Imagine a good friend — someone you care deeply about — came to you and shared with you some hard truths about her history. Things that caused her deep pain and grief. Things she was far too embarrassed to talk to anyone else about. Things that happened to her and things that were beyond her control that made her feel unrelenting shame. Things that continued to follow her to this day, some of them carrying labels and all of them ushering in painful memories. Things beyond words or comprehension, but somehow she summoned enough courage to say them to you.
By taking the risk and coming to you at all she was entrusting these sacred pieces of her life story to your care. So how would you respond? What, if anything, would you share with others? How would you share? In what context? Would you whisper it to a friend in conversation on the phone? Would you share it with others at your church and ask them to pray? Would you type it, details and all, in an email to your close mutual friends and hit ‘send’? Would you write about it on your blog, or post it on Facebook?
I dare say that most of us would not dream of sharing this type of private, personal information about a friend. We certainly wouldn’t want it shared about us, and we wouldn’t share it about others either for fear that it would break trust and heap insult upon injury.
So why is it that many adoptive parents often feel far less constrained when it comes to sharing this kind of information about our own children? Why do we feel entitled to take such public freedoms when it comes to our kids’ histories — stories about their relinquishment, abandonment, rejection, birth family, neglect, abuse…facts about their physical, emotional, psychological, medical, and behavioral conditions? Why is that we will freely post our child’s picture on the Internet alongside a story or description that includes their private and personal information, yet we would never for a moment consider doing anything of the like when it comes to the imaginary friend described above — or better yet, ourselves.
No parent is exempt from the reality that at one time or another he or she has said too much about his or her child. The same is true for virtually every adoptive and foster parent I know. And let’s be clear, I know I’ve fallen into this trap myself — this trap of ‘oversharing’. And I also know that if I am not intentional and mindful about it, I’m likely to do so again.
In wrestling with these questions I’ve concluded that there are many reasons that we adoptive parents are susceptible to this kind of ‘oversharing’. Fear and isolation, entitlement and self-justification, anger and frustration, insecurity and inadequacy. These reasons and many more cloud our judgment and tell us that it’s okay to share. Or maybe we simply want the world to know the extent of the miracle that God has done in bringing a child into our family through adoption. But the truth is that none of these reasons seem valid in the face of the harm and breach of trust that will likely result.
Recently I was speaking with an adult adoptee and she asked me these questions when our conversation turned to this subject: “Why do so many adoptive parents feel they are entitled to share such private, personal, and even painful information about their children, particularly on the Internet? Have they considered that their children will one day read what they have shared and in all likelihood be hurt, embarrassed, and even ashamed by it? Don’t they understand that by sharing this type of information in this way they are likely to seriously damage and break any trust they have built with their children? And don’t they realize that by doing this they are just reinforcing the feelings of being voiceless and powerless that so many adopted children already feel?”
Her words rocked me, and I cannot forget them. Would I want my kids posting my personal information or past history on their Facebook accounts? What if they blogged about my medical conditions, infertility, my psychiatric diagnosis or the medications I take? What if they launched a website devoted to my family of origin and everything that was wrong with them? What if they openly shared about the issues I was seeing a counselor for and offered blow-by-blow details of stressful moments with my wife or my own behavioral meltdowns at home?
It’s true that there is no bright line to tell parents how much is too much information to share in every situation. Yet this does not excuse us from the difficult but important task of discerning where we should draw the line, and then honoring it. So before hitting “publish” on that next blog post or taking the liberty of telling friends all of the details about your child, ask yourself a few questions first: “Would I be willing to read to my child what I am about to share?” “If I knew for sure my child would one day read this information, would I still share it?” “If I knew my child’s friends, classmates, and future boyfriends or girlfriends, along with their parents, would read this information, would I still share it?” “Does this information I am about to share honor my child, his story, and his trust in me?” “Is it fair for me to reveal this diagnosis or label about my child, or this treatment that she is undergoing, to others in a public fashion without first obtaining her permission?” “Why am I sharing this information?” “Whose needs are really being served?”
The painful truth is that when adoptive parents share too much we tear down the trust we want to build…the trust our kids so desperately need. Far too many of our children come to us with trust deficits as well as a belief that most people, even parents, are not trustworthy. For our children a sacred trust has already been broken, for some many times over. So as we ask them to tear down their carefully constructed walls and begin to trust us, we must honor that trust by what we say and do.
As we more fully embrace our children we discover that their story becomes our story. Yet we are their guardians and we must guard all of who they are well. This includes their stories and their private information which we hold in trust. We must measure our words and actions carefully and never stop striving to fulfill our sacred role with faithfulness and fidelity. Trust is simply far too valuable and all too hard to come by for anything less.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
We’ll continue this focus on ‘oversharing’ with a thoughtful and challenging article from an adopted person’s perspective entitled Protecting What Is Sacred, as well as an article from Amy Monroe entitled Oh No, I’ve Said Too Much. But for now, here are a few additional resources to consider:
• Shh! It’s Private, by Michael Monroe
• Not Your Everyday Conversation: Talking with Your Children About the Difficult Realities of Adoption and Foster Care, presented by Michael & Amy Monroe
• Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child, by Betsy Keefer and Jayne Schooler