Sharing Children’s Private Information: How Much is Too Much?

Note: This issue will be a part of my JCICS presentation about Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents.

A reader of my Watershed post commented, “Maureen, you write: ‘I feel strongly adoptive parents should not write about their children’s confidential stories …’ But this post feels quite supportive [of that behavior]. I hope you will clarify in a future post.”

I indeed feel strongly that adoptive parents should not write about about their children’s confidential stories, unless their children are old enough to genuinely give permission (after 18, say). And my post was indeed quite supportive of the Watershed blogger’s post, which included a bit of her child’s confidential story. Here’s why.

Consider some history. An adopted child’s past was pretty open during the Orphan Train times from the 1850’s to the 1930’s.

Orphan Train illustration

From around the 1940’s on, adoptive parents were counseled to tell their children that they were adopted; because of “matching” tactics and other reasons, some did and some didn’t.  The Baby Scoop Era in the US and the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland between 1940-1970 negated the feelings and value of women who gave birth outside of marriage, and mostly requested the impossible of them: forget your babies and move on with your lives, with shame and disgrace that you can never talk about.

Transracial adoption (US or international) has made more overt the creation of a family via adoption. Listening to and reading about the experience of tens of thousands of Korean adoptees, many now adults in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, has opened my eyes. Many were told one story about about why they were placed for adoption; many have found out the truth was quite different, when they have returned to Korea and dug deep, well beyond slender files handed to them by adoption agencies. Many are now demanding that adoption policy be changed.

International adoptions have declined mightily in recent years, in no small part because of the uncovering of fraud and trafficking. The “uncovering” has been done by US consular officials, by adoptive parents returning to search for information for their young children, and by adult adoptees themselves.

Adoption agencies have been complicit in this, perhaps inadvertently. (Perhaps not. That’s a whole huge, raging discussion for another time.) The voices kept most silent in adoption, including in the fraud and coverups? Consistently, the first/birth families. That’s especially true in international adoption, given distance, language, culture, and economics. All too often, we have relegated them to the status of the Magdalenes and left them far far behind.

As I see it, the Watershed blogger posted information because she is heartbroken about finding the truth about her child’s situation, and grieves for both her child and for the child’s birth mother. The blogger is providing a voice of sorts for the birth mother, who surely is the most marginalized and voiceless of all the people involved In this sad story. We adoptive parents sometimes need to be reminded of the reality of the grief and loss often felt by birth mothers.

Further, my understanding is that the Watershed blogger agonized over the decision to post. She didn’t do it because it’s an interesting story, or because she can make money from it. She acknowledged the possibility that sharing the information may be the wrong choice for her child. Her efforts, I believe, are meant to help her child, and to acknowledge the harsh reality of how her child came to be adopted. She gives an empathetic voice to her child’s mother. And what she’s learned leads her not just to hope, but to demand, that her next adoption will be transparent and ethical.

I stand by my assertion that adoptive parents should not expose their children’s confidential information. I understand some parents see things differently, and respect their right to act as they wish.

But there are degrees of exposure. For example, a recent posting in an ostensibly closed Facebook group features a video that depicts adopted children, accompanied by their adoptive parents, searching in their eastern European village and encountering their “drunk grandmother.” People in the village were vocal about how horrifically the children had been treated by their birth family. The reason given by the adoptive parent for posting was to help other families who might be going through the same things. I don’t see how public denigration of a first/birth family is appropriate, especially by an adoptive parent. The posting—done without the knowledge or consent of the author’s teenage children—certainly doesn’t seem intended to help the children nor the children’s first family.

In any case, I feel that sharing a child’s or birth family’s information should always be done cautiously, respectfully, never casually, and with full awareness and acceptance of the ramifications. I think we should try to look at any posting of a child’s information from the perspective of the child herself in 5, 10, 15, 20 years.

Some adoptive parents post confidential information on the Internet in the course of attempting to get support and access to resources. It’s a sad affirmation of the pitiful state of available post-adoption services. It’s also another reminder of why adoption policies must be overhauled if we are going to provide adequate support for families in crises small and large, and sooner rather than later.

5 thoughts on “Sharing Children’s Private Information: How Much is Too Much?

  1. Christy, these are great questions, and they speak to the complexity of what we mean and understand by “privacy,” especially on the Internet. I want to reflect on this a bit, and may well have an adult adoptee and birth/first parent weigh in as well. I’ll be back.

    • Maureen, that would be wonderful. I would so value hearing about this issue from adult adoptees and first/birth parents.
      Just to flesh out my one point a bit about navigating the issue of sharing when the adoptee themselves is doing so freely, in my mind it’s not about liberating the APs to share for gratuitous reasons. The purpose would be to avoid the adoptee him/herself feeling that there is something inherently shameful about the stories/emotions they are already sharing with others. My concern is that by refusing to engage in this conversation in the name of protecting our children’s privacy, do we somehow negate the adoptee’s choices in some way?

  2. Maureen, I see the issue of privacy as having two distinct parts: the details of the family’s story and the emotional response of adopted people and first families to separation and, in some cases, reunion. Watershed touched on both (for reasons I support.) In most situations, do you feel that one of these pieces should be held more tightly than the other by adoptive parents? Do you feel if a child/adopted person is sharing both or either freely themselves, it changes the situation for adoptive parents in any way?

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