TMI (Too Much Information)- Should We Tell Our Child’s “Story”

Dawn Davenport


Are you sharing too much information when you tell strangers about your child's adoption or birth parents?

Are you sharing too much information when you tell strangers about your child’s adoption or birth parents?

In my family, especially now that I have teens, the expression “TMI” is often in use. My kids, usually one of my sons, will go into great scatological detail about something that we don’t really need or want to hear, and someone else, usually me, will say “Okay guys, TMI” (too much information). The tables are turned when I start into one of my “information is power” speeches. Someone, usually one of my kids, will say “TMI mom”, especially if I’m talking about reproduction. (Of course they’ve also been known to put their hands over there ears and chant “lalalalalalal”.)

It’s not just potty and sex talk that can provide too much information. This point was brought home to me a few weeks ago. We were picking up one of our daughters from a week long event and going through the usual rigmarole of waiting and idle talking with other parents while our kids collected shoes, towels, cell numbers, etc. I was chatting with a dad as our children were exchanging information. He asked what I did, and when he heard that I was involved with infertility and adoption, he told me that his children were adopted. He then proceeded to tell me in detail his son’s birth family history: mother had affair while married, got pregnant, husband had hissy-fit and rejected child, child “put up for adoption”.  All the while, as he talked, I squirmed. His two children, and mine, and their friends were standing a couple of feet away. As soon as I could, I changed the subject.

This man was not a bad father; he clearly adored his children and would do anything for them. Maybe it didn’t bother them at all, but it bothered me big time. This information was none of my business, and I wanted to scream TMI.

TMI in adoption doesn’t have to be so obvious as sharing intimate details with a complete stranger. I know a woman, who is one of the kindest people in the world and would never intentionally hurt anyone, much less her child. And yet, while she was waiting for her daughter to join the family, she shared with close and not-so-close friends her soon to be daughter’s personal birth family history which involved prison and major dysfunction. I am sure that this information was passed along in the normal course of conversation. (Hey, did you hear so and so is adopting. It’s taking a bit longer since the mother is in jail and the father is a druggie and the aunt….”) The community has embraced this beautiful child, but she won’t always be a young child and this is very personal information that belongs to her, but now is known by many others that she didn’t choose to tell.

I know of a teen who was absolutely horrified when he realized that his friends might somehow know that he spent a few years living in a car prior to his adoption. His parents assured him it wasn’t a reflection on him or his character, but that isn’t an easy sell when you are 16.

But then I look at myself. On occasion I have told people that one of my children was a special needs adoption. I love the twist in the story: us expecting an ill, small, frail child and being overwhelmed with joy when we first saw our healthy, husky, robust child. I know there is nothing too personal about this story, but is it anyone else’s business? And perhaps more important, is it my story to tell? That’s a hard question to answer because in truth it’s a story we share. For me it is a story of hope and grace, but for my child, is it a story of rescue? I have never once felt like we rescued this child. It feels much more like we received the greatest blessing imaginable, but what does my story say to others? To my child?

The truth is, I don’t know the answer. What I do know, is that I feel differently about telling the story now that my child is older.  The story doesn’t feel like mine, even though I share a role. Unfortunately, once a story is told, it can’t be untold. People don’t forget. Even as I type, I wonder is it OK to share it with you, even though no name is involved. I concluded yes, but only because I’ve never mentioned names, and the focus is on my thoughts as a parent. But still, I wonder and worry.

I am not criticizing sharing private details of your child’s prior life with a select few. We all need support. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t share details with those professionals that need this information to help us and our children. But, I think we have to be very careful what we tell and to whom. Not all family and friends need to know everything. There is a big difference between secrecy and privacy. It is far too easy for normally caring and thoughtful adoptive parents to fall into the TMI trap. I know because I’ve been there myself.

Image credit: Susan NYC

26/08/2008 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to TMI (Too Much Information)- Should We Tell Our Child’s “Story”

  1. Avatar Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

    My daughter has heard her story, and at 9, she is the one who chooses with whom the information is shared. There is one part of her story that only about 5 people know, because it is not information I believe she can process fully and I will tell her later. It is her story to tell. I will say how old she was when I got her (30 days) and the like, but it is not her story as much as mine.

  2. Avatar TortoiseMum says:

    Dawn, I’m a chronic oversharer. I wrote a funny-ish post about it here:

    But the truth is I wonder how my daughter will feel about all this when she’s older. Even the fact that I blog … will she loathe it? Be embarrassed about it? Think I’m stealing her life and using it for my own ends?

    And then when I think about her sibling who is yet to arrive but will come to us from foster/adoption, I think will that child feel left out because so much of her story won’t be public for the very reason that she did come to us via foster care. Will she think that because I can’t gush about every detail of her life that means I don’t want to?

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Oh, I loved it!! Everyone, go read it. Also, you’ve won a coveted (at least in my imagination) spot on the blogroll. Actually two since your blog fits under both donor sperm and foster care adoption.

  3. Avatar Michelle @ Bridge Communications says:

    What about positive information about birth family? Is there a limit there too?

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Michelle, I’m not sure. We always need more positive info “out there”, but I guess I’d still wonder if it’s yours to tell. Mind you, I have done it, but I’m working on the idea that it’s best to keep it general and leave the details to your child to tell. What do you think?

  4. Avatar MamaBev says:

    My son has FASD and ADHD and I often need to bring this to the attention of the school personel-am I out of line to reveal this information? His older sisters have stopped talking about the mother very much, but for them, I don’t mention the mother’s alcholism as it did not affect them prenataly since it started after they were born. I leave that to them to tell as part of their story if they choose. But, since it impacts my son’s daily life, I feel I have the right to inform people who need to know. Yes? NO? Maybe???

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Mama Bev, that is such a good question that I turned my response into a blog. Please check out my thoughts at and make sure to read how others have handled similar situations.

  5. Avatar Cathy says:

    In general I agree, and certainly in the examples you mentioned, where the information was very stigmatizing. However, I wonder about a couple of things:

    1) Why do we feel that sharing personal information about an adopted child is hugely different than sharing information about a biological child? For example, if you had a difficult pregnancy with a bio child, or she was born with a heart defect that was later corrected (or not), would we have that same concern about the child’s privacy? I think it’s important not to be so overly into the “privacy” issue that we make our child confused or concerned in a way that they may not be otherwise. Not saying we should all be posting signs with every detail of our child’s history, but I feel like there should be a happy medium rather than going to the other extreme in the “I don’t share my child’s story” direction.

    As a personal example, I was born with bilateral club feet. I was treated for years with casts and had a surgery, but by about age 3, no one who didn’t already know me as a baby would have known about my condition, as I was walking normally. My parents were always very open in talking about my history if the topic came up in a natural, appropriate context, and I never minded, never felt it was something to hide or being ashamed of or that was “my private history”. If I had, I know I could have said so to my parents and they would have been sensitive to my feelings and we would have negotiated what I felt comfortable having them say. I know this is not the same as an issue like birth parent incarceration, drugs, etc. But it is an example of how we might think differently about a bio child’s personal/special needs history than an adopted child’s personal/special needs history, and I think we should consider why this is so and if it’s always appropriate or necessary.

    2) I think that as soon as the child is old enough to engage in conversation about this topic, she or he should be the one to be consulted about how much and what kind of information is okay for the parent to share. I would ask my child, “How do you feel when someone asks about your adoption? Does it feel okay to you when Mama says xyz…? What would you like me to say when someone asks what we know about your birth parents?” etc. This is empowering for the child and makes it an open dialogue rather a decision to tell/not tell made by the parent. Of course when your child is a baby and toddler, it’s probably better to err on the side of sharing less rather than more info.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Cathy, you raised some good points. My concern is not with physical conditions such as club foot where no one will attach a judgement or stigma, but with things such as birth parent incarceration or drug use. For me, the dilemma is that often parents need or want to share this info with friends and family if they need support with dealing with some of the fall out from these events. The truth is, however, that lots of people will stigmatize the child despite the preaching of not visiting upon the child the sins of the father. I interviewed a woman once who shared that her grandmother remarked when her 11 year old son was going through the fairly typical tween stage of snitching candy from the store–“Well, we should have expected this since his father was in jail.”

      By the way, thank you for giving me things to think about. That’s why I love blogging about things I’m pondering–getting another perspective is powerful.

  6. Avatar Megan says:

    Thank you! Wonderful post…I agree completely as an adoptee and an adoptive mom!

  7. Avatar Carmen says:

    Thank you for such a great post! As an adoptive mom I couldn’t agree more.

  8. Avatar Sara says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. TMI is an issue for all parents and even partners. I tend to be a more private person, while my husband is a tell-all person. Its hard to balance this when there are two adults able to communicate preferences. When its a child, it must be a very difficult balance.

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