Parenting is always a balancing act. Balancing our time between our children, partners, and work obligations. Balancing how often we say “yes” with how often we say “no” to our kids’ seemingly endless requests. As adoptive parents, there is another added factor we need to balance: being open about adoption and keeping our children’s adoption stories private. It can often be hard to determine what information should be given freely, and to whom. In my mind, there is both a need for adoption to be seen as something that should be talked about freely, as well as a need for children to have some control over their own identity.
We are past the days where adoption was seen as shameful, where people only found out they had been adopted by accident, or when their parents sat them down to have “the talk.” However, we are also living in the age of oversharing. We tell people what we are doing at any given moment, show them what we are eating, who are with, where we are. Everyone has at least one friend on social media who seems to be incapable of not sharing every single moment of their lives, however mundane. If you’ve ever cringed scrolling through your social media feed at a picture of someone’s rash (why?) or a 90-photograph slideshow of their totally unremarkable vacation, then you know what I am talking about.
As adoptive parents, we are often so thankful for the gifts adoption has brought to our life that we want to shout from the rooftops about our journey, about our children, about how thankful we are to have been able to grow our family in this unique and wonderful way. I fully understand this impulse: the first picture I ever posted of our daughter on social media is still my most-liked picture ever. I posted it in the middle of the night with no prior warning, Beyoncé album style, on our second day as a family. The next morning my phone basically exploded with congratulations. I was so thrilled to share our beautiful daughter with the world, my world at least, but what was less thrilling were the questions that immediately starting pouring in from well-meaning people. “Did you meet her birth mother?” “Is she young?” “What about her birth father?” I very quickly learned that there were parts of my child’s story that I was not comfortable sharing. I’ve never been a people pleaser. I did not feel at all guilty about not divulging every detail about our daughter’s adoption even if it meant people were miffed at me, but I know not everyone is that way. I can understand not wanting to hurt Aunt Millie’s feelings by saying her question isn’t one you are comfortable answering.
For me, when deciding what to share or not share about my daughter’s adoption story, I stick to the old axiom of information being given on a need-to-know basis. Does your child’s pediatrician need to know about in utero substance exposure, or whether your child’s birth family has a history of any given medical condition? Yes. Absolutely. Does everyone who follows you on Facebook need to know? No.
One venue where I often see parents engaging in what I would consider to be oversharing is online adoption forums or on their personal adoption blogs. If you are raising a child who comes from hard circumstances, I can understand wanting to show people that even though your child faced hardships early in life, he or she is now thriving. But there are ways to do that without divulging details of your child’s story that aren’t yours to share. Saying “I am so proud of our son and am so blessed to be able to see how far he has come” is very different than saying “Bobby was born to a homeless birth mother who was addicted to methamphetamines, but now he is a varsity athlete and an honor roll student!” Some of you may be reading that last sentence thinking Surely no one divulges that much personal information to strangers! Sadly, you would be very wrong. Remember before you hit “share,” that the Internet is forever. Even if you delete it later, someone will have seen it. Inevitably your child will Google herself, often at a younger age than you would think. What would you want your child to see pop up on the screen if he did this?
What it comes down to ultimately is this: as adoptive parents, we have to make peace with the fact that our children have a story that has nothing to do with us. Whether you were in the delivery room and cut the umbilical cord, or you adopted your child from foster care—the time your child spent in this word before he or she was your child—are not your story to tell. When they are babies or young children it can be hard to remember this, but someday your child will have an opinion on just how much of her life and adoption story she is comfortable sharing with the world. There is no way to predict what that opinion will be. Just because your kiddo loves talking to strangers now doesn’t mean he will want strangers to know the intimate details of how he came into this world when he is older. Allow them the privilege of having control over their own story and remember that they are the only part of the adoption triad that had no say in adoption becoming a part of their identity. As parents, we want to do whatever we can for our kids, to give them the world. As adoptive parents, one of the best gifts we can give them is by giving them the gift of keeping their story sacred.