Monday, July 6, 2015

How to Support a Friend Who Has Adopted an Infant

Dear Sugar,

Most likely, you are a mom-by-adoption or mom-by-adoption-to-be.  This post is for you.  Because when you adopt, many people don't know what to do.  They might say or do the wrong things (or nothing at all).  Though these nearest-and-dearest are by no means malicious, they are ignorant of adoption, as most of the general public is.  So please, pass this along, helping them know how they can support you and others like you, those who choose to adopt.    Here you go:



HOW TO SUPPORT A FRIEND WHO HAS ADOPTED AN INFANT

Throw her a baby shower.   With her blessing and her schedule confirmed, throw your friend (or the couple) a baby shower.  The new baby will need many things!
 
Talk to her about depression.  New moms by adoption can have post adoptiondepression, similar to moms who give birth who develop postpartum depression.  This may set in just a few days to over a few months after the baby is placed with your friend. 

Take her a meal.  Going from not being a mom, to being a mom, is overwhelming for any woman. 
Take your friend a comforting meal (something that re-heats easily) or a gift card to a local restaurant.  

Buy her baby picture books that support the beauty of adoption.   I have an extensive list of adoption-themed books in my first book, Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children

Respect her family's privacy.  Adoption means that the family might have certain rules or constraints when it comes to sharing the baby’s photo and personal information. 

Don't probe.  If your friend wants to share information with you regarding their adoption situation, she will.  And any information she shares with you should remain with you.  You can say, "What would you like to share with me about your adoption journey?"

Don’t make any sarcastic or off-handed remarks about comparing her situation to yours.  Things like, “At least you got a baby without dealing with weight gain and stretch marks.”  Nothing about adopting is easy.  Your friend may have battled infertility, for example, and remarks about how “lucky” she was to avoid the hardships of pregnancy, labor, and delivery can be hurtful.

Give her an adoption-specific gift.  Try Encouragement for the Adoption and Parenting Journey: 52 Devotions and a Journal.

Finally, treat her as you would any new mom.  Be there for her.  Encourage her.  Answer her questions about what you've done with your children when she asks you.  Take her on a mom date.  SHE IS A REAL MOM, JUST LIKE YOU!  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Is It Okay to Use Your Adoptee to Educate Others on Adoption?: Adoption Link Up

Hi, I’m Rachel.  I’m a mom by adoption to three children.  All our adoptions are domestic, transracial, and open.  I write and speak about adoption for a living.  I have a blog, three books, and hundreds of articles.   I’m passionate about adoption ethics and education.  

Because of my profession and my “status” as a mom by adoption, I’m often prompted to share photos of my children and parts of their personal stories, particularly by news media outlets.  I always decline.  The public photos of my kids (in articles or blog posts) are always from behind, never showing their faces.  I don’t share my children’s names, anything about their biological parents, or any other personal details regarding their personal stories. 



My decision to keep my children’s photos and information private was an easy one for me to make.  I’m not just protecting their right to privacy, but I’m protecting their biological families.  I’m sending a message that there are lines I do not cross, because I believe in privacy.  I believe in good manners.  I believe in respect, dignity, and honor.  And I know enough from adult adoptees to know, the last thing they want is for their vulnerability to be exploited by their parents (or for their vulnerability to be blatantly ignored out of ignorance and fear by the parents). 

We have nothing to hide, despite what some think.  When we are interrogated by strangers, I don’t “pony up” answers because I’m embarrassed, ashamed, or unconfident.  We are asked questions like:  Where are their birth parents?  Are they real siblings? How much did your kids cost?  Why couldn’t you have your own babies? Why did you adopt Black children?  These questions are full of stereotypes and inaccuracies and entitlement and assumptions.  They are problematic in and of themselves.   I refuse to engage in conversations that take from my children and give to strangers, people who have absolutely no bearing on our happiness and well-being. 

My children are people.  They have personalities, feelings, opinions, and rights.  They are confident, because they know Mom and Dad don’t give away pieces of them to anyone who asks.  We don’t allow their lives to be subject to judgement and criticism, because we don’t “take the bait” and offer up their personal information.

We are, in essence, assertive parents.  We are teaching our children to be the same. 

Now I’ve heard it all.  People are “just curious” and they are “well-intentioned.”  People are asking for an adoption education.   I, as a parent by adoption, should get over being politically correct or easily offended.   I should respond immediately and with full disclosure in order to appease the asker, to be perceived as friendly and comfortable.

But I don’t. 

There are other bloggers and book authors far more popular than me.  They freely share their children’s photos, names, personal stories, and current struggles.   They say their openness helps educate others.


As my children get older, they ask more and more questions about their adoptions.  They will soon learn how to use Google.  They will learn to read  and will be able to pick up my books and grasp what Mom has shared with the world. 

I want to make sure that every word I write, every example I offer, and every photo I share is something that makes the adoption world a better place, without ever compromising my children’s trust. 

My children never signed up to be adopted.  They sure didn’t sign up to be adoption’s poster children.  Nor do I want them to be.   What I want for them is to be free to be themselves, to explore their adoptions without reading about them on the Internet or hearing Mom “educate” a stranger who stops us at Target.  

I want them to know that in my arms is a safe place where they will be met with empathy, education, and empowerment.    Not the ideas for the next blog post, book, article, or Twitter update. 

---

To learn more about privacy, check out my latest Huff Post article:  The One Thing You Should Say to an Adoptive Family




  

Monday, June 29, 2015

How God Prepared Me To Adopt

The other night as I was rocking my son, I remembered the many times I had rocked other people's children.  Many, many children.



I am not one of those people who "always knew I wanted to adopt" or "always thought about adopting."  I had goals for my life, but mostly, I tried to live day-to-day, focusing on that day's schoolwork, that day's work schedule, that day's relationships.   Day by day, inching toward the goals I had for my life.

My mothering sense began when I was three and my sister was born.  We played this game called Princess and Helper.  I was the Princess, naturally, and my sister was the Helper.  She had to do whatever I said, knowing I was the older one, the one who was capable of mothering her.... And then, when my brother was born five years later, my mom would let me carry him around the house on my hip, as a toddler, and I would later write in my journal the exact number of times I walked my brother around in a circle.   I was so proud to be Mommy #2 to my siblings...though I know it drove my mother nuts!

For years as a teenager, I worked as a babysitter, even long before I could drive.  Even after I started "real jobs" like making sandwiches at Wendy's, to being a cashier and cafe server and bookseller at Barnes and Noble, to assembling pitas at Pita Planet, to working in an in-office doctor's office daycare for the employees' children, I never stopped watching kids.  I took babysitting gigs when I could get them, even watching some of my older friends' kids for free so they could go on a date night.   Even as I worked my way through grad school, while teaching two classes and taking two myself, I accepted a part-time nanny job.

Children, to me, were magical.

Later, I taught at a kids' writing camp at over the summer at the university I taught at. I also took a children's ministry leadership position at my church on Wednesday nights.

I loved all those children as if they were my own.  I could gently discipline, offer a hug, soothe a hurting place, break up arguments, read a book, change a diaper (or potty train...no matter how long it took!), check for fevers, encourage with high-fives, discourage with "the look."

As I rocked my son, I remembered all the children I had "mothered" over the years.  I didn't hesitate, ever, to give my whole heart and ability, with no regard for biological connection.   When their moms and dads weren't there for whatever reason, I never thought twice about stepping in and being the one to provide whatever the child needed in that moment.

Mothering came very naturally to me, but it was because I had experience, and heart, and I listened to my gut...my budding "mommy gut" for many, many years.

Each of these jobs, each of the children I had the opportunity to nurture and teach, were small steps I believe God put in my path to prepare me to be able to be handed a new "bundle of joy," someone I didn't conceive or birth, someone I had no biological connection to, and take on the role as Mother.

When I was in a hospital bed, newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and recovering from my near-death experience, when the nurse educator asked me about my plans to have children, and when ADOPTION popped into my mind...I never hesitated.

I knew.  I knew adopting was my path.

In that moment, every single tear I had wiped from a child's cheek, every high-five I had offered, every snack I had prepared, every trip to the potty, every book read, every boo-boo soothed by a cartoon bandage.....it all became apparently clear why those experiences had been mine.

So Sugars, I'd love to know, how did God prepare you to adopt?  To parent by adoption?

To be further encouraged on your adoption journey, please check out:  ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE ADOPTION AND PARENTING JOURNEY: 52 DEVOTIONS AND A JOURNAL.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

The One Thing I Struggle Most to Do As A Mother



As a mom of three young kids, I feel like all I ever do is, well, do.  I am always on my feet, making snacks, washing dishes, sorting laundry, wiping noses and faces and bottoms, pushing my kids on swings, tucking them in, shuffling through the papers in backpacks, putting on shoes, buckling car seats.

Sitting for any period of time is unnatural for me.   Sick days are torturous.  And when I do get a spare moment to myself, I’m not sure what to tackle on my to-do list first, so I usually just start unloading the dishwasher. 

The other day, it dawned on me what my kids really want from me.  Of course, the first thing is another snack, probably something we don’t have enough of or don’t have at all.   So then there are negotiations and compromises.  And just as I put a plate in front of the last child, the first one needs more water. 

In April and May my daughter would arrive home from half-day kindergarten with one question.  

“Mom,” she implored, “Have you had lunch yet?”   My answer was always no.  I just ate breakfast two hours ago, finally, after giving the younger two their breakfast and morning snack.   She would then ask, “Then can you sit with me and eat?”

“Um, maybe honey,” I said.  “But first I have to put the baby down for a nap and move the laundry to the dryer and call the doctor’s office.” 

She looked at me, disappointed but not surprised, and ate her lunch in silence.

Mom guilt set in.

If you looked up my name in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure “move” would be written next to it. 

I’m not sure when I decided to buy in to the idea that a mom who sits is a lazy mom.  Because mommies, well, our brains never have dull moment, even if our bodies are a little more at ease than usual.   I guess I just figured, sitting is time that should be spent doing “stay at home mom duties.”

I struggle, every day, with just sitting.  Listening.  Gazing.  Resting.  Smiling.  Holding.  

But I fight to do what I know is best.  To put down the dirty dish, turn my back to the washing machine, set down my phone… and just do the simplest and meaningful things a mother can do:
Surrender to the simple request to sit. 

To be present.

To nurture the moment, the child whose skin is pressed to mine, whose eyes implore me for guidance and love and security.

Motherhood IS ministry. 

The dishes can wait. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

Distractions and the Family-By-Adoption

When we arrived home from vacation last weekend, I was rested and tan from the Gulf's sunshine. During our vaca, we took a social media break, knowing we didn't want to spend a few grand in beachfront condo rental just to sit on the beach, faces buried in our IPhones.   




What we came back to was media craziness over the Rachel Dolezal story.  Initially, I was like, "Um, ok.  Whatever."  But the more I went through my FB feed, reading reactions from bloggers, news outlets, and individuals, the more involved I became.  The more INVESTED I became.  Then on Tuesday, Dolezal spoke to both Matt Lauer and Melissa Harris-Perry, explaining/justifying/excusing her choices and behaviors.   It was annoying and strange, but I didn't get fired up until she said to Matt Lauer that the only way she could be seen as her (Black) son's real mother was to be black herself.

Um.....yeah.   

The story oozes privilege, stereotyping, offensiveness, and, I believe, mental illness.  It's really ridiculous, her responses and claims, and there is surely more to the story....but that isn't the point.    

It dawned on me how ridiculous I WAS BEING.  Spending too much time reading opinions, watching video clips, and caring what this woman says or does.   She has NO bearing on me and my family.  She certainly doesn't represent us and our feelings about transracial adoption, transracial parenting, and race.   She doesn't represent any of the families I am honored to know.

I don't want to live a distracted life, one where I let the opinions and decisions of others have any influence on my mood, my decision making, my parenting, even my writing.  I simply don't have time for such nonsense.  I have three young children, a husband, a chronic disease, a home, a career, and an adoption support group I facilitate.  I refuse to be distracted.  

I set out to blog in order to learn and teach, not to sway whichever way the wind is blowing that day.   I don't want to blog just to blog.  Blog just to gain more "likes" or followers or comments.   I don't want to be a piece in a game, and I sure don't want to drag others through the mud just to gain more attention.   That's not what this blog is about.  What my life is about.   

When you find yourself distracted by the latest gossipy news story, even when that story has some sort of tie to the adoption community, read up on some wisdom (just as I did today!) from the ESV Bible: 

Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Psalm 119:15
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

1 Corinthians 7:35
I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

And remember, your babies (or babies-to-be) need you to move forward and make choices in clarity, in purity, and with a good attitude.  You cannot do that if you're busy judging, evaluating, and pondering the latest scandal.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Maintaining Birth Family/Cultural Ties: Adoption Talk Linkup

Hey, Sugars!

This week we're focusing on one of two topics:  maintaining birth family OR cultural ties within the family-by-adoption.

Both topics are dear to my heart.  We have three open, transracial adoptions.  What does this mean in our day-to-day lives, in the "maintaining"? A lot of work, learning, and changing.   A lot of joys.  A lot of challenges.  Seasons of elation and seasons of confusion and seasons of difficulties.  Comes with the parenting territory.

What's kept us going, as the kids' parents, is a commitment to empathy, education, and empowerment.  The three Es.   And, above all, listening to God's whispers (and shouts) in our day-to-day parenting.

I write and talk a lot about openness in adoption and transacial adoption.  Books, media appearances, articles, and, of course, blog posts.   I'm incredibly passionate about these topics, mostly because I remember what it was like to be at the starting line and how oh-so-very-long-and-bumpy the track ahead appeared.   And then as we started that journey....the unexpected.   I felt like we were sometimes running with our eyes closed, never knowing when we'd fall in a pothole, stumble over debris, or find ourselves off the path completely.

Certainly, I cannot boil down my thoughts on transracial adoption and maintaining cultural ties to just a few bullet points.   I couldn't even boil it down to less than 200 pages.  :)  But I certainly believe there are some highlights that are incredibly important, worthy of their own post.  So here goes...

1:  Find a mentor for your child.   I cannot even begin to express how much my girls adore their mentor, she adores them, and I adore her.   I've been asked a few times how in the world do you find a mentor?   We called our local university (where I used to teach) and connected with faculty who were willing to send our information and request to a few students they felt would be a good match for us.   Through that, we interviewed about six young women.   We asked questions, watched them interact with the children, and asked about availability.    We wanted a female, someone who would be living in the area for some time, a Christian, and someone actively pursuing a college degree.    This relationship has been so beautiful, for all of us.   J has blessed us with hair advice, meeting her family and boyfriend, spending time with our girls, listening to our fears and struggles and offering suggestions.  We've been able to dine with her, advise her on college/educational matters, and encourage her in her goals.

J and Baby E 

2:   Get your child's hair done by someone else.  I am capable of doing my kids' hair.  And often, I do their hair.  I take pride in my growing ability to care for their hair.    However, there's nothing like the beauty, the experience, the investment, of having a person who racially matches my children doing the kids' hair.   It's worth the money.  The distances driven.    The relationships that have formed are invaluable.  And in case you haven't already heard, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT HAIR.  It's about history and culture and pride and confidence and joy and possibility.     And when my girls' hair is styled perfectly, created by the hands and experience of a person of color, and I'm asked, "Do you do their hair?" by a strangers, I can say with happiness that no, no I didn't.   Because between the knees or in the chair of a Black professional, memories were made and values were instilled.


   The latest hairstyles, done by our friend Miss R

3:   Fill your home with literature and art and toys by Black creators.   Reflections of your children throughout your home demonstrate that where your heart is.

One of our favorite books displayed in our living room

4:  Never stop learning about your child's racial culture, history, and present.  Follow Black news media sources on Facebook and Twitter, watch YouTube videos on how to style hair, take a class, subscribe to magazines like Essence, visit Black historical sites and monuments and festivals and restaurants, etc.  Watch movies.  Listen to music.  Just learn.  

Our subscription to ESSENCE has been a great resource for our family.  

5:  Have a diverse group of friends.  There is no substitute for face-to-face interactions and meaningful relationships with those whom you can listen to and learn from and love.   Though it's easy for today's adoptive parents to log on to any social media outlet and ask a question, having friendships that involve personal, intimate, and face-to-face interactions are priceless.



Now on to the Adoption Talk Linkup!

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Todays topic is maintaining birth family and cultural ties. Grab a button for your post and join Erin, Jamie, Jenni, Jill, Madeleine, Rachel, and me! New to linking up? We'd love to have you join us, here's how.
No Bohns About It

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dear Waiting and New Parents By Adoption: Guard Your Heart

When I was a little girl, we used to sing a song in Sunday school that went like this:

“Oh be careful little mouth what you say” followed by “Oh be careful little ears what you hear” and “Be careful little eyes what you see.”  Check out a modern day version by Casting Crowns called "Slow Fade."

The messages in both are clear:  be discerning and guard your heart.
  
Today, I want to talk to waiting and new parents by adoption.

Recently, a good friend of mine who is heavily invested in the adoption world (like me) has expressed her need to step back from the plethora of adoption-talk on social media and on websites.  She’s chosen to unfollow many of the adoption pages she engages with on Facebook.  She’s not writing as many articles or starting many new projects, because her work focuses on adoption. 

She’s taking a breather.  She’s smart.

There is so much information on adoption “out there.”  Information can be a great thing!  But the problem comes in that there is also so many opinions.  And because adoption isn’t just a choice, but also a matter of the heart, the opinions of others can weigh heavily on new and waiting parents by adoption, making their load heavier, not lighter.  Adoption becomes a burden, not a blessing.

If you’ve read my blog, books, and articles, you know I don’t think adoption is all Cotton-Candy-Rainbow-Roses-Butterflies (and any other magical things you can think of).  As I’ve said many times, I describe adoption as bittersweet, intricate, and complicated.   There are many issues with all forms of adoption, BIG issues, issues that need complete renovation.  Like, take-it-down-to-the-studs renovation. 

Those who don’t take adoption deeper to its under-the-water-iceberg levels (where 90% of the iceberg is) will run into problems as their adoptee grows up.  They won’t be prepared, empathetic, educated, honest.  They will be more likely to bury their heads further into the sand than to confront their child’s questions and feelings.    This is problematic.  It is not okay. 

However, there are many, many parents by adoption who know the realities and possibilities.  

They’ve read books, blogs, and articles.  They are listening.  They are learning.  They are mindful and purposeful.  Some of these parents are adoptees themselves, or siblings or spouses of adoptees.  They GET IT. 

But they are burning out quickly.   Because instead of being willingly led through murky waters, they are being dragged through them by their choices of what they see, hear, say, and go. 

And that has got to stop.

You cannot be a great parent when you are looking down.  You just can’t.  When you are burdened, you cannot possibly be your best, be the parent your child needs. 

Which brings me to the old song I sang as a child.   Parents (waiting or placed), be careful what you say, what you choose to listen to, and what you choose to read and believe.  Be discerning.  Be wisdom seeking.   Focus on “ [. . .] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV)

Remember, your job, once you become a parent, is to love, nurture, support, and encourage your child.  You need to accept your child in whole (including his or her beginnings) and without condition.
 
This is a big job. 

I implore you to carefully guard your hearts.  Say no to distractions.  Say yes to wisdom.  Say no to squeaky wheels.  Say yes to experience.  Say no to Satan's whispers and coaxing.  Say yes to possibilities. 

Relish in the realities of your child's adoption, in all its bittersweetness, complexities, and intricacies.  Say yes to today’s joys and challenges. 

Say yes to meeting your child’s needs, above all else.  

And deny, with all in you, and with God's strength, the daily temptations to live a distracted, misguided, burdened life.  

----

Dear Sugar,

If you find yourself already in a dark place, a place of burdens and anxiety, refer to these verses for encouragement:

Matthew 11:29-30:  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

1 Peter 5:6-7:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you

I'm praying for you.  I'm cheering for you.   

(And for more encouragement on your journey, whether you have adopted already or are waiting, check out a year's worth of inspiration here).