Should You Be an ‘Open Book’ in Adoption

Dawn Davenport


How much of your adopted child's history should you share?

How open should you be about your child’s pre-adoption life history?

When we are first matched with our child or are in the midst of the early stages of adoption, it is tempting to want to share with the world all about our practically perfect child that joined our family in the practically perfect way of adoption.

We had placement 3 weeks ago of a beautiful 17 month old girl from foster-adopt. Friends and family have questions about why she was in foster and what her story is. Honestly, I’m an open book….I’ll tell anyone anything and I understand their curiosity, but I wonder, should I?

Be extremely careful about sharing too much personal detail about your child’s story. This goes for friends and family.

Can’t Tell Just One Person

I am a very good secret keeper. I don’t have a tendency to judge, and I don’t have a tendency to share someone else’s story. BUT, I often tell my husband what I’ve been told, unless specific told not to. He is my trusted other. I don’t feel like I’m violating a confidence, unless they’ve asked me not to. I assume what I tell my best friends will be shared with their husbands. That is just how it is. Most of us have a trusted other. Some people have quite a few.

You tell one person and they tell one or two people, and they tell one or two people, and pretty soon many people who comes into contact with your kiddo has heard some version of his story. Once shared, you can’t un-share.

Come Back to Haunt Your Child

People don’t forget juicy stories. It may not matter to you at all that your child’s (take your pick):

  1. Birth dad is in jail for drugs, domestic violence, or murder;
  2. Birth mom is a drug addict that lost every child she gave birth to;
  3. Was conceived by rape, born drug dependent, or was abandoned on the side of the road.

While it may not matter to you, trust me, it will matter to others.

When our kids are little it seems harmless. I mean, who would judge an innocent toddler? It’s far more likely to elicit sympathy, rather than judgment, when they are young.

Your child, however, won’t always be an adorable toddler. She will be a petulant tween going through a fairly typical sticky finger stage and snatching a candy bar at the grocery. He will be a sullen scary looking teen with facial hair asking someone’s daughter out on a date.

I know this sounds harsh, but I have seen it happen, and the people doing the judging aren’t intentionally mean.

Examine Your Reasons for Wanting to Share

Maybe, just maybe, do you feel that sharing the deep dark parts of your child’s story makes you look a little braver or a little more like a savior? It’s worth some thought.

Stay General and Stay Positive

I personally don’t like the “that’s private information” response to people asking intrusive questions. Not because it isn’t true since of course it is “private”, but because it implies something dark that you are hiding. It also tends to shame and embarrass the questioner.

Most times people are simply asking without having thought through the implications of their question. Most of us humans are curious, but not mean. No need to embarrass someone for being human.

I like to give them the truth, just a generalized and edited version of the truth, with an eye to educating them.

  • “Her birthparents weren’t able to parent her.”
  • “Conditions in her birth country weren’t ideal for her, so we were blessed to be her parents.”
  • “There are a lot of people in her life that love her, but her biological parents weren’t ready to parent. Adoption has been great for our family. If you want more info on adoption, I suggest you go to and check out some of their resources.”

Bottom line: you may be an open book, but the only book you have a right to open to the world is your own.

What do you say when people ask for too much information about the specifics of why your child was placed for adoption?


Image credit: muffin9101985

23/07/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 14 Comments

14 Responses to Should You Be an ‘Open Book’ in Adoption

  1. Avatar MFT says:

    Our daughter was born in China and joined our family in 2008. She, herself is a really open book on the subject now (at 7) but I worry about whether she will regret sharing what she has shared later on in life.

    I also struggle with how to respond when people (often strangers or new acquaintances, but also sometimes friends or family members) make statements about the plight of abandoned girls in China (“isn’t it terrible how they just abandon their kids because they’re girls” or comments about the one-child policy) I agree with AnonAP that this can sometimes be a fishing expedition but in our case, I think it is more, well, I’m not sure what it is. But given my incredible love for China, and my respect for their policies (even though I would not have chosen them and sure am glad those policies don’t exist in my own country) my knee-jerk reaction tends to be to justify China’s decisions as well as the decisions parents feel forced to make or correct their false perceptions. It makes me feel better to educate people about the political landscape in China, but invariably, it ends up making either China or our daughter’s birthparents look bad, and I work so hard at avoiding that.

    When it comes to the specifics of our daughter’s particular story, I love the suggestions other commenters have made to deflect (such as explaining that it is our child’s story and hers to decide what to do with.) I feel so blessed to have access to wonderful resources such as this one to educate myself, critically question my environment, bounce ideas off of people and hear about how other deal with the challenges we all face. Keep up the great work!

  2. Avatar cb says:

    I think when giving answers, especially to people who may be in one’s day to day life, one has to also imagine that the answer may one day get back to one’s child so one should think carefully how one phrases one’s answer.

    Btw unless the bparents have outright said this, I don’t really like the phrase “but her biological parents weren’t ready to parent” as a “cover all” phrase. I can understand why AP like it as it absolves them of guilt but it can be interpreted differently by the child – it can come across as “but her biological parents just couldn’t be bothered”.

    I don’t know that there really is a “cover all” phrase. Perhaps something related to security? Even those who really don’t want to parent would consider security as part of the reason for relinquishment (because they know their child would be more secure with parents who didn’t resent them). So perhaps one could say “I’m not really sure of the reasons for relinquishment but I would assume that my child’s bparents wanted her to have a more secure future than they felt they could provide”.

    In fact, if one looks at any agency site or an pro-adoption site, “security” is often a key part of their argument for adoption. If I were a counsellor who was hoping to get a woman with an unplanned pregnancy to consider adoption, the best way to achieve that objective would be to undermine their sense of security towards parenting and promote the security that could be provided by APs. Once one has planted those seeds of doubt, it makes the rest of the job much easier – in fact, the agencies themselves know that they can then “help” the pregnant client look at options knowing full well that the “seed of doubt” planted by the “options counsellor” will have affected the eparents’ outlook.

  3. Avatar cb says:

    “Your daughter is so cute! Such a shame that drugs are just destroying so many families today, isn’t it? She’s so lucky to have you”

    Anon AP, you could say something like “It’s funny how people always assume that all adopted children must have been born to drug addicts. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why a child might end up being adopted and I don’t plan to share my daughter’s story with anyone but her”. Actually, just going and looking back at post #3, the above answer is similar to your fourth hypothetical reply.

    I think you’ll do fine figuring things out, anon AP – based on what I’ve seen of you on these boards, I think you have a good head on your shoulders 🙂

  4. I love these recommendations! Putting them into practice starting now!

  5. Avatar Star says:

    I love these responses! Think I needed to see this. Thanks!!!!!!!!

  6. Avatar Anon AP says:

    I’ve been thinking about this more, and one thing I’d like to share with any of the prospective APs out there is that one of the hardest scenarios to deal with is not the direct questioner but the annoying speculator. The people who say, “it must have been so hard for her birthmother to have a kid so young.” See that? That’s a fishing trip. Was she young? was she not? etc. If you let it stand you feel like you’ve affirmed something that may or may not be true, and if you correct them, you’ve given them exactly the information they want and you’re trying to keep from spreading all over. So irritating! Work out a few general, neutral, non-informative answers that you can pull out for those people to deflect them. How about, “Your daughter is so cute! Such a shame that drugs are just destroying so many families today, isn’t it? She’s so lucky to have you.” yeah. Come up with an answer for that one without using your child’s birthparents as your counterargument to their ignorance. Practice, practice so that you aren’t just flabbergasted when it happens. OK, never mind, you will be flabbergasted, but practice will help you manage it.

    It may be tempting at first blush to pull your family in as the example for why people are wrong in their assumptions, but always remember that diminishing one person’s ignorance should not come at the cost of your family’s privacy.

    And warn your family members not to share as well. There may be things you tell close family that you do not tell friends or extended family. Make sure the rules are clear to everyone BEFORE you share the information.

    Dawn, was it you who had the quote on the difference between secrecy and privacy? If I remember right it was that secrecy is keeping information from the person it pertains to and privacy is keeping information from people who don’t need to know it. Secrecy is damaging, privacy is about having respect. Anyway, whatever or whoever was the source of that, I find it a brilliant distinction that really helps me get my head around different situations. It isn’t perfect, but it helps.

  7. Avatar Greg says:

    “Bottom line: you may be an open book, but the only book you have a right to open to the world is your own.”

    So true Dawn. I think this not only applies to parents in adoption but also to any relationship in life.

  8. Avatar marilynn says:

    Good answers. Since those people are really extended family now just think how any member of your family would feel if their drug addictions or prison time or general life’s errors were being talked about with strangers to them.

  9. Avatar Anon AP says:

    We’re practicing:
    – You know, people choose adoption for their kids for a lot of reasons. Every circumstance is different, but the short story is that they felt that this was the best choice for them and their child.
    – Lots of reasons led to her joining our family. Maybe she’ll share some of those with you as she gets older, but it’s really her story and not mine.
    – I know it’s really tempting to speculate, but each situation is unique. For privacy reasons I can’t share with you my daughter’s story, and if you don’t mind, I’d really appreciate you just accepting that she’s here. Speculating without information is really just idle gossip, and that’s pretty disrespectful to her and her birthfamily.
    – I’m sure you can think of many reasons why a child might be removed from her birthfamily or placed for adoption. Do any of them really matter to your sharing our joy at having her in our family? Nah. So, how’s the weather out by you?
    – Yeah…that’s private.

  10. Avatar GDR says:

    Love this! We hope to adopt soon and I think I really needed to read this. I am also an open book, and would have told everything to everybody!

  11. Avatar Adoptive mama says:

    Wish I had read this 10 years ago. I do think my parents and aunts treat our son differently and I think it is because they subconsciously think that he has bad genes. His birth father is in jail for life and his birth mother is (was?) a big time drug addict. I told them this information and didn’t think a thing of it. Now I wished I hadn’t been such an open book.

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