L.M. asks from Oak Park, IL on October 01, 2012
When to Share a Family "Secret"
So my daughter is 7 and my son is 4. A short history. My father and biological mother divorced when I was 18 months old and my father went on to marry my "real" mother when I was 4 years old. My step-mother has always treated me as one of her own biological children, and couldn't love my children anymore if they were her own blood. I am completely estranged from my birth mother, who lives on the other side of the country, with no desire to reconnect. Just because people can produce children does not mean they should be parents.
My children do not know that my step-mom and her extended family are anything different than 100% biological family. Eventually, they will need to be told this - just for the sake of honesty. We are not trying to keep it a secret (despite my subject line), but it's just one of those things that have not come up since this family has been in my life for 35 of my 37 years.
I know once I tell them it changes things. I've always felt sort of on the outside of the group as the only step-child in a close-knit family and I know, while the children won't be treated any differently than they are now, it will feel different to them. I don't want them to feel that, but they also need to know the truth. Not only that, my sister (my step-moms biological daughter) is having a baby in January and I don't want my kids to feel like Grandma loves that grandchild more because of biology.
I'm starting to think my daughter is getting to an age where she needs to know, and may be able to understand the concept of a divorce and remarriage, and how eventhough someone is not related by shared blood, they are still 100% family.
What are your thoughts and how have you handled a similar situation???
K.M. answers from Kansas City on October 01, 2012
I feel they should understand the truth someday, but I think they are way to young to understand it right now. Maybe when they're teenagers? It's not fair to confuse them because they're not old enough to comprehend the situation.
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C.T. answers from Santa Fe on October 01, 2012
My mom had this same dilemma (her dad, my grandpa, is not her biological dad but raised her as his own and NEVER wanted her to ever tell my brother and I this news). She waited till we were done with college and then told us. We are to never let my grandpa know that we know. I find it completely admirable that he does not want us to know. I am very glad she did not tell me when I was young bc it would have given me mixed feelings around all my cousins when I was too young to process that info.
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D.N. answers from Chicago on October 01, 2012
If you really think they need to know, I would wait until they are teens. really, what will it accomplish? If grandma will not love the new baby more, is telling them anything going to change that? I think in any family, when a new baby comes, you worry about the older children thinking the baby is loved more. You might want to push this to the side as well for the ideae that the children may start to look at things incorrectly as well. Grandma pays more attn to the baby when she has the sniffles or something so it must mean she loves the baby more because we are not blood related. You don;t want to create a problem that is not there now. Like others have mentioned, you might be overthinking things.
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J.W. answers from St. Louis on October 01, 2012
You need to get over your hang ups before you say anything. It doesn't change things, it shouldn't change things, that in your mind it will change things is the only issue I see. You are going to color their perception of reality and that isn't fair on them or your family.
My kids have known I was adopted for as long as they can remember, it is non issue. Doesn't change anything, this is still my family.
I don't get the don't tell them answers, why? Why not tell them? It is what it is. I can say no one in my family has ever told my kids that I was adopted. No one treats me differently. Still the kids will ask questions that you will have to honestly answer, I don't know, I am adopted. You may know your bio mother but not enough to answer who's eyes are these and things like that.
If you have girls they will eventually be asked the breast cancer question, do you know enough about your bio mom to answer that? What if something comes up that you need to know, how are you going to say it will take a while to find out and they are think just call grandma.
They should know, they should have always known because it really isn't a big deal to be adopted.
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S.T. answers from Washington DC on October 01, 2012
i disagree with all the advice to keep it hidden. as you say, it's not a secret, nor should it be. kids will imbue the information with exactly as much drama and emotion as you present it. if it's introduced naturally and casually, it will be accepted as just that. and since you're clearly a parent who welcomes discussion and answers questions, there won't be anything for the kids to latch onto as 'uh-oh.'
just let it arise and don't shy away from it. it'll be fine.
7 moms found this helpful
T.N. answers from Albany on October 01, 2012
Aaaaw, I love your post, it's so healthy.
I agree with oneanddone, why would it change anything?
You said yourself you were loved by your mom same as her bio kids.
YOUR kids will have NO perception they are being jilted even after they know the truth unless you portray it that way. Kids are much more open minded about family structured tan adults are.
I wonder that since your sis is having a baby YOU might be a little nervous. Why do you feel 'outside' the group when your mom "couldn't love your children more"? Clearly she has a lot of love to spread around!
Present it in a positive light and that is the feeling your kids will walk away with.
My kids don't know a lot of completely traditional families. That is to say, all their friends have something like this. Their father and I are divorced, so they too have a "non-traditional" family. But they are SOOOO loved by everyone in it.
Don't worry so much, ok?
6 moms found this helpful
J.M. answers from Philadelphia on October 01, 2012
i dont think they need to know until it comes up. if your brother or sister had a step kid that they loved as their own would you one day bring up the fact they werent blood?
obviously if one day you're looking through baby pictures you can say this is my biological mother i was adopted by grandmom...but i wouldnt even bring up the fact THEY arent blood. honestly they probably wouldnt even think it if you didnt bring them into the eqation and made it all about you...
kids dont realize that blood makes family...marriage and love does
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P.G. answers from Dallas on October 01, 2012
I have to be blunt with this, because I have lived it and can speak to this directly.
You do NOT need to "share" this with your children. It's not an "honesty" issue - it's not an issue, period. I can't say it any clearer - DO NOT DO THIS. You will CAUSE the separation in their head that you think you are trying to prevent.
I say this because I have experience with this specific situation. I am the non-bio child of my father. He's been in the picture since just before I was born. My non-bio family treats me like "real" family. Yes, I did go through, and sometimes feel the little bit of outside, but that is MY issue. I dealt with it, and it's no longer an issue for me.
When I read this, I IMMEDIATELY called my older, non-bio sister, who is more of a sister to me than my blood sister is, and asked her if her child or any of the other children/grandchildren of my non-blood brother know that my dad isn't my bio-dad. She said NO. It never came up. It's not important. It has no bearing on THEIR lives. It was a fact for our parents, and us, but the "need to know" ended there.
So honesty is not an issue here. It is YOUR fact but has no bearing on the family dynamics, especially if your children are, as you say, they are not treated differently. By telling them, YOU will make them feel differently. Telling your children this will pass YOUR baggage onto them for NO reason.
YOU may be feeling some strange feelings because your Step-sis is going to have a baby, but they are YOUR feelings and you need to deal with them yourself. Do not read problems and behaviors onto your Step-sis and grandma. If grandma starts acting wierd, ask her about it, but I think you need to come to terms more with your feelings before you read something wrong from them, behavior wise.
You are part of the family, they are part of the family. Do not separate them with this information that has NOTHING to do with them.
ADD: I don't think this needs to be hidden, but it doesn't need to be brought up. If it might come up in conversation, deal with it then as a simple "no big deal" fact. The "family meeting" thing makes it very important, non-casual, etc. and will be processed that way. If it's just part of a conversation that's happening, no big thing.
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H.W. answers from Portland on October 01, 2012
I have a similar situation: my mother is not in my life and hasn't been for the past long while. (due to untreated mental illness which she refuses to acknowledge.) This is safe and healthy for my family. My husband has never met her and my son will never meet her while he's a young person because she's just incredibly toxic.
This has been easier for me to explain to my son, because I've never called my stepmother 'mom'. She is most certainly his "Mae Mae" and shares that grandmotherly name with all the grandkids, bio or step. Because I've called Mae Mae "Dad's wife", he grew up knowing that she was not my bio mom. He's asked to meet my mom, and I've explained that he could do that when he was a grown-up if he wanted, but that she is 'not safe with her words' (that's all he needs to know at five) and so we don't see her.
If it were me, I would wait until your kids are a bit older, or if they begin asking you questions about a perceived difference of treatment. We adults worry a lot about our kids feeling like they are getting 'fair treatment', but I think it's often the case that kids are happy with what they get and that those peripheral extended family relationships are less important or influential than the immediate, in-home family relationships. (Of course, this is different in a multigenerational home, where grandparents or aunts and uncles are present.)
In short, so long as you and your husband are making sure to give your own kids 'equal treatment', I do think that some of this will continue to slip by the radar for a while.
When kids are older, they do sometimes notice those inequities between cousins. When your child is older, the explanation of your own mother leaving you will be less scary (because if your mom left you, what's to say that you or dad won't leave? This is sometimes a fear children have.).
Too early, and things can be confusing. Consider it this way: if you weren't worried that your kids would notice different treatment, would you bring it up yet? Or wait until the kids were much, much older? and remember that whatever you tell your eldest may very well be told to youngest. That's a load and a half for a four year old. He may only hear "mom's mom left when she was four... uh-oh." If it were me, I would wait.
And in this somewhat similar circumstance (with our kids being 'step' grandkids) I will never, ever point out those inequalities in gifts/attention, etc. to my son or in his presence. My goal is to help my folks (dad and his wife) have the best relationship *they know how to have* with my son. I try to keep my focus on what's there-- and to ignore what's not.
And when you do decide to tell them, do focus on the beauty of adoption and not the harsh realities of abandonment. My mother did a horrid job of reminding me of my adoption at age 9 ("well, your real father didn't want you....) instead of "Your birth father wasn't able to care for you, but Daddy loved you so much that he wanted you to be his girl too, just like your sister." An adoption story which focuses on your stepmom's unconditional love, instead of picking up the pieces of someone else's mistake, is a greater gift to share. My stepmom is a treasure and I don't know what I'd do without her!
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☆.A. answers from Pittsburgh on October 01, 2012
Hmmmm...depends on the child. My son was under 3 when his pap (my stepfather) passed. After my mom made a comment using "your father" a few years later, I saw that my son was confused and I explained the situation. Although he had some questions and was curious about my bio dad (deceased) he was otherwise unaffected.
Give your daughter some credit. Love can be FELT, it doesn't always need to be defined a certain way.
Look for an opening--an adoption, a divorce, etc then expand it to your situation. Be open, honest and she'll be fine.
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J.S. answers from Hartford on October 01, 2012
I see no reason to share this information. Family is family. That's the honest truth. There's no need to point out any differences or say, "This is what we've told you, but this is how it actually is. But things are still the same. Really." That conversation you plan to have will be a turning point, and you're already aware of that, but it's not a turning point that's necessary or important or positive. It's not something that will make them feel better. When they're older and they find out, it's not like it will be some great revelation. Simply, "Grandma is Grandpa's second wife and not Mom's mom? Huh."
You just don't need to let it stew for years and years starting in childhood.
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