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Mental Illness

How would you go about telling your child that their birth mother could not parent because she had serious mental illness? That is probably something best saved for later adulthood?


Asked by Anonymous at 10:11 AM on Jan. 7, 2009 in Adoption

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Answers (20)
  • The questions about why a child was adopted begin as soon as a child knows they are adopted. Mental illness can be explained in simple terms for a young child, but if that is a factor in the reason for the adoption, it should be touched on. It helps an adopted child when they know their birth parents didn't CHOOSE to give them away because they didn't love them. My son has always known that his mother had a kind of sickness we can't see, and because of it she was unable to take care of him the way he deserved. A judge decided we would be his parents, and his mother did her best, and loved him very much.

    Answer by hippiecrit at 3:47 PM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • oh yes, that doesn't need to be added and explained in full until at least, early teens..when they even understand and can research what was wrong with they're bio-mother!

    Answer by Anonymous at 10:14 AM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • We have a similiar issue on our two. We have decided that for right now when they ask as they are beginning to (almost 5 & 6) that we say "Mom and Dad loved you but they were not able to take care of you very well. So we all went to a smart lady called a judge and we all decided the best, safest place for you to live is with Grnadma and Papa. At some point in time they will need to be told of mental health issues, but I don't forsee that before middle teens.

    Answer by GrnEyedGrandma at 10:24 AM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • That's an issue we're going to have to deal with at some point in time. Our daughter's birthmother was bipolar (along with a major cocaine user) and when to tell her that information is always on our mind.

    Answer by Anonymous at 10:35 AM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • It's also an important piece of biological health history for the adoptive parents to watch for as the adoptee grows. I do agree that the adoptee shouldn't be unduly burdened with the fear of whatever ailed their birth mother - but it is an important health related history to know. In the case of my placement of my oldest daughter with her adoptive family, it never was released to me that the reason for infertility (and thus adoption) was the adoptive mothers medications for severe depression and bi-polar. It is a very fine line that is tread with regard to predecting pareting ability and mental disorders. When medicated properly women can parent very well - as my adoptive mother is proof of. Should that be the sole determinator of wheter or not one should parent? Many birth mothers and adoptive mothers I fear have had their conditions used against them

    Answer by PortAngeles1969 at 12:51 PM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • I personally did not save that for adulthood for some of the children I worked with. I did not say that they were crazy. It was advised, by their psychiatrist, that they know the truth. But put in an age appropriate way. Simply put: Your mother loves you very much but has an illness that does not allow her to make the best possible parenting decisions. Period. Answer questions gently and again - always at the appropriate age/developmental level. But don't confuse the issue of mental illness making someone unfit to parent. Many parents living with a mental illness are successful parents. I'm not sure when I will tell my son his mother is living with an illness. That isn't why she placed him for adoption. One had nothing to do with the other in that sense. Sure, her illness affects the choices she has made over all. cont...


    Answer by frogdawg at 1:17 PM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • It wasn't that our daughter's birthmother couldn't parent due to the mental illness, but that she chose not to by abandoning her daughter. Of course the drugs she was taking might have been reason to. And the fact that she's still in jail for commiting a felony.

    Answer by Anonymous at 1:18 PM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • cont.. but my son needs to know, for sure, that he also has a family history of addiction. I have always encouraged parents I work with to share that information early. Again, it doesn't make a parent, biological or otherwise, a bad parent for struggling with addiction issues. What it means is that a child who has a family history of addiction is more likely to have substance abuse issues should they experiment like many of their friends. So the caution they have the right to know is: in our family we have addictions and substance abuse issues. Educate them. Be sensitive without being judgemental towards that person living with the issue. That person may even be you. Who knows. But a child deserves to know. There is absolutely nothing shameful about medical/health information. The stigma we attach to mental illness and substance abuse as a society is shameful. Not the person living with it. Its no picnic.


    Answer by frogdawg at 1:22 PM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • I have a similar situation with my son's other mother. I am very cautious and have learned, the hard way, that not everyone needs to know. He deserves to hear from us and from her. She may not be in a place, maybe ever, to realistically address these issues. I am sad for that. But resources, racism, culture, ect...all play a part in why she may not be able to do that. It is complicated. For now all he needs to know is he has another mother who gave birth to him and he has brothers and sisters as well. Not to mention a whole other family. They love him. That is what he needs to know. I will play it by ear. I feel confident in my ability as a social worker, therapist, and mother to address it when it is HIS time. Which is different for everyone.


    Answer by frogdawg at 1:25 PM on Jan. 7, 2009

  • I was adopted and I would want my adoptive mom to tell me the truth once I was old enough to understand. It seems like I always knew I was adopted my whole life, my bio- mom was only 14 so her mother made her give me up,,,, which I am glad she did, cause I love my adoptive parents and family

    Answer by katandtysmom at 1:45 PM on Jan. 7, 2009