Archive for Saturday, October 12, 2002

Parents must answer honestly

Adoptive situations result in tough questions from curious children

October 12, 2002


What should you tell an adopted child about his or her biological parents in "closed" adoption situations? How do you answer his tough questions about why he wasn't wanted, etc.?

I'll give you an answer written by Dr. Milton Levine in the vintage parenting book entitled "Your Child from 2 to 5," then I'll comment on his recommendation. Dr. Levine was associate professor of pediatrics at New York Hospital, at the time. He listed three possible ways to tell an adopted child about his origin:

1. Tell the child his biological parents are dead.

2. State plainly that the biological parents were unable to care for their baby themselves.

3. Tell the child nothing is known about the biological parents, but that he was secured from an agency dedicated to finding good homes for babies.

Dr. Levine preferred the first approach because: "The child who is told that his biological parents are dead is free to love the mother and father he lives with. He won't be tormented by a haunting obligation to search for his biological parents when he's grown."

He continued: "Since the possibility of losing one's parents is one of childhood's greatest fears, it is true that the youngster who is told that his biological parents are dead may feel that all parents, including his second set, are pretty impermanent.

"Nevertheless, I feel that in the long run the child will find it easier to adjust to death than to abandonment. To tell a youngster that his parents gave him up because they were unable to take care for him is to present him with a complete rejection. He cannot comprehend the circumstances that might lead to such an act. But an unwholesome view of himself as an unwanted object, not worth fighting to keep, might be established."

I disagree with Dr. Levine at this point. I am unwilling to lie to my child about anything, and would not tell him that his natural parents were dead if that were not true. Sooner or later, he will learn that he has been misled, which could undermine our relationship and bring the entire adoption story under suspicion.

Instead, I would be inclined to tell the child that very little is known about his biological parents. Several inoffensive and vague possibilities could be offered to him, such as: "We can only guess at the reasons the man and woman could not raise you. They may have been extremely poor and were unable to give you the care you needed; or maybe the woman was sick; or she may not have had a home. We just don't know. But there is one thing we do know. She must have loved you very, very much enough to give you life and to make sure you were raised in a loving home where you would be taken care of. We're so thankful that the Lord led her to let us raise you.

We have a 5-year-old son who has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). He is really difficult to handle and I have no idea how to manage him. I know he has a neurological problem and I don't feel right about making him obey like we do our other children. It is a big problem for us. What do you suggest?

I understand your dilemma, but I urge you to discipline your son. Every youngster needs the security of defined limits, and the ADD or ADHD (attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) boy or girl is no exception. Such a child should be held responsible for his behavior, although the approach may be a little different.

For example, most children can be required to sit on a chair for disciplinary reasons, whereas some very hyperactive children would not be able to remain there. Similarly, corporal punishment is sometimes ineffective with a highly excitable little bundle of electricity. As with every aspect of parenthood, disciplinary measures for the ADD child must be suited to his or her unique characteristics and needs.

Dr. Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903; or

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