Should you raise your child from the beginning, knowing they’re adopted, or should you tell them when you feel they’re emotionally ready?

Parents of adopted children are divided on the subject when it comes to telling their little one they were adopted. Some prefer to be open about it from day one, especially if they’ve adopted an older child. Whereas others, having adopted their child as a baby, decide to wait until the child is emotionally ready, before telling them they’re adopted.

Both arguments have their pros and cons. And this is what we’ll be unpacking in this article: should you raise your child from the start to know they’re adopted, or tell them later, when you feel they’re emotionally ready?

Here are some positive and negative points for both arguments:

If you’re open about the adoption, the child will feel that you’re being honest from day one

They will feel like they can ask you questions and that you will not lie to them. This is especially important if you adopted them as a toddler or they are of a different race. Having flashbacks to their childhood before you adopted them may be traumatising if they don’t know that they’re adopted. In addition to this, if your child is of a different race, they are likely to figure out that they’re adopted and feel lied to.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Remember, your child may not yet be old enough to understand adoption, at age five, but when their friends start asking why they look different to you and your partner, they’re going to become confused. In these two situations, it is probably best to be open and honest with your child about the fact they were adopted.

If you wait to tell them they’re adopted, they may at least be more emotionally ready to deal with the feelings that come with that knowledge

When you’re raising a child as your own, whether you went through the process of adoption in South Africa or had them naturally, you’ll want them to feel a familial bond.

They may not feel this bond if they are constantly aware of their adoption, especially if you have children of your own (children you had biologically). They may feel disconnected and think, however irrationally, that you love their siblings more because you’re their birth parent. This is obviously not the case, but a child may not have the emotional capacity to understand that.

At the end of the day, there is no correct time to tell your child they’re adopted. It all depends on your specific case

If you’re open about the adoption, they’ll be able to ask questions and understand their differences and memories

When your child grows up knowing they’re adopted, they won’t hesitate to ask you questions about adoption and what it means. They’ll slowly and continuously be able to ask you everything they want to know. This means that they’ll be able to process and understand adoption and what it means over time, gradually, instead of having to process everything all at once. It also gives them the opportunity to ask about their birth parents, which may be a good thing if you still have a relationship with them or are willing for your child to meet them at a certain age.

If you choose to wait to tell your child they’re adopted until you consider they are emotionally ready, they are likely be able to understand exactly what it means

They will be better equipped to understand that they weren’t abandoned, but rather brought into your family. They’ll have the mental and emotional tools to deal with the information. Yes, it will almost certainly come as a shock, but, given the right amount of time and support, they should be able to recover without too much damage being done. Of course, it will still take them some time. And if you choose to take this route, you need to be prepared for a large, possibly negative, reaction from your child.

You also have to think carefully about when to tell them, as, if you do it too late, they might feel like their whole life has been a lie.

At the end of the day, there is no correct time to tell your child they’re adopted. It all depends on your specific case. If you adopt an older child or a child of a different race, it might be obvious from the start and it’s probably better to be open to conversations about it from a young age. However, if you adopt them from birth, it’s understandable if you want to wait until a certain age to let them know.

Your relationship with the birth parents or parent is important to take into account as well. If you have an open adoption and the birth parents have the option of being in the child’s life, you have to decide the best way to handle that. With a closed adoption, it will likely be a lot easier to raise the child unaware of the adoption.