Dear Carolyn: My parents had a child before they were married and gave her up for adoption. My parents are divorced, and my father told me about this six years ago, a few years before his death. He and his daughter had been in touch, exchanging letters and photos but not mentioning anything to me or my brother.
I told my mother I knew and she refused to discuss it, saying neither her extended family nor her current husband knows and I must not tell them.
I haven’t met my sister but we are in touch and do plan to meet. My mom doesn’t know about the upcoming meeting but obviously would not want me to put anything on social media where other family members could see it. And even if I do not post anything, if my sister does and tags me, then my family members will still see it.
Am I obliged to censor what I share about my life because my mom wants to keep this a secret?
Anonymous: First, a clarification of terms. To “censor” is not the same thing as “not use social media.” You can both choose not to use social media and be a living, breathing, ambulatory fire hose of free expression. At the very same time.
Are you asking me whether you have to censor yourself? Then I say no. Your sister is a fully autonomous person, not some secret your mom gets to hide.
Are you asking me whether you have to keep your sister encounter off social media? Then I say not posting/tweeting about it is the very least of the kindnesses you have available toward your mom and the rest of your family as this story breaks.
Please know I make no value judgments when I say this: You, your sister, your brother, your mom, your extended family, your mother’s current husband, your sister’s adoptive family, and a few strangers who are only reading this in the paper will have a lot of feelings about the situation. The best way to handle sensitive things is to put your best judgment at the controls throughout the entire process.
That is not possible with posting online: Posting is one decision and done. After that, it’s out of your hands, and your judgment can only watch in horror if things go wrong.
You didn’t ask, but here’s what I suggest. Kindly tell your mom you plan to meet your sister soon. Say you don’t intend to announce anything on social media but also won’t go out of your way to conceal anyone. It’s simple: You won’t deny your sister’s existence.
Also remind her that what your sister posts is out of your hands and your mom’s (though you can opt or ask out of tags). Therefore, you humbly suggest your mom recognize that her Plan A, keeping the secret, will eventually unravel no matter what she does. That means her best chance of telling her own story, her way, is to get out front with a Plan B — soon, soon.
A conversation like this, or a series of them, is an example of how you can put your best judgment to work continuously as you go. You don’t even need your mom to take part; she can keep “refus[ing] to discuss it” as you apprise her of your plans and her options.
I hope she comes around, though. Your parents gave their daughter what they felt was her best chance in life. There’s only courage in that.
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