very close friends of mine were trying to conceive and resorted to fertility treatments. Eventually, their eight year old son asked out of the blue, “So, if you guys are having such a hard time having another baby, how did I get here?” That is when they explained that he was conceived by another man to whom his mother had originally intended to marry. His reaction? “Oh.” From then on, he accepted it. He knew he was loved as a biological son by his father, so there was never any need to go on about it. He’s in his thirties today and has never desired to meet the other guy.

MrItty's avatar

@ru2bz46 Your situation is unique. Your child had a reason to ask “how did I get here”. Most adopted/step children would never have cause to question it.

If you hadn’t been trying to have another child, and therefore hadn’t been having the difficulty, and your child hadn’t asked the question, you never would have told him?

ru2bz46's avatar

@MrItty It was not my child, so I cannot say for sure that he would have never been told; however, it was never a secret. The whole family knew about it, and it was understood by all that he would eventually have questions. The parents had hoped to tell him together, but he happened to ask his mother while they were at the hospital, so she told him then and there.

Another friend was conceived in a very similar situation. Many siblings were born after him. When he was five years old, he came across a copy of his birth certificate. He could read enough to know what the document was and to know the name in the “Father” section was not his dad’s name. As he grew up and noticed that his brothers did not look like him, he asked the question. His mother was trying to hide her past, so she lied to him, thus causing him to investigate many years later. Again, he was not bothered by the situation, just curious about the truth of his lineage. His dad was as much of a father as he could have hoped for.

True, both of these individuals had a reason to ask, but then again, what adoptee, etc. doesn’t have a reason to ask? Everybody knows if they look like their parents/siblings or not. There are always clues. As long as it is not hidden, there shouldn’t be a problem waiting for the child to ask the question.

MrItty's avatar

@ru2bz46 sorry for misreading your post.

“The whole family knew about it”
Except for the kid.

“The parents had hoped to tell him together”
They wouldn’t have had to hope if they’d just been clear to begin with, rather than waiting for a random circumstance of the kid asking.

“As long as it is not hidden, there shouldn’t be a problem waiting for the child to ask the question.”
Not revealing the truth immediately is hiding it. A lie of omission is not morally superior to a lie of deception.

And no, simply not looking like your siblings is not enough to cause most people to question their parentage. None of my three half-siblings (who are all full-siblings to each other) look alike. Yeah, if one’s black and one’s white that’s a pretty good giveaway. But just having different height,weight,eye color, hair color? No, that doesn’t make anyone (in and of itself) say “Am I adopted?”

ru2bz46's avatar

@MrItty I understand your points, but is it better to tell the child before he is cabable of understanding it? Your posts seem to indicate you think so. In my opinion, it is best to wait until the child is old enough to question. We will disagree, and I am OK with that.

cak's avatar

My biological father was murdered when I was young – very young. I was there when it happened. I was young enough to think that it might have been a nightmare, but old enough to know that it happened. I was somewhere in the gray area of understanding, therefore, I didn’t ask a lot, but I had a lot of dreams. Thankfully, my mom talked about things and when she remarried, they talked about things enough, where I understood the truth. I don’t remember this long drawn out conversation about everything, I just remember the conversations. Those conversations carried on through my teen years.

In retrospect, I like how my parents handled things. I think I would be upset if I didn’t ask the question until my teenage years and they waited to tell me. Yes, there are some kids that might not put it all together and wait to ask the question. I would wonder why they didn’t tell me sooner. However, I don’t think there is a right or wrong. I think it’s a decision that is made between the husband and wife and they must determine what they feel is right.

MrItty's avatar

I was capable of understanding that my parents were divorced at 2 years old. My siblings were capable of understanding that they and I have a different father when they were old enough to start pronouncing “father”. Children are not as stupid as most people make them out to be.

watdat's avatar

as soon as they understand the difference between a biological father and stepfather

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

because of this question I decided to start explaining to my 3 year old about his two dads: his bio dad and non-bio dad and well i decided to explain this to his bio dad as well although the latter will have more trouble understanding the concept

Hambayuti's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – good for you. all the best.


watdat's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir and @Hambayuti – this deserves a click at Great Question! and a lurve for @Simone_De_Beauvoir

Judi's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir ; YIKES!!! Bio Dad doesn’t know????

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Judi no, he knows, he just doesn’t know how I refer to him and to my husband in front of the kids and other people

MrItty's avatar

Gah. My situation may be unique, but I can’t grasp the concept of having “two dads”. I have one dad. The male parent who raised me. My biological father is not a “Dad” by any definition I consider valid.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@MrItty I’m thinking it’ll be up to my son to decide when he’s older whether he is his dad or not

Darwin's avatar

My son’s birth father is more a cross between an uncle and a cousin as far as my son is concerned. He has never had to do the heavy lifting of parenthood, so he can be my son’s friend and to some degree his playmate. However, the man that raised him is Dad.

maryleedy's avatar

I don’t remember at what age I was told I was adopted but I remember knowing it at age 9. I was not ok with it at first because I took it to mean I was rejected by my birthmother. To make a long story short, at 23 I found my birthmother, met her in person, and it was a beautiful event in my life full of unanswered questions being answered.

cookieman's avatar

Agreeing with day one.

We adopted my daughter at age one and have always been honest from the beginning. Obviously, you should give information in an age-appropriate fashion.

However, as she is from China and we’re a couple of big, goofy white people, it would have been obvious to her regardless.

sarahclif's avatar

from the day of their birth. children accept things easily. for a 5 or 6 year old hearing it for the first time (or god forbid an even older child) it’s waaay harder.

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