Since we first began reading about adoption back in 2010 in our home study process, we began to grasp this idea that our children’s story is sacred, and we need to watch how much we share and with whom. Every family must decide this for themselves, and if your agency/social worker/adoption professionals are anything like ours, it’s something that they helped us work though. I wrote about this a while back on my blog with the adoption of our oldest son here. With the adoption of our twins this fall, it has been taken to a whole new level. Our oldest looks like us. Adoption doesn’t need to ever come up, especially not in the Target checkout line, if we don’t want it to. We are happy to share that he was adopted, but we do not have to. Our twins are African-American, and therefore places such as the Target checkout line become a place where we have to decide what and how to share or not share. (Can you tell checkout lines tend to hold some trauma for me? You are cornered between carts with nowhere to go!!)
It’s not just with strangers, though. From sitters to church members to our immediate family–how we talk about our adoptions, what we share, and the specific language we use have a huge impact on our kids. We have come up with some ground rules for our family, and I am curious to know some of yours. We have some things that are just for our kids. This would be their hospital boxes, birth parent questionnaires, medical history documents, and adoption paperwork. In a fireproof waterproof box, this is theirs to own forever. It is the most complex history of their life that we have, and we don’t think its for anyone’s eyes but theirs, when they are old enough.
We have some things that are discussed with our close, close group of adoption friends. We have two or three families that we are very close with and have traveled this adoption path with all along. This would be the safe space where we can vent frustrations, share concerns, and ask for advice. I would say this also extends to the two social workers at our agency who we are in regular contact with. They know all three of our kids’ stories, and are a safe space. The value, I think, in having this very safe close space of others who are adoption-minded is they can catch you when you fall. When you DO get frustrated in your open adoption, or with what others have said, or when you slip up and fail as an adoptive parent. They won’t hold it against you–or against the birth family, agency, or your child–if you over-share or over-vent.
We have our family, close immediate family, who know 99.9 percent of our children’s adoption story. I’m talking our parents and siblings. The reason I say 99.9 percent is that our immediate family is not the place I would vent any specific adoption frustrations to typically. I think our family’s natural response is to be protective of us, and so our venting can create attitudes in them that become themes in the family. For example, above-mentioned adoption confidantes can listen to me vent about a visit cancelled at the last minute and take it for what it is — an unfortunate event, or maybe the visit seemed to hard for the birth parents in the moment and they called it off, or maybe a miscommunication. They’ve been there, they get it. Family might get it, but they might start to harbor unwarranted resentment or anger towards others in OUR adoption triad, because they feel protective of us. In my opinion, I’ve seen this type of venting to family create some problems in our own situation or others we know.
The there’s the story for others…friends…church…coworkers…strangers in the checkout line. This is up to each family, and every person I know feels extremely different about this. I would caution you, if your children are small and still nonverbal, to think about how you wold tell their story if they were 25 and standing next to you while you chat in the church lobby. Think about what they wold feel comfortable with you coming to their third grade class and sharing when they are the special person of the week. Let things like this be your guide. Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back…we had one fact about our oldest child’s adoption get out to the general extended family and friends, and it was hard. Trust me. Talk with your adoption professionals, your kids, your close adoption confidantes. Get on the same page with your spouse about your kids’ stories. Don’t lie, ’cause your kids will pick up on that, too. But saying “That’s our family’s story” is not lying. It’s protecting.
How do you share your kids’ story? If you have older kids, how has this changed as they’ve grown? Any experiences with over-sharing that have been hurtful?
About the author: Meg and her husband began their adoption journey in 2010, added their son to their family via domestic open adoption in 2011, and their twin son and daughter in 2013. Meg stays home with their children most days now, but has been working in the social services and special education field for eight years. Meg is involved in several post-adoption support programs in her area and loves connecting and supporting other adoptive families. Meg blogs at www.godwillfillthisnest.com
Image credit: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net