How to talk to your child about being a donor child?
Most children will at some point in life ask questions about how they came into this world. This also applies to donor-conceived children, although their story is a bit different. Having this conversation with your donor child can be a bit tricky, though; When should I tell, what to say and which reaction to expect? Therefore, we have gathered a few tips about telling your donor child the story.
Why should you tell your child that he/she is a donor child?
Over the years there has been a big debate about whether parents should tell their children about donor conception or not. It is always up to each family to decide if and how the child should know the story. According to Professor of Family Research, Susan Golombok, there has, however, been a growing opinion that telling is the right thing to do.
As you are reading this post, there is a good chance that you have already decided to talk to your (future) child about being a donor child. But if you are still considering if this is the right thing to do – or if you would just like to have your choice confirmed – take a look at the reasons below:
- With today’s possibilities within DNA testing, social networks etc., investigating family stories has never been easier. Therefore, it is recommended to tell the child the truth. He/she will probably find out anyway, and it is better to get the information directly from the parents than from someone else.
- Honesty and respect are always a good starting point for a relation – also in the relation between parent and child.
- Significant differences between child and parents can be better explained and understood.
- The child can integrate the aspect of being donor conceived in her/his own story and sense of self while growing up.
- The full medical history of the child’s genetic origin (or the lack of it) can be given to doctors, in case this becomes relevant at some point.
Telling is a process
For most parents to donor-conceived children, the basic elements of the story will be more or less something like: “We wanted you so much, it was difficult to get you, we tried different things, and finally we got you, and we were so grateful for that!”. However, how many details you should add to this story depends on the age of the child.
The Donor Conception Network recommends telling the child when he/she is under the age of five. The goal of this is to make the awareness of the donor an integrated part of the child’s life. It also helps make sure that there is never a time where the child doesn’t know the truth. The studies of Susan Golombok also indicate that children who are told before school age have better relationships with their parents. Telling when the child is this young will, however, be a process, since the child will not need and understand a detailed version of the story from the start. As the child grows up and expands his/her understanding and cognitive abilities, more and more information can be added.
Which words to use about the donor?
Before having the conversation, it can be a good idea to consider which words to use when talking about the donor: Is he a “donor” or a “father”? Even though the donor has provided 50% of the genetic material for the conception, he will never be the social parent for the child. Therefore, it can be a good idea to consider how you talk about the donor, and which role you want the donor to play in your child’s life.
What kind of reaction to expect from your child?
Depending on the age of the child and the way you choose to tell the story, the reaction might be anything from “Can I have a snack” to “What does a sperm cell look like?” Younger children often don’t worry so much about genetics, while older children tend to reflect more. If the last thing is the case, it is important to support the child’s wishes and check in again later to talk about the topic, when the information has sunk in and more possible questions appear. Remember that curiosity is not a sign of turning away from the non-genetic parent, if there is one.
You can also read about how Signe Fjord talked to her daughter about being an alternative family here.