December 4, 2013

When Should An Adoption or a Parent's Identity
Be Kept a Secret?

Monday night our family went out to dinner to celebrate my husband’s birthday.  During the meal, one of our sons asked me what the definition of an "adoptee lite" is. I explained this term is often utilized in the adoption community when an adoptee has one natural parent and one adoptive parent.  Some also refer to this as a "half adoptee". They asked why that would be the case.

Photo Credit: Restricted Data, Flickr
I explained that in some cases, a person may marry a man or woman who already has children and adopt them. 

I also shared that at times, the adoptee is so young when this takes place, they may grow up unaware of the adoption if they are not informed. A woman may have a child and have no ongoing relationship with the father of the child. Or they may go through a breakup while the child is still very young and marry another man who raises them as if they were their biological son or daughter. Sadly, many choose to keep this a secret from the child.

Sometimes a mother may feel it is in a son or daughter's best interest that they not know who their biological father is. 

I didn’t stop talking when the server walked up to our table. As our evening came to a close my husband and sons headed to the parking lot first and Savanna Rose and I lagged a few minutes behind. As we were gathering our things to leave the server approached us and said, “Can I talk to you? I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation..."

“I have a family member in that situation that you described," she went on.  "Her mother remarried when she was just a baby and the new husband adopted her. They made a decision to let her grow up without knowing that he was not her biological father. This was because they felt keeping it a secret was for her own good. Now it has all just blown up in their face. She is 20 years old and she is very ill.”

“Oh my..." I said. “I’m so sorry. What happened?”

“Well, she  has a life-threatening illness and needs a transplant and the first person she approached about possibly donating was her father. Suddenly, they were faced with having to tell her the truth. They confessed to her that he is not her biological father. She is very angry  and now in addition to going through a serious illness, her relationship with them is in a total upheaval."  

Savanna and I stood there, with sympathetic looks on our faces.

“I understand why she feels the way she does,” I said. “I have many friends who have gone through similar circumstances. I happen to lead a support group here in Tampa, called Adoptee Restoration.”'

The server seemed very interested and we talked for a good while. Finally she said, “Let me ask you…do you think my family member who withheld the information about her biological father did the wrong thing?”  Can Pentecostals get emotional? Is Channing Tatum hot? Is the Obamacare website a hot mess? 

I shared with her that I don’t have to know her family member or any details of the situation to answer this question with certainty.

Truth is always the right thing. 

I explained that even if the adoptee's biological father is a drug dealer, a serial killer, or the worst deadbeat in the world makes no difference. At all.

Many people say, “It all depends on the situation,” and “Every situation is different.”

While every situation is different, truth is the right thing in every single one of them.

It is important to note that for a child (or for an adult, for that matter) knowing the truth does not necessarily mean having contact. Information and contact are two different things entirely.

So I told the server, “Your family member was absolutely wrong. Her daughter deserved the truth, she and her husband withheld it, and now they’re paying for it."

“I agree with you completely,” she said. It’s always what I’ve felt in my heart, from day one. But, I also felt powerless to intervene.” 
We brought some words of comfort and headed out. As we were leaving the restaurant, Savanna turned to me and said,  “Mom, we never get away from this. It’s everywhere.”

"You're right, " I said, "It is everywhere. And that’s because there are secrets and lies in so many families. The secrets never help. They always hurt. And they have the potential to destroy lives.  This is not rare. It is not isolated. We will continue to meet people just like the lady we met tonight. And it's important we be there to speak truth and help them in whatever way we can."

She nodded as we walked to the car in the chill of the night air, realizing  this was far from the first or the last person we would ever talk to who would tell a similar tale.

When should an adoption or the identity of a parent be kept a secret from an adoptee?