We met up with family and friends for dinner a couple months ago. Soon after we sat down a family friend who we’ve never met before began asking questions about our daughter and then she went on to tell us about her sister and brother in law’s adoption:
She’s so cute! My sister and brother-in-law adopted too! He’s biracial. Yeah, his mom was raped and she didn’t want him. She didn’t even know she was pregnant until it was too far along in the pregnancy.
My heart sank and my mind raced as the conversation quickly jumped to something else. Minutes ago we were complete strangers and now we know intimate, private details of her nephew’s history. I wondered if she knew the gravity and weight of her words.
She clearly loved her nephew and meant no harm by sharing his adoption story. She, like so many others, including many adoptive parents, hadn’t thought through the long term affects of sharing a story that is not theirs to share.
Adoption triggers a lot of curiosity and questions. It’s a topic that is foreign to many who have likely been educated about the process through lifetime movies or by a friend of a friend’s cousin who adopted. There are so many unknowns when you hear about a child’s adoption and our natural response is to want to know more details.
One of the greatest pieces of advice we received during the adoption process was to protect our daughter’s story. The precious details of her story are for her to share some day if she chooses. It’s her story, not ours. We plan to tell her all about her birth parents and the circumstances that lead to her adoption at the age appropriate times. We want her to be the first to hear her story. If she chooses to share these details with others, that is her choice. But, ultimately the choice is up to her and what she feels comfortable with.
Right now our daughter is a baby and so it’s easy not to think how us sharing all the details could affect her down the road. Imagine when she is 8 and overhears adults at a party talking about her past because they don’t think she is listening. Can you imagine if people just freely shared personal details about your history with friends, family and even strangers? How embarrassing would that be?
As parents, we want nothing more than to protect our children. Every child will process and wrestle through their adoption and history in different ways. Our goal is to foster trust and an environment where she feels comfortable to ask questions, grieve and process her emotions.
Here are some tips for adoptive families as they navigate through these sensitive aspects of adoption:
1. Get on the same page as your spouse – It’s crucial that you and your spouse see eye to eye on this issue. I know it was something my husband and I had to spend time discussing before our daughter was born. What will we share? What will we share with very close relatives? If one spouse feels strongly about not sharing any details and another thinks “it’s not a big deal” this could cause for some serious tension down the road.
2. Role play different scenarios – Family, friends, and even complete strangers WILL ask you personal questions. It’s a guarantee. It can be very awkward and nerve wracking to be put on the spot and it’s much easier to just answer and move along. But, if you are prepared and have practiced it will be much easier. An example of a simple, direct response could be, we want him/her to be the first to hear about his/her adoption story and so we have chosen not to share personal details of his/her story with others. Brief, direct, and will shut down most people and they will take the hint. It’s important to always be grace-filled in your response because most people ask out of curiosity and mean no harm.
3. It’s not too late to start – Maybe you regret sharing details of your child’s story. I know in the beginning we shared some things that we wished we hadn’t. However, it’s not too late to change moving forward.
4. It’s never too early to start having conversations with your child – There are many ways to naturally begin sharing your child’s adoption story with them at an early age. Adoption should not be a taboo subject and should be something that is talked about open and freely. One great way to do this is by creating an “adoption book”. Include pictures and dialogue about their story. We created “Haven’s Birth Story” on Shutterfly. It has lots of pictures of us preparing for her, to us getting the call that we’d been chosen to be her parents, to pictures from her birth at the hospital. We plan to read it with her often to naturally teach her about her past and to help facilitate conversations and questions.
If you are an adoptive parent, I’d love to hear how you gracefully respond to personal questions about your child’s past (or) ways you naturally share your child’s adoption story in the comments section below!