Not A “New” Life

This comment came up in a discussion about how adoptive parents change the name of their adoptee when the adoption is finalized. One woman commented – “Nothing wrong with that, we started using his new name too to get him used to it. New life, new name.” She was quickly corrected – “I need you to fucking not. Adoption isn’t a “new life”, it’s a continuation of the life they are already living. This comment is insensitive at best.” This one had started new childcare job. She is a domestic infant adoptee. One child in her class is in the process of being adopted and that X is their legal name and Y is the name the adoptive parents have chosen to change it to. This child isn’t an infant, so the childcare workers are basically having to train the child to respond to a new name.

I will admit, I did a little sleuthing into the one who made the insensitive comment but could find nothing definite except that she is relatively new in the all things adoption group. There are some interesting photos but nothing certain as to her status in adoptionland but her comment seems to indicate an adoption there.

Lacking that, I looked for some context and found this recent (Oct 2022) article in The Atlantic LINK>Adoption Is Not a Fairy-Tale Ending, with the subtitle – It’s a complicated beginning. While maybe not perfectly what I was looking for, I did see how it begins – In America, popular narratives about adoption tend to focus on happy endings. Poor mothers who were predestined to give their children away for a “better life”; unwanted kids turned into chosen ones; made-for-television reunions years later. Since childhood, these story lines about the industry of infant adoptions had gradually seeped into my subconscious from movies, books, and the news.

The author, Erika Hayasaki, notes – researching a book on identical twins raised in radically different circumstances, the reality of adoption is far more complicated than some might think—and, as many adoptees and scholars have argued, deserving of a more clear-eyed appraisal across American culture. Her book, Somewhere Sisters, chronicles identical twins Isabella and Hà were born in Vietnam in 1998, and their mother struggled to care for them. Isabella (born Loan) was adopted by a wealthy, white American family that gave her a new name and raised her in the suburbs of Chicago. Hà was adopted by a biological aunt and her partner, and grew up in a rural village in Vietnam with sporadic electricity and frequent monsoons.

Twins have always fascinated me. I was born a Gemini and have always wondered what happened to my twin. When I was a child, my 13 month younger sister and I were often dressed alike and sometimes people thought we were twins. When my daughter was preschool age, she used to claim we were twins. I suppose I’ve had at least two surrogate twins in my life. I digress.

The author discovered that when reunions with birth families do happen, they aren’t always happy; they can be painful, confusing, or traumatic. Adoptees who are parents, lawyers, educators, or activists are challenging the rosy image of adoption that stubbornly persists in our culture. Children are not offered up for adoption in a vacuum. Many of them “are available because of certain, very strategic political policies.” Often the reasons for removing children from their parents comes under the heading of “neglect.” Throughout adoption history, this broad category has encompassed homelessness, poor hygiene, absent parents, and drug abuse in some instances, or simply leaving a child with caregivers outside the nuclear family.

A happily ever story after adoption often comes at the cost of forsaking everything that came before. The process, known in the adoptee community as coming out of the fog, refers to when an adoptee starts to see beyond the narrative about fate and question their true feelings about the adoption system, and how it has impacted their relationships, personalities, and identity formation. As the child of two adoptees, I also had my moment of coming out of the fog because adoption had seemed like the most natural thing to me until I was over 50, both of my parents had died and I began to discover my families true origins.

For me, coming out of the fog was, and continues to be, a process that involves simultaneously holding my adoptive grandparent’s love and good intentions in my heart’s memories alongside all the ways that adoption robbed me of what, for most people, is almost an unconsidered common reality. There are all of these contradictory realities within one’s experience of belonging to a family created by adoptions. The duality of that space can be hard for those without such a background to reasonably understand.

A Mother’s Trauma

In learning my parent’s origins stories (they were both adoptees), I have learned a lot about trauma. So much so that I can now recognize it in my own self. Some thoughts from Psychology Today – LINK>How a Legacy of Trauma Affects Parent-Child Relationships.

In the 1998 Adverse Childhood Events study, in a sample of approx 10,000 individuals, over half of all the people surveyed experienced at least one traumatic childhood event, and one-quarter experienced multiple. Experiencing these traumatic childhood events increased the risk for mental and physical health problems. The more traumatic the events, the higher the likelihood of poor outcomes as an adult. These poor outcomes include substance abuse, depression, risky sexual behavior, obesity, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and others.

Childhood trauma can be transmitted across generations. When a mother experiences childhood trauma, that can go on to influence her bond with her own child. In effect, the trauma reaches forward to disrupt the normal back-and-forth engagement of mothers with their newborns. Having more adverse childhood events can predict a mother’s stress and mental health before she delivers. Women with more childhood trauma had more depression (before childbirth), more family stress, more daily hassles, more economic hardships, and experienced more negative life events. Stress and depression before childbirth are associated with postpartum depression having worse symptoms. In effect, childhood trauma sets mothers up to fail. They are in a worse situation when they are about to have a child, and that appears to make their postpartum depression worse.

This is how childhood trauma is passed forward to the next generation –

  1. A woman experiences trauma as a child.
  2. This trauma leads the woman to experience more stress and depression and to be at risk for other health problems.
  3. When this woman becomes pregnant, these stressors affect how she will respond to childbirth.
  4. Because she has more stress, the woman is more likely to experience postpartum depression.
  5. This postpartum depression disrupts the bond she is trying to form with her child. She is less able to engage fully and positively with her child.
  6. The poorer interaction and bonding end up harming both mother and child. The child is more likely to be stressed and have behavioral problems, and the mother is more likely to be depressed.

Evidence shows is that maternal mental health is not something that’s isolated from the rest of the family. It’s something that influences the entire family system, including the bond formed between mother and child. Healing needs to occur.

Better Than Punishment

From an editorial by Dr Ruchi Fitzgerald in LINK>The Hill – It is unimaginable to think that seeking medical care could lead to losing custody of their children, yet this devastating predicament is all too real for pregnant women with addiction in the United States.

In our nation, the systems that aim to protect children from the negative effects of parental substance use often prioritize punitive approaches over proven public health strategies. Fear of being imprisoned, stigmatized, or having their children removed makes many pregnant women with substance use disorder (SUD) afraid to seek medical care, contributing to poor maternal health outcomes. Some state laws, including the law in Illinois where I practice medicine, even mandate that health care professionals report cases of detected controlled substances in a newborn infant as evidence of child neglect. While the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) has no such requirement, CAPTA’s overall approach has led to significant variation in how states, counties, and health care institutions implement its reporting requirements when substance use is involved during pregnancy.

Threatening child removal from a birthing parent with SUD without a risk assessment or evidence of danger to the child is not ultimately improving outcomes for children. Research has long shown that children affected by the trauma of family separation tend to experience worse long-term outcomes on a wide variety of indicators, including education, health, housing, employment, substance use, and involvement with the criminal legal system. With over 400,000 children in foster care across the US, the trauma of separation is widespread.

Forced separation also brings unimaginable pain to new families – triggering in some parents such despair that it deters them from seeking or continuing medical care, including treatment for their SUD. Study after study shows child removal is associated with parental overdose, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and return to substance use. Public health-oriented policies that can result in better outcomes for families are part of the solution.

As an addiction specialist physician, I am involved with the medical care of pregnant people with SUD, and I have seen counterproductive child welfare and criminal investigations launched after a newborn infant tests positive for a controlled substance. Too often, parents become hopeless about recovery once their children are gone.

Current policies and practices related to substance use during pregnancy also result in serious health inequities. Pregnant and parenting people of color are much more likely to be impacted by forced separation than their white counterparts. Black parents are more likely than white parents to be reported for substance use to the child protection system at their child’s delivery despite similar rates of drug use, while Black and Native American children are overrepresented in foster care relative to white children in the setting of parental substance use.

Meanwhile, health outcomes are unnecessarily worse for mothers of color. Since 80% of maternal deaths are due to overdose or suicide, we can save lives with policies and practices that encourage treatment, not punish pregnant women with SUD for seeking it. Policymakers need to remove controlled substance reporting requirements that overreach and contribute to the current punitive approach.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) encourages child protective services agencies not to use evidence of substance use, alone, to sanction parents—especially with child removal; supports eliminating in-utero substance exposure language in child abuse and neglect statutes, and supports policies that extend social services benefits and financial support to families in need.

The US Senate will contemplate reauthorizing and reforming CAPTA this year. Health care professionals who treat pregnant people with medications for addiction, like methadone or buprenorphine for opioid use disorder, do not need to involve child protective services for that reason.

Recovery is possible with the right medical care and support. A pregnant person with addiction seeking medical care deserves a chance to heal and recover with her children. If we want pregnant and parenting people with addiction to access the evidence-based treatment they need, our decision-makers must embrace public health over punitive policies.

NOT A Gotcha Argument

Whether this statistic is accurate or not, it is an issue close to my own heart and personal experience in life. That said, just passing this along as a kind of public service announcement from one such adoptee.

I am an adoptee whose birth mom was a drug and alcohol addicted teenager, who repeatedly abandoned me, abused me, and exposed me to abuse including child sexual abuse.

STOP USING ME AND PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A “GOTCHA” ARGUMENT FOR ADOPTION.

I couldn’t be more sick of reading, over and over, “what about the kids who actually do have abusive or neglectful birth parents, don’t they deserve adoption?”

No. There are still better ways. One of the biggest ways to prevent sad stories like mine is to fight for abortion rights, and fight against the societal narrative that vilifies aborting an unwanted child and glorifies adoption.

But most importantly, if you’re not one of us, you don’t get to use our existence as a talking point in your agenda.

(With my own apologies for making this my blog today but I thought it was important.)

Abandoned Babies

Will there be more with Roe v Wade being overturned ?

A story making national news recently is about a baby found, wrapped in a towel in a stroller outside of an apartment complex, by a Coeur d’Alene Idaho resident when they left for work around 6 am.

A woman, identified as an adoptee named Webster, in this youtube news story, is quoted saying “We are living in a time where people feel like they are alone and they don’t have a support system or a net under them.”

If you are considering abandoning your baby, you likely are experiencing many different thoughts and emotions as well as being faced with one of the toughest decisions of your life. You might have one or more of these factors occurring in your life –

  • Have a history of substance use and are afraid to share that information
  • Not have proper documentation to live in the United States and fear being deported  
  • Be living with a mental illness or facing postpartum depression  
  • Be afraid of the baby’s father or worried about what your loved ones might say   

If you are desperate for help, you may see no other option but to abandon your baby. Perhaps, you even wonder what happens to abandoned babies after they’re found?    

There are really only three ways a woman can abandon her baby:  

  • A prospective birth mother can work with an adoption agency to make an adoption plan for her baby. This is one legal way a woman can release her baby from her responsibility to care for it.
  • With Safe Haven laws, women have the option to safely, legally, and anonymously leave their baby, unharmed, at a safe haven location — like a hospital, fire station, or a church.   
  • Even so, some women, feeling completely overwhelmed and unaware of the first two options, will take drastic measures, such as the case with this abandoned baby, leaving them in an unsafe condition.  

The way a baby is surrendered will affect what happens to the infant afterwards. Babies who are abandoned in an unsafe location often have tragic outcomes because help comes too late. Babies that are found safely, after they’ve been abandoned or surrendered to a safe haven location, become a ward of the state.

Safe Haven babies are typically checked out by a doctor and, if necessary, given medical care. Afterward, the state’s social services department is contacted. Once that happens, the baby will be placed into foster care and become a ward of the state. In some situations, a private adoption agency might be contacted.  

When a woman does not contact an adoption agency for assistance or use the Safe Haven law locations, if she can be located and identified, criminal charges will be filed against her. That is why the police in Coeur d’Alene Idaho are actively seeking information about who the woman may have been.

Adding More Misery To The Suffering

Daisy Hohman’s 3 children spent 20 months in foster care.
When she was reunited with her children,
she received a bill of nearly $20,000 for her children’s foster care.

An NPR investigation found that it’s common in every state for parents to get a bill for the cost of foster care. Case in point –

Just before Christmas in 2017, Daisy Hohman, desperate for a place to live, moved into the trailer of a friend who had an extra room to rent. After Hohman separated from her husband, she and her three kids had moved from place to place, staying with family and friends.

Two weeks after living at this new address, police raided the trailer. They found drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to court records. Others were the target. Hohman was at work at the time. No drugs were found on her, and police did not charge her.

Even so, child protective services in Wright County MN placed her two daughters, then 15 and 10, and a son, 9 in foster care. County officials argued she had left the children in an unsafe place. After 20 months in foster care, her three children were able to come back home. Then, Hohman got a bill from Wright County to reimburse it for some of the cost of that foster care. She owed: $19,530.07

Two federal laws contradict each other: One recent law directs child-welfare agencies to prioritize reuniting families. The other law, almost 40 years old, tells states to charge parents for the cost of child care, which makes it harder for families to reunite.

The NPR investigation also found that: The fees are charged almost exclusively to the poorest families; when parents get billed, children spend added time in foster care and the extra debt follows families for years, making it hard for them to climb out of poverty and the government raises little money, or even loses money, when it tries to collect.

Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement for children, provided by state and county child welfare agencies when families are in crisis or when parents are thought to be unable to care for their children. It’s long been recognized that the best thing for most children in foster care is to be reunited with their family. While in foster care, children live with foster families, with relatives or in group settings. More than half will eventually return home. There were 407,493 children in foster care on the day the federal government counted in 2020 to get a snapshot of the population, according to a report from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

In 2018, Congress reformed funding for child welfare when it passed the Family First Preservation Services Act. That law tells state child welfare agencies to make it their focus to preserve families and help struggling parents get their lives back on track so that they can be safely reunited with their children. But a 1984 federal law still stands, as do additional state laws, that call for making many parents pay for some of the cost of foster care. Among the costs the federal funding pays for: shelter, food and clothing; case planning; and the training of foster parents.

Of parents who get billed for foster care: A disproportionate number are people of color. Many are homeless. Many have mental health or substance abuse problems. And almost all are poor — really poor. 80% of the families in a data analysis had incomes less than $10,000 annually. Try living off $10,000 a year. You’re in deep poverty, if you’re living off that kind of money.

Hohman followed the case plan set out by county caseworkers in 2018 and completed the steps required to get her children back. She went to family therapy sessions and submitted to random drug testing. She saved up enough money to rent an apartment in order to provide the children with safe and suitable housing. The $19,530 bill was just a few thousand dollars less than Hohman’s entire paycheck in 2019, for her seasonal work at a landscaping company. The debt went on her credit report, which made it hard to find an apartment big enough for her family or to buy a dependable car to get to work. When Hohman filed her income tax, instead of getting the large refund she expected it was garnished.

To charge poor families for the cost of foster care sets them up for failure. Mothers, often single, work overtime or take on a second job to pay off the debt forcing them to leave the kids alone and unattended. While it might not seem like that much to have to pay fifty or a hundred or two hundred dollars a month in foster care child support, if you are a very low-income, low-earnings mom, that can be the difference in being able to save money for first and last month’s rent on a decent apartment or not. The mom is at risk of losing her child again because of poverty. That doesn’t make sense from a child well-being, family well-being standpoint, or from a taxpayer standpoint.

Even a small bill delayed reunification by almost seven months. That extra time in foster care matters. It increases the cost to taxpayers since daily foster care is expensive. And it inflates the bill to parents. It matters because the clock ticking for the parents. They are given a set amount of time to prove they should be allowed to get their child(ren) back. Once a child spends 15 out of 22 months in foster care, it is federal law that the child-welfare agency must begin procedures to terminate a parent’s rights to the child with a goal of placing the child for adoption in order to find them a permanent home.

Today’s child welfare system also struggles with conflicting incentives. Laws meant to hold parents accountable can end up keeping families apart. When parents don’t pay, states garnish wages, take tax refunds and stimulus checks and report parents to credit bureaus. In the overwhelming majority of the people in the child welfare program, a significant contributor to the reason they’re in that situation is poverty. Abuse is an issue in only 16% of cases when kids go to foster care. Mostly, the issue is the parent’s neglect. Maybe there’s no food in the refrigerator or the parent is homeless or addicted. These are issues of poverty.

States don’t actually have to go after this money. There’s some leeway in the 1984 federal law. It says parents should be charged to reimburse some of the cost of foster care – when it’s appropriate but it does not define the term appropriate.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

I came across the letters DBT in an adoption discussion group and as I had no idea what it stood for, I do what I often do in such cases, google it. It started with this comment by an adoptive parent –

“I just had it click in a deeper way yesterday that I put a lot of thought and effort and will into trying to heal my kids. As if I’m a savior. As if I can. But in DBT, it talks about creating a change ready environment for your kids. By the way, if you can find a child DBT therapist, do it! Its expensive and it involves individual and parent and group sessions, and its work and learning, but its SUPER effective. All kinds of stuff prove its effective. Back to my point, if I’m trying to create a change ready environment, a calm and consistent environment where mean words can roll off my back, and I’m working on me setting the example that self care is important and I’m working on me so that I can hold all the pain they send my way, that’s where I make the most beneficial impact for all of the family and that’s where I love my kids the best.”

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy that began with efforts to treat borderline personality disorder. There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioral patterns such as self-harm and substance abuse. Many of these issues are aspects experienced by adoptees due to the trauma of separation from their original mothers.

One woman commented – “DBT absolutely SAVED MY LIFE. The skills helped me stop with SI and I then went on to lose 140 pounds.” I had to google SI too. Introverted sensing (or Si for short) is one of the most misunderstood cognitive functions in the personality community. Introverted sensing is a perceiving (information-gathering) function. It focuses on the subjective, internal world of personal experience and compares and contrasts new experiences to past experiences and memories. Si-users tend to notice patterns repeating themselves and are quick to spot changes or inconsistencies in their environment. They trust personal experience and subjectively explore the impact of current events, choices, and consequences.

So back to DBT . . . .

Its main goals are to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships with others. DBT can help people who have difficulty with emotional regulation or are exhibiting self-destructive behaviors (eating disorders and substance use disorders). DBT is sometimes used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

DBT incorporates a philosophical process called dialectics. Dialectics is based on the concept that everything is composed of opposites and that change occurs when there is a “dialogue” between opposing forces. The process makes three basic assumptions:

All things are interconnected.
Change is constant and inevitable.
Opposites can be integrated to form a closer approximation.

Mindfulness skills help you slow down and focus on using healthy coping skills when you are in the midst of emotional pain. The strategy can also help you stay calm and avoid engaging in automatic negative thought patterns and impulsive behavior. BTW, I am a BIG believer in mindfulness.

Distress tolerance techniques help prepare you for intense emotions and empower you to cope with them with a more positive long-term outlook. There are 4 techniques – distraction, improving the moment, self-soothing and thinking of the pros and cons of not tolerating distress.

Emotion regulation lets you navigate powerful feelings in a more effective way. The skills you learn will help you to identify, name, and change your emotions. When you are able to recognize and cope with intense negative emotions (for example, anger), it reduces your emotional vulnerability and helps you have more positive emotional experiences.

Interpersonal effectiveness helps you to become more assertive in a relationship (for example, expressing your needs and be able to say “no”) while still keeping a relationship positive and healthy. You will learn to listen and communicate more effectively, deal with challenging people, and respect yourself and others.

Kinship Caregivers

On December 29, 2020 – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 310 which authorizes payments from the Ohio Dept of Job and Family Services to pay kinship caregivers. This is a big deal and hopefully other states will now follow suit. The governor noted that in Ohio alone, there are 2,600 kinship caregivers providing safe and loving homes to nearly 4,000 children registered in a children services agency.

The governor ordered the development of a system to pay kinship cargivers by June 1, 2021 and that payments to caregivers should be caught up retroactively to the date the bill was signed – December 29, 2020.

Across the United States, 4% of all children (more than 2.65 million) are in kinship care. In this arrangement, relatives raise kids when their parents cannot care for them. This is an effort to keep families together.

There are three general and sometimes overlapping categories of kinship care. These categories are: 1) private or informal care, where families make arrangements with or without legal recognition of a caregiver’s status; 2) diversion kinship care, where children who have come to the attention of child welfare agencies end up living with a relative or close friend of the family. and 3) licensed or unlicensed kinship care, where kids live with relatives but remain in legal custody of the state.

There are many reasons that a parent may be unwilling or unable to care for their child, including death, incarceration, illness, substance abuse and financial instability.

Kinship caregivers may be grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or family friends of the children in their care. Caregivers often feel responsible for extended family members and prefer to care personally for relative children who may otherwise end up in non-relative foster care. In many cases, grandparents and other relatives have not planned for the addition of children to the home, and may have problems accessing social and educational services that have changed drastically since they raised their own children. Some caregivers experience feelings of guilt and social isolation resulting from fear of the perception that one failed in raising one’s own child. Caregivers may be hesitant to pursue legal custody of children in their care if they want to maintain relationships with the child’s biological parent, or if they view the arrangement as temporary.

Grandfamilies face obstacles not encountered by biological parents such as obtaining medical and educational services for the children in their care and securing affordable housing in which they can live with the children. Many of the public assistance benefits available to birth parents and foster families are not available to kinship caregivers even if the child was receiving assistance in the parent’s home. Some states offer “subsidized guardianship” payments for kinship families with children placed through children services agencies or foster care agencies, although these payments are substantially less than payments that non-relative foster families receive.

Financial issues are common for many older grandparents and great-grandparents who are living on fixed incomes, Social Security or disability payments, who did not plan to raise children late in life, or who are raising children with demanding educational or medical needs. The prevalence of these financial issues has led to a high rate of food insecurity, job loss and home foreclosure in families who support additional children without adequate financial and service assistance. The obstacles can be even greater in “informal” care arrangements, where the relative caregiver lacks a legal relationship (such as legal custody or guardianship) with the child.

If Others Are Uncomfortable

It seems to depend upon what your life experience has given your perspective. An adoptive parent writes – My 6 year old’s story is a rough one for both she and her mommy. We have shared her story with her with the help of a therapist because we want her to feel empowered and never feel like she has to hold any kind of shame. As she is getting older, she has begun to just kind of drop her story to friends of hers and their parents and I can often tell that people are caught off guard and at times seem uncomfortable. Is it better for us to let her share as she feels comfortable or, should we teach her to guard her truth?

From adoptees come these responses –

Never make her guard her truth, always let her define her story.

and

I kind of don’t care if others are uncomfortable. That’s their problem. Feeling like we have to hide to make others comfortable creates shame in my opinion.

Then, from a professional –

I  work in the field of mental health/sex offenders/criminal justice/substance abuse. I think an age appropriate discussion about disclosing appropriately, and over sharing to people she doesn’t really know, is definitely warranted. While it’s her story, her ideas of boundaries are just being formed at 6, and people who endure trauma can often overshare as a coping mechanism, something that she may battle throughout the rest of her life. She should start practicing healthy boundaries now. I personally struggle with this, and often have to remind myself that every conversation I have with others isn’t a therapy session. I’d definitely bring this up with her therapist to help her work on boundaries; if she doesn’t have one, you might consider getting one to help her navigate her past trauma in healthy ways.

In response, another woman asks – what consequences are you worried about as she shares her story as she feels comfortable ? I’m asking about consequences to her, not related to people around her being uncomfortable.

To which the professional responds – what someone wants to share at 6, isn’t necessarily what someone wants to share at 16, or 36, etc. I’m not saying that because it’s shameful, because it’s not, but it can be harder to gauge at that age who is safe to disclose private information to.

I work with sex offenders, so I’m paranoid. Let’s say the child mentions to an adult in their life (who happens to be an undiscovered sexual predator) that they’ve previously been victimized, sexually. Sex Offenders are opportunistic, and may see the child as a viable option for future abuse. This isn’t something that’s rare. Survivors are often revictimized. The original comment didn’t say this was the specific scenario, I’m just pointing out why it may be a concern.

Another woman affirms this perspective by sharing – My therapist told me about over sharing my child abuse and my past domestic violent relationship and how it can definitely make you a target for people that look for vulnerable people. They’ll take your trauma and use it against you when the time is right. My Domestic Violence Survivors class also told me this. I was over sharing at 21 as a way to cope, to see if people were like me or had sympathy.

And yet another – Yeah as a survivor of serious childhood abuse and former over sharer, learning that I could choose what to share and who with was a big piece of recovery. And some people can have some really fucked up and dehumanizing reactions to hearing someone else’s pain, reactions I wouldn’t wish on a little kid. They sucked enough as an adolescent and young adult.

These situations are not rare, here’s another – Oversharing can go from awkward at best to seriously dangerous really fast and in ways that can’t be taken back. Oversharing has showed up in my life as a fawning trauma response. I didn’t learn how to think critically about what kinds of things I was actually disclosing to people until I was in my 20s and I feel like thinking about it in age appropriate ways at age 6 could have been a huge advantage in life.

And one more example –  A young woman I know really well shared her abuse story with potential boyfriends because it was important for her to be accepted and she attracted some pretty yucky pedophiles who got off on just hearing her story.

And to balance things out, here is another adoptive parent’s perspective –

Our daughter likes to share her story on her terms as she chooses. Sometimes she shares a lot, sometimes only pieces (like “I have two moms and two dads” and nothing else). I always tell her it’s her story, and she can share what she chooses. If people don’t understand and ask questions, she can answer or say “I don’t care to share that part.”

None of us owe other people parts of ourselves. We gift to others the chance to know parts of us, and those gifts, depending on how they are received, may or may not lead to more sharing. Our daughter is carrying a heavy load and will have to navigate a challenging life as a result of her adoption. I decided (based on hearing so much from adoptees) to learn how to make her feel empowered by owning her story since so much has been taken from her. This sharing can at least belong to her and be on her terms.

PS. If she shares in a school environment, like an “About Me” project, I inform the teacher ahead of time that I will be attending class to help support her if there are difficult questions. Nothing has ever come up, but our daughter has appreciated me having her back.