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Adoption-Telling the Child about Rape, Incest and Other Birth Circumstances
Adoption: Telling the Child about Rape, Incest and Other Birth Circumstances - 10 CEUs

Section 9
Family Conversation (Part 3)

CEU Question 9 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Adoption
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed Suggestions Five and Six regarding telling children about adoption.  These included Omitting Until Age Twelve and Not Trying to Fix the Pain.

Do you have a parent who isn't sure how to present information about his or her child's adoption objectively? 

On this track, we will discuss the last three Suggestions, Suggestions Seven, Eight, and Nine.  These will include Not Imposing Value Judgments on the Information, Giving the Child Control of the Story, the "Summary Story" Technique and Remembering that the Child Probably Knows More than You Think.  As you listen, think of the techniques you use with your client.  How do they compare with techniques presented on this track?

3 More Suggestions for Telling about Adoption

#1 - Not Imposing Value Judgments on the Information
The seventh suggestion regarding telling children about adoption is to not impose value judgments on information surrounding the adoption.  Information about a child's history may seem very negative, even horrific, to adoptive parents or social workers, but may be interpreted quite differently by the child.  As you know, information about a child's history should never be changed, or given to an older child with significant omissions.  Facts must be presented, however, without the overlay of values, without judgment.

Tom and Kayla came to me about their adopted son, Gabe, age 12.  Tom stated, "Gabe has been with us since he was six months old.  We haven't told him, however, that he was conceived as the result of a rape.  Since Gabe is approaching his teen years, he is getting into all the things that go with that, like being aware of his own sexuality…etc.  With that in mind, of course we don't want to tell him that his father was a rapist!  However, he's been asking to hear the story of his adoption over and over again lately."  Kayla stated, "We don't want to lie to him, so I've just said that Gabe's birth mother was unable to raise him." 

I stated, "Gabe's feelings for, or memories of, his birth family can alter his perceptions of events surrounding the decision to put him up for adoption.  And Gabe's need to have positive feelings regarding his birth family will definitely color his perceptions about his adoption."  I explained to Tom and Kayla that if the facts were presented to Gabe in a judgmental fashion, Gabe might interpret your judgment as rejection of his birth family, his origins, and ultimately, himself. 

Tom's and Kayla's presenting an understanding came about by observing the circumstances of the adoption without judgment or censorship.  Gabe could develop the maturity to do the same, and this understanding without judgment would be modeled to Gabe by the people most important to him, his parents.

I met with Gabe, and realized that when his mother said his birth mother was unable to raise him, Gabe had interpreted that to mean that his birth mother had found him so repulsive that she had rejected him.  Tom and Kayla eventually told Gabe all the circumstances surrounding the rape of his mother and his adoption, Gabe was actually relieved! 

Gabe stated, "I was so glad to learn that my mom wasn't a slut…I had all these ideas that she had slept with all kinds of guys and I was just an unwanted consequence.  I understand now that my birth mother rejected the rape, not me."  Tom and Kayla were also relieved.  Tom stated, "We worried for so many years about the right time and the right way to tell Gabe about his birth, because it seemed so negative.  What a relief it was that Gabe didn't see the information negatively at all!"

#2 - Giving the Child Control of the Story
The eighth suggestion regarding telling children about adoption is to give the child control of the story.  If friends or extended family members of the adopted child ask about sensitive information, I have found that it is best to simply tell them that the information belongs to the child. 

Julia, a white single parent, had two adopted Korean children, Andrew, age 7, and Lizzie, age 5.  Julia stated, "People make the most insensitive comments sometimes when they notice my children look different than me!  Once, when I was grocery shopping with Andrew and Lizzie, a woman came up to me and was telling me how beautiful my children were.  Then, without warning, she asked Andrew, 'How come your mother got rid of you?'  I was speechless with rage!  How can I help my children respond to ridiculous remarks like that?!"  What might you have said?

I explained to Julia about letting Andrew and Lizzie have control of their story.  I stated, "You do not have to decide with whom, when, and how intimate details of Andrew and Lizzie's lives are shared.  You might explain to Andrew and Lizzie that some people don't have a lot of experience with adoption and might ask insensitive questions or make ridiculous remarks.  You might want to talk with Andrew and Lizzie about developing a short, simple version of his story that they feel comfortable sharing with your neighbors, school friends, teachers, relatives, and other acquaintances."

Technique: Summary Story - Three Steps
Julia expressed interest in developing an abbreviated version of Andrew and Lizzie's adoption stories, so I suggested that Julie try the "Summary Story" Technique.  I explained that this summary story might be very similar to the information Andrew and Julie had received when they were much younger.  I stated, "You may want to let Andrew and Lizzie know that they are not keeping information from acquaintances because it is shameful.  Rather, Andrew and Lizzie are withholding information because they do not have to explain their stories with all the details to anyone and everyone."

I continued to state, "There are two key points to this technique:
-- Step One - First, discuss with Andrew and Lizzie the kinds questions that people might ask and various situations they might encounter.  You might include scenarios like the first day at a new school or church, or, as you have experienced, what questions curious people might ask at a mall or restaurant. 
-- Step Two - Second, talk about what information should be shared.  It might not be an easy task for Andrew and Lizzie to sort out what information should be told and what should be kept private."  I explained, for example, that Andrew and Lizzie might be instructed to provide three basic responses to questions, such as their names, their origins and the dates they joined the family. 
-- Step Three - I stated, "Above all, you can let Andrew and Lizzie know that they are not obligated to tell everyone everything, and that there are personal boundaries for others to respect."

#3 - Remembering that the Child Probably Knows More than You Think
Have you found, as I have, that children often know more than you think they do?  In addition to Imposing Value Judgments on the Information, Giving the Child Control of the Story, the ninth and final suggestion regarding telling about adoption is to remember that the child probably does know more than you think he or she does.  Sometimes adoptive parents tell others in the family about the troublesome details of their child's history, and they believe they will tell the child, but later. 

Sometimes no time ever seems like the right time.  So, parents never get around to telling the child, and someone else does.  When information comes to the child from someone other than the parent, the child may not have the support of parents in integrating information about their adoption into a positive self-identity.  And, unfortunately, information is sometimes shared that is not entirely accurate because it has been passed through too many tellings of the story.

Do you have a Julia who often experiences insensitive comments from strangers regarding his or her adopted child?  Might he or she benefit from hearing this track? 

On this track, we have discussed The Last Three Suggestions of Telling.  These have included Not Imposing Value Judgments on the Information, Giving the Child Control of the Story, the "Summary Story" Technique and Remembering that the Child Probably Knows More than You Think.

On the next track, we will discuss Life-book Technique.  This will include Recreating Life History, Giving Information About the Birth Family, Giving Reasons for Placement, Providing Photos, Recording the Child’s Feelings and Giving the Child Information About Development.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cioffi, C. C., Griffin, A. M., Natsuaki, M. N., Shaw, D. S., Reiss, D., Ganiban, J. M., Neiderhiser, J. M., & Leve, L. D. (2021). The role of negative emotionality in the development of child executive function and language abilities from toddlerhood to first grade: An adoption study. Developmental Psychology, 57(3), 347–360.

Farr, R. H., Bruun, S. T., & Simon, K. A. (2019). Family conflict observations and outcomes among adopted school-age children with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(8), 965–974.

Kim, A. Y., Kim, O. M., Hu, A. W., Oh, J. S., & Lee, R. M. (2020). Conceptualization and measurement of birth family thoughts for adolescents and adults adopted transnationally. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 555–565. 

Von Korff, L., & Grotevant, H. D. (2011). Contact in adoption and adoptive identity formation: The mediating role of family conversation. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 393–401.

Walkner, A. J., & Rueter, M. A. (2014). Adoption status and family relationships during the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(6), 877–886. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 9
What are the last three suggestions of telling? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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