Q&A: Talking about half siblings

A San Francisco Choice Mom wrote to me recently, asking how to address the half-sibling topic with her son. She’s been in contact with two lesbian couples on the East Coast who have sons from the same donor.

While she had a picture of one of the boys open on her computer, sent by one of the moms, her son walked in and said, “Hey, that’s me!” She told him the boy’s name and that he has two mommies. “He ran to get his The Family Book by Todd Parr and wanted to find his family model (mom and child) and theirs (two moms). I then told him that one of his mommies used the same donor that I used to have him. But by then he had lost interest and I felt the topic was way beyond him. But, I feel good about the casual introduction.”

Her question: “I’m just not sure when to really start talking to him and introducing him to these people on Facebook and possibly in person. I had lunch yesterday with a friend (SMC via DI) who had twins who is now co-parenting with her boyfriend. She has a friend (non-SMC) who used DI and their son is in elementary school and they have meet-ups with his half genetic siblings. She said they wish they’d introduced the topic to their son even sooner. How soon? What story is age appropriate, and for what ages?”

This topic is coming up more at our Choice Mom networking events. As we enter the month of May — of Mother’s Day — our monthly theme will focus on talking about “birth others” with our children (Diane Ehrensaft’s phrase, in her excellent “Mommies, Daddies, Surrogates, Donors” book). They know who Mom is. How do we talk about the other genetic connections in their life?

I asked our network of Choice Mom-friendly therapists to respond. Jordana, a Choice Mom and therapist in Austin, offered these thoughts:

“The question about what age we start talking about it was answered for me by a panel of adoptees at a conference I attended through Adoption Knowledge Affiliates in Austin, Texas. (I adopted my son from birth through a private agency, in an open adoption.) I asked the panel of adoptees, mostly teenagers, when I should tell my son, who was then 1-1/2, that he was adopted and has half siblings. They all said ‘Immediately!’

“The point they made was, if there is a time my son can remember being told, then that was too late to tell him. If he did not always grow up with that being part of our story, then there is a moment he will feel surprised and betrayed. I had not planned on talking about it so early, but I did, and I am very glad, as the neighbor kids were very quick to tell him he was adopted and I was ‘not his real mom.’ I was so glad I had already started the conversation with him so I could talk to the other kids in front of him, in the moment, to provide some education (and again, and again, and again…)”

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