You’re so excited! You’ve been matched with an expectant mother; you’ve connected well and can’t wait to share your news with the world! Or, your child has started having trouble in school and acting out, so you ask your friends on Facebook if it’s “normal” or could it be ”adoption-related”?
Regardless how we become parents, we are trusted with the tremendous responsibility of holding our child’s story. As new parents, we often take the task of creating and maintaining our child’s baby book very seriously – documenting milestones, both big and little. As apps, tools and technology options grow, many of us have moved online to share these milestones, anecdotes and photos with our family and friends as well as use it as a convenient way to store these memories. Snap a cute pic with your phone, add a quick filter and post to Insta in one fell swoop! Likes, Loves and Smiles abound!
We’ve all been warned – the internet is forever. Usually, that warning comes in response to a photo or post that may have negative repercussions for our jobs, relationships or mental health. In the case of our children, though, seemingly innocent photos and stories will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Families are created in so many ways – through biology, step-parenting, foster care, kinship care and adoption, just to name a few. As a parent through adoption, I hold my child’s journey to discovering himself precious; and I take my role in helping him figure it out seriously. As he explores his feelings about his adoption, his birth family and our family, I owe it to him to let him do it in his own way, on his own time. There is nothing shameful about adoption. In fact, most of us know someone whose life has been touched by adoption.
Adoption is amazing. It’s also traumatic and has veins of grief and loss intertwined with trust, love and joy. As he learns more about his birth family and our family, and his place in both, he’s having to decide how he feels about those things, and how they make him who he is. It is up to me to give him the privacy to work through those issues, and that work started from the moment he existed.
My journey to parenthood is mine. My story is mine. But how and when I share it has repercussions for my child. Our lives are already conspicuous – we are a transracial family, and I’m an adoption professional – and I must always be cognizant of what I post or share, and how that will impact my family. So, the more control he has over his own story, the better for him. He has known for a long time that people have very strong feelings about adoption – sometimes telling him he’s lucky, or we’re lucky; other times being asked if he knows his “real” parents. I choose to believe that seldom those questions are asked with malice, usually just curiosity. But, it’s not my child’s job to educate people about adoption – at least not until he’s ready to do so. He has my permission to not answer those questions if he’s not in the mood to do so, as long as he is respectful in his answer. A simple I’d prefer not to discuss that is enough.
We each get to decide when, what and with whom we share our own stories – Are they trustworthy? Will they honor my journey? Will they make assumptions about who I am based on what I share? Of course, those questions are a part of every relationship. But, for an adopted person, they are compounded. There may be large pieces of information missing, there may be parts of their story they feel are shameful, there may be secrets or even lies.
With the insurgence of genealogy and DNA testing services, your child will eventually find out the truth. And if we have violated their trust early on, it will only weaken our bond and their capacity to trust us in the future. Instead, we can help them process the information we do have, helping them put it into context. We can give them age-appropriate information, not a sugar-coated story. We can coach them and give them strategies for answering prying questions. We can be their safe harbor when the waters are rough, whether they are four or twenty-four. This reminds me of a quote by Brene Brown:
“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”
Our children deserve respect and privacy. We need to keep their story private until they are ready to share it. And when that time comes, it is our job to be present and honest with them, and to let them know what a privilege it is to hear their story.