When do you tell your daughter she is adopted?

Several years ago I met my wife. She had a one year old daughter named Anna from a previous relationship. The bio-dad was still in the picture somewhat, taking Anna for a few hours here and a few hours there. He never kept her overnight, or for more than 4 hours at a time. He said he could not commit to any type of regular visitation either.

BTW, we are all professionals in our 30s. This isn’t a high school situation where someone is not capable of being a parent.

Well my wife and I were married the next year. The visitation ended up being about 3 or 4 hours every 3rd or 4th Sunday afternoon, by his choice. We were not limiting his access at all.

Then one day he called and asked if I wanted to adopt Anna. Well my wife and I had been praying over how to ask HIM to allow me to adopt her. I told him that I would be proud and honored to be Anna’s dad. I went to his house and we talked about the situation and it was obvious that this guy was itchin’ to be free of daddyhood. I was itchin’ to get the title! We went to a lawyer and the deal was legal and done in 6 weeks. He has no legal tie to Anna at all. We have not heard a word from him since the adoption, and he has not seen Anna in about 17 months. Since she has been able to speak, I have been Daddy. In my heart, she is my daughter.

But tugging at the back of my mind is this…when do we tell her she is adopted? Do we tell her? I think she deserves to know. But her bio-dad lives about 5 minutes from here. He simply did not want her. That will be devastating for her to hear. He is a successful, well-to-do man who chose to give her up. Won’t that scar her? I know that is balanced by that fact that I DID want her, but nonetheless I think it going to be hurtful to her.

Some people advocate letting the word “adopted” be part of regualr conversation as they grow up. Some say you should wait until they can really understand. Some people never tell at all.

I think she deserves to know her true history, I just want to tell her in a way and at a time that will be least damaging to her, without her feeling I have been less than honest.

What is YOUR opinion?

Here’s my take. Ask the bio-dad how he would like you to handle it. It sounds as though you have some sort of rapport with him. That way, you’re not trashing him (not that the temptation wouldn’t be there!) and if he says he doesn’t care, you and your wife can pursue the issue with a counselor or someone who can steer you in the right direction.

You’re a helluva guy. You’ll get through this just fine.

Wow, that’s a lot tougher call than the normal adoption news issue.

If it helps, my eldest sister was adopted by my Dad when she was still a baby. The family lore has it that Dad’s the biological father, but since they weren’t yet married, it was impossible for Mom to put that down on the birth cert in the ‘bad old days.’ Since she never remembers anyone but Dad being Dad, what her original name was on the birth cert hasn’t ever been a big deal.

I attended an ‘adoption party’ of a coworker’s son a few years back. Bio-dad checked out when the boy was around two, stopped visitation (voluntarily) around 4, Mom and Step-dad had to wait until he was almost 10 and go thru legal hoopla like putting an ad in the paper looking for bio-dad before Step could adopt him. The process took a long time but the boy didn’t seem to care, he’d been calling Step “Daddy” since he could remember. The adoption party was like a bonus birthday blast for him, the only comment I recall him making about the issue was that he was glad to finally have the same name as the rest of his family.

If there are no other relatives from his side that have contact with the child, I see no reason to randomly bring it up to her. You don’t want to hide it exactly, but having to explain ‘he didn’t want you’ is bound to be problematic. It’s probably best to work it in if the opportunity presents itself now while she’s little and won’t fully comprehend all the ramifications, if only to avoid some teenaged drama later on. Hopefully, you can spin it to some I wanted you more situation without really focusing on he didn’t. Since she’s so little ‘gone’ might be enough of an answer to where he went, you can go into more detail as she gets older and more curious.

Good luck.


You’re a good man. I’ve never adopted any children; however, I was raised in an adoptive family. Of (Nate pauses to count) seven children, only one of my brothers and I are the biological offspring of our parents. However, it is made perfectly clear that every member of the family has an equal claim to being a member of the family and my biological brother is not “more” of a sibling to me than the other children are. Further, our parents do not pick favorites nor do they make any distinction at all between us.

The point I’m trying to make is that first and foremost, your daughter is your daughter and you are her father. If you have more children, treat them all as equals and love them all the same.

Now, for your question: I think different people have different strategies about this, but I am of the opinion that you should probably let your daughter know about her adoption from the beginning. Imagine the trauma you could cause by telling her later or having a relative let something slip. Keeping it a secret implies that there is something of which to be ashamed. Adoption should be celebrated. Emphasize that you “chose” to be her parent, and how lucky you were to be able to do so. Remember the date you adopted her and celebrate “Adoption Day” every year.

As for the question that she will inevitably ask: “Why didn’t my biological daddy want me?” This is very sticky. A good thing to say is that he realized that he would not be able to take care of her as well as he should and that he wanted what was best for her.

Ok, all of this is just the opinion of a person who has experienced the adoption procedures firsthand. Each case is unique, but I hope that my advice was helpful.

Congratulations on becoming a father!

I agree that you need to be open about it right away, but not in some dramatic way, necessarily. My sister and I were abandoned by my father, and although different than being adopted, I never had any information until I forced the issue, when I was 29. It was very painful and traumatic, more than, I imagine, if it had been openly discussed.

My husband’s cousin was informed that he was adopted by a classmate in elementary school, apparently informed by his parents.

The problems that can occur later by not being open now can be devastating, possibly to the point of ruining your relationship with your daughter.

I think in your case, because it’s not adoption as we typically think of it (completely new parents), I think that it would probably be helpful to refer to her bio-father, and if appropriate, have mom tell her stories of her bio-father. As long as that part of it is open, being a child, and probably naturally curious, she will probably ask questions that will allow you or her mom to explain exactly what happened. You don’t have to say “Your daddy didn’t want you.” But she will have to come to terms with that, because ultimately, it’s the truth. There just has to be a better way to say it…like “that man that is your bio-dad was not the best dad for you, I am.” I know, that’s pretty awkward, but you get the gist.

The most important thing is that you don’t hide anything from her, even though you may see it as protecting her…it will be easier for her to comprehend gradually, than one day have everything all of a sudden out in the open, because you know it eventually will be.

I add my good luck wishes. I wish I would have had somebody like you in my life as a child!

Not quite the same situation but similar.

My elder sister is (Technically) only my half-sister (Although i’d never, ever think of her that way.)

Basically my mum had her with another guy before she met my dad.

Her and this guy were together for just over a year then split up - he wasn’t a particularly nice piece of work, was in and out of prison etc. and had only really stayed around that long because of the child.

Later my mum met my dad, they fell stupidly in love ( ewww…parents in love… :wink: ) and within a few months they were married. My sister was about 2 and a half at the time (i think - she certainly wasn’t three).

Anyway, “real” dad would sometimes see my sister at weekends etc. but gradually this g0t less and less frequent until by the time she was three, it wasn’t happening at all.

My Mum and Dad spoke to him and asked him what he wanted to do. Basically he decided that he didn’t really want anything to do with her and didn’t want any contact etc. but that if it did come up then, yes, she had a right to know who he was.

So my parents took the approach that:

  1. There was no point hiding it from her since the moment she was old enough to do the maths she would work out something was up.

  2. They would always be completely honest with her and explain things to her - even though it might lead to awkward questions.

  3. Even though my dad loved her like his own daughter he wouldn’t “adopt” her - she’d keep my mothers maiden name.

And they did exactly that, when she first asked why she had a different surname they explained why, they answered all her questions etc. but always made sure that she never felt or (after i was born) was treated in a different way.

As she got older and needed more than just the “mummy used to love a man before she met daddy” explanation they explained it again in a more advanced way.

etc. etc.

As she’s described it to me, she always knew the truth, and always knew that she could ask questions and they’d be answered, and that nothing was being held back from her, but at the same time she never once felt like she wasn’t loved by both my Parents or that she wasn’t part of the family.

She said that because my parents were always completely honest and she never felt like anything was being held back or missing from her life, she’s never had the desire to go find her biological father although she knows his name and also knows that if she ever did, my parents would help her.

She also told me that to her, my dad was always daddy, the other guy was just “the man mummy loved before daddy.”

My dad also told me that the only time they ever had any problems was at school, when the school refused to address letters or refer to him as her father - which really upset my sister at the time and resulted in my parents making a complaint to the Local Education Authority and getting them to order the school to do it.

My sister is now 30 and a nice, well rounded, well adjusted human being (although for god sake don’t tell her i described her like that! :wink: ) and she definitely thinks my parents took the right approach.

Oh, and as a kind of footnote to this story (And because it finishes it off nicely):

Just after her 18th birthday my dad bought my sister a second-hand car of a work-mate as a late birthday present. I remember when he gave her the keys she hugged him and said thanks, then told him that this was a real coincidence because she actually she had a present for him too.

She went to her room and about five minutes later i remember her coming back into the dining room with a piece of paper.

It was a letter from the government agreeing to her request and confirming that she had legally taken my fathers surname as her own.

I remember the entire event vividly - even though i was only 8.

its the only time i have ever seem my dad cry.

Wow it sounds like you are the daddy she DESERVES to have! and congratulations on that but because of that I believe you know what is best.

Hopefully this will not bore you but I will tell 3 short stories

The first is your situation EXACTLY, though the daddy dickhead in question was not well-to-do but ner-do-well. My best friend and her husband had been together since her daughter was eight months old and he had adopted just as you have. The child is now 14 and daddy-dickhead decided to write her a letter last year to “expose her mothers lies”. He was the one left surprised though. Jessica had always known that her Daddy had adopted her because he loved her so much. Daddy-dickhead got a phone call or two before Jessica didn’t want to know anymore. There is every chance she will want to contact him again once she is older but the point is none of them were given the choice. Daddy-dickhead made the choice for them and Jess felt really good about herself knowing that she could deal with this man as he was because she knew the truth.

My next two stories don’t realte to adoption just “truths” people tell children.

My husband was raised by terrible mother and a terrible father. So terrible that he (and his siblings) was taken away from his parents at age 8 and was finished being raised in a childrens home (in the UK). My husband as a stroppy 15 year old, lacking in love and esteem and all the good things a good family brings, stole a car. When he was returned to the childrens home the matron said “You will end up like your father” (the step father was a petty crim type loser) “So what” answers the stroppy 15 yr old. Only to find out that the stepfather was just a stepfather and his real father had been (one of the last people) hung for murder. He could never get over the fact that he was treated badly but was lied to to protect him. He killed himself when our son was 16th months old. He was afraid to be a parent. he didn’t know how. He didn’t want his son to know bad things about him. He was an extraodinarily caring, loving dad and human being but that one big lie had affected him profoundly. One of the last things he ever said to me was “I just need to stop the cycle”

Last story and I will make it quick because this is probably boring

My son has known all his life how his dad died…not that he probably knew the word suicide…but I started telling the truth when he was too young for it to be dramatic. I told it kindly and in very small snippets but I didn’t want to be the parent of a child who had to one day find out “the big secret”. Many people told me it was wrong and that it would hurt him, but I believe if it was a truth he always knew it would take away some of the sting. He’s 11 I may yet be wrong but we can sit and look at (few) pictues we have of them together and talk about dad.

Secrets always have the power to hurt…small children always have the power to accept any truth. I believe it is our own feelings we want to protect sometimes. You are that little girls daddy, you are now and always will be. Biology is just bits of DNA a daddy is someone who helps shape you (or a grandad in my boys case :slight_smile: ) be a daddy that is honest and start now! THe younger the better. It doesn’t have to be a big heart to heart sit down if you start young, just something she always knew “I loved you so much I wanted you to be my little girl”

She is a lucky little girl however you decide to address this difficult issue :slight_smile:

I apologise for ALL typos etc in the above it was a matter or submit now or never. I hope now was the best decision :slight_smile:

Earlier the better, in my opinion.

We told my little sis as soon as she could speak She accepted her adoption from the word go as just a normal thing (this prevented the moment when she would have gone “why am I black, but my family is white?”). She’s never ever had a problem with it. Regarding your kid’s bio-dad - all you have to say is “your biological daddy couldn’t keep you, but I wanted to be your daddy instead, and I’m very glad, because you’re so special”.

Although the circumstances of my own adoption were different - just a “regular” adoption, my parents got me when I was three days old - I grew up “always” knowing I was adopted. My parents explained to me that my biological mom and dad loved me so much that they wanted me to have a better life.

Explaining it that way - that her bio-dad wants her to have the best life possible - is a pretty easy concept to explain, and I know I’ve never thought anything different about my bio-parents. (Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know - but I had a pretty good upbringing, so I figure it’s true.)

You didn’t mention - or I missed - the age of Anna now, but I’m hoping she’s still young. I admit that I don’t have any experience with this situation (other than wishing I was adopted, like everyone does at some point :wink: ) but it would seem to me that you should tell her ASAP. If it’s something she’ll go through when she’s little, the whole concept of biological fathers and stepfathers might be a little fuzzier. It’ll be something she grows up accepting, and when she’s older she might ask about details.

On the other hand, if you wait around, she might come back when she’s older and figure it out herself, which is very possible. I went to college with a girl who found out she was adopted when we were doing a blood typing exercise in class! :eek: I’m sure you’d much rather tell her than have her find it out herself, so don’t take that risk. The longer you keep it from her, the more she could think you’ve been “deceiving” her or something.

As for her feeling rejection from her other father, I think it’s something to be expected no matter how you prevent it. Just be prepared to explain that he just doesn’t know what a wonderful, beautiful person she is, and that’s his loss - whereas, you DO know, and you’re proud to be her father. Something like that.

Just my $0.02.

It was kind of the same situation with me, 'cept I knew my dad asn’t my bio dad. Of course, I love him, and he’s pretty much my father in every way but one, but still. I had been under the impression that my real father was dead, but then I learned that no, he wasn’t, he’s just not in my life anymore.

I think you should wait until she’s old enough to understand things… maybe 10 or 11. Then explain it all to her. Just don’t say he didn’t want her…say that he had some stuff going on in his life and he loved her and knew he wouldn’t make her a good father and decided to hand you the reins to that she would lead a better life. Something like that.

OR, you could just not tell her… but I wouldn’t suggest that. She’s bound to find out sometime.

I met my daughter when she was four. Her biological Father left before she was born. She’s 22 y/o now, a college grad and engaged to be married. A real sweetheart. You’re very fortunate.

I’d advise making her aware of her origins as soon as she could comprehend it. Small children have the capacity to fathom most anything if you offer an explanation. IOW, they won’t really know any different and will just accept it (Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy come to mind even though that’s a bad example). If you’re uneasy about it though I would seek professional advice.

Best wishes.

My family is mixed, some home brewed, all home grown. It was never an issue. We knew that my older sister and brother were adopted, at different times, and weren’t blood related. Not a big deal - no secrets. As my brother put it, they were chosen, as opposed to random. As we grew older, any question we asked, was answered. My mom used to talk about the adoption/birth stories, why we were all special, and all children of her heart.

My sister looked up her birth mother when she turned 21, and has a relationship with her “other” family. (Her kids have 3 grandmothers, the 2 “real” ones and Mama Pat.) Her kids know her history, and there’s no secrets there either. I think she’s handled it all very well.

As for the question that she will inevitably ask: “Why didn’t my biological daddy want me?” This is very sticky. A good thing to say is that he realized that he would not be able to take care of her as well as he should and that he wanted what was best for her.

I think this is the best way to go.

I think she should be told from day one, that way she’ll grow up always knowing.

BTW, you’re awesome. LittleNewcrasher is blessed.

He is a successful, well-to-do man who chose to give her up. Won’t that scar her?

Dadless person talking here. Yes, once she realizes what REALLY happened (probably in her late teens/early 20s), it’s probably gonna bug her. However IMHO it won’t be as bad because you’ll always have been her Dad.

SnoopyFan, I agree on the later years. She will likely have to go through some pain because she may remember the rejection, no matter how small she was. But she will be so much stronger because she’ll know that she has had your support and honesty.

My bio-dad called with the same question for my step-dad. I was much older than your daughter (10 I think). I love my daddy more than I could ever love my ‘father’. My brother was younger, and has never know my bio-dad as his father, only our step-dad ( I hate calling him that, so I’ll just call him dad from here on). My dad has always made sure that it has been known to him, not to shove it in his face just so he will no the truth. I think it is easier for him to know this from the beginning, than for my dad to blow him away with the news when he is in his teens…that is a hard enough period anyway. The sooner she knows the better.

Christ, I just don’t understand some people. That fool’s going to be old and decrepit, facing his doom, when it hits him, what he lost. Just amazes me what people will do.

Many people have chimed in with good advice but I will add mine just the same. While my situation doesn’t mirror yours I was adopted as an infant and again by my step-dad in 7th grade. It’s a long story I won’t bore anyone with but suffice it to say I have some experience in this matter.

You definitely need to let her know she is adopted from the get-go. She will almost certainly find out sooner or later…better it is sooner. If nothing else she has a right to know her genetic history for medical purposes. Maybe heart disease runs in the bio-dad’s side of the family. Just an example but there are plenty of such things that she should know once she is older and needs to be concerned with such issues.

When she is very young the meaning of being adopted is too complex for her to fully grasp. However, she will know and she will grow with that knowledge and it won’t be a big deal to her. The older she gets before learning this the more upsetting the news will be to her if only due to the shock value. There is no ‘shock’ when she is young or, being so young, the shock will be forgotten almost immediately.

I knew a guy in college who found out he was adopted (he was 19) and he positively freaked-out. Eventually he settled down with the knowledge but it took awhile. Part of his issue was the sense that he had been lied to by his parents his whole life.

Be prepared for your daughter to throw this in your face (e.g. “You’re not my REAL dad!”) somewhere in the next 18 years or so. It’ll sting but that’s just a kid being mean and trying to get a rise out of you. She will know…really know…in her heart that you are her dad. It is the guy who is there, day in and day out, good and bad who is dad…not the guy who got her mother pregnant.

You sound like a good person and someone who will probably make a great father. Don’t worry about her knowing the truth. She will love you and view you as ‘dad’ her whole life.

My son is adopted. Of course, he is Korean and we are not, so its pretty easy to figure out. We’ve been telling him he was adopted from the start.

I’d recommend starting with giving her a kiss and say “I’m so glad I adopted you and got to be your Daddy.” At five, she doesn’t have a clue what the difference between a bio dad is and you - and it will take her a while to figure it out (my kids have figured out that one of them grew in my tummy and the other one didn’t - Daddy’s relationship in this is a complete mystery - they are almost 4 and almost 5). If she has questions, let her know that you didn’t know her mommy when she was born - like most Daddys - but you are so lucky that you got to meet her and her mom and get to be her Daddy.

Leave bio dad out of it for now. Eventually, she will figure it out and ask - and then you can just say that some people are ready to be Mommys and Daddys and some people aren’t - and it isn’t her, it would have been any baby - her bio dad just wasn’t ready - and maybe never will be - to be a Daddy.