Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dear Sugar: To Our Babies---Don't Defer Dreams

Dear Sugar,

I first remember reading this Langston Hughes poem in high school, and it has stayed with me ever since.

There are many, many limits that others attempt to put on our children.   This is done out of ignorance and fear.   It stems from hundreds or years of oppression and privilege and evil.  

Yet, I strongly believe that parents have a lot of power.  We can raise confident, resilient, empowered children, children who don't defer dreams.  Children who live their life's purpose, accomplish their goals, discover their dreams.

I think there are practical ways we can do this:

1:  Model the behavior we want emulated.  Are you one of those people who has always wanted to do X, yet you've never done it?   What is your dream?  Start a business?  Learn to swim?  Take a weekend all to yourself?  Whatever it is, no matter how big, or small, or "silly" it seems, how can you turn your dream into a reality so that your children learn that dreams are for DOING?

2:  Talk to your kids about their dreams, and then find role models in that general field.  Do research, read books, talk about the dreams and who has accomplished similar dreams and how.  

3:  Discuss what it takes to accomplish a dream:  determination, commitment, and confidence.  There are many reasons people don't just GO FOR IT---most often due to fear, lack of commitment, and lack of confidence.   Sometimes the most exciting things in life are the most scary, but you'll be there to support and encourage your child.  Work on the skills needed (determination and commitment) in other (smaller) areas in life, so when it comes to dreams, there's a skill set already in place!

4:  Talk about consequences, positive and negative.  What are the consequences of not going for that dream?  What about consequences to go for the dream?   Note that consequences aren't always negative.   The Hughes poem is a great way to start this discussion.

5:  Surround your family with do-ers!   Whatever a person's dreams are, find those people who are relentlessly pursuing their dreams and hang out with them.   It will inspire you and your kiddo!  

I cannot tell you how many times I've been approached by someone who says they've "always wanted to write a book" (and have told me this multiple times over a span of several years) and simply do not do it.   These individuals seem remorseful.  Always yearning.  And always a bit disappointed.  

Don't let your dreams EXPLODE or FESTER or STINK.

If something is stirring in your heart (and in your child's heart), why isn't today the day you say YES and take that first step to DOING?


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dear Sugar: Coffee Table Books

Dear Sugar:

Today I want to share with you my favorite "coffee table books" to have around your home to help racially support your kiddos.   Certainly, books of this size and quality can be pricey, so I suggest searching for used copies, putting them on your b-day or C-mas wish lists, and buying them yourself over time.  Also, great places to look include used book stores, library book sales, the used books section on Amazon, and the bargain book sections at your local book stores.

Here are some of our current favorite coffee table books.  Click on the photo to link to a page in which you can purchase the book:








Happy reading, happy exploring, and happy learning!  



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dear Sugar: A Time to Breathe

Dear Sugar,

It was a typical morning in our home.  A divine mixture of chaos and laughter and bickering.   

When I finally managed to load the kids and all their stuff (don't kids have a lot, and I mean a lot, of STUFF?) into the van, I was tired.  Sweaty.  Craving coffee, a workout, a splash of cold water to the face:  anything to give me energy.  I eased the van onto the road and headed to my older daughter's school.

The noise from the kiddos sitting behind me escalated.  They wanted to watch a movie (a movie, during a two mile ride?).  Then one child was mad because she didn't like the song that was playing the radio, propelling her to demand loudly:  CHANGE IT!  CHANGE IT, PLEASE!   I DO NOT LIKE THIS SONG!

I'm not sure if I responded, let out a sigh, or simply tried to pretend I was jetting to a magical vacation destination, but something caught my eye.

As children poured into the school doors, I spotted a woman and a little boy on the sidewalk.  The woman had her arms around the child, and he was as close to her as possible, their full bodies touching.   They had their eyes closed, the little boy's head buried in his mom's chest, his arms around her waist, hands clasped together.  

In the midst of a busy morning, they took a few seconds to breathe.  To inhale the scent of one another, feel the pressure of each others limbs.  

Reassurance.

Security.

Love.  

A small moment like this can simply re-set a day, or start the day on the right foot.  A moment like this can bring incredible peace and joy.   

It doesn't take long to give your child a touch that says:

-You matter.

-You are special to me.

-I believe in you.

-You are going to have a great day, starting with our embrace.

-I think you are the best kid on this planet.

-I'm here for you, even when I'm not right in front of you.

-I'm so lucky to be your mom.

-I can't wait to hear about your day.

-Thanks for doing life with me.

It is SO easy to forget what matters, to lie to ourselves, to put off the sacred moments (taking for granted they'll always be there).   

This week, this post- Mother's-Day week, give yourself a gift.   

Breathe.  

Stop.

Embrace.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dear Sugar: Happy Mother's Day

Dear Sugar,

This post originally appeared on Huff Post Parents last spring:

Each Mother’s Day before church, I pose for a picture with my three children. Their little, sticky hands are cupped around a shoulder and my neck. Later that day, they present me with handmade cards, a dessert and the promise of an afternoon nap. I shower them with kisses and hug them tightly.

My children don’t have my eyes or my husband’s thick hair. Each of our children is a beautiful mix of nature and nurture, a culmination of their birth families and us, their forever family. We don’t share genes with our children, but we share a life.
Celebrating motherhood is something I longed for when I was told I had a chronic disease, one that would make pregnancy potentially dangerous for both myself and a baby. Immediately upon learning my diagnosis, I knew my husband and I would adopt.
We waited 14 long months for our first child. When she arrived, I was beyond ecstatic. We have pictures of every single simple moment. She was our world.
Adopting a child is a monumental event for any person or couple, and for us it was no different. I remember how hard my heart was pounding as we prepared to enter the courthouse to swear before a judge that we would love and protect this child for the rest of her life. It wasn’t just a legal commitment, but a heart commitment.
That day was the both the happiest and saddest day of my life. My daughter’s birth mother entered the court room first, the heavy doors closing firmly behind her. I knew what she was doing: terminating her parental rights and allowing those rights to be transferred to us, the couple she had thoughtfully selected for her baby girl. It was a time of severing. As she exited the courtroom, we shared a short, intimate conversation. Promises exchanged.
One evening while I was rocking my daughter in her nursery, watching her eyelids grow heavy, it dawned on me that I had been parenting her for the exact number of months she had been with her first mother. My eyes welled up with tears, and I realized how completely devastated I would be if I had parented my baby for 40 weeks and then handed her to someone else... forever. It was overwhelming and unimaginable, too painful to fully consider. I wept for my daughter’s first mother.
When our second daughter arrived two years later, we faced similar experiences: joy, empathy, and the weight of eternity. We see so much of our second child in her birth parents, not just in physical appearance, like her height and dark brown skin, but in her preferences, talents and personality. She is part-theirs and part-ours. Blended.
Two years later, we adopted a little boy. Unlike with our girls, we were able to bring our son home from the hospital. We quietly entered the NICU and watched the nurses cut off his identification bracelets and gathered up papers, things that identified him as the little boy he was before he became ours.
As the nurses buzzed around us, getting my son ready for his departure, he began to cry inconsolably. He had been fed and his diaper changed. Was he crying because of the bright lights? Was he crying for the mother he knew he was leaving behind? Was he already missing her? My scent, my heartbeat, my voice, all unfamiliar to this little boy. He hadn’t yet started his life with us. He was in transition.
The magnitude of these moments, the realizations, changed me. They still change me.
My children’s first mothers are on my heart every Mother’s Day, and really, every day of the year. They are my children’s beginnings. Their blood runs through my children’s veins. My children are forever a part of their first families.
I’ve heard, many times, what the general public thinks about women who chose to place babies for adoption. It has been concluded that these women “move on” or “move past” the placement of the child. That they “get on with their lives.” As if they are a distant memory or a fad that went out of style. Dismissed. Forgotten.
But I know the truth. We live the truth. I know that placing a child for adoption is a forever-loss. I know that these women never forget or “get over” the children they conceived, carried, bore and love. I know a part of the women’s hearts will be broken, indefinitely.
Each Mother’s Day, when I pose with my children for our annual photo, I am reminded of how blessed I am to be the one they call “Mom,” and how my claim to motherhood came at a tremendous cost. I am honored to have the privilege of raising my three babies. I have vowed to never forget the women who gave my children life, because I know their first mothers won’t ever forget either.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dear Sugar: A Time to Be Thankful




Last week, I spent a lot of time making phone calls, attending appointments, and filling out paperwork for one of my kiddos being evaluated for a few therapies and services through the school district.  

I have a chronic disease myself, and I have many friends who are parenting kids with mild, moderate, and severe special needs.   I know how stressful it can be to juggle the many incoming messages, appointments, paperwork, and stress:  but I am just now dealing with it with MY baby.  And this isn't even major stuff, Sugars.  This is what many moms would find basic and normal.

While my child was being evaluated by a speech pathologist, I was in a conference room with the school nurse and school psychologist.    The school nurse was asking me lots of questions about my child's health history.   Now, she knows my children are adopted.  Just the month before, myself and two other moms-by-adoption, facilitated an all-school staff training on adoption (what an incredible experience!!!).   When she got to the question regarding my child's siblings (which pertained to medical history/connectivity), she asked, "Are your three children biological siblings?"

First, she asked in the correct way.

Second, she asked for the right reasons.  It was medical information.

Third, she didn't react one way or the other when I answered her.

And, here's the kicker, she's an adoptee.

VICTORY IN JESUS:  SHE GETS IT!  She gets me!  She KNOWS.  

This moment has me reflecting on the fact that my family is SO INCREDIBLY BLESSED.  I don't use these words lightly or to get all Jesus-y sounding on you.   Truly, when I look back at the fact that we moved towns when we did, chose the house that we did (which came about during the exact right moment of our house-hunting journey), landed in the school lines that we did, all to have the school principal be a Black woman, the school nurse be an adoptee, and my oldest's daughter's first teacher be a Black woman.....

God is good.

We discovered our neighbors, a Black retired couple, are parents-by-adoption to three (now grown) children.

Then another neighbor:  her sister was adopted.  

Then one of the police officers who lives in the subdivision across the street:  I just KEPT running into him.  Over and over.   I've now chatted with him several times about race, about crime, about talking to my kids, about parenting.   He's been so incredibly encouraging, and it's beneficial to my kids to listen to a Black police officer.  

The web around us just keeps growing.   There are SO many families by adoption in my town!  My LOCAL adoption support group for women (all traid members present) that started as just six women in a church classroom is up to 370 ladies!  370!   My squad!   My village!

And then that time I was at the library, and the librarian says, "Did you know my daughter does hair?"  Hands me her daughter's contact info.    I call.  She's been braiding my girls hair for over two years now.  

And when I called our local university to find a mentor for my girls.  We interviewed about eight ladies.  But Miss J, she was just IT.  Three years now she's been mentoring my girls (and me).  

The one evening I'm reading online postings in Facebook groups, see a post from a woman that I agree with, I message her, and I find out that though it's a national group, the woman not only lives in my state, in my area, but IN MY TOWN only five minutes from my house.  And that woman and I end up writing an adoption book together.  



There are two cashiers at our Target store who ALWAYS come up and compliment my girls on their hair.  They give me hair product advice.  I ask about their lives.  One even found me the other day and gave me a huge hug.   These young Black women just pour themselves out for my family---without judgment.  

It's so beautiful.

The right place, the right time.  So cliche, so true, so blessed.

Sugars, I know sometimes it's not easy to "cry for help."  I know sometimes you feel a little lost and lonely on your adoption and parenting journey.

Today I want to encourage you to do two things:

1:  Make a mental or physical list of what you have to be thankful for so far.   Who is in your life and is making things better?   Who is in your corner cheering for you and encouraging you?  What moments have changed you?   What moments and experiences have given you the boost you needed?

2:  Unfold your arms.   When one of my kids gets really mad and stubborn, the arms are crossed.  We've had talks about body language and UNFOLDING the arms.   Picture meeting someone whose arms are folded across the chest.  It screams defensiveness.   But having open arms, that's being available.  I want you to say hi to people you don't know.  I want you to have the courage to walk up to a Black woman and ask for advice on hair, on parenting, on anything!  I want you to be available to make friends and let things happen to you.    You just never, ever know what a simple HELLO to someone might lead to!  I cannot tell you the number of times someone said HELLO to me and then out came the adoption connection they have.  

Have a great week, make a new friend, and tell me all about on Facebook.  I believe in you!


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dear Sugar: Don't Let the "Rules" Suck the Joy Out of Parenting

Dear Sugar,

Sometimes I gotta take a break from reading about race and adoption and the combination: transracial adoption.   And here's why:

When you read about something TOO much, when you don't walk the line but go OVER the line and beyond, well, you begin to drown in it all.  And that's NOT good for your parenting.

Plus, you begin to feel like you can never be enough AND your parenting becomes legalistic in nature.

It's sort of like faith.   I'm a Christian, and what you need to know about Christianity is that it's a relationship-based faith, not a rule-based faith.  You see, a Christian is someone who accepts Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and opts to become "saved" and "redeemed."  This is ALL based on what Jesus did and can do, not anything that a person can do or did.   (I was reminded of this recently...since we humans love to turn things into "do better" and "try harder.")  

You see, when you're parenting a child by adoption (whether it be special needs adoption, transracial adoption, foster care adoption) there are "rules" you are to follow to be considered a good/educated/empowered parent.

Now I'm all about being and staying educated.  I'm about listening to triad members and members of your child's racial community.  I'm all about celebrating our kids for who they are and encouraging them to become who they want to be while being accepted into their racial community.

HOWEVER,

ahem,


there's a point in which a parent can become simultaneously prideful and uncertain in parenting when trying to follow all the rules.  You begin to drown rather than swim.   You scramble rather than soar.

And it's not healthy.  It's not good for you, it's not good for your child, it's not good for your family as a whole.

This often happens while being sucked in to too much social media.  Listening to strangers in online groups, constantly seeking a stamp of approval or an award.  Becoming a bit paranoid that everyone's eyes are on the parent...and then it becomes not only prideful but self-serving to always be ON IT.  To be the best.

This isn't authentic parenting.  This is about caring more about what everyone else thinks instead of doing what Madeleine Melcher (adoptee and author) tells parents:  to BE the parent and to LISTEN to the child.  

You were chosen to adopt your child by the child's birth family or by a social worker or other professional.  You were chosen for a reason.  Do you remember why?  Likely it wasn't that you were perfect (no one is) but that you were what that particular child needed in a mother.  

If you find yourself scrambling, trying to prove yourself (to yourself or to strangers...like that really matters...), get back to basics.  Find that beginning.   Find the beauty.   Ask God to open the right doors for you versus you trying to barrel through walls.

Today I want to stop trying SO hard.  Today I want you to know that yes, you should always seek to learn and listen, but that you should remember your priorities and with whom you allegiance, your time, your attention, and your heart should lie.

Also, in my experience and opinion, do not forget or neglect to have an in-person village around you and your family.  Social media can be very helpful in connecting us with resources and people, but nothing, nothing replaces face-to-face, authentic, call-me-in-the-middle-of-the-night-if-you-must relationships.

Today, I want you to take a breather.   There's a great book called The Hands Free Life to encourage you if you need to know HOW to break free from always being ON IT.

Dear Sugar, none of us is perfect.  None of us have it all together.   We aren't meant to.  We're beautifully flawed mothers raising children.    That is enough.  That is ok.  

---

For more encouragement along your journey of adopting and parenting, check out the book I co-authored with Madeleine Melcher






 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dear Sugar: Telling Your Child He/She Was Adopted

Dear Sugar,

We gotta talk about this.  

A lot of my readers are contemplating adoption or are new to parenting adoptees.   Some have been on this parenting path for awhile, but they didn't get an adequate adoption education.   Thus, this topic comes up:   how/what/when/where/who/why do I tell my child he/she was adopted?

I'm active on social media and in adoption groups, and the subject of telling kids they were adopted has come up frequently over the past month.   Frankly, I was a bit shocked, but then I realized, there is obviously a gap somewhere in communication and education with parents-by-adoption.  And because of this gap--they/we are crying out for help.  Even asking "when" questions says that parents have an inclination that NOT telling isn't ok.  





So here we go.  The keep is simple guide:

When:  Now.  If you haven't already.

Where:  The place you and your child are most comfortable.

What:  Age-appropriate information in chronological order.  If you need help with details and what's age appropriate, I suggest this book.    You can also create a lifebook for your child and read it to him/her.

Who:  You and your partner if you adopted with your partner, and your child.

How:  With empathy (for your child's feelings) and honesty.  Always honesty.

Why:  Because the story belongs to your child and is about your child, so he/she has the right to know the story.


FAQS:

My child's adoption story contains some not-so-pretty details (drugs/rape/infidelity/etc.), so I should omit those, right?
-You should tell your child their full story---step-by-step, detail-by-detail.  That's why this book is so helpful.   Remember, it's THE CHILD'S story, and he/she has every right to know every part of it.

I'm feeling so nervous and uncertain about talking to my child.  I don't want to screw it up, so staying silent is just better, right?  I'll eventually muster the courage and have the BIG talk!  
-There doesn't need to be a BIG and REVEALING talk.   Step by step, naturally integrating your child's story into conversations, is the way to go.  Don't think of it like THE sex talk (which I don't think a single sex talk is a good idea, either).   This is an ongoing conversation!  

What tools can I use to talk to my child about adoption?  I want to use the RIGHT words!  
-First, you don't need "right" words, but you do need empathy and honesty.   There is something to be said for Positive Adoption Language; however, your child has every right to develop his/her own "language" (how he/she talks about adoption---and it's not up to us to correct their feeling-words, though we should correct any inaccuracies).   

As far as tools, previewed and purchased children's books can be a great way to talk about adoption.   Also the lifebook you've created for your child, as children love to be the center of the story!   I also suggest having conversations with adoptees and ask what their parents did or didn't do that was helpful to them as they grew to understand adoption and their own story.  I highly recommend Madeleine Melcher's book Dear Adoptive Parents:  Things You Need to Know Right Now-From an Adoptee.  

I'm stuck.  What can I do to prepare myself to talk to my child?
-Reach out to an experienced counselor, your adoption social worker, and/or an adoption support group.  Find out WHY you are struggling to talk to your child.  Work out your own issues so you can be healthy and whole and confident when you talk to your child.  It's ok to be nervous and to struggle, but it's not ok to be silent, to not tell your child the truth.


I want you to know that YOU are the parent.  Your child needs you to be brave, strong, truthful, empathetic, honest, supportive, and encouraging.   Remember John 8:32:  the truth is the gateway to freedom.

Go forth, Sugar.  You've got this!