Tuesday, September 14, 2010

story-telling, story-keeping

I have a question for all those of you who have already adopted:

How do you respond when people ask about your child's "story"?

We have already encountered this a little bit from friends and family who know we're adopting, but I'm guessing it will be much more frequent after we bring our boy home. Even now I am struggling to figure out what to share and with whom. The bottom line is that this question is deeply personal - not for me, necessarily, but for our son. After all, whatever information I share is his information. Even taking the easy route of just saying we don't know much about his story is actually still sharing something intensely personal, because it gives the impression that he won't know his story either.

My preference would be to have a go-to line that I use with most people, politely explaining that we don't share personal details about his life prior to adoption... But in some ways I have issues with that too, because it kind of implies that what happened pre-adoption isn't important or that it is something taboo that we just don't talk about (neither of which are the least bit true). What I really want to say to people is that our child's story is important, and we do talk about it... just not with YOU.

I'd love to hear how other adoptive parents handle these types of questions... Do you share different amounts with different people? What's your favorite way to say "mind your own business" politely?


  1. No one outside of my parents, Jeff's mom, Emily (who found out on the internet of all places), and our social workers know about the circumstances that led to Tommy's placement in the orphanage. When people ask directly about his family (do you know his birth mother, his relatives, etc) I either say that we don't have contact or that we don't know anything about them (which is true), and I explain that in Uganda it is illegal to place a baby for adoption so it is unusual to know much. When people ask questions like "why was he in the orphanage" or "how did he get there" I say that that information is his story to tell and not mine to share because that is all the information he has about his past. If it is someone close I will take the time to explain why we do that for Tommy and will do it for all our children- whether or not one child has a "nice" story, we never know what the next child's story would be. I do not feel comfortable sharing Tommy's story because I don't want to set a precedent for my other children whose stories may need to be kept secret (not from them, of course, but from people who might not use the information in a kind way).
    The one exception to this rule was when we were in country. While in Uganda I always explained the circumstances because I felt it would not go over well if I refused to explain.
    People will ask all the time because they don't realize it is rude. Sometimes I am sorely tempted to ask where their babies came from...

  2. Oh, this is SUCH a big thing with us! I keep meaning to write a post about it - will try to restrain myself from wriring huge long rant here.

    Our stance is that we don't tell anybody ANYTHING about our babies' story. Not because it's shameful or secret, but because it's PRIVATE, and because it's their story, not ours. Oh, I just can't possibly put into words how big a deal I think this is. I think it's really unkind of parents to decide that THEY are going to share an adoptee's private, difficult story with... everyone, because the child was too young to tel them not to. As I see it, if you don't tell now, and it turns out that baby is relaxed about it when he;s older, HE can make the decision to tel people. But what has already been told can never be untold.

    We are really really strict abou tthis, and don't even share it with family, partly because if I don't kno how to tell my brother it isn't any of HIS business, how on earth can I expect him to tell HIS kids it isn't any of THEIR business, when they ask? And then the cousins know, and especially if they ar older, they get to have this powerful information that can be used to hurt, and doesn't belong to them.

    Also, I have a terrible fear that even if we talk about something regularly, it will be when someone else (probably a kid) says it in a cruel way that it will finally, finally hit home. Kids are mean to each other, at least some of the time, and even when it's not delibverate it's so easy for them to be casually cruel to each other. Life is hard enough - I don't want my kids to hear any of their background info as a taunt, and I don't want them to feel responsible to explain it to people either.

    Sorry for freakish length of comment. One more thing - the WAY that we usually address this is a sweet smile and: "I hope you don't think this is rude, but we've decided not to share any of our babies' private informatino with other people before they are old enough to understand it themselves".


  3. (Apologizing in advance for the length of this - I just couldn't figure out how to do a short post on this one!)

    While I respect where the other posters are coming from, I think this is a decision that looks different for each and every family and there is no “right” way. We have chosen a more open approach though we are pretty cautious with most of the more sensitive information. There is some information that we don’t share at all because there would be absolutely no reason for anyone to know other than those immediately involved.

    I think it’s important to decide as a family how you will handle personal information in general regardless of whether it’s for you, your spouse, or your kids, bio or adopted. Most of us will probably agree that openly blabbing everything to everyone or hiding the truth about everything is never a good idea. But beyond that there are quite a few healthy ways along the middle of the spectrum to handle this type of thing.

    Some families openly share info about their children or themselves struggling in school/marriage/finances/etc in order to have the support & prayers of their community. They do so in a non-shaming way that acknowledges that all families have issues and need the help of others. This also helps other families who are struggling with those issues to not feel so alone.

    Other families tend to hold that information a little more closely, asking for general support & prayer without specifics, only sharing more intimate details with a few and that’s ok too.

    T’s birth-mom M and I both grew up in families with a lot of issues. Both of our families share pretty openly about those issues. She and I have both made bad-decisions in life and both share about those decisions with others. When you are part of a family that has had a lot of issues like drug & alcohol abuse, prison, mental-health challenges, etc – some of the basic stuff like getting suspended from school or fired from your job is just not a big deal to share with others.

    My husband grew up in a family with relatively few issues. When issues did arise they tended to be very tight-lipped and somewhat ashamed of them. Then something really hard and “shameful” happened. They had to share with others to get the support they needed. They are now much more open about issues but still less open than my family. It’s all relative to how much you’ve been through right?

    M is really proud of her decision to place T for adoption and we are proud of her too. She openly shares that she was not able to parent and wanted T to have a better life than what she felt she could offer. We freely offer that info to anyone who asks.

    Most of our family and some of our friends know more about the story – these are people that we trust to handle information appropriately. Many of our friends and extended community don’t really care about T’s story and don’t ask, especially the longer he’s been with us.

    One of the reasons I’ve chosen to be somewhat open about information is that I want others to know that what they hear in the media and through the grapevine about adoption, and in our case birth-parents, isn’t always as bad as it’s made out to be. Kids whose birth-parents were in challenging situations, which led to their child being available for adoption, don’t necessarily turn out to have major issues. And some bio-kids from healthy families do turn out to have major issues. That's just life!

    In the end, I don’t think you can really protect your kids from hurtful comments in life. I’d rather err on the side of openness and transparency about most of the good and the bad in our lives and then equip my kids to deal with the fallout.

    My hope is that they will learn that their birth-families pasts and the circumstances of their lives are nothing to be ashamed of, and that the challenges that all of us will face in the future are not shameful either. My hope is ultimately that through that they will recognize God's on-going redemptive work and celebrate that!

  4. Thanks for asking a valuable question, and for sharing all the thoughtful responses! It is helpful to so many.

  5. Yes, THANK YOU for the great responses!