I have a “love-hate” relationship with social media. I was very late to the party, only joining when I turned 40! I thought it was going to be fantastic. Keeping up to date with people when time and distance get in the way. Finding people that I’d lost touch with. Reconnecting. Connecting. Often it is all these things. But sometimes, I wish I’d never done it. The hold it has on me. I definitely suffer from the whole “FOMO” thing. If I’m honest, it’s become a bit of an unhealthy habit and I don’t think it’s always good for my mental health.
So, what social media considerations do I make as an adoptive parent? Do I need to approach it differently? Should I? Of course, decisions are individual. The following points are purely my personal views. I am in no way critical of people who do things differently to me. This is just how I approach my social media management. Some elements are possibly a little unnecessary, but I always air on the side of caution.
Essentially, I have come to dislike some elements of social media. Rather than sharing positive messages and joy, it’s often used as a platform for negative, sometimes abusive, opinions. I’ve been trolled myself. And it really hurt. I’ve been called a “fake mum”. A “pretend mum”. Been accused of being heartless at the joy I share. Selfish. It’s not a great feeling. I appreciate I’m supporting a sensitive issue. I try hard to be respectful of this. Adoption was wonderful for us, but others may have been hurt by its outcome. If I have a public presence and am open about my views, it would be foolish to think that I won’t upset some. I accept people will disagree with me. I just wish they could be more constructive and thoughtful in their responses.
So, I approach social media very cautiously. Especially when it comes to my family. I would love to show my children’s beautiful faces. To post quirky pictures of the cute – and naughty – things they do. But I don’t. I can’t. Once they are on social media platforms, they are potentially out there for all to see. Whether I want them to be, or not. Of course, accounts can be set up as private or public and this does help to a certain degree. But I need to feel in control of my children’s identity as much as possible. I’m very protective of it.
To help with this, I take some pretty standard steps. I rarely tag locations in posts. Try to be generic about where we are and what we are doing. Not always, but often. I’m careful with descriptions and details. Avoid posting pictures of venues we frequent regularly. Routinely. Like school. Weekly dance classes. Basically, things that could locate us. It is hard though, not to lose the essence of a story when being vague. But it’s a compromise I’m willing to take.
We’ve made sure that school know our children are adopted. We have not given permission for them to appear on any public communications, like their websites or promotional material. They can be in some group photos (without their names though). We have to allow this. We can’t let them feel totally excluded. Different. They’d be too upset, and they are too young to understand why. Thankfully our school takes children’s security very seriously. Reassuringly, before any school productions, an announcement is made that photos and videos are not to be posted on social media. Under no circumstances. I always squirm a little though. Knowing we’re partly responsible. We’re not the only ones, but we are some of the reason. Most parents would love to share how beautifully their little ones performed in their Christmas nativity. I’d love to as well. I feel bad that they can’t because of us. And, I feel bad for us too.
A really significant protection step I’ve taken and one you may have noticed, is that I am faceless – invisible! I made this decision after careful consideration. I didn’t write my book as a big money-making project. My primary objective is to support families that came together through adoption. However, I do need “The Family Fairies” to be a success. If it’s not, it’s unlikely I’ll get published the other adoption storybook ideas I have. So, I must consider myself as a small business. I have to self promote my book to build as much awareness – and sales – as I can. To keep my labour of love alive.
Faceless, invisible interactions are not sensible marketing moves. I am fully aware that it makes people less able to connect and engage with me. Less likely to follow me. Less likely even to buy my book. But, at this moment, it’s a sensible option for my family. This might sound very dramatic. Rest assured, my family are not in danger or anything serious like that. I won’t discuss the reason for this decision, but essentially our risk assessment tells us that it’s not appropriate to share my full profile. A personal decision based on our own adoption circumstances. Other adoptive parents happily show themselves, and their children. And this is fine. I wouldn’t want anyone you stop doing this just because I don’t. I’m certain they will have assessed it as safe to do so. Just as we have assessed it’s not.
To further support our social media approach, my husband and I have committed to never search for birth parents ourselves. I know some do this. I’m not criticising. However, please think carefully before acting on this temptation. It is inevitable that within minutes – probably seconds – of a search, you will appear on their feed as “someone you might know” “suggestions to follow”. That’s algorithms for you! A curious birth parent may just click on your profile as it pops up. And so, the cycle begins. Digital footprints become embedded. This is a risk we’re not prepared to take and I think it’s a sensible decision.
One of the main problems for me, is that technology and social media are progressing so rapidly. The constant advances scare me. You could be having a verbal conversation about something, then seconds later an advert for it appears on your feed. I hate this. Where will it be in 5 or 10 years time? What advances will be next? How will privacy settings change? Social media comes with a whole host of unknowns. It’s impossible to second guess how it will grow. I think it would be naive not to recognise that what we deem as safe to post now, may not be in years to come. It’s an element of my life that is out of my control and it probably won’t surprise you that I don’t like it!
Lastly, I wanted to just throw in a bit of a curve ball. Something a little controversial. A subject for debate. Adopted children are given life story books. They show their life before you become a forever family. Importantly, they include what is known about birth parents and extended birth families. This information is invaluable. It helps adopted child with their identity. I am fully supportive of the idea behind life story books and their importance.
However, I must admit that I felt – still feel – uncomfortable about some of the information contained in ours. Obviously, books will vary between agencies. Have different formats and content. Will differ depending on children’s ages and levels of understanding. Of their memories. But I had not expected our children’s to include full details of birth parents’ names, date of births and addresses. I was taken aback by this. I must reiterate that we are open and respectful of birth parents and we by no means want to hide this information. However, I have to question the appropriateness considering advances in social media.
We had in-depth conversations about this with our social workers, who tried to assure us that giving this information from the beginning was the best way forward. That it would actually reduce their curiosity and the likelihood of them trying to find it, because of course they already had it. I do get his. I understand it can help to build trust. I’m just not sure about it. I’m on the fence. Again, I must stress my concerns are purely around aiding possible unsupported attempts at contact. I really like lots of the books content. There are some nice phrases, thoughtful pictures. Lovely things to share to help us explain our adoption journey.
My mind works overtime though. 6-year olds are taught internet searches at school. You only need to be 13 years old to have your own social media accounts. A few clicks and inevitably – up would pop birth parents’ social media accounts. You don’t even have to be “friends” with someone to send them a message. Of course, there are certain settings that can stop certain accesses. But it still makes me lose sleep at night.
I hope that when our children want to find out more about their birth families, they will come to us. That we’ll do it together. I’d really welcome this. I want them to grow up knowing that we will support their decisions around their birth parents. Whatever they want to do. Including, trying to connect with them.
As their parents, we have everything there is to know in the reports generated through the adoption process. I’d like to pass it on when the time is right. When they are ready to learn it. But if they freely have key information, enough to attempt contact – why wouldn’t they? In theory – why shouldn’t they? It’s their story. Their identity. They have the right. Well my response is simple. Yes they do – but only when they are emotionally equipped to deal with it. When we can hold their hand and guide them through it. If not, it could be potentially traumatic. And dangerous. Adoption UK, are very clear that in their view, unsupported and unsolicited contact can have significant destabilising impacts on potentially vulnerable children. We have the responsibility to try and reduce the chances of this happening. The best we can.
Thankfully, from research I’ve carried out on my Instagram account, it appears this level of factual detail in life story books is unusual. Most have less specific information. So, my concerns may not be yours. But if they are, or if you have any questions, speak to your social workers or post adoption support teams. This is too important to get wrong.
To conclude, I think it’s fair to say that a common sense approach to social media is wise. Be careful not to share things about you and your family that one day you may regret. My gauge is this – I never post on my social medias, or my website, things that I wouldn’t be prepared for my children to read one day. Nothing that would ever embarrass them or that is too personal. Nothing that they could say to me one day “mum I wish you hadn’t shared that”. I’m a firm believer in their stories being their own for them to share – or not – when they feel ready to do so.
I do want to end on a positive note. Finding like-minded adoption based social media accounts has been fantastic. I am very proud to be part of a #ukadoptioncommunity. I thoroughly enjoy engaging with adoption accounts. I have learnt so much. Seen different perspectives. I have found comfort in them. Comfort I didn’t even realise I needed. I feel a deep connection to people I have never met. Probably never will. It’s very heart-warming. And very rewarding.
So, with this in mind, I guess it is possible for social media to do what it was originally intended to do. To bring people with similar stories and interests together. I am going to use mine in the best way I can. To share the honesty of adoption. But above anything else, I want to share the positives and joy adoption has brought us. How it made our forever family. How it made our dreams come true.
You can find the link to all my social media accounts on my Homepage, so please come and give me a follow!