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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home

When Your Family Needs Help, Part 1



I belong to a secret Facebook group for adoptive families that has more than 1,000 members. As in many large, online gatherings, conflicts tend to flare, but a recent argument escalated to near-nuclear conflagration when a mom I'll call G shared a blog post she'd written about her six-year-old daughter, adopted from Ethiopia. G reported that the girl struggles with attachment issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that she often lies, steals, and attempts self-harm. G also admitted that she's exhausted and feels resentful toward the child she loves, but that a new doctor and treatment plan have given her hope. The little girl's name and photo were included in the post.

A lot of folks in the group, including me, felt that this woman had violated her child's privacy -- and some vehemently told her so (for the child's sake, I'm not including a link to the original post). G explained to critics that she wants to de-stigmatize mental illness so that more families will seek treatment. Many parents said they appreciated her candidness, because their families are struggling too. Some argued that we need more of this kind of openness in the adoption community, where too many families suffer in silence when life isn't Hallmark card-perfect. A few pointed out that it can be hard to find doctors and therapists who really understand adoption; a couple of moms even said that blogging and reading adoption blogs is the best way to get help, because adoptive parents who've "been there" know more than most professionals.

I found this entire episode so alarming that I wrote about it on my personal blog, but the concerns raised by the online discussion continue to gnaw at me. I strongly believe children have a right to privacy; over and over, I've heard adoptive parents of grown children say they regret being so free with their children's personal stories. At the same time, families shouldn't suffer in silence. Parents facing rough situations should feel safe reaching out for help from peers and professionals (but hopefully not look exclusively to the Internet to solve their problems!).

Before the dust had even settled from that flame war, news broke of the terrible case of Doug and Kristen Barbour, the Pennsylvania couple accused of abusing their newly-adopted Ethiopian children almost to death. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kristen Barbour blogged extensively about the family's adoption preparations, but once the six-year-old boy and one-year-old girl came home, Barbour got quiet; adoptive families living in the Pittsburgh area have said that the Barbours were not part of local play or support groups. The couple has now been charged with felony aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of children. Reading about this tragic case gave me a new appreciation for G's openness in seeking personal and professional help for her family.

All of this has got me thinking. As the parents of three internationally-adopted children from Ethiopia and India, my husband and I have struggled at times. Without question, my brave children have struggled too. Somehow, we were able to find the help we needed without sacrificing anyone's privacy. I think the time has come for me to share some ideas for getting through the tough times -- and again, I think I can do it without giving away too much. In my next couple of posts, I'll talk about what I did when times were hard and how to find the right kind of professional help. I hope you'll come back and check them out.


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27 Comments

Thank you Sharon Von Epps for using my family’s situation to get your article posted.  Oh yes, if you’re wondering, I am “G” that Sharon refers to.  If you want to read about my family, you’re welcome to at ilovepurplemorethanyou (dot) com.  I have no regrets over sharing my daughter’s story.  As you say, it’s the families that keep to themselves and don’t reach out that end up abusing their children.  Because of my courage to speak our and put a name and a face to what we are going through, so many other families have come forward and have decided to get help for their children, after seeing common struggles between our family and theirs.  Like I said, my decision to come forward has to do with breaking the stigma of mental illness.  If I were to come forward about my child having cancer, not a single person would complain about me violating my child’s privacy.  Sharon, I’m so glad I could provide you with the information about my family, to give you material to write an article to get published online.

By Ilovepurplemorethanyou on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 9:46 am.

The back links scream self-promotion. Another great way to run traffic to your blog- judging other parents. I seems it gets you a whole series to promote your page.

The irony is sharing information is very subjective. You sharing any information online about your children may be viewed as a lack of privacy for them and their own choice to make. Your own views and ideals of privacy is what is allowing you to choose sharing what information about your family. Assuming your husband is aware of your blog is okay and is supportive we also must not deny the fact that dad has a role in this parenting thing, too. Unless “G” is single you are putting a lot of emphasis and blame solely on the mother and not on the father. I think it is harder to create an argument based on two parents consciously making a thoughtful decision to share information. Whether or not you agree it is right for your child is the only judgement you should have. Making judgements and criticisms based on your individual views of privacy is extremely damaging to the adoption community.

Rather than telling people what they should and should not be doing, we should be encouraging them to make the best, thoughtful, and educated decisions for their own family.This adoption journey is different for everyone. Families in general are different.

By Svalor on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 10:05 am.

This makes me sad. Your beliefs are your beliefs, but this is so unsupportive to families speaking out. There major issues that arise in adoption, and we need to address it. I hope posts like these don’t scare other families out of speaking out for what they know is right for their family.

By JLynne on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 10:27 am.

There are* - it’s getting too late to comment with fully formed sentences.

Again, I just want to emphasize the importance of support. Scaring people and condemning them for their own choices will make others feel alone in this process.

You admitted the messaged reached other adoptive families seeking this kind of personal experience. The support they have found speaks volumes to the importance of being open. It also teaches our children not to be ashamed of struggle.

No one has done anything wrong in this story, it is just life. There should be no shame in visiting any medical professional. I think it is refreshing to hear of a family being so honest and proactive in their child’s health and well-being.

By JLynne on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 10:43 am.

Being a professional in the psychological field who works with children and their parents in ALL kids of situations I cannot even begin to tell you how harmful your choice of topic this “part one” of a multi-series blog is, Ms. Van Epps. 

Have you ever heard of group therapy?  It is extremely important to know one are not alone in their problem/concern/suffering when something this traumatic is happening to someone.  And the fact that “G” decided to share her story in the hope that someone might read it and feel compelled by it to pre sue help, or even send her an email (because I believe this is why it was written after a conversation with “G”) means she is not only brave, she is empathetic to others.  Feeling all alone in ones struggle leads to depression and depression leads to suicide.

I think it would have been a more bolder choice to approach “G” and ask permission to use her story.  Ask her what she was going through.  Really put some time into CARING about her and not judge her like an ignorant copy/paster.  So in saying that.  You didn’t.  You judged and you used her story.  I have noticed you posted this to “Be Bold or Go Home”.  What have you done here that is so bold?  Nothing.  You didn’t even have the courage to speak with the woman you judged.  I see a coward, not someone who is bold.  So I suppose you should…GO HOME.

By ElleS on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 10:48 am.

To G, who commented above and is the author of the blog I referenced in my post: I’m truly sorry if what I’ve written made you feel used or hurt. I try really hard when I’m blogging to not use other people’s names or identifying details, because I do value privacy for everyone. I also try to be fair to others, which is why I pointed out that not everyone had the same reaction to your blog that I did, and in fact, many families have found it helpful. Your blog isn’t private, and so people you don’t know will read and respond in different ways. But I can see that finding out that someone has written about you when you didn’t expect it is upsetting, Again, I am sorry.

Just to clarify for you and the other commenters, writing about your personal situation didn’t allow me to “get” an article published here, or “get” me a series. I’ve been a featured blogger here at AFC for several years and I’m not paid for my posts. And although the controversy over your post sparked me to want to write, the issue of privacy I’m trying to get at, and perhaps failed to do effectively, is bigger than just one family’s decision. Lots of families are struggling with these issues of privacy vs the wish/need to speak out about struggles they’re facing. JLynne has found my post “unsupportive to families speaking out,” and I suppose it is, if speaking out means blogging intimate details and photos of your child. Every family has the right to make their own choices about how much to share. I absolutely don’t want families to suffer in silence, and as I said, many of the recent adoption tragedies in the news occurred in families who had isolated themselves in the extreme. My hope is that this series of posts I’m writing will offer some ideas for families to find help that don’t involve blogging private details about their child, because there are also those families who want and need to reach out but are concerned about privacy. There is a middle way.

By Sharon Van Epps on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 11:01 am.

And just to add one more thing to my previous comment: I don’t presume that a “middle way” is the only way, but it’s another option that may feel more comfortable to some.

By Sharon Van Epps on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 11:06 am.

I really believe you should edit this and remove the personal information that was so easily identified, if not, rewrite the entire thing.  It’s called “When Your Family Needs Help”, why not put some actual help in here and not just your opinion of what is right and what is wrong.  Surely you can google phone numbers and links to sites where families can actually get help and not just read gossip. 

One last note. If one wishes to keep others anonymous they should not use ages or sex or even initials of their real name.

By ElleS on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 11:13 am.

ElleS, I didn’t include any information in my post that wasn’t included in G’s public post on her public blog. Also, G is the initial of her blogging handle, not her real name, which also appears on her blog. I did not use her real initial, despite learning it from her public blog.

By Sharon Van Epps on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 11:21 am.

How unfortunate that you were given a vehicle to educate and advise families who may be struggling with issues following the expansion of their family through adoption and instead you offered nothing more than a variation of your opinion while using the “G” blog as your vehicle to get there.

I happen to know for a FACT that “G” chose to share her family’s struggle because she did not want another family to be in a same or similar struggle and feel they have no recourse, no help, no support and no love and understanding. 

Families who feel isolated and alone or judged tend to act out of desperation such as the Barbour family are alleged to have done.  And how many families are afraid to come forward with their fears and struggles because of reprisal of those in the “adoption community.”

Perhaps the finger should not be pointed at “G” but at yourself.  What have you done to show love and community to struggling adoption families?  I know what “G” has done and it has actually been selfless without any self-serving interest.  I am proud of her and encouraged for other struggling families that they have someone who is willing to stand on the firing lines of judgment so they don’t have to.

By justlaurahere on Friday, November 09, 2012 at 5:27 pm.
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Meet the Author

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps

Washington

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Ethiopia, India

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