I'm part of a "secret" Facebook group for parents of Ethiopian children that has more than 1,000 members. In the last few days, this group has sadly offered more drama than a telenovela. (Confession: I stole that fabulous comparison from a friend who's also in the group. Thank you, friend.)
The controversy flared when a mom I'll call Share-y posted a link to her blog on the group's Facebook page. Share-y had written at length about her 6-year-old Ethiopian daughter's struggle with mental illness, including specific details about diagnosis, shocking behaviors, and treatment plans. Mom also acknowledged in the post that she often feels frustrated, exhausted and resentful over the situation, but now has hope thanks to the support of her child's new doctor, and the child's own desire to overcome her illness. She said she'd chosen to make her daughter's private struggle public in order to help other families. A large photo of her daughter ran at the top of the post.
Many moms in the secret group praised Share-y's courage and openness. Some said her words had helped them because they're facing similar struggles with their kids. But there were also quite a few moms, including adult adoptee moms, who saw Share-y's post as a shocking breach of her daughter's privacy. One vocal group member felt Share-y's writing was contributing to the dangerous public narrative of the "damaged adoptee." Eventually all hell broke loose, with junior high-style name calling, moms being blocked from the group, more name calling, and finally, one member reporting another to Facebook for violating the site usage rules...
Did you follow all that? I barely did, and I was there.
I'm not going to link to Share-y's post, because I personally felt uncomfortable with the details she disclosed about her child and don't want to spread them further, but more importantly, I don't intend this post to be a critique of one particular mother's choices, which are hers to make. I mention this incident to underline what a hot button issue privacy is in adoption. Should you publicize your child's struggles online in order to help others? Or to find help and support for yourself? Should you describe your own complicated feelings about parenting a mentally ill child -- difficult words that child may someday read? Should you crowd-source solutions for your child's PTSD, OCD, or traumatic memories of abuse the way you might crowdsource info on the latest products to style your child's curly hair? Is blogging about mental illness and trauma any different from blogging about your child's diabetes?
Should you consider your child's feelings in any of this?
In the wider world this week, folks have been arguing about the words of Buzz Bishop, the Babble dad who wrote a blog post admitting that he prefers one of his sons to the other; how cruel to the boy who is NOT his favorite, many people said. Even if a parent does have a favorite, he should keep it a secret, some cried. The brouhaha grew big enough that Bishop even landed on Good Morning, America -- and now, to his credit, he's saying the controversy has spurred him to try to be more intentional about bonding with the "lesser" child, whom he loves dearly but just doesn't enjoy hanging with as much.
If telling the world you like one son better than another is wrong, is it wrong to tell the world your little girl just got a full psychiatric work up at UCLA?
A few years ago, I got to hear adoption author/expert Patricia Irwin Johnston speak on the concept of privacy in adoption. Privacy isn't the same as secrecy, she said. Privacy means keeping something that is special for yourself, and sharing it when, where, and with whom you feel comfortable and close. Secrecy is quite different, for it means something that is kept hidden, usually with shame attached. She encouraged those of us in the audience to preserve the privacy of our children, to let them keep control over the sharing of their life stories. I thought it was good advice, and have tried to help my three children develop a healthy sense of privacy. At times they've chosen to share details of their adoption stories with people close them, in ways I perceive to be healthy. I try to support them in reaching out to others, and try not to reveal the private details of their lives to others. I've always felt the details belong to them, not because they are shameful or secret, but because they are private and personal.
With reality TV, social media, and cell phone cameras capturing our every move, we're quickly becoming a "shameless" society. I think I saw somewhere that one of the Kardashians recently even gave birth for the tv cameras. Birth is totally normal and natural -- but shouldn't it be a private act only witnessed by those close to the couple? Maybe the Kardashians just feel close to everybody.
During that secret Facebook argument this week, some speculated that when Share-y's daughter grows up, she'll feel humiliated by all the personal stuff her mother revealed about her. Other members said precisely because of social media and celebs like the Kardashians, the world is different now. When today's 6-year-old's are 21, they'll think nothing of putting every morsel of their lives online. Maybe so -- but that will be their choice. I don't think the world will ever change so much that kids stop being embarrassed, annoyed or sometimes hurt by what their parents say. Children won't stop craving parental respect. And one thing's for sure: no child is ever going to grow up and say, Mom, Dad, I wish you'd written a little more about my health problems on your blog. I wish you'd talked more about my mistakes on Facebook. I wish you'd tweeted a photo of me and my psychiatrist. I wish you'd posted more about my struggles, my intimate life history, my angry rages,my quiet humiliations and my deepest sorrows on the Internet.