Adoption is perhaps one of the most challenging and fulfilling experiences of life. When a couple chooses to raise another’s child, it is not a simple decision in any way. Many times I have worked with clients who seek therapy trying to process the fact that they were adopted or the sense of betrayal for finding out too late or the conflict they feel in loving their adopted parents and still wanting to know who their biological parents are. It becomes even a bigger challenge if there are siblings who were not adopted which happens many times, that post adoption parents can conceive or even having their own children, a couple chooses to adopt.

It is crucial for the birth and adoptive parents to help the child understand the process. I feel it might be relatively easier for a child to process if he or she is adopted from an unknown family at birth through an agency as compared to being adopted from a close or distant relative.

In both cases, I think by the time a child is at a school going age and can fairly understand concepts of life, he should be introduced to what adoption is. It can be introduced as a story to begin with highlighting how the parents chose him from a place of love. But later there should be full disclosure as to why and how the adoption took place.

In the case of having adopted through an agency, it is also a difficult idea for a child to grasp that he came from—in most cases—a poor family who couldn’t afford him. In the case of having biological parents who might be a close relative, it is even harder if the birth and biological parents meet. One cannot imagine if the child or later on, the adult can get an answer to the question of why his parents chose to give him away?

I wonder if it was the worldly reason of not being able to afford it, or it was to help a childless couple ease away the pain of knowing your own parents chose you over maybe your siblings to give away. That child or adult needs to be encouraged to ask these questions loudly and supported through the emotional roller coaster that may emerge without making him feel guilty for having these questions.

It would be very hard but not impossible to process these difficult and conflicting emotions but for that to happen complete disclosure has to be there by the adopted parents. The worst thing that parents can do is by keeping it a secret. This means undoing years and years of love that you provided to that child by betraying their trust. This is why even maintaining a healthy relationship with the birth parents if they are known is a very good idea. It would basically reduce the conflict and resolve the child’s feelings of loss; divided loyalty and maybe the trauma of separation as early as when he was born and help him build a stronger sense of self.

As children grow up, they start developing a sense of self that answers the question, who am I in the world? They start developing self-esteem, which means how much they like themselves and to put it simply, how comfortable they are in their skin. Adoption may interfere with the healthy development of this sense of self as the child might not be sure where he belongs even after years of nurturing by the adopted parents.

Which is why maybe it is better to adopt a newborn baby as compared to a relatively older child to facilitate a stronger sense of self. But in both cases, all it requires is transparency and consistent love for the child to feel safe and develop.

Here I also want to lay emphasis on the emotional wellbeing of the couple who adopts and that if they can, they should seek support in coming to terms with the decision to adopt and raise a child.

Maybe it’s fear of losing the child that drives adopted parents to keep adoption a secret. It is also important for parents to know that for some adopted individuals it might be a lifelong process for them to come to terms with it.

So be honest from the get go and start helping your child as soon as possible to process his adoption. The more open parents are, the more comfortable the child will feel in asking any questions he might have regarding his adoption and will further build his trust in his adopted parents. At the end of the day every child needs love and stability and so if you have adopted and not disclosed it yet, have faith in the love you have provided to that child and grant him or her the honest truth that they deserve to know. You owe it to them!