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Adoption: The Best Time To Tell Your Child That He or She is Adopted

Updated on September 19, 2013
The author, adopted in 1948.
The author, adopted in 1948. | Source
The author's son Tyler, adopted in 1984.
The author's son Tyler, adopted in 1984. | Source

Let me eliminate any doubt regarding where I stand on the issue of whether or not you should tell your child that they are adopted. First, let me say that if you have never been adopted or never adopted a child yourself then your opinion on this matter is basically worthless. How can you possibly know the ramifications of such a decision if you have never been a part of the process? It would be the same if I were to give advice to a pregnant woman about pregnancy. One can only imagine how much weight my opinion would be given.

Having said that, if you have read the title of this article you should know that I emphatically believe an adopted child should be told that they are adopted.


As I have said before, regarding this topic “I have game.” I was adopted at the age of nine months after spending those first nine months in several foster homes. I was adopted by a very loving couple, Dale and Evelyn Holland, and never looked back. I have never known my biological parents and never made any attempt to find them, but we will discuss that particular point in a little while.

I am also the parent of an adopted child. My then wife and I adopted our son Tyler when he was three days old; he is now twenty-seven and the joy of my life. He has never met his biological parents but has shown interest of late in doing so. Again, we will discuss this point in a bit.

Suffice it to say that I bring a wee bit of experience to this discussion. Let us now discuss the reasons as I see them for telling your child that they are adopted and when to do so.

One perspective

Why Tell Them?

Oh my goodness, where do I start? How about this point to start off the proceedings: they have a right to know! We are talking about their identity as a person and nobody has the right to keep that information from another human being. Do you think they are not going to figure it out? If I hadn’t been told I still would have known simply because I resembled none of my adopted family in appearance or behavior. It was quite obvious that I was the apple in the orange crate and not knowing would have led to doubt, suspicion and apprehension. I am so grateful that my parents told me and that I told my son.

Imagine, if you will, an adopted child who is not told about his/her adoption. Later in life, whether that be the teen years or as an adult, somehow this adoptee discovers that they were, in fact, adopted. The knowledge that they had been lied to for all of those years would have been devastating AND the knowledge that they had biological parents but were never given the option of finding them would be the worst kind of betrayal.

A child deserves to know!

My great adopted family
My great adopted family | Source

If you have adopted, when did you tell your child about it?

See results

So When Do You Tell Them?

I can only speak from my experience; others may have chosen a different time to tell their children and the results may have been excellent. I can only tell my story.

My parents handled this so effortlessly that I do not have a recollection of our talk. It seems to me that I have always known that I was adopted, so my parents must have told me at an early age, probably at the time when I was able to grasp the importance of the talk. It is to my parents’ credit that the way in which they handled this most important talk caused me no psychological scars at all. I grew up knowing that I was adopted; end of story. There was no shame in that fact; I clearly remember telling my friends early on about my adoption. In fact I marveled at the fact that I was blind at nine months of age and after my parents adopted me I gained my sight within three days. I thought that was a remarkable tale of love and still today I believe it to be so.

I did have a discussion with my adopted parents about finding my biological parents. Although my mother was bothered by the possibility both she and my father said that if that was what I chose to do they would support me. I always respected them for that and consequently I never had much interest in finding my biological parents.

My wife and I (we have since divorced) told our son at the earliest age possible; recollection is shaky but he must have been five or six at the time. We told him that we loved him as though he came from us but that he had other parents, those who created him and that they were unable to take care of him after he was born and so we adopted him. He handled the news beautifully and still to this day considers us his real parents. He has never lacked for love and never felt cheated by not knowing his birth parents.

He has, however, just lately shown an interest in finding them and he has my blessing if he should choose to do so. I do not feel threatened by that possibility and in fact think it would be good for him in certain ways.

Many Paths to Follow…except One!

It is my belief, supported by my experiences, that the proper time to tell a child that they are adopted is the earliest possible age at which they can understand. Whether that be five, six, seven or whenever, as soon as the child has the capability to process the information they should be told in the most loving way possible. I know for those of you who are now facing this situation that it is scary and you have doubts about when to tell your child or even if you should, but trust me when I tell you that if the information is presented in a loving manner it will turn out okay.

The only possible way that this situation could turn out badly is if you choose not to tell your child in which case be prepared for the ramifications of your decision later on in life and they could be very serious ramifications.

Are you willing to risk it and take that chance? I would hope the answer is no!

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

"Helping writers to spread their wings and fly."

One year later

It has been a year since this article was originally written, and in that time my adopted son found his birth amazing event in itself, but the event happened because of an article I wrote about adoption. Who says the power of the written word is not important?

In the past year my son has met his birth mother and they have begun to establish a relationship, and I can honestly say I am elated for him. This is a piece of his life that was missing and now a rather large hole has been filled.

There are, indeed, happy endings in life. I wish, for all of you reading this, a similar happy ending on your journey.


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thank you Eddy! I have much to give, and what a shame it would be if I kept it all for myself. :) From one big heart to another, thank you!


    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A brilliant hub Billy and from who has the experience a wonderful share.

      You give so much and Hubpages would never be the same without you now.

      Your input is priceless;take care my very dear friend and Enjoy your weekend.


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Int1016, thank you for that comment and you are absolutely correct. It does not have to be a huge ordeal if handled properly. You and I are proof of that.

    • tnt1016 profile image

      tnt1016 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      I'm adopted as well and I have a baby book that my parents read to me about my birth family and what adopted really means. When people ask me when I found out I was adopted I proudly say "I've always known."

      I also have 2 cousins that my aunt took under her wing because her brother has drug and alcohol problems and their mom was abusive. At the time one was almost 2 and the other was just a few months old and they didn't fully understand what was going on. My aunt never told them that she adopted them and last Christmas her brother (their dad) decided to drunkly announce that he was their father to them and now they're 7 and 5. It was a huge dramatic ordeal that could've been handled better if she was honest with them earlier.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jcfenner, thank you so much. I'm glad it went well for you when you told your daughter. I firmly believe you handled it exactly right! Best wishes to you and your family.

    • jcfenner profile image

      jcfenner 6 years ago from Wisconsin

      I told my daughter she was adopted when she was 4 years old. She is 6 now and fully understands now. I adopted my brother and sister-in-laws child so I figured it would be best for her to know early on before hearing it somewhere else. Your story is wonderful!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rsusan, thank you for relating that. It does not have to be a big, traumatic event if handled properly. Your message is one that needs to be read by many who are concerned about doing it correctly...just do it in a loving manner and things will work out. Thank you again!

    • rsusan profile image

      Rika Susan 6 years ago from South Africa

      You are so right about this, billybuc! My goddaughters are adopted. My brother and his wife just made it part of their 'story' from very early on. It was never this big thing that was told to them on one particular day. It happened very naturally and to them it is just part of who they are. When it does come up in a conversation, they talk about it as if it is the most natural thing in the world.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      BakingBread, you are absolutely correct in your viewpoint. The sooner you can introduce the subject the better and keeping it simple is the best way early on. Thank you for sharing your story and for taking the time to comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Suebee, thank you for sharing those stories. There is no doubt that identity and a feeling of belonging come from the adopted family. I completely agree with you on that point.

    • BakingBread-101 profile image

      BakingBread-101 6 years ago from Nevada

      Well, I don't know why my previous comment never showed up, but my little girl has known from the get go that she is adopted. She claims "she found me, but before she found me she was looking for a daddy and a mommy and a sister but no brothers because boys are icky but she's glad she found me because I'm the best Mommy." I won't tell her about her background situation until she's much, much older and can understand it. But recently she thanked me for letting her be born in a hospital because her little friend was born there too! I figure keep things simple since she's only five. But children should know.

    • suebee62 profile image

      suebee62 6 years ago from South Carolina

      This is an important subject to write on but I know it is not an easy one. My husband was adopted at age two, and a few years later they adopted 4 siblings who eventually told my husband. Before we married I made my husband tell his parents he knew, as they would tell pregnancy stories and his mother would tell of her labor. After we married, we adopted a baby girl at 6 months and we were going to tell her, but one of her preschool teachers did for us, she was not nice. Our daughter did not understand totally, but in time she did. She is now 14 and is fine with it with no desire to find her birth family even though I have told her of them and about them. You would not know my husband was adopted as he looked like his adoptive father ( now passed on) and our daughter looks so much like me, that when we go out every comments that there is no telling she belongs to me as she is my clone, even looks identical to my pictures when I was younger. I do believe that they should be told, but my husband and I neither one believe that they get their identity from the birth families. I think the identity comes from within, from a sense of belonging, knowing who you are. I have many friends who have adopted and are adopted, and they act and identify more with the family they were raised in than not. I also have many friends who were born into a family and act nothing like nor do they look like anyone in their family. My one friend who found her birth family, not only does not resemble them, she doesn't act like them in anyway.

      So, I guess my viewpoint is based on being an adopted parent, married to one who is adopted and my one best friend and 3 others who all share the same view. If you saw my daughter, you would never know she was adopted, I have been called a liar before for telling people that she was.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      B.Leekley, it is a horrible betrayal and I am so thankful my parents did the job properly. I appreciate your timely comment.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      I knew someone who wasn't told and found out when a teen from a chance remark by a distant relation. She resented the deception for the rest of her life and spent years piecing together her self-identity.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Cyndi, it is the only way to handle the situation. To lie or not tell someone, which is the same as a lie, will only bring pain eventually. Thank you my friend for your support. Sure glad I know you! :)

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 6 years ago from Western NC

      My parents told me about being adopted from the moment it happened when I was 4 years old. Since then, I have kept up with my "real grandmother" and I have learned why I'm so "right-brained" and artsy and bohemian and love school - it's all on my real dad's side of the family. I'm so glad to know all of that. I'm also so glad my parents (my real grandparents) were honest from the beginning. I always stayed in touch with my real mom who told me the story in various forms over the years and always patiently answered my questions. I think for trust to exist in a relationship, parents MUST be honest. How will they have any credibility if they DON'T reveal what really was a monumental event in a child's past? Voted up/A/I/U/B.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Giselle, thank you and I'm glad it was interesting to you. I know there are some horror stories out there concerning adoption but I am on the other end of the spectrum. Nothing but positives from my point of view. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 6 years ago

      A wonderful hub. I loved getting to read about this topic - it is not one I have any experience of, so it was especially interesting to me. I also liked how you brought in your valuable years of experience of being adopted and of adopting a child yourself - I imagine there are not too many people who have experience at both parts of adoption the way you have.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Greatparenting, that is a marvelous story. We actually used a book we purchased that basically helped in the same way. The process was pain-free after many months of anguishing over what we thought would be the outcome. This is such a simple process if done lovingly, which you pointed out. Thank you!

    • greatparenting profile image

      greatparenting 6 years ago from philadelphia, pa and corolla, nc

      Great hub and so important. My godson is adopted and his parents told him in a very loving fashion worth sharing, I think. They made a picture/story book about a baby who had been adopted. They wrote it like a children's book complete with pictures, some of which were actual photos of him in hospital, him being brought home, etc. It had simple explanations of how the baby grew in one woman's "tummy" and then came home with his parents, who loved him and cared for him, etc. They read this book to him as a bedtime story along with other wonderful children's books. It was just another of the stories he loved to hear as far as he could tell. But, the idea was that he always knew his personal story, as far back as he could remember, long before he could even understand the word "adopted." As far as he knew when he was very young, this was no different from the way all babies found their families. Then, as he got older, he learned the official terminology which simply confirmed what he always knew organically. He's in his 20s now and he's chosen to meet his birth family but not because he had any negativity about his adopted parents or family. He knows he's loved and has always known it. He's just loved by more parents than the average kid.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Picadilly, thank you so much! I was talking to my son last night about this hub and he thanked me....thanked me...for finding a way of telling him that seemed so natural....I figure if I could do that then any parent could.

    • picadilly profile image

      Priscill Anne Alvik 6 years ago from Schaumburg, IL

      "Effortlessly", "As Soon As Possible" those words!!! My son was did an awesome job of relaying your experiences! xo

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Xavier, to answer your questions my son and I have had a remarkable relationship, similar to the one my father and I had but I am a bit more open than my father was, a bit more willing to share my humanness. Most of my drinking was winding down during the early years of my son; by the time he was six I was practically done. There have been a couple brief relapses over the past twenty years but nothing like the way it was just before we adopted my son. In point of fact I have actually been sober nineteen of the last twenty years, but quality of life was introduced in the past five years. Bless you my friends.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Plaid, that's a great line, and what a very special catalog it was. Thank you for sharing your experience, strength and hope.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rasta, it can be a very difficult subject to lead up to, but if the child is young it is much easier. As with many things it is the apprehension that is the hardest. Thank you for taking the time to visit this aging author.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 6 years ago from Isle of Man

      Good solid advice and coming from one who has been through it. Your parents were wise and I can only detect the great love you have for them in every reference you make to them in your hubs. As I read this hub I wondered what effect your drinking had on your relationship with your son and how you would compare your relationship with your son and the relationship your father had with you. Thanks for another great read.

    • plaid pages profile image

      plaid pages 6 years ago from Wisconsin

      My child has always known. We don't advertise it or dwell on it. It's really just a family story. In fact, my son has my auburn hair, my wit and sense of humor, and looks just like me. My naturally born girls don't have any of these characteristics.

      He's 12 now and his classmates (kiddingly) call him a liar when he says he's adopted. I teach in the same school. When they run up to me and ask me, I tell them I ordered him out a specialty catalog! haha

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 6 years ago from Jamaica

      This sounds like a difficult topic to talk about. Thanks for doing this hub.


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