Boundaries, Privacy and Adoption: When an Adoptee’s Safe Space and Narrative is Taken

I want to discuss boundaries and Privacy in relation to adoption. I want us to look a little closer.

These excerpts were taken from my personal journal when I was between the ages of 14-16 years old. I struggled greatly during this time for many reasons. Some things that unfold right in these pages. As a professional in the mental health field now, I want to preface that writing in your child’s journal is not normal and absolutely not healthy. Please never ever do this.

I began writing in a journal when I was around 14 years old. I remember the exact moment I went to Borders and bought it. I remember feeling powerful and in control because I could finally have a safe place to be unapologetically myself without any judgment or response. I could say what I wanted, be exactly who I was and unbeknownst to myself at the time, I could process out the overarching feelings that I was feeling in a way that was at my own pace and within myself. During the timeframe that I had my journals, my adoptive mother took my journals, distributed them to family, friends and professionals. What I found out last night when I opened up one of the journals was that she also took a red pen and marked up my journals with her own responses and thoughts, crossed things out and ripped out pages. She violated my privacy, held absolutely no boundaries and took away the one space I felt safe.

So now we fast forward 15-16 years later. My adoptive mother decided to return MY journals, when I was 29 years old (almost one year ago). This was offered to me with a stack of other files and information that she had kept over the years of my childhood. I finally decided to open them again, just to get a picture of things from that time period, because I do not remember much of it. I also wanted to see how some of the themes may come into my work with Adoptee LIT and how I might be able to use my thoughts during that time to help others. My AM’s intentions with “returning” these were in her mind “positive”, however, these words were never hers to read, control or manipulate. This was not her story to be centered in. They were never actually hers to return (I will get into how her holding onto them past the age of 18 is also a problem. However, that is another post).

This is a clear example of what NOT to do. This was me, at a time in my life that I was vulnerable, a time that I was hurting, a time that adoption trauma was prevalent. At a time that I was NOT safe physically, emotionally or mentally. What my adoptive mother did was wrong. 

However, it was taken a step further. Not only did she read my journals and distribute my journals but she responded to every one of my entries with a red pen and her thoughts. She crossed out things and ripped pages out. When I spoke about religion and god in certain eateries she provided a rebuttal and she in a sense ripped me apart. She responded to some of my journal entries and told me to take responsibility, she personalized her feelings within my experience. This is a clear example of what NOT to do. She is centering herself in a story that does not belong to her and it is unhealthy. There was absolutely no safe space, not even within my own words in a journal that belonged to me. 

This particular entry that I have chosen to share is a testament to what SO many adoptees grapple with. When adult adoptees speak out about what they went through as a child, they are not making it up. This is real and this is so many of our experiences. These entries are my actual thoughts in real time when I was a child. This is what adult adoptee’s talk about. These thoughts can be pervasive or can be latent. I will delve more into the theme for this journal entry another time. However, one thing I want to point out was these were not questions directed at her and therefore, she should have NEVER attempted to answer them. Really, she should have never been privy to even read these thoughts to begin with but in this event, she should have kept silent and not attempted to respond. You do not always have to respond. There are answers you will never have and shouldn’t have. There are questions that you are not meant to answer. Sitting with your child, hearing your child and providing space for your child is at times the only thing you should do.

I actually did not know she wrote in my personal journal until she handed them back to me. I doubt she even remembered she did this because I do not think she would have returned them if she was aware.

I truly cannot say it enough. Adoptee’s deserve privacy, deserve space, deserve the power and control of their own stories and deserve it without interference by adoptive parents, professionals and society in general. This was a clear violation of my privacy. In had a lot of reactions to this. I spoke so candidly, so openly, so unapologetically in my journals. I am proud of myself for doing that but this is a reason that it has taken me so long as an adult to regain my voice in writing. It was the only safe space that I had and it was turned into one of the most painful experiences of my life. 

Noting that September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month, I want to touch on that topic. I did not experience suicidal ideations or thoughts. I did however question my existence which is evidenced within these passages. The way that my AM responded in her comments, the fact that she took my journals and attempted to center herself and own my narrative, the lack of privacy, boundaries and safety. The disregard for my processing and mental health. This is some of the situations that can exasperate feelings of isolation, identity issues, guilt/shame, grief, intimacy and control. These actions are dangerous for adoptees.

Adoptees are already four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees”. 

American Academy of Pediatrics

It is important for Adoptive Parents to look at how to combat that, support their adoptees and provide safe spaces. It is important for Adoptive Parents to really examine their behaviors and intentions to not negatively add to these statistics.

It is NOT your role to center yourself or the ideal of what you believe adoption should be. It is your job to center and protect your child.

Published by Stephanie Oyler

Stephanie is a Licensed MSW professional who specializes in the area of adoption and foster care. She is also an adoptee herself. Adoptee LIT is a space created for education, advocacy, personal insight/experience and guidance in the sphere of Adoption.

2 thoughts on “Boundaries, Privacy and Adoption: When an Adoptee’s Safe Space and Narrative is Taken

  1. Wow. I’m so sorry your AP invaded your privacy AND distributed your journals to others. That is a adoptee’s safe space and she should’ve never read those much less written comments and distributed them. I’m sorry to hear that again – I hope she realizes that it is a major invasion of privacy and also that reading your child’s journal is just harmful in general.


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