Academic journal article Child Welfare

To Tell or Not to Tell: Factors Affecting Adoptees' Telling Their Adoptive Parents about Their Search

Academic journal article Child Welfare

To Tell or Not to Tell: Factors Affecting Adoptees' Telling Their Adoptive Parents about Their Search

Article excerpt

This study identified adoption, family, and biographical variables that differentiated between adoptees who told or did not tell their adoptive parents about their search for their biological parents. Telling the adoptive mother and father were related to different combinations of variables. Adoptive family discussion of adoption, however, and the adoptees' feeling that their parents were open to discussion, were related to telling both adoptive parents. These findings lend support to the importance of adoptive family discussion and suggest that the feelings about adoption of adoptive mothers and adoptive fathers are seen by adoptees as being different.

Telling is the term used to describe the ways in which adoptive parents inform their children that they are adopted. Much attention has been given to understanding the timing, impact, and import of telling

Berger & Hodges 1982; Brinich 1990; Brodzinsky 1984; Clothier 1943; Jaffee & Fanshel 1970; Kornitzer 1968; McRoy et al. 1990; McWhinnie 1968; Pellier 1961; Raynor 1980; Singer et al. 1982; Schechter 1960; Wieder 1977, 1978

. Yet, there is another telling in adoption. The second telling is the disclosure by adoptees to their adoptive parents that they have searched for their biological parents. Adoptee telling is not universal; a recent study of adoptee-biological parent reunions estimated that at the beginning of their searches, up to half of the adoptees had not told their adoptive parents that they had started a search

Pacheco & Eme 1993

. The present study, conducted in Israel where the adoptee's right to information has never been questioned, sought to identify the variables that differentiate between adoptees who told their adoptive parents about their search and those who did not.

Theoretical Background

Both the adoptive parents' telling and the adoptees' telling are related to the same basic element--the alternative set of parents. In the first telling, adoptive parents tell children that they have another set of parents; in the second telling, the adoptees confirm this. In the first telling, the facts are usually scanty and the story unclear; in the second telling, the identities of the biological parents may already be known and there may even have been a meeting between them and the adoptees.

The notion of an alternative set of parents and the adoptees' ensuing sense of loss due to the severing of the biological relationship has been identified as a unique component of adoption. Although it has been recognized that in other situations (such as divorce and death) the child may, as a result of loss, have alternative parents, adoption differs in certain respects from each of these situations

Brodzinsky 1990

. Foremost among these differences is the secrecy surrounding the identity of the biological parents and the circumstances surrounding the adoption.

From a child development perspective, the existence of two sets of parents, one of whom is almost always unknown and clouded in mystery, impedes the child's ability to come to terms with the normal ambivalence in parent-child relationships that is reflected in the family romance myth as originally explicated by Freud. This fantasy is considered to be a normative stage in psychoanalytic theory

Freud 1973

. Romance fantasy posits that children, in order to cope with the normal ambivalences of parent-child relationships, imagine themselves to be adopted. Children who live with their biological parents need, at some point, to abandon the fantasy of the "other" set of parents, and to come to terms with reality and their ambivalence about their parents. For adopted children, however, the fantasy is reality and there is

danger that they will not integrate the "good" and "bad" parts of their parents but will direct loving and hating feelings toward different sets of parents

Glenn 1985-86

. …

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