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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

'Raising Whitley' Premieres On National Adoption Day

In the season premiere of "Raising Whitley," actress/comedian Kym Whitley tells her son he's adopted. The episode will air on National Adoption Day.

The family-oriented docu-series, "Raising Whitley," is returning to OWN Saturday for a new season full of drama, laughs and love. Actress/comedian Kym Whitley manages raising her adopted son, Joshua, and dealing with her crazy group of friends nicknamed “the villagers.” 

In the premiere episode, airing on National Adoption Day, Whitley decided to tell her four-year-old son that he is adopted. She said it was one of the hardest things she ever had to do. 

“The sooner you tell children the truth and they live in their truth the easier it is,” said the “Young and Hungry” actress.

While it was not the easiest for her, Whitley felt like it was the perfect episode for other parents struggling to have that talk with their adopted children. 

“I’m hoping that by telling Joshua he’s adopted at an early age that it will show other parents don’t wait ‘til they’re 13 or 14 where they can be angry,” she said. “Hearing the word adoption early, like mommy and daddy, makes it less foreign to the children.” 

Although the comedian has her mind made up about the proper time to have this talk, USC Associate Professor Devon Brooks from the School of Social Work said there is not a specific “right time,” but the best moment can vary by child, family and situation.

“One ‘good time’ is when the child asks or seems to be curious even if they don’t come right out and ask,” said Brooks who specializes in adoption. 

A mother of two adopted children, Pamela Thompson, waited to tell her youngest child until she was 11-years-old. At that time, the child began to speculate why she was Caucasian and the rest of the family was African American.

“I waited so long because I wasn’t sure how she would react and I don’t like to see her down,” said Thompson. “But it was time because she started to become really curious and I felt like she would understand at her age.”

Parents don't have to worry about children not comprehending what they are being told because the topic can always be revisited throughout their lives. 

“I think the important thing around telling an adopted person that they’re adopted is understanding that as we develop in age our abilities and capabilities for understanding these concepts also change,” said USC Staff Psychologist Dr. Quade French.

French, who also specializes in adoption, said in the west there still remains a stigma about adoption.

Kym Whitley at OWN Studios for "Raising Whitley" press event. (Cindy Robinson/The Current)
Kym Whitley at OWN Studios for "Raising Whitley" press event. (Cindy Robinson/The Current)

“It is important for an adoptive parent to be able to have an honest and open conversation with their adopted child to model positive attitudes and dialogue around adoption,” he said.

Telling a child early on and explaining that it’s not a bad thing allows them to be prepared to face the negativity and criticism they may receive from their peers.

“This can promote openness, which in turn can promote communication, problem solving and healthy adjustment,” said Brooks.

Another benefit to explaining adoption to a child at a young age is being able to control who reveals the news, how and when.

“Others outside the family may tell or suggest to the child that she or he is adopted,” said Brooks. “In this sense, a ‘good time’ is one that allows maximal control over the telling.”

The hardest part can be deciding how to break this type of news to a child. Some people may prolong this discussion because they do not know how to approach the situation.

“Waiting can benefit parents by allowing them more time to address issues they may be struggling with and to seek out resources and materials,” said Brooks. “It may even be important to involve others in the process, such as a social workers and other professionals who are adoption-competent.”

While this is normally reserved as a more intimate and private conversation, Whitley decided to have this talk with Joshua on national television. It is only because she felt comfortable with who she was working with – OWN.

“I can have the same show on a different network and it be a different show,” she said. “The fact that my show is on OWN I knew that it would be protected, I knew the story would be told in its truth, I knew that my child would be protected.”

More than anything, Whitley wanted her son to know he is loved.

She said it takes a special kind of love for a mother to give her child away to someone who could provide him with a better life and she is thankful Joshua’s mother trusted her to love him.“I chose you. I’m your mom. I love you. This is your dad, we love you. But there are two other people out in the world, your birth parents, that felt like you would have a better life with us,” said Whitley.

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