A rather telling dilemma

Health & Wellbeing

A rather telling dilemma

Mahua Ghosh (name changed) of Mysore is a mother of two adopted children. Today her children, daughter Gayatri, 17, and son Varun, 13, share a wonderful rapport with their parents, especially with the mother. They also know that they are not Mahua's biological kids but that she liked them on first sight and ‘got them home from a forest as she went out for a stroll, many years ago...’ This was a part of their childhood lore frequently recounted by their mother, and gradually it changed into awareness of being adopted as they grew up.

In this instance, adoption is treated as matter-of-fact; no secrecy, no guilt feeling for holding back the truth, no bitterness as the ‘truth’ is revealed. Viewers of Indian films, Hindi or regional, would recall some of the blockbusters made on the storyline of a separated child being adopted by loving parents, then the trauma caused when the ‘truth’ is revealed, the grown-up boy/girl accusing the adoptive parents and then running off to look for the ‘real’ mother, never mind all the love bestowed on him/her by the non-biological parents all these years. All that one had built over years, in terms of love, affection and trust crashes into a heap of mistrust, guilt, betrayal and fear of losing one’s kids.

Telling a child that he is adopted can be a traumatic experience for both the children and also for the parents. However, the children’s reaction is not necessarily hostile to the adoptive parents, says Jolly Laha, a  Kolkata psychologist. “It’s not that the children hate the adoptive parents but resentment grows for the biological parents for having deserted them. They retreat, become depressive and may resort to anti-social activities.”

How and whenFor many years there have been arguments on how and when to tell one’s children, or if at all to tell them or not. Child psychologists recommend that the children be told about the adoption by the adoptive parents, rather than by people outside. “This avoids the feeling that their adoption is a ‘bad’ thing,” says Laha.

Many experts believe the child should be told at the youngest possible age. Says Samita Medora, associated with the Society for Sponsorship and Adoption, Kolkata, “It’s not a crime to legally adopt a child; tell your family and friends. Besides, every child has a right to know too.” This approach provides the child an early opportunity to accept and integrate into the concept of being "adopted."  If told early, the children grasp and accept the concept of being  found or being presented by God or someone. Some mothers tell them that they were so beautiful as babies that they could not resist getting them home.
Counsellors at adoption centres often advise the prospective parents to tell them stories at bedtime wherein they could talk of how God presented them with small bundles or how they requested a friend to give them this beautiful baby, thereby driving home the fact that they were not born out of their mothers’ womb, an origin story that most toddlers are aware of.

Ruchira Dastidar (name changed) of Jammu and mother to two adopted kids reveals that she always had a bedtime session with her children till they were ten years old. One of the many stories would be about how grateful she was to God who one day walked in with two lovely bundles. “It used to be so magical for them to listen to that particular story that they would insist on hearing it every night,” she recalls. The most crucial thing is the feeling of being wanted and little kids love that feeling of reassurance, security and also the thrill of being gifted by none other than God. Later on, when they grow they understand the equation effortlessly and hold no grudge against their adopted parents. It helped Dastidar and her kids to understand one another and to keep the communication going.

Tell when young
 ‘‘Children should be told, ideally at or before age seven, that they were adopted,’’ feels Shruti Talwar of Make Me Smile (MMS), an orphanage in Pune. Breaking the news at a later stage can hurt the children’s feelings, warn experts. Besides, delay may cause its own baggage of woe. “It's an excellent idea to talk about their adoption and to smooth out wrinkles in the relationship early in life. For, later it may be tough requiring loads of patience and delicate diplomacy coupled with caution,” says Talwar.

However, some experts believe that telling a child too early may confuse the young one who cannot really understand the implication.  These experts advise waiting until the child is older.

Some medical professionals also feel that one of the most important reasons to tell a child is to ensure that he/she knows about a genetic problem or some medical history so that they stand a better chance of knowing what they are up against. ‘‘They will realise what runs in the family and what they must be aware of,’’ says Dr Subhash Kaul, of Hyderabad’s Nizam Hospital. A fact supported by Mendora: “Adoptive children often need special medical attention to adjust and live healthy lives in their new homes. So be aware of the health record of the child, as every country has a pattern of illnesses and genes.” She finds that these factors come handy later in the child’s life.

Above all, say counsellors, adopted children should be made to feel positive about their adoption and be reassured that they are accepted and loved by their parents and family.  In some cases, mostly within families, if children have contact with their biological families, parents can always say that two sets of parents love them. Feeling of mistrust is worse if the child gets to know from outside sources.

Comments (+)