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Should You Tell All?

Think carefully before sharing your child's story with others.

by Fran Eisenman

The thrill of finally receiving a referral may prompt parents to tell everything they know about their new child. But how much of your baby's adoption story should you tell? The answer is, very little.

It's not your story; it's your child's. Small as he is at the moment, he has a right to his history. With that in mind, adoption professionals and experienced parents offer these tips for protecting your child's privacy.

Even the very young deserve privacy. When your child reaches an age of understanding, she will want to know how she came into the world and into your family. It is absolutely imperative that she hears her story directly from her parents, told in a loving and supportive manner. If others outside the immediate family know details, a child could hear sensitive information elsewhere. A child who discovers that strangers know more about him than he knows about himself will be confused and upset. When information leaves the nuclear family, parents lose control of its path.

Make an exception for doctors. Any information about a child's medical history can be shared with a pediatrician. The sanctity of the doctor/patient relationship ensures that the information will be held in confidence. The doctor should be updated from time to time about what has been told to the child as he matures.

Another exception should be made for the adoption agency or professional who assisted in the placement. This is an appropriate venue in which to discuss sensitive facts and to consider their meaning in a family's life.

Keep it general. Most people aren't willfully prying. General information -- such as what state or country the child was born in -- will often suffice. You might also speak generally about the social or economic conditions that lead to adoption. More specific questions can be avoided by feigning ignorance or requesting privacy. Positive language and a relaxed tone can deflect hurt feelings.

Remember, it is your child's story. Your job is to hold onto it until he is ready to hear it. Once it's in his possession, he will choose what to keep to himself and what to pass along.

Fran Eisenman is a New England-based social worker with two internationally adopted children.

If We'd Known Then... blogger Danielle Pennel wrote: "The first time we adopted, my husband and I were excited to share the details -- but soon regretted it. My son is 10 years old now, and people still mention personal information about his adoption to me. The second time we adopted, we gave the same answer to any questions people asked: 'She's healthy. That's all you need to know,' even though it was painful for our loved ones not have answers from us this time around." Here's how some of you responded:

  • "Approaching our first adoption, we already feel a little guilty about how little info we're going to share with our family. We're slowly preparing the grandmas for it -- they will feel most hurt by this, since we're so close to them. It is a relief to read your story and to know that it is really important to maintain our child's privacy." -- Colorado Mama

  • "You should think carefully about what you share, because you can't ever take it back. You can always give more information later if/when you feel someone should know." -- Paul

  • "That is something I would never have thought of -- but will now discuss with my husband. We live in a small town, and I have some relatives who can't keep anything to themselves. -- Petitechat

  • "If I had it to do over again, after getting the call, I'd wait an hour or so to get my thoughts together. Then, I'd tell parents and friends only general details, like the birthmother's due date. Instead, we made the innocent mistake of calling my parents immediately and spilling every detail. My dad took it upon himself to e-mail about 50 of our family and close friends, telling everything we'd discussed. Be sure to think twice before disclosing anything to anyone that you don't want your child one day hearing from someone else." -- Lara

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