Monday, August 8, 2011

Adoption in the Digital Age

Four score and seven years ago... okay, maybe just even a score ago, adoption did not have quite as many challenges as it does today.  "What?!", you ask.  Shouldn't it be easier now that we are in an age of instant access to information?  At the tip of your fingertips lies a million opportunities and endless amounts of information.  Yep. So, let me tell you where my dilemma lies and then you can tell me your thoughts.  Because I want to hear them.

My brain and my heart are at an impasse. 

Two of my kiddos are adopted.  We adopted them after fostering them through our county agency.  As they were foster children first, we know their families; having dealt with them during the process of possible reunification, and have somewhat of a relationship with various family members (older siblings, aunts, etc.).  Their birth mothers are not raising them for very valid reasons.  Therefore, we are not exactly meeting up for dinner, or the like.  

Our state does not recognize, "open adoption" legally.  As parents we have the right to share anything we want with birth parents, but we also have the right to do nothing. Even if we had agreed to share photos (we did not), the Commonwealth would not enforce it nor compel us to honor our word.

There are several of the boys' relatives that I really like. Older siblings, young aunts, and others, who had no control nor ability to offer respite to the boys before they went into foster care.  The fact that the boys went into foster care and later were adopted, distressed them.  They have been cordial to us and have tried to maintain somewhat of a relationship, even though none of us really know the protocol of a situation that ideally, should have never been necessary.  But it was necessary, and hence my dilemma.

I love my boys.  Adore them.  I love them as much as my biological children, with that fierce, loyal, complete, "Momma Bear Love", that only a mother can understand.  I am also quite protective of them, and probably a little more so because of their life circumstances before adoption.  

I have shared pictures with their biological families before, only to have those pictures wind up on Facebook and MySpace.  It enraged me.  That may seem a bit of an overreaction, but it really upset me, as none of those who posted the pictures had bothered to ask me.  The "Momma Bear".  A couple even just copied them off of my Facebook page (I have since changed their access to photos) and added them as their own.  So I stopped sending the relatives electronic pictures.  One of them took pictures of the hard copies I sent and posted them on MySpace anyway.  I have not sent any more, but she has been asking for them.

I have never approached these relatives with my displeasure.  It is an awkward conversation to even envision.  These are MY sons.  I have the court documents and years of raising them to prove it.  I have an obligation to protect them and their stories.  Unlike my family and friends who are interested in the lives and photos of my children because they not only love them, but because they are a part of a bigger Mr. Clean family entity, the boys' biological relatives seem to only have interest in the life that isn't.  The part of the boys' lives that were irrevocably changed when they joined our family.

None of us really have any control over our lives.  We have choices to make and reactions to circumstances to decide, but even then, until we are at an age that we can recognize this fact, someone else has to guide us along.  When you adopt a child, there is an added history to manage.  One you had no part in and one your child may or may not want a part of when they come to an age to understand it.  Because of that, I feel like I need to protect them a bit more.  I do not want their pictures plastered all over the internet without my consent.  I freely share pictures of my children, but I chose the circumstances.  I decide for all of them what is seen and who can see it, until they are old enough to make that decision on their own.  By others doing that without me knowing, I think they are stepping over the line.  I do not care if they share DNA or not.

This may sound harsh.  It sounds harsh to me, even though I have read it, re-read it, and even edited it in various ways.  There is no way I have been able to open my heart in this post to show you what I am feeling and thinking, because it comes from a place that is indescribable.  A mother's heart.

We no longer live in an age when school pictures sent to far off relatives (or biological families) wind up on the fridge for a season, then into a drawer or old photo album.  Or even the trash.  The digital age has taught us that photos now live forever and can be duplicated and sent to millions in an instant.  It makes one feel a tad vulnerable to think about your child's image being shared without your knowledge.  Even if it is without an ounce of malice.

My boys will one day have to sort out their own feelings about being adopted, their biological parents and siblings, and if they want to delve into that part of themselves.  It almost feels like a betrayal to them if I share everything about them with a family they do not know now and may not want to know in the future.  Maybe they will, and we will certainly encourage that, but until that time I feel it is my job to protect them.  There is a big difference in having your annual school picture up on Great Aunt Tilly's fridge, and special shared family moments being copied and pasted onto someone else's social network site. A huge difference.

My head wants to share these moments with the boys' biological families.  My heart wants to protect them and save them until my boys can consent to sharing them themselves.


Anonymous said...

Protect your boys. I am a foster/adopt parent and I've made the same mistakes - we need to be clear before and when we hand out pictures and information it is to be kept safe and private. If your wishes, as the momma bear, are not kept - cut off the biological family. They did not step up and foster/adopt. They lost their rights to your children.

Aduladi' said...

Thank you, Anonymous! Your comment made me cry. :-)

Lorri said...

I do not have adopted children, but I feel the same way. We set up a private family blog to share pictures and stories about our children. I sent an email to the people who know the blog address telling them the terms of use, so to speak. No linking to the blog anywhere, for any reason. No reposting of the pictures anywhere. Do not share the blog with anyone without asking.

I would tell the people in question the terms under which you will share pictures. No posting on websites, blogs, etc. If they cannot abide by your rules, they don't get pictures.

Elisabeth said...

Wow. So interesting. Thanks for posting this. As soon as TPR happened I went on FB and looked for the bio parents. I was surprised to see a picture of my baby as a profile picture (though I understood...they had parental rights at the time it was posted). I immediately blocked all family and have not thought about it much since. Our last update involved mailed pictures, though I have sent digital. You make an excellent point and I will probably stick with mailed pics from here on out. I don't care to know or see what their social network sites look like, but yes...that is concerning. I try to keep Augie out of my profile pic so his image can't be found that way. However, you know I am more free with my blog. I have definitely contemplated removing images all together...but but but. It is so hard. They are ours. We want to share them. Much to think about...

KeeperatHome said...

You make an interesting point about the hazards of the digital age and the privacy of your family that I had not thought of before. We are required by our agency to have an "open adoption" to include multiple birth family visits per year. Although we were uncomfortable with the idea at first, the Lord has changed our mind about it and we agreed to continue with the agency. We have not yet welcomed a child into our home as we have one more home visit to complete for our homestudy. Your post gives me food for thought about the practical nuts-and-bolts of sharing information with birth families. Thanks! In Christ, Talya

Kjerstin @ said...

You have every right to protect your babies. The pictures probably aren't being shared maliciously, but they ARE being shared without your consent, and that's not okay. News organizations have to get a signed release before they can show pictures or videos of kids on TV or online -- this should be no different.

I can understand your reluctance to talk about this with the offending parties... but there's a good chance it would help. A kindly-written e-mail or letter that outlines the dangers of kids' pictures being put online and a clear request that your kids' photos not be put on social media sites anymore would, I think, be both acceptable and effective. It might be awkward for a few minutes, but my guess is that it never even occurred to the kids' biological relatives that such a thing could be inappropriate, especially given how open and casual many people are these days on their social media profiles. It sounds like they want the best for the kids, even if they weren't able to provide that, and they'd probably be fine with the request once they understood your feelings about it being a potentially dangerous privacy violation.

Aduladi' said...

Thank you, "Kjerstin". I can honestly say I still haven't done it, but your reasoning is sound and something I need to address. :-) said...

it is the right of babies to be protected and loved. adoption is not bad but the baby's original identity shouldn't be harmed