So How Much Private Information Should You Share?

Whether you’re an adoptive, foster, or special needs family, there’s a tricky balance between inviting people into your story and keeping private information, private. The best place to begin? Establish a few key guidelines!

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Over the past 12 years, we have learned several important lessons when it comes to our family’s personal information. We’ve learned who we can invite into our story and who needs to be kept at arms length.

When we first adopted, we received some invaluable advice. We were showing our new daughter off, telling a little about the adoption journey, and trying to answer some rather blunt questions about our daughter’s birth mom. That’s when Dawn pulled us aside. Dawn was a member of the church we were serving with at the time, and, to this day, one of the sweetest, most genuine human beings we have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

“Your daughter’s story is her story, and yours, no one else’s,” Dawn said humbly. “Be careful who you share her information with. You never want someone using your information against you or having someone repeat sensitive details back to your child when she is older!” She was right. We are eternally grateful for those words of advice. They shaped the future for us and still do to this day.

It’s tricky. Your family is obviously unique (whether it’s built through adoption or the old-fashioned way). People will always be curious. But who do share personal information with and how?

The way I like to picture it is similar to how you would receive information about a novel. With every great novel you really get the details (plot, character description, storyline, etc.) three ways- the back cover of the book, the cliff notes, a complete chapter, and reading the full-length book.

Determining your audience.

  1. The “back-cover” crowd. These people are your passers-by. They’re the waitress at your favorite restaurant. They’re the nosey lady standing behind you in the grocery store check-out line staring at your family. They’re the folks who (bless their hearts) ask wonderful questions like “Are they real brothers and sisters?” They do not deserve an ounce of information but because you’re courteous you give a nugget or two here or there. This crowd gets the general synopsis- “You adopted, your child has a special need, your family is different,” but that’s it. They receive enough to be intrigued but not enough to know specific details about you or your children. They can judge or assume all they want, even ask specific questions, but you should never budge on your position with this crowd.
  2. The “cliff notes” crowd. This group receives more than the back-cover crowd, but not enough to formulate an entire chapter on your life. They know the details beyond general knowledge, and could explain your story to someone else if need be. They only know some of the intimate details of your children’s story though. They are the friend from work, or the person in your church who takes a genuine interest in your family, provided they can be trusted. This group receives enough of the story to go beyond curiosity but not enough to formulate a complete picture of your family. They would be further down the list of folks you would call in a crisis or when you needed to have coffee and vent.
  3. The “complete chapter” crowd. This crowd knows complete stories, but not the entire book. In other words, they know your child has behavior issues, that they were drug and alcohol exposed at birth, or even that they’ve been in residential treatment. But they do not know what day-to-day life with this child is like, the contents of their IEP meetings, or even what the nitty-gritty details of your battles with him or her are like. With this group, you’re beyond cliff notes and really just a small step away from sharing the full-length book. They have just about earned your trust to share the complete story
  4. The “full-length book” crowd. These people are your inner-sanctum, your support system, or your closest friends. These are the folks who will walk through hell with you if you needed them to. They are steel traps, never sharing a drop of your information with anyone. They will sit and listen to you as you pour your heart out and not say word unless asked. They do not give unsolicited advice and they never judge. This is the crowd who knows ever intimate detail of your life and your children’s. This group should always be kept very small.

Proceed with caution.

The greatest rule of thumb to live by is caution. Be cautious with your children’s (and your family’s) information. As Dawn shared years ago, you never want their story to be used against them or regurgitated to them in a way that hurts or embarrasses them. This could never be more true than when you adopt, or even in foster care. With all the stigmas surrounding adoption and foster care, it’s wise to keep your support system and circle of trust small and tight.

Question: Are you an adoptive family or a family with a unique story? How do you navigate sharing information with others? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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