Imagine something that is private for you – it might be something that is sacred, something that is painful or something that is complicated and not yet resolved. You choose to share this private story, in confidence with someone else. It’s something that has been shared with the other person with the understanding that they will safeguard it for you. You might speak about it, you might be very selective about who you share this with or you might realize that there are parts you feel free to share and others you don’t.
Regardless of what your response is, you do know that you only want these private details shared with your consent or by you. You are an adult reading this. This boundary is a clear one.
Adoptive families are often conspicuous. Sometimes they aren’t, but there are still people who are aware that they have grown through adoption. Which means that all too often questions follow. These might be from family members, friends or even random strangers in public. Questions might include asking about what happened to your child’s biological family or where you “got” your child. Sometimes it’s bumping into another family formed through adoption and having a sense of felt freedom to chat and share your own stories – or even online in different adoption-related groups.
Sometimes it’s speaking about the adjustments of our family as we grow together & it’s too easy to veer from sharing the adult experience, to sharing a child’s process. When this happens, it’s not done with the consent of the person whose story it is – the person who was adopted. We need to be aware of this, because we are only custodians of the story and it is not our story to tell.
Additionally, as parents who have chosen adoption, it’s also easy to be seen as an advocate for adoption. Online and talk show culture has challenged how society understands consent and so often results in oversharing and this oversharing doesn’t allow space to consider what the impact is on the person whose story is being shared.
Research, online adult adoptee focused platforms and discussions with adult adoptees repeatedly state that one of the things that adoptees wish that their (adoptive) parents hadn’t done is share details of their story, the reason for their adoption as well as some of their adjustments. The research tells us that when adoption trauma is referenced, this is one of the trauma triggers: Adoptive parents sharing details of children’s stories indiscriminately or inappropriately.
A further aspect of this extends to the fact that it’s not possible to share a child’s adoption story without inadvertently disclosing details of their biological family or circumstances of conception. The too often neglected part of the triad is the biological family and while this blog article is focused on the impact on adoptees, it’s worth remembering, regardless of the circumstances leading to a child having an adoption plan, that this is also a part of their story.
And while it is best to have thought through this before your family grows, we recognize that for many people, it’s only as their children grow that they realize these things matter. With all this said, it’s helpful to have some guidelines to know how to manage talking about your family’s adoption story. Arise advocates for the following:
- Be clear about what is public knowledge and what isn’t – when you became a family is public, the fact that you are a family is public, that these are your sons or daughters is public. The why behind this is simply that your family formed through adoption.
- Be clear about why the information is being shared and what the impact might be for the person whose story it is in the future – whether this is shared verbally or online somewhere.
- When people push and ask further questions – any people, including family members – it’s your role as an adult and parent to model healthy boundaries in this. This can look like reminding people that this story belongs to your children and that when they are older that they can choose what they want people to know.
- If you have multiple children in your family who have been adopted, and people ask are they siblings, a simple “yes” will be enough. Because they are siblings. Again, it’s the rest of the details that don’t need to be shared and responding with “yes, they are siblings” reinforces family relationships and belonging. It’s okay to reflect that you suspect that the person is asking if they are biological siblings, but again it’s enough to know that they are siblings and that your children get to set the parameters beyond that.
Adoption isn’t shameful. Children are not shameful. But protecting private aspects of their story until they are ready to give consent, matters. It matters in the long run for children who become adults and are part of our family. If you aren’t sure how to respond to a question, it’s always easier to put the boundary in place. Realistically, this means we shouldn’t share our child’s story with anyone but them. Research emphasizes that they should be told their full story by the age of 12 and they can then share their own story, on their own terms.
When in doubt, remember that your child’s story is not your story to tell.