Tuesday, June 19, 2018

5 Ways to Mess Up Open Adoption

In April, I shared with you five ways to help create a successful open adoption.  So today, I want to re-visit this important topic, but share with you five ways I see parents messing up open adoption.

First, open adoption is defined as the triad (that's the birth family, adoptive family, and adoptee) having some level of an ongoing relationship, usually through direct-contact.  This might mean texts, phone calls, e-mails, and visits. 

1:  Too much, too soon.

Whether this is during an adoption match or after a placement, some parents give out too much, too soon.  This can be everything from contact information (address, cell number), to life details (where you work, what you believe in, etc.), to contact itself.  Why is this problematic?  Because all good relationships develop healthily through organic growth.

2:  Holding back.

While you don't want to give too much, too soon, you also don't want to hold back too much.  This person is planning to, or has already, entrusted her child to you.  Therefore, you do need to be "open" to have a successfully open adoption.  This doesn't mean you disclose every little life detail (your income, your weight, your social security number---duh), but you do need to be vulnerable and willing in an open adoption relationship.  Otherwise, you are hampering its ability to succeed.

3:  Tit for tat.

Just as you disclose information to the expectant or birth family, you want some information from them.  This can be positively motivated:  you want to be able to convey information to your child (the adoptee).  But interrogating an expectant or birth family member, or demanding information because you somehow feel entitled to it, can have negative consequences and damage the relationship

4:  Guessing.

You do not know how the other person is feeling.  They do not know how you are feeling.  Therefore, if you are unwilling to communicate rather than guess/suppose, you are setting the openness up to fail.  Ask questions.  Check in with each other.  Be honest.   But don't guess.  There are too many factors and circumstances in every person's life for guessing.

5:  Taking everything personally.

Once again, things happen in the other person's life.  Things happen in your life.  Every single emotion or question or statement or reaction isn't always (or even often) rooted in you.  This is why we need to go back to #4.  Guessing doesn't work.  Ask, but again, as I shared in #3, don't enter into conversations feeling entitled to every tidbit of information. 

And when a birth parent is struggling, you need to point him or her back to the social worker (hopefully the very ethical one).  You cannot and should not assign yourself the role of birth parent counselor AND mom to your child.  I go into detail about this in my latest book.  Because your #1 job?  To be your child's mom.  Trying to be counselor can hinder or even harm your relationship with your child, with your other children, and your partner. It can take a toll on your own health.

You cannot bypass the work, time, commitment, authenticity, and grace that open adoptions take.  Please don't try to "fast pass" or bypass or ignore.  Do the work.  Make the changes.  And avoid burning bridges that cannot be repaired.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Dear Foster Dad: from Dr. John DeGarmo, Foster Care Expert

It's Father's Day week, and today I invited my friend Dr. John DeGarmo to bring encouragement to all the foster dads out there!

During my decade plus experience as a foster father, I have had over four dozen children come to live in my home.  Some children have stayed only one day, while others have stayed as much as a year and a half while in foster care.  One thing I have learned while taking care of these children in need is that, above all, these children simply wish to be loved in a healthy and safe manner.  

As I wrote in my book, Love and Mayhem: One Big Family’s Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption, many children in foster care will try to resist this love, and tragically even try to sabotage it in some way.  To be sure, there are those children who are difficult, who are challenging, and who are exhausting.   Yet, each deserves to be loved unconditionally for who they are.  As a foster parent, this is one of my greatest responsibilities, as well as one of my greatest privileges.

Sadly, many children in foster care come from homes where violence reigned.  Profanity, abuse, and harsh words filled the air that surrounded a child.   Additionally, where love was to be a child’s cornerstone, there was neglect instead, as the basic needs of the child were not met, and where the emotion of love was instead substituted with just the opposite.  

Along with this, there may be those children in foster care who have had poor examples of fatherhood in their lives, resulting in poor examples of so called “manliness.”  There are those who may believe that a real man does not express love, does not state that he loves someone, or even grant a hug to another under the misguided belief of weakness.  

For a child in foster care who may have been abused, beaten, or neglected, this type of love is most important.  Without this type of love, a foster child will not form necessary and healthy attachment with others, resulting in a number of attachment disorders.  Emotional difficulties such as a of lack of self worth, trust, and the need to be in control often result in the lack of unconditional and healthy parental love.  As anyone who has worked with foster children will tell you, most foster children face an enormous amount of emotional issues, many times stemming from the lack of healthy love.

With this in mind, it is especially important for a foster dad to communicate love to their foster children at all opportunities, and in a variety of ways.   A strong foster dad is one who is not afraid to say “I love you” to his wife, to his children, and to his foster children.  These simple words, these three words, can make a significant difference to a child who has only known violence and abuse.  Along with this, foster dads need to be nurturing to the foster children in their home, as well.  

There are those moments when I am weary, and feel I have very little love and compassion to give.  Indeed, there are those moments when I must pray for patience with a child who has spent hours screaming in rage at my wife and me.   Yet, I also recognize that these children are suffering; suffering from horrors I may never understand; horrors that I have dedicated myself to protecting them from while in my home.  

Indeed, these children need my love. In truth, foster dads need to be comforting to a child in need, gentle in his words and actions.  After all, this may be the only positive example of a loving father that the foster child may ever have.  

-Dr. John DeGarmo:  The Foster Care Institute 

Connect with Dr. DeGarmo on Twitter and Facebook

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

5 Summer Must-Haves for the Multiracial Family

Summer is in full swing here, and if you're like me, you know it's going to be three months of both fun and sibling bickering and boredom and chaos.  That's summer for ya.   

If you're part of a multiracial family like I am, you need to know about these fabulous products to help make your summer a little more sweet and sane.

Sun Protection

Yes, people with more melanin in their skin can get sunburns and can get skin cancer and can also face issues from sun damage including discoloration.  Yet vitamin D deficiency can have major health consequences; this stems from too much indoor time and too much sun protection.  So what is a parent to do? 

We wear sunscreen during peak sun hours, but generally speaking, we aren't out swimming during those hours.  Our swim time is usually in the later afternoon after the baby's nap.  

Which sunscreen is best for kids of color?  

You don't want unhealthy ingredients, nor do you want it to bleach your child's skin.  We use this sunscreen because it comes in a spray bottle (easy to target areas), it's reasonably priced, and it's considered safe and healthy (non-toxic).  It also has a barely-there scent.  

And don't forget to protect hair from the sun and pool chemicals, too.  I recommend putting a sleep cap over your child's hair, followed by this "long hair" swim cap that's perfect for braids, dreads, etc.

Art Supplies

We love to have lots of art supplies on hand for those hot, sunny days or hot, rainy days when going outside is unbearable or not possible.  But you want your art supplies to reflect your kids!   I recommend this skin-tone paper (for portraits), these markers, and these crayons.  There's even paint options!   

Of course, you'll also want scissors, stickers, coloring books, stencils, etc. on hand-as well:  these are great items to get at your local dollar store.  I also love to cover the table with paper so everyone can work together to create a mural.  We also go on nature walks, gather up natural materials (flowers, rocks, pinecones, etc.) and these as stamps into paint.  The kids LOVE this activity! 

I'm a big fan of sensory play, but on scorching hot or rainy days, you might be stuck indoors.  This is a great opportunity to create and play in a rice bin.  (My kids, ages 1-9, all love rice bins!)

Personal Product Bags

If you're like us, you're taking your kids to various activities and camps throughout the summer.  If your kiddo is spending the day elsewhere, consider making them a personal product bag to carry with them.  This may include lip balm, mini-deodorant (we buy Native, Schmidt's, or Jason's), mints, first aid gel and moisturizer, etc.  Teach your child to check their skin and lips and address as-needed. Of course, throwing in a few Tru Colour bandages that match his or her skin tone isn't a bad idea, either! 

Popsicle Molds

Children of color have a 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, so encouraging active play and healthy eating is crucial since type 2 diabetes is primarily a lifestyle-based disease.

Buying healthy popsicles (not the artificial-dye and sugar-filled ones) is really expensive, so we DIY by using these popsicle molds. (Since we have a big family, we own three mold sets!)  We buy a variety of fruits and let the kids create their own flavor combinations.  For the liquid, we usually just use plain water or Trader Joe's low sugar lemonade (sweetened with Stevia) mixed with water.  

Great popsicle recipes for kids and adults (including boozy popsicles) can be found here and here.  

Educational Fun

We do some homeschooling in the summer.  For example, this summer my five-year-old son will continue to learn how to read while my nine-year-old is focusing on honing her math skills.  

I love choosing educational fun where my kids are represented.  A few suggestions include the ABC Me (Black History) Flashcards, Eeboo's I'll Never Forget a Face matching game, books like Little Leaders:  Bold Women in Black History and What Color Is My World?.

If you're feeling creative, generate some lessons/activities with your kids.  For example, teach them about the man who invented the super soaker, and then hand out water guns for some outdoor fun.

Don't forget to take education outside of your home:  concerts, museum exhibits, festivals, library story hours, etc. 

What are your summer plans?  What products does your family love?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

25 Questions We've Really Been Asked as a Big Transracial Adoptive Family

Curious.  Intrusive.  Rude.  Astounded. 

Call it what you will, but these questions, yes all of them, have really been asked in the presence of one or more of my children.

I have learned to respond directly and firmly, teaching my children that no adult should use their size, age, or status (adult=authority) to bully our family.  My children have a right to privacy and respect, and yours do, too. 

Here are 25 questions we have been asked.  Perhaps some sound all-too-familiar?:  

How much did your child cost?

Are they real siblings?

Do you run a daycare?  

Do you run a preschool? 

Why didn't you adopt a white child?

Why didn't you adopt from another country?

Aren't adopted kids messed up?

Didn't you want boy?

Didn't you want a girl?  

Why did their birth parents not want them?

How old is her birth mom?

Did his birth mom use drugs?

Was he born addicted to drugs?

Why didn't you have your own kids?

Why didn't you try IVF?  

Can the birth parents take the child back?

Isn't open adoption confusing for your child? 

Weren't you scared the birth mom would change her mind?

You have your hands full, don't you?  

Aren't little mixed babies just the cutest?

Is she mixed or full?  

How long does it take to do all that hair?  

Isn't it so hard to do their hair?  

Now that you've adopted, are you going to try and have a child of your own?

How could someone give away such a beautiful baby?

If I could teach people one lesson, it's this: THINK before you speak.  Think about the children by my side, the ones who have feelings and thoughts and experiences.  Think, would you want a random stranger to ask you a deeply personal, intrusive question and look down upon you waiting for your answer?  

There is only one thing that a random stranger should say to a family like mine, a family built by adoption:  You have a beautiful family.      

If you're new to adoption, I encourage you to formulate response to the unexpected questions in advance.  If you are parenting older adoptees, encourage them to participate in those responses (what they're comfortable with).  Don't be afraid to stand up for your kids and their privacy.  You do not owe a stranger an explanation or an answer.  

Lead by example.  Your children are listening and learning from you.  Bestow upon them confidence, conviction, bravery, and authenticity.  You've got this! 

What's the worst question you've been asked?  How did you respond?  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Choosing Healthy Skin Care Products for Our Black Children

A few weeks ago, I shared with you our favorite hair products and also our favorite hair-themed children's picture books.  And now, let's talk about skin care.  

First, choosing skin care products is just as important as choosing good hair-care products, but for different reasons.  

1:  What you put on the skin, the skin "drinks."

The skin absorbs what you put on it.  Those products are then internal.  The child's body essentially "drinks" what is put on the skin.    

If the ingredients label contains words you cannot pronounce or have no clue what they mean, how in the world can they be healthy to put on your child's skin?  

2:  The beauty industry is highly unregulated.  

Unlike required food ingredient labels and disclosures (though some companies have managed to skirt around and manipulate in their favor), the beauty industry doesn't face the same requirements.  However, companies that do choose healthy ingredients will let you know:  loud and proud.  You might see labels that state their products contain no parabens, for example.  Products that are unhealthy can get in big trouble, such as Johnson and Johnson in 2016, thankfully, but you cannot rely on the beauty product industry to tell you what's healthy and what's not.  You need to know for yourself by understanding the toxicity of certain ingredients.   

3:  The beauty industry can capitalize on uneducated consumers.

In addition to not being required to tell you how dangerous certain ingredients are, unhealthy products are very beautifully packaged to lure consumers.  Think bottles that have plants, flowers, and water droplets on the labels (looks natural, right?), pretty fonts, colors that have us envisioning health (think "earth" colors like shades of brown, blue, and green).  And, of course, there are celebrity endorsements.   Price is also a big deal for consumers.  Why buy a bottle of $6.99 lotion when there's a $3.99 version?   

4:  History.  

Certain products have been the go-to for different communities and generations over the years.  When I was a child, Baby Magic was all the rage for parents.  Then Dreft came along, a "baby" laundry detergent.  (Both of which are not products we use and are not healthy.)  Some families swear by Vaseline (toxic), which again was all the rage when I was a child.  Now the Dreft and Baby Magic both smell divine, in my opinion, but if you read the above link talking about dirty beauty product ingredients, you learn that "fragrance" can be a cover word for smells-good-but-is-a-carcinogen.  (And as a recent breast cancer survivor, you'd better bet I'm going to do my very best to make sure cancer isn't something my children face in their lifetimes.) But nostalgia and tradition shouldn't determine the products parents choose to put on their children. 

5:  Future.

Your child will use lotion for his or her entire life.  Ashy isn't cute.  Dry skin is irritating.  Skin is our largest organ and should be treated with care!   Therefore, because a child will use product for a long time and in great quantity, choosing good products is very, very important.  

So now that you know the importance of choosing healthy products, here's how we determine what skin care products to use on our kids:

1:  Ingredients.

If the products contain "dirty" beauty ingredients, we aren't buying them.  Period.  

2:  Price.

We have four kids.  We cannot spend $30 on a bottle of lotion, no matter how "clean" it is.  But I also refuse to buy cheap products, because cheap products typically means cheap (AKA: dirty) ingredients.  

3: Black-owned and Black-created.

I prefer to support companies headed by people of color for a few reasons. First, they know products as they've used them their whole lives.  Second, I believe in using my dollars to support those who look like my kids.  

4:  Smells good, but not overpowering.

I have a lot of scent sensitivities, and I have four kids.  I cannot have each kid smelling like something different!  I want light scents that smell nice.  Subtle.  

5:  Convenience.  

I'm not going to drive all over the state trying to find products for my kids.  If I can't buy it locally or have it shipped to me, I'm not buying it.  Again, I have four kids.  How often do I really load them up in the minivan to go product shopping?  (Hint: never.)  

So what products do we use?  

Over the years, we've tried many different products.  (Isn't that the life of a multiracial family?)  During the past 1.5 years, I've been committed to one company:  Sweet On You Beauty Bakery.  

First, I love the scent options:  especially the cotton candy, toasted marshmallow, and birthday cake.  The scents are light.  

Second, I appreciate the disclosure in ingredients.  No dirty ingredients.  Nothing that causes me to pause and wonder if I'm rubbing poison into my children's skin.  

Third, the owner is a Black woman who is also a mother.  She understand the struggles parents face in choosing skin care products for their children, and she's solved the problem for us!  

Fourth, the products are affordable.  Again, remember, cheap prices=cheap ingredients.  But expensive isn't always quality.  These products are perfectly priced, and a little product goes a long way!   

Fifth, we all use them.  Yes, even this white woman.  I keep the cotton candy bodywash in my shower.  It's aromatherapy for me after a long day of mothering!  

In addition to nourishing body lotions and washes, Leslie also offers candles (um, yes!), bath crumbles, conditioner, lip balm, and much more.  

Find Sweet On You on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Get 25% off your purchase with code DESSERTS20 at checkout.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Affording Adoption: Fundraising, Saving, and Deciding

It's a common concern among hopeful parents.  

You can afford to raise a child.  But you can't afford that whopping homestudy fee, the wait fee, the placement fee (gulp), the post-placement fees, and the legal fees.   (That's A LOT of fees).   And sometimes birth parent expenses.   Travel costs. 

So what do you do?  

I know some will tell you, "Just adopt from foster care.  It's free!"  But I want you to know that foster care adoption isn't for everyone, that it's OK to have a desire to adopt an infant domestically, and that you shouldn't adopt from foster care solely because it's free.  You need to go into foster care adoption understanding what you are doing and knowing a whole lot about trauma and attachment, among other things.

Alright, so you want to adopt domestically, but you can't afford all those fees.   What do you do?  

1:  You choose an affordable agency.

There ARE agencies that do not have $30,000+ fees.  There are.  I would know, as we used small, ethical, affordable agencies for all four adoptions.   This might mean you spend a lot of time choosing an agency.  This might mean waiting longer for a child (as big agencies tend to have more outreach, like advertising and PR tactics, and more connections).  

But listen.  The most important thing isn't a fast placement.  It's an ethical placement (that doesn't put you in the poor house). 

How do you find an ethical adoption agency?  I spend a great deal of words discussing that here.  Because it's so, so very important.  Remember:  every choice you make today has a forever impact and must be explained to the child you adopt in the future.    

2:  You don't make irresponsible decisions.

There are some financial decisions that may give you money NOW but could hurt you in the long run.  Very carefully consider how wise it is to take out a second mortgage, borrow money from a relative, or borrow from your retirement fund.  If you aren't financially savvy, talk to a trusted relative or friend about your options and concerns.  Making irresponsible decisions will negatively impact your finances for the long-haul.  

3:  You cut back. 

Before you ask others to help you afford to adopt, you do everything in your power to save on your own.  You cut out the extras:  cable TV, daily mornings stops for coffee and pastries, memberships (ahem, gym) that you do not use or use enough, frequent eating out/ordering in.  You figure out what is truly essential.  You take the money you were spending on these things and save, save, save.  (Plus, you'll be more fit!)

4:  You clean out your stuff and sell items. 

Think of the things you have that you don't need and can make you money!  A vintage collection of something, bigger items that you no longer use or need.  Think of this as a win-win:  you get more space in your home for all the baby stuff and you make money in order to afford adoption!  

5:  You take a second job.  

Sell a product on Etsy, get a second job on the weekends or evenings, offer a service (something you're good at).  Beware of pyramid schemes that are almost always a ton of work for very little pay off.  If you do opt to join a direct sales company, be sure it has a great reputation and doesn't require a lot of up-front investment from you.  (Remember you're trying to save money, not spend.)  

6:  You fundraise.  

I discuss this in my new book (ways NOT to be tacky when fundraising and how to handle criticism).  Fundraising can be effective.  To help you:  there are Facebook groups and there's this book by a mom-by-adoption. There are some great ideas out there:  selling t-shirts, puzzle fundraisers, auctions, dinners, yard sales.  There are endless possibilities!  The best thing you can do is talk to others who have done these successfully (try the adoption fundraising FB groups) and mirror what they did.  

My #1 fundraising rule, which I talk about in my new book, is this:  DO NOT BE TACKY.   (You're welcome.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My Dear Transracially Adopted Child: A Love Letter From Your Mom

Dear Child,

I write this to you because you are my sunshine, the spark in my eye, the flutter of my heart.  You are incredible.  And I'm so grateful that your birth parents chose me to be your mom.  What a tremendous honor and responsibility.  

Some things have been weighing on my heart, things I must tell you.  I hope they offer you reassurance, honesty, and most of all, love.  And not just today but through all of your days.  

You've already heard, many times, strangers convey that you are are "so lucky" to be adopted.  But let me be very clear.  We, your parents, are the lucky ones.  We are not your saviors or superheroes.  We are your parents, and we are so grateful for you.  But you, dear child?  You aren't indebted to us for adopting you.  You don't have to wear the "lucky" label.  

You have the right to feel as you do about adoption.  No one has the right to tell you that your thoughts and feelings about adoption, at any given time, are invalid or incorrect.  The only time I will "correct" you is if you state an inaccuracy surrounding your adoption.  If I know something to be a fact, I will share that with you.   

You don't have to choose between us, your parents, and your biological family.  I hope we've made that abundantly clear from day one.  You are forever part of them and forever part of us.  And we know we were "second."  You have a "first," and we, as your parents, honor that.  We won't make you ever choose between "them" and "us."  There is room for everyone.  Remember, love multiples, and true love should never divide.  

You were "fearfully and wonderfully made" by an Almighty God to do great things:  this is the truth and who you are.  We fully believe this as people of faith.  I know it may feel unfair that you weren't parented by your biological family.  But this isn't because there was something wrong with YOU.  This is a lie, an untruth, and it fosters shame, anger, confusion.  The reality is no matter which baby came to them at that point in their lives, they felt they weren't able to parent at that time.  Those reasons were deeply personal, and you absolutely can feel however you want about those reasons. 

You have every right to ask questions, and you deserve truthful, transparent answersWhether you ask us, your biological family, the adoption social worker or lawyer, or someone else, you should get a complete picture of your adoption.  Remember what I've always taught you?  Secrets aren't OK (only "surprises"---like a birthday gift you buy someone) and are usually created to conceal, which only breeds distrust and more problems.  

Ali Cummins Photography
Your story is your business.  Which is why I work hard to protect your privacy, both online and in public spaces.  Your adoption story is sacred, and it's not available for public consumption.  Because the public?  They are fleeting.  They are "here today, gone tomorrow."  They haven't earned the right to something we hold holy.  If and when you choose to share your story, we will support you.  

The world is sometimes confused by us:  Black and white.  But their confusion is not our problem to "solve." Racism in this country is vast and deep, and I am sad that it seemingly is stagnant, if not regressing, as I write this to you.  But I want you to know that we love and celebrate you as a person of color:  your history, your culture, your appearance.  And we pray that the investments we've made in hair stylists, and mentors, and friends, and professionals, and art, and music, and books, and toys, and affirmations has impacted you positively and has shown you that you are absolutely incredible.  

I am so humbled to be the one you call "mom."  And I love you.  All of you.  Forever and ever and ever.  I love the parts of you that are happy and whole and pretty, but those aren't the only parts I love.  I love the entire you.  Which means when you process adoption and race, as you will your entire life, I will be here to empathize, to listen, to learn, and to do what I was chosen to do:  love.  

Forever yours,