Telling Children The Truth

Dear Sara,

I adopted a baby girl when she was six months old. She has always known that she was adopted. She is now twelve and wants to know about her birth parents. It’s not a pretty story. The birth mother was about fifteen, running the streets, prostituting herself and ended up in juvenile court for breaking into houses and stealing things. She didn’t know who the father of her baby was and didn’t want a baby. I feel fortunate to have this beautiful daughter and love her very much. How do I tell her about this background?

Dear Whitney,

You first have to decide how much she is ready to hear. In this day and age twelve year olds aren’t really naive as they used to be. If she has seen movies like “Precious” then she might be able to understand that not everyone has a perfect home and do their best just to survive. If you think she will understand and not be upset then go on and tell her the truth.

On the other hand if you think she will be upset and think less of herself, you might want to minimize the truth and wait awhile for the whole truth. Don’t lie to her because she will eventually find out. Just answer questions that she asks as well as you can. Let her know how much you love her and how glad you were when she came into your life.


  1. I disagree with Whitney. Even a “mature” 12 year old is still a child, and very sensitive and impressenable. I think the best route is to tell her that her birth mother was too young to provide for and to care for a child, and that she loved her enough to give her life, and then to give her to a family who could love her and take care of her. You don’t want her to feel like she is trash, and that she should follow in the foot steps of her birth mother.

    When she is older she can either ask if her mother knows more details, or she can do her own research.

  2. She gave you the answer to this predicament in her initial query.

  3. Linda Kozak says:

    At age 62 I was informed by my mother that the person I had called “dad” all these years, might not be my father. I was devastated and sought counseling. I took a DNA test from and learned within a few months that my biological father was indeed the one I had known and loved all of my life. I also learned about my ethnic background and then the relative connections began to appear. I discovered relatives I never knew about before and it made me feel further connected. I have been able to help people who were adopted to discover and connect with their biological relatives in a way to help them know they weren’t isolated. This might be a way to help this young lady know she isn’t lost and there may be people out there who would welcome her as part of their family heritage. While her birth parents may be painful to hear about, she may have cousins, aunts, or grandparents who will love her and be glad for the opportunity to know her. Even knowing about her biological roots can be of benefit. It’s important to be the filter for her at this young age, but this approach might help her to feel she has some answers.

  4. As an adoptee, an unsuccessful searcher of many, many years, I do not totally agree with Sara’s advise.
    A 12 yr. old is on the cusp of puberty when she will start the process of developing her true self. It is not a time to possibly give her a disturbing look at her birth mother.
    I believe that all adoptees who wish to know their heritage should wait until they are 21 yrs. old and then decide if they wish to know more and possibly search.
    (I am 89 yrs. old and have plenty of time and experience to study, read about, talk with adoptees like myself, attend workshops on adoption.)

  5. You might consider just letting her tell you what she wants to know. We have all heard of parents who explained the birds and bees to a young person when “where did I come from” really was about was I born in this state, or what hospital, etc. Ask her what she wants to know, you may be surprised.

  6. Lourdes Basilio says:

    I agree with the advice that Sara gave. I believe in telling the truth because this clears your mind and you won’t have to worry about the consequences. Telling the daughter that you love her despite of will give her reassurance that she’s still valuable. It will give the daughter a good self esteem.

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  8. Barton Meeds says:

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