Parenting a teenager may be far off your radar right now. You may just be starting the embryo adoption process, preparing for your first embryo transfer, are pregnant, or are just now bringing your little one home for the first time. But that little one (or hopeful little one) WILL be a teenager one day—it is never too late to start preparing for when they are older! Many families of adopted children start to lay their foundation of how they will parent their teenager now instead of thirteen years from now.
So how is parenting a teenager who is adopted different than one who is genetically related to you?
No matter how your adopted child was brought into your home (traditional adoption, foster-adoption, donor conception, or embryo adoption), it automatically creates a split between your child’s biography and their biology. Being open with your child’s adoption is a way to heal that split—bringing their biology and biography together!
The idea of being completely open and honest with your child about their adoption may be frightening to some families at first, but it is not something that can be avoided. No matter when you tell your child their story, they will eventually learn the truth, thanks to today’s technology of the internet, social media, and at-home DNA testing kits.
We put together eight concepts in prepping yourself on how you will share your child’s story with them and how it will help them build a healthy sense of self-identity as they grow!
1. Want trust? Give truth.
The best way to build trust with your teenager or future-teenager is to start with the truth. Building any relationship on a lie is a recipe for disaster, and this is even more true when it comes to parent-child relationships. See below a quote from an embryo adoption mother on her relationship with her daughter:
“Now that my daughter is older, I can see the significant different between families who did and those who did not receive education about openness and truth on the front end. We were counseled to tell our child her story from the very beginning. I have a very strong foundation of trust with my daughter. You cannot start your relationship with your child on a lie and expect a high level of closeness.”
2. Who owns the story? Your child.
Some families may be tempted to keep the adoption story to themselves after facing the rigors of infertility. But now your story overlaps your child’s story—you need to disclose the WHOLE story with your child, not just the aspects you are comfortable with. Now, this isn’t to say that you have to give your child every gory detail before they even started kindergarten. But parents should make a plan to turn over the entire story by the start of the child’s adolescence.
3. What prevents us from delivering the story?
What hesitations may you be experiencing when thinking about your child’s story? Honestly, it all stems from your own issues, not your child’s. You could still be experiencing shame of infertility, lack of security in no genetic connection to your child, or simply the fear of not knowing what to say to them. Being open with your child and their story is when we accept what is, rather than living in a fantasy world. If you still have a little one, now is a great time to start resolving any issues you still may be experiencing through therapy or other online resources.
4. Privacy does NOT equal secrecy
Just because you are open with your child about their story does not mean you have to be open with every jogger, barista, or soccer mom you come into contact with about the story. Remember, your story is now your child’s story—they probably do not want you telling the story to the cute barista at the local coffee shop! Being private about how you built your family is different than being secretive.
So how do you know who to tell and when? There are three questions you can ask:
- Does this person need to know the story?
- Why do you want to tell the story?
- Will there be any possible repercussions to telling the story?
Be intentional with your disclosures to others and show your child how to make the same privacy discernments.
5. Age, stage, and time
Determine the appropriate age, stage, and time to start giving more details and open conversations about the story. Do not lock your kid into a certain why to see her identity—it is always best to meet them where they are at developmentally and psychologically. The way your child processes his or her genetic origins is likely to change over time, so stay attuned.
6. The “Dance”
Just like other important conversations with teenagers (i.e. the infamous Sex Talk), sometimes parents lead the conversation, sometimes they follow… You may have instances with your teen where you sit down to address some questions they might have; other times you may be the one listening. Encourage them to take the lead when they can, but also drop “pebbles” conversation starters to see if they follow. You WILL start conversations that will go nowhere, but you will also join conversations that they start themselves.
7. This is your normal
This all may be strange now, but this openness will be your new normal. It is important to make the story normal for you as well as the child. Start normalizing the story for yourself now and when your child is young so it is completely normal for them when they are at an age where anything abnormal is taboo!
8. What if you started with anonymity?
Many families first think that if they adopted embryos anonymously or if their child was convinced via an egg or sperm donor, all is lost. In reality, contact with the donor family is only one piece of the equation. Contact does not equal openness; being open with your child about their story equals openness. Even if it is not possible to have identifying information or contact, you can still parent with openness.
To learn more ways to be open with your adopted teen about their adoption (remember, it is never too early to start!) watch our video Normalizing Embryo Adoption for Your Child. To learn more about embryo adoption and donation, visit EmbryoAdoption.org.