Dear Dr. Darcy:
I’m 26 and come from a close, nuclear family which consists of my younger sister and our parents. My mother recently told me that after me, my parents had another baby who was born with Down syndrome. They made the difficult decision to give her up for adoption because they weren’t sure they could give her the care that she deserved, and I’m sure that they thought that was the best decision for our family. I am resentful that they decided to tell me about the other baby and not my sister. If she finds out that I knew, she will likely be hurt by that. I feel like my world has been turned upside down. How can I learn to deal with this without hurting my parents, and put it all behind me?
Family secrets are awful, and it’s often “nuclear” families that are fraught with them. I don’t presume to judge your parents for making the decision to put their child up for adoption, rather, my issue is with your mother’s decision to confide in you, effectively dividing you from your sister, and I think your concerns regarding what this could potentially do to your relationship with your sister are reasonable.
Unfortunately, now it becomes your baggage to deal with. This information was imposed on you, and while I hear your loyalty and love for your parents, I think there’s got to be some anger in you for being the receptacle of your parents’ secret.
I think your mother needs to disclose to your sister the story of the adoption out of respect for your relationship with your sister. I also wonder if your father knows that you know. If he doesn’t, your mother’s got two divides to mend.
It’s not realistic to expect to be able to put this behind you as your parents have. They’ve had decades to process this, though whether they actually have remains unclear. Avoiding something is usually a sign of not having worked through it, not a confirmation of mental health. I suggest that you see a therapist to sift through some of this. Plan to see her for at least six months, and you’ll be in a better position to decide what your next move is.
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Dr. Darcy Smith received her Masters degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from New York University. She has been a practicing social worker for over 10 years and is in private practice in both New York City and New Jersey.
*This column is not a consultation with a mental health professional and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own therapist or counselor.