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I believe no hoopla should or needs to be made concerning adoption. I am convinced that many of the standard recommendations dispensed by so-called adoption experts are pointless, and perhaps counterproductive. These include repeatedly telling the child in question, before he’s even able to talk, that he is adopted, referring to the adoption at every possible opportunity, singing “you’re adopted” songs to the child when he’s a baby, and the like. My recommendation is to treat adoption as a small deal, which all but ensures that it will never become a big one.

One adoption professional who was infuriated at my heresy said that my approach could result in trauma to a child who discovers on his own that he was adopted. However, trauma is not mere upset; it is prolonged suffering. I propose that a child who becomes truly traumatized at the discovery that he was adopted was already emotionally fragile for other reasons.

I am not advocating that adopted children not be informed. I simply believe they should not be told until it is either necessary or they are old enough to truly comprehend the implications, ask intelligent questions, and participate in a rational discussion of what it means.

Once upon a time, people did not think that adoption was a big deal. There were children who, for sundry reasons, had to be separated from their parents, and there were parents willing to take them in. No one thought that this increased a child’s risk of later problems, and there is no evidence that it did.

Today, however, adoption babble includes words and phrases such as “attachment disorder,” “bonding issues,” and, of course, “trauma”—all of which greatly increase the likelihood that adoptive parents will tread on eggshells. It is almost always the case that these eggshells eventually crack and beasts emerge. One such beast is the adopted teenager who suddenly decides, in the throes of the “poor, pitiful, adopted me” soap opera, that all of her problems would be solved if she could just go live with her “real” parents. Every time adoptive parents have asked my advice concerning this adolescent drama, they have affirmed that they had made the adoption a big deal from day one.

Some parents recognize the babble for what it is. One such adoptive mom recently told me that she and her husband have never sat down with their daughter to have the “big talk.” The child knows she is adopted. No effort has been made to hide it from her, but the subject is not brought up unless it is relevant to what is going on or being discussed. That’s eminently sensible. The adoption is not taboo, but neither is it the sole source of meaning in the child’s life.

I have a friend who did not discover that he was adopted until he was nineteen years old, and even then, quite by accident. When he asked his parents why they never told him, they answered that it made no difference to them. And that was that. The explanation was satisfactory, and my friend went on to become a highly successful professional.

Again, never telling the child is not my recommendation, but I offer the story as evidence that when molehills are treated as molehills, they are likely to remain molehills.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at or (817) 295-1751.

Living With Children: Telling Them They're Adopted

by John Rosemond
From the March 2010 Signs