This week’s TheAdoptionSocial #WASO theme is Secrets.
It has set me thinking. I see where secrets can be both forces for good and drivers of conflict for any family with children in residence. I can envisage stories of deep trauma, tales of mild subterfuge, worries about hidden pain, anecdotes of the secrets-that-weren’t, posts on the delicious delight of planning surprises.
Yes what about those of us still on the other side of that door, the prospective adopters (whether already parents or not)? How does this theme apply to us?
As a prospective adopter you are expected to have no secrets from the professionals. This is easy if your life is anyway an open book, your friends and family all know each other, you feel comfortable talking about past challenges, previous relationships, your childhood and teendom, death, happiness, bullying at school, work, views on failure, success, discipline, parenting, and basically anything at all. If you’re a different person, someone who opens up only once trust is long established, or has never been comfortable sharing failure, or hope, or difficult emotions, the probing process must be intrusive, demanding, uncomfortable, painful.
It might even feel shaming.
In our training we learn much about shame. Indeed, it seems to me that the kind of secrets that we maintain due to fear, or worry, or anxiety, or social pressures are very often twinned with shame.
I have so far viewed myself as lucky. I am one of those who found the interrogations of the home study a fascinating experience because it is hardly normal for it to be ok – even right- to just talk about yourself endlessly. I found myself analysing the questions I was asked and why, and that in itself helped my learning and my understanding. But intrusive or revealing, shameful or discomfiting? No, these sensations were less the case for me.
Just now though, thinking about secrets, and shame, and how we learn: I am suddenly wondering whether having difficulty talking openly, having secrets that you feel forced to share: could these experiences actually help some of us recognise the challenges our children are likely to face: after all there is little that is better than shared experience for helping with empathy.
If the process of assessment can be seen as the revealing of secrets, adoption at all times is however about the rightful keeping of secrets – perhaps more normally described as maintaining confidentiality.
We entrust Social Workers with our confidences. Our children, we hope, will eventually entrust us with theirs. During matching every conversation becomes a battle to balance confidentiality with openness, to involve friends and family as much as possible (along the way building understanding and hopefully shoring up my support network) while also ensuring the stories of any children being discussed remain their own. Such keeping of secrets relies on trust.
So, shame and trust: two of the outcomes that can come from both the keeping and revealing of secrets.
It is hardly surprising that our preparation as potential adopters requires us to think actively about how we deal with our own secrets. Handling shame and learning to trust – and managing the secrets they often hold deep inside – are likely to be two of the key challenges as adoptees our children may struggle with.
As parents our jobs will be to go beyond being experts in our own secrets: we will need to be experts in our children’s secrets too.