Almost every time I hop on my computer, there seems to be a new viral adoption story making its way around the internet.
Six years ago, when I first became a foster parent, I eagerly shared these stories, passing them along with an absurd number of heart emojis. I believed that in sharing these oversimplified happy tales, I was helping break down some of the myths that portray adoption as incredibly painful and difficult.
Now, three years after adopting my son and experiencing firsthand how messy adoption really is, I cringe when these posts show up in my TimeHop.
More often than not, what I was really doing when I shared these viral adoption stories was exploiting traumatic experiences in an effort to make myself feel better about the tough situation our son and his biological family experienced leading up to his adoption ― a situation I felt immense guilt about.
One of the things that bothers me the most about so many of these stories is that adoptive parents typically overshare the details of what led to a child being adopted. I think adoptive parents tell these stories as a way to encourage others to consider adoption and to normalize the experience. It is well-intentioned, but it’s also terribly misguided.
As adoptive parents, these are not our stories to tell and when we gloss over the pain and complexity of adoption, we are doing a disservice to everyone involved.
I won’t pretend to speak for anyone else, but the message I’ve heard over and over again from adoptees is that adoptive parents need to be cautious about being the loudest voice in the story. How many of these viral adoption posts are from the perspective of an adoptee or bio parent? Almost none of them.
That’s because from the very beginning of any adoption story, adoptive parents are afforded way more privilege and power than the biological family or adoptee has.
My infant son was not able to control the narrative and neither was his biological mother ― I was afforded that privilege and I was given way more information about her situation than she will likely ever learn about me.
The story of a mother struggling with addiction or a mental health issue or homelessness isn’t anyone’s business and it isn’t your information to share, especially with the masses on the internet. Imagine how it would feel for an acquaintance who only knows part of your story, one small and very painful sliver of your life, to share your lowest moments and deepest struggles with thousands of strangers. I cringe even thinking about it, but when my son was an infant, I admittedly shared way too much of his story with the world before considering what it said about his mother or giving him a chance to decide how much of it he wants to share.
Our words are incredibly powerful and we can’t take them back. When we talk about biological parents simply as addicts or unstable, when we tell judgmental stories of them being “unable to raise their children,” or when we remove them from the story completely and act like they never existed and everything is perfect, we are not only oversimplifying the situation and inaccurately portraying who they are as people, we are also telling our kids about who they are, where they came from, and how they should feel about their own adoption.
An adoptive parent’s perspective is just one tiny part of a complex story that has huge and real implications for everyone involved, so the next time you think about sharing one of those absurdly sweet adoption stories, or want to share a part of your own child’s story with the world, stop and think about what message you might be sending and if it’s even your story to tell in the first place.
You can find more of Mandy’s work at mandycowley.com