Armed with my smart phone, I recorded our six-month-old son taking his first few bites of baby food. He reacted as you might have expected – surprised, then disgusted, and finally it all came oozing out and down his chin. It was a major milestone in his development and worthy of sharing. Immediately after I posted it to Facebook, his birth mom and birth grandfather both “Liked” it and commented on it.
Today, many birth parents and adoptive parents are embracing social media and interactive communication tools like instant messaging, photo/video sharing, text messaging, and video teleconferencing, to share information and stay in touch. While many may celebrate this expansion of openness, some ground rules are recommended.
When we adopted our second child, his birth mom expressed interest in connecting with us on Facebook and Skype. Without hesitation, I accepted her Facebook “friend” request. Then “friend” requests began pouring in from her parents, her siblings, and her extended family – many that we didn’t know. The open adoption arrangement that we discussed at placement was with his birth mom and not her Aunt Betty. With a desire to nurture our budding relationship and to protect her privacy and our own, I struggled with how to proceed.
Some of her family members supported her adoption plan and others didn’t. So, I worried how our adoption might unfold in a public arena like Facebook. I also wondered how to protect our personal information, and I grappled with censorship – trying to determine what information about my child was appropriate to share on Facebook.
After talking with our son’s birth mom, I befriended her immediate family on Facebook and I imposed tighter privacy controls to prevent our photos and content from being “tagged’ and shared outside of our network. As a family, we also decided some information is too personal and should be privately emailed to his birth mom. Other adoptive families may wish to set up a separate Facebook account just for birth family communication.
In addition to sharing information, Facebook has allowed us to get to know our son’s birth family better and to stay informed of what’s going on in their lives. Their status updates and online photos have helped us learn more about them, get to know their personalities, and see pictures of our son’s biological brother and sister. We also chat and email with his birth family through Facebook, and we have Skyped with them on special holidays; these tools are especially useful for helping us maintain a strong, long-distance relationship.
Just because these interactive communication tools are available, however, doesn’t mean you have to use them or that they should replace face-to-face contact. Before you jump on the bandwagon, take time to evaluate your situation and weigh the pros and cons.
Social networking tips for birth parents
• Discuss with your child’s adoptive family the different ways you’re going to stay connected (e.g. letter updates, phone calls, email, social media, text messaging, etc.).
• Decide together what information is appropriate to share via social networks and what information is best communicated privately.
• Establish rules for posting comments and sharing photos on social media, including whether you want to be “tagged” or identified in pictures/videos.
• Adjust your privacy settings to restrict access to any personal information that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with your child’s adoptive family.
• Decide how extended family members fit in. Be sure that any “new connections” between both families are disclosed and mutually agreed upon.
• Keep in mind that humor and sarcasm play differently online. Be sensitive about what you write and how the adoptive family or your child could perceive it.
With any open adoption, it’s up to you and adoptive parents to decide what level of openness you wish to have before and after the placement. Together, you decide what personal information you want to exchange and how to maintain an ongoing relationship.
If you have questions about open adoption or wish to talk with an adoption counselor, please call (800) 869-1005.
Kip Beasley and his partner of 14 years live in Evanston with their two adopted children.