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Is it good to share?

We’re pleased to share this thoughtful guest post today from Charlotte, an adoptive mum of two…

I had an interesting conversation in the playground this morning which got me thinking…

Mum K: XXX has been really difficult recently. She’s a good girl, they play nicely, but when I leave the room she bickers with her sister.

Me: Oh my two are like that too. The entire summer was just the two of them bickering constantly.

Mum M: Really? I thought your two were really good. They seem so polite and kind and when I look at your Facebook all I see is lovely photos of you all looking happy and smiling.

Me: Oh no. K really hates T. The only reason I only share the good bits is because I don’t want to fill my timeline with negative stuff and I have other Facebook groups where I share the difficult stuff.

Mum K: I’m so glad I’m not the only one. When I look at Facebook all I see are lovely photos of families and happy children, but then I actually talk to other mums and find out that all children are like it, or at least, aren’t the angels that we perceive them to be. 

And so the conversation continued. We realised that our 5 year old daughters were all behaving similarly, and commiserated over the frustrations involved. We concluded that it’s good to talk and not just rely on the projected or perceived images.

That was a conversation between me and two mums of birth children. They both know my ‘status’ as an adoptive mum. What I found particularly interesting is that they’re right of course!
On Facebook, and online generally I share my good days to the world, and my bad days within my adoptive parents groups, and seemingly, most of my adoptive parent contacts do that too.

In some of my adoptive parent groups, you often see a status preceded by ‘I couldn’t share this on my own wall but…’ or ‘You saw the positive pics on my wall, but in reality….’.

On forums and on Twitter I tend to share the shittier days because I know I’m surrounded by people that get it and can give me support. And that’s what I tend to see too. I wouldn’t want to share the good days too often in those places because it might seem like bragging to those who are really struggling.

But from my conversation today, it’s clear that others – birth parents – have struggles with their children too. Of course they do. All children can be challenging at times.

I’ve always felt a little concerned about sharing the difficult days on my normal Facebook page.
– Will I come across as ungrateful, after all I have 2 beautiful children?
– Will I be judged?
– Will I look negative all the time?
– Do people really care about my struggles?
– Aren’t everyone else’s children perfect? Won’t mine look awful in comparison?
– Will it bring it home that I’m crap at being a mum?
– Is it fair on my kids to tell the world they’re being little toe-rags?

But actually, after today, I think all it’s done for me is isolate me from some people who could be understanding and supportive. And it’s isolated them by making them feel that it’s only their children that have problems sometimes.
In addition, it explains their reactions in the past to comments I’ve made about particular challenges and behaviours. I’ve presented such a good picture of my family that on those odd occasions where I’ve talked about the bad days they’ve been seen as recoverable minor one-offs rather than the pretty major, violent difficulties that they are.

So what now? Well, I’ll continue to post about the great days, and I’ll continue to seek support from my adopter-only groups, but perhaps I won’t feel quite so bad about sharing the disastrous days occasionally.
What about you? Do you manage to share a balanced view of your life? Do you keep it all in or are you open?

Anna Writes: Birthdays

PhontoAnother year. Another birthday….hard as I try, somehow I always seem to end up feeling the same: a curious kind of ambivalence.

I feel happy to still be here, another year alive is something to celebrate I’m sure, but I also feel this yearning, a pull towards something that is absent and intangible. I struggle to put my finger on it.

So, I said this year would be different, I would come off Facebook and not spend the day checking in to see if she has remembered or deigned to wish me a happy birthday, because I would be spending it with family…well, I didn’t think that one through very well as my birthday has fallen on a weekday, people are at work and the Bank Holiday is stretching out like a promise on the other side.

It’s me and the kids. Which is lovely. We are hanging out, going swimming and out for a meal later but still, something inside me feels unfulfilled, needy.

Am I just ungrateful? My husband made me a lovely breakfast and my kids showered me with kind, thoughtful gifts, I have met up with friends throughout the week and done something nice with each, I have done something I never do and planned a meal out next week with the people who make my life really special. What more could I want? What is it?

I oscillate between wanting to celebrate life, to wanting to crawl into a dark space where no one can find me. to be or not to be. Maybe that’s how it’s always going to feel, understanding and acknowledging that being born was a good thing (I hope that by doing what I’m doing I create/find some meaning out of being here, like we all do) but that being relinquished, given up, separated- whatever, was a sad thing- a really sad thing.

An act that wasn’t a one off decision, but something that reverberates throughout a number of lives, for entire lives. And I feel it most keenly today. Each birthday not only a demarcation of another year but the anniversary of a wound. Of all the days, this one day always feels like a hurdle, a thing to be got past and then life returns to some kind of normality.

So, like a scratched record, I return to the tried and tested behaviours of the day. Trying to put on a happy face, being buoyant and doing what we are ‘supposed to do’ on a birthday but also, spending time alone, shedding some tears, mourning what has been lost and can never be. And, foolishly, naively, logging back onto Facebook for ‘the message’.

Nothing.

It doesn’t hurt as much as it has done before though, so that feels like some kind of progress, but I wonder why I still need it? Why does it still feel important to have acknowledgement from her on this day?
I guess its a throwback to all those years before I did find her, wondering if she thought about me on that day- I figured that if she was going to think about me on any day that it would be that one. Since finding out that I was adopted, I always thought of her on my birthday, wondered, fantasised.. and hoped.

Hoped that she was ok, hoped that she was alive and happy and in a better place than she was at 16.

And maybe thats what keeps me stuck in this place, on one day every year. Hope. The thought that for one day I could be the person on her mind and that she could value me enough to acknowledge that I’m here and can be contacted.

Mine was never a family that celebrated ‘Adoption Day’ – I was brought home from the hospital 10 days after birth and presented to my brother as one of his 2nd birthday presents. Apart from the conversation where I was informed of my adoption, we never really spoke of it again and children’s birthdays were never such a big deal (and anyone who shares a birthday that falls in the summer holidays will know how awkward they can be!)

But I always liked celebrating other peoples days (if that’s what they wanted) I’m of the thinking that a birthday is a special day and is one where it’s ok to be made a fuss of/cry if you want to etc. For children that are adopted I don’t imagine it’s unusual for a birthday to be a time of mixed feelings, where things don’t go in a straight line and perhaps even with the best will in the world, it will always be difficult.

For me, tomorrow, life will move on and I can inhabit my adult state again, but birthdays seem to have the effect of taking me back, like falling down a rabbit hole to a time and a place where I felt vulnerable and worthless and small. Roll on tomorrow.

Anna Writes: Endings

PhontoI’ve been thinking about endings a lot recently, I suppose following a bereavement that’s ‘normal’ but the other ending is one that I have chosen in the last couple of months- to remove myself from Facebook- what’s the big deal? you might think…well, Facebook is the only link I have with my birth family.

We used to write and speak on the phone in the early days but as contact has shifted and relationships have morphed into something much less definable, Facebook seems to be the way we do things now.

I can see why-it requires very little effort, people can see what other people are doing without actively engaging with them and contact can be considered a ‘like’ against a photo.

Except I’ve always struggled with it- historically I have been willing to accept the bare minimum in relationship because I thought it was better than nothing at all- offering a banquet in return for a crumb.
And my relationship with my birth mum (and extended family too) has followed this pattern: I write long messages, I send things in the post, I remember birthdays and I try to be the ‘good person’ and generally nothing comes back and I really don’t feel bitter about this, just sad.
Sad that I still sometimes feel that I’m not good enough as I am, particularly in relation to my birth family.

I suppose this all stems (like so many things) from being given away- learning strategies to ward off the threat of further abandonment- on some unconscious level believing that I need to give people things to get them to like me or not leave me. I remember at school I would never just give someone a card for their birthday, I would also feel I had to spend any money I had getting them a ridiculous present too- one that usually didn’t reflect the level or type of friendship we had- what may have appeared as generosity was actually a fairly desperate attempt to not be rejected.

So it’s pretty big deal for me to initiate an ending- there have been times in my life where I really should have ended friendships and relationships that were really unhealthy, but I stuck them out until things got really, really bad because the thought of pushing someone away was anathema to me. But things are different now.

My birth mum sent me a video via Facebook (of course) which was entitled ‘ Every kid should watch this’ I was intrigued, did this mean she was sending it to me as ‘her kid’? or did she intend for me to show it my kids because they ‘should’ watch it? I pressed play…

to summarise: the video showed a former American sports star talking about his career and his mother, how he had always found her a drag when he was successful and enjoying his fame around the world, she would be ringing him up to see how he was, caring about him, supporting him and loving him- he is giving this speech to an audience of rapt schoolchildren- then the bombshell, his mum died whilst he was away on tour (cut to scenes of the audience crying inconsolably) and he realises that he should have appreciated his mother when she was alive, he should have thanked her for all the things she did for him and all of her sacrifices, he should have been less ungrateful, he should have loved his mum better.

I was stunned. Not even upset, just staggered that she would send me this- what was she trying to tell me? I sat on my feelings for a day and then messaged her the following day- and I told her. I told her how confused I was and how hard it had been watching something sent from her that bore no resemblance to my experiences of being mothered, that I felt upset that she would send this to me. I let her know I was making an active choice to come off Facebook and that I would write to her soon.

She sent a brief apology and assured me she had not meant to hurt me, which I don’t doubt, but this felt like the last in a long line of insensitive moves on her part, so I stuck to my guns and deactivated.

This may seem a bit ‘all or nothing’ in response to a video but my relationship with my birth family via Facebook has been ambivalent at best, I feel like there’s too much scope for misunderstanding, passive aggressive communication and just plain old ignorance, so I chose to keep myself safe.

So far, its been a revelation, not only have I saved lots of time (!) but I also feel free of the worry of what is coming next, what post or photo or share is going to destabilise me and reactivate old feelings. I am living in the present and acknowledging the past, rather than the other way round.

I have chosen to end one type of connection and to maintain another that works for me and it hasn’t destroyed me…me saying ‘this isn’t ok’ is alright and the only changes that have happened have been positive…So this year instead of spending my birthday checking Facebook to see if my birth mum has sent me a message (which has never happened) I will be actually enjoying my day with the people I love, not feeling sad that I was given away, but happy that I ended up where I did.

Anna.W

Editor’s note: Anna’s taking a well-deserved break for a couple of weeks, so don’t worry if you don’t see a post from her. She’ll be back again soon.

Weekly Adoption Shout Out – #WASO Week 91

1414358832111Happy Hallowe’en, Samain and All Hallow’s Eve. And we mustn’t forget the Day of the Dead, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day all coming up.

As well as being the date of a lot of festivals and saints days, it’s also Friday which means it’s time for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out (#WASO)to begin! As always, the linky is open from Friday to Sunday, and we welcome all bloggers who write about, or are in some way connected to adoption.

If you’ve never taken part in #WASO before, then don’t worry, it’s as simple as copying and pasting the web address of your blog post into the form below. Add your email address and a title for your blog post and then your post will appear in the list with lots of others. This means that people who want to read adoption blogs can find them all in the same place, and you might pick up new readers.

We share as many blog posts as we can through our social networks, and encourage people who visit your blog to leave you a comment – we ask that you also read a couple and leave a comment if you can – make sure you include the #WASO hashtag, so those bloggers know how you found them.

We offer an optional theme every other week – use it for inspiration if you like, or perhaps you’ve already written a post that ties in? This week, our theme is ’embracing online support’ and we’re looking forward to hearing about your best and favourite digital methods of support.

But that’s enough from me, here’s the linky – go paste your post and get reading…


Privates on parade: balancing confidentiality and openness in the adoption blogosphere

A piece from Adoption Journey on the need for adopters to consider privacy in social media.

A few weeks ago I was reading the paper in my lunch break. Towards the middle was one of those heart warming human interest stories. An adult who had been adopted as a very young child had set out on a search for her birth mother and had finally found her using Facebook. A reunion ensued and so did a happy ending. They were now back in regular contact and building a new relationship. Who couldn’t fail to have their heart touched by such a lovely tale? Well, me for a start because, as I read it, the uplifting story was tinged with a shiver which went down my spine.

This did seem to be a truly happy ending as far as the story told and the child’s adoptive parents had supported the search from start to finish. But do newspapers always tell the full story? As I recall, in the newspaper story the child had been relinquished by her mother, some twenty five or thirty years ago. The implication was that economic circumstances and family pressure had led to the child entering the care system.

100However, for the children who are being adopted in the UK today that is the most unusual of circumstances. These days relinquishments are rare, with most children who end up being adopted entering the system because of some form of serious neglect or abuse – or at least the pressing need for action to prevent it. It is interesting reading the blogs which link up every week on The Adoption Social and contrasting the transatlantic experiences of adoption bloggers.

Those blogs which I read from the States largely seem to feature open adoptions through voluntary relinquishment. The circumstances portrayed so vividly in the film Juno. When I watched that film a few years ago, as well as marvelling at the stunning performance given by Ellen Page in the lead role, the scenario seemed quaint. Now, a few years later and absorbed in the a world of UK adoption it seems foreign.

Were that film to be transplanted into a UK setting it would not only be be quaint. It would be illegal.

The upshot of these rambling musings is that, in the UK and for those children adopted elsewhere from foster care, there may be real reasons why first hand contact with birth parents could be very undesirable for adopted children. And yet here we are, writing about our adoption experiences in the most public and connected of public arenas. How, then, to balance the need for the security of our children with a desire to be open and inclusive about our experiences?

For me, the decision to start blogging came only after the deepest of consideration and discussion with my wife. We were both concerned at whether it could threaten the security of our child. Whether it would pose a risk either now or in the future. Whether we were content that the risks (real, perceived or imagined) could be sufficiently minimised and managed.

There are very good reasons why contact between adoptive and birth parents is carefully managed, anonymous and confidential. And across many of the blogs which I read on a weekly basis it is clear that precautions to preserve anonymity have been taken. Many of the UK blogs written by UK adopters are presented under pseudonyms (like “The One Hand Man”, whose blog states that Andrew McDougall is a fictional construct for blogging purposes). Others are content to go on a first name only basis like our very own Vicky and Sarah at The Adoption Social (presuming, of course, that those are their real names). Still others adopt internet handles based on the names of their blogs, like Suddenly Mummy or 3 Bees and a Honey’s “Honey Mummy”.

But is this all unnecessary paranoia? Are there really clear and present dangers out there for open and inclusive adopters.

Certainly my heart sinks when I see a new blog where the first posting runs something along the lines of: “Hi! We’re Danny and Danielle Donaldson. This blog is to chart our journey as we are about to start an adventure into the wonderful, wide world of adoption. We’re an administrator at St Botolphs hospital in Cheam and a chartered accountant with Bloggins and Bloggins in Cricklewood and live in the Orchard Cottage in the lovely village of Nether Walloping Under Stress…” Given the search capabilities of social media etc that degree of online openness is probably inadvisable at the best of times – let alone in the adoption world. A little anecdote should illustrate this. A few years ago, well before we started the adoption process, our church began supporting a community project in the Philippines through an aid charity. As part of this we signed up to sponsor a little 3 year old boy. We got some basic info on him and sent off our first sponsors letter introducing ourselves, including a photo. A few months later we received a lovely letter in response… As sponsors do. However, a few weeks after that I also received a friend request on Facebook. It was from his mum. Now, there wasn’t a negative outcome to this. There were no begging letters, inappropriate requests or emotional blackmail. However, it does go to illustrate just how unbelievably connected the world we live in is. With social media, websites like 192.com or the Way Back Machine and a million and one different ways to build up a profile online (wittingly or unwittingly) we are each more discoverable now than we ever have been. There is an old (well, in internet terms anyway) maxim… “Once it’s online, it’s online forever.”

I certainly know that I have inadvertently built myself up a healthy web profile without even trying.

A career in the public facing side of the public sector means that my name and work details have ended up on public documents, online contact lists and so forth. I have presented at conferences which has lead to my CV, my picture (and on one case, video of me) being posted online. I have participated in online discussion forums and left product reviews on websites… much of this long before I had ever considered that one day adoption might be something I would pursue.

So do I believe that I can achieve perfect control over information about me and my son? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be circumspect on the internet. It is a likelihood that someday my child may search for his birth parents. However, when it happens it would like it to be because he has decided to and, hopefully, he will decide to include us in that process. What I don’t want is for some online carelessness to lead his birth parents to contact him surreptitiously at a point where he is not ready for that contact. While I continue to blog about our journey it is my responsibility to ensure that our openness does not compromise our privacy. This remains a concern both now and for the future. Although, as far as we know his birth parents are relatively benign (in terms of immediate risk that they pose) that does not go for all birth parents. Many could be quite the opposite. But what about extended families? What of the birth parents’ attitudes, associations and situation in the future? There are so many uncertainties.

The nature and character of birth parents is something which must be factored into our stance as members of the online community.

Not quite the same, but we have some really good friends who went through adoption in the same local authority as us. We don’t see them so much these days though. While their final adoption order was being processed a clerical error was discovered which meant that their court correspondence had been sent to their children’s birth parents. Including their address. The details of their case meant that now they don’t live in the same local authority area as us. In fact they don’t live in the same region of the country!

Social media in particular is a concern for many adopters. It is there to make the connection between disparate people easier. I know it is a big concern for our Local Authority who run regular post-approval courses on the internet, social media and ensuring the privacy and security of your adoptive placement.

So as a blogger, how can we balance that openness and privacy. Each will need to come to their own conclusions on that. However, here are a few thoughts which you might like to consider in starting to blog…

Identity: maintaining anonymity can be important. Both for you and your child. Consider how best to do that. There are many ways to approach this. Pseudonyms and internet “handles”. Consider creating a new, blogging specific email address which is separate from your personal email address. If you also run other non-related blogs for other reasons and other interests then run them from a separate email and login.

This is all particularly important if you are in a web-based sector where you will already have been working hard to build up a broad and active internet presence. On the other hand, if your other online business/activities are directly adoption related you may wish to be more open and create direct links with blogs on your own personal journey. However, the degree of your internet presence should be a conscious decision, weighing up the positives and negatives, the risks and advantages. It shouldn’t be something you allow to happen unawares and by accident.

Photographs: they say that a picture can tell a thousand words. On that basis they need to be treated with care. We have taken a personal decision that we will post no photos of our child on the internet, whether this is on blogs, on Facebook… Wherever. We have asked friends to respect this wish too. We have even been very careful about the way in which we have distributed photos by e-mail. Our Facebook privacy settings – in particular image settings – are set as tightly as possible.

With the development of facial recognition software over recent years and the ability of Google Images to search from source photos, allowing it to search for similar photos online, this seems like a reasonable precaution. It is worth remembering that maxim about the indelible nature of internet information. The truth is out there, in pixelated form. After all, we have met our little boy’s birth parents so they know what we look like. Furthermore, with each contact letter we have included photographs of our little boy.

Different bloggers take different approaches to image control. We have gone for a harder “no photos at all” line. Some use photos which have been anonymised using black letter boxes or pixelation. Others post only “back of the head” shots… Again, it is for each to decide what works for them.

Details: Of course, it’s not just your online identity which can identify you. The content of your blogging can give more information than perhaps you would like. We talk about our lives and our experiences when we blog. For us, in particular, our blog tells the story of our journey through adoption – real, identifiable events populated by real identifiable people. How one decides to obfuscate and obscure leads into a grey world between facts and fiction. Every blogger will need to work out where their thresholds lie. How much information can one change without compromise the authenticity of your account. For me personally, I have tried to retain as much openness and authenticity as possible. The principle I quote in the introduction of my blog recalls the old ’60s cop show, Dragnet, which stated at the beginning of every episode that the stories in the programme were true, ‘…only the names have been changed to protect the innocent…” However, maintaining our online anonymity still requires some careful drafting.

A few final thoughts…

Setting down these thoughts in writing has been an interesting exercise. Reading the words back, it would be so easy to see me as some sort of Luddite conspiracy theorist, holed up in a bunker somewhere in the wilds and distrustful of a world which is clearly out to get me. Ironically, it’s quite the opposite. I love openness and the connection that they internet can bring. Sure, my Facebook privacy settings err on the more security conscious but that is partly driven by my still recent position as an adopter. I still share photos and thoughts on there. It is just that nońe of them explicitly reveal the identity of my little boy.

Whatever, there will be a balance to be struck. Some will opt for a stricter, more private stance. Some will simply opt out of online life altogether for this reason. Others will retain an open and discursive stance in terms of the details they are willing to share about their lives and their identities. Many, perhaps most, will lie somewhere in-between. I think that my only hope is that if they do then they do so in an informed and conscious manner – aware of the risks which their openness entails and willing to accept them.

It would be very interesting to hear about how you have considered and dealt with the issues raised in this blog. Please feel free to leave a comment in response.