We’ve all done it. I dare say there is not an adoptive or foster parent alive that has not had that sinking feeling as they walked away from a conversation, hung up the phone, or re-read their online post after it had already been “liked” 30 times. It’s that uneasy realization that you said too much about your child. You shared more than you should have (we call it “oversharing”), and now you wish you could take back those details, that personal and private information so apt to be misunderstood or even misused. But you can’t, or at least not easily.
I’ve been there. I wish I only had one example to recount, but unfortunately there are many. For example, I remember the time when I was asked a perfectly innocent question by a stranger in front of my four children. My answer gave rise to another question, this time a bit more personal and invasive. Before I knew it she asked, “So, are they all real siblings?” Knowing what she was trying to ask I attempted to answer her question honestly but ended up offering way too much personal information about their birth histories and birth families. My answer should have simply been “Yes” or “they are now.” What was I thinking? All I had to do say was a simple, “Yes.”
So what is a parent to do? The first thing may be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Be thoughtful, be careful, and be intentional about what you share, how you share, and with whom you share – before you share it. When it comes to oversharing, prevention truly is the best medicine. Always remember that it’s your child’s story, and you are their trusted guardian. So be a good guardian of their story. And remember that your focus is not on keeping secrets, but rather maintaining your child’s privacy. Jayne Schooler talks about this in her book, Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child. She points out that there is a big difference between keeping secrets and maintaining privacy. In short, secrets shame but privacy protects, and protection is what we desire for our children. We want to protect them and their privacy, and eventually empower them to understand their own history and have the tools to determine if, how, when, and with whom they will share their story.
Second, be willing to acknowledge that this is a big deal. That doesn’t mean you should drown in guilt about having overshared, or beat yourself up and be afraid to ever talk about your journey to anyone, anywhere. After all, God is writing a story with your life and you should tell your story. But too often our initial reaction on sensitive subjects like this can be one of defensiveness, and this can lead us to minimize the importance of not oversharing. Remember, this is not about pointing a finger of blame at yourself or others to heap guilt about using Facebook or having conversations with friends about the adoption journey. It’s about learning what it means to be faithful parents…faithful to love our children in the unique ways that their unique histories and unique needs demand.
So maybe you are like me and you walked up to the line of “too far” and accidentally crossed it and overshared. Maybe you’ve stepped over that line so many times now it is hardly noticeable at all. Or maybe everyone you run with routinely crosses that line and so you’ve convinced yourself that it does not or should not exist. Or maybe you were simply never aware that any such line even existed. Only you can determine where that line of what to share, with whom, and how exists for you and your child. But let’s agree together that there is (or should be) a line and that it is important, and then let’s commit to really wrestle to determine where to draw that line (recognizing that line may move as your child gets older). Read some books, watch or listen to some presentations, thoughtfully consider the questions that Michael and Melanie suggested, and talk with your spouse and seek out experienced adoptive and foster parents who themselves have wrestled with this subject. Above all, pray and seek God’s guidance to help you discern how to faithfully love and protect your child and his story.
If you know that you have already shared too much, be willing to acknowledge that too. And, commit to take tangible steps to make it right. Maybe that means it’s time for a “spring cleaning” of sorts by deleting or editing some old posts on your blog or Facebook page. Maybe that means it’s time to recruit grandparents, members of your extended family, and close friends who know private, sensitive details about your child’s story to make these people official co-guardians of your child’s story. Explain to them what you’ve learned. Help them understand that this is not about keeping secrets but rather it’s about protecting your child’s privacy. Help them see that they have an important role to play. We’ve had these types of conversations with family and friends, and we were very encouraged by their understanding and desire to help us love our children well.
Finally, never forget that grace and forgiveness are available. I’m convinced that one of the greatest gifts I can give my children is to humble myself when I have wronged them and genuinely seek their forgiveness, and then do my part to repair the relationship. As my kids have gotten older there have been times when I’ve been too liberal with their story in answering a question from a stranger. There have been times I have failed to ask their permission before sharing with others about an example of something they are struggling with or the type of help we are utilizing. In these times I’ve had to admit I crossed the line and I had to seek their forgiveness. Is that hard for me? Absolutely. Is it important? More than I’ll ever know.
Maybe you, like me, have broken trust with your children by oversharing. If they are developmentally mature enough, consider sitting down with them, acknowledging what you’ve done, seeking forgiveness, discussing together where the line should be, and helping them see – in both your words and actions – that you are committed to love and protect them (and their story) as you walk this journey together.
For more on the subject of oversharing and protecting your child’s story, read Michael Monroe’s article, Before You Share, Make Sure It’s Yours to Share, and Melanie Chung-Sherman’s article, Protecting What Is Sacred, written from an adopted person’s perspective.