Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to Make Hair Styling Time Enjoyable for Your Black Child (Without Relying on an I-Pad or Tablet)

Four kids, four very different responses to hair styling.  Oh, and did I mention, it's been almost a decade of hair styling?!?   

My oldest:  so easy.  Not tender-headed AT ALL.  Give her a snack-cup and she'd sit as I learned to part, band, braid, and bead.

But my second daughter, oh my.  She was SO tender-headed.  To the point where she and I both wanted to just cut her hair.  Yeah, I said it.  Cut it ALL off.  It was just excrutiating from start to finish, for both of us.  I was in tears as much as she was, feeling like I failed as a mom.  But we stuck it out, and eventually she began to outgrow her inability to tolerate hair sessions.  

My son is a strong sensory seeker, but haircuts and hair styling can be a challenge.  We are pretty particular about how his hair is simply because it needs to be simple and practical.  I explain our hair care routine for him extensively in this prior post.  

My toddler isn't easy-peasy, but she's not very tender-headed either.  We stick mostly with puffs and finger coils for now, with occasional free-hair days in between.  

In our almost ten-years of styling, there's been much trial-and-error.  I am thankful for our tried-and-true routines, and I hope they help you, too:  

1:  Watch affirming movies.

I love showing my kids movies like Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Whoopi Goldberg.  The variety of hairstyles (Whitney's afro, Whoopi's dreds, Brandy's curls) can be a great talking point during the movie.  And I dare you not to sing "Impossible" the whole week long after watching!   

There's also the lovely "I Love My Hair" video from Sesame Street (I have that song memorized!)---though I'm not sure you'll want to watch it on repeat for the duration of the styling session.  

My kids LOVE popcorn, and it's an ideal snack for hairstyling sessions (easy to vaccuum up) and isn't sticky.  We usually pop mass batches on the stove (big family life), flavor with a little bit of butter and pink sea salt.  But sometimes we'll get the kids Boom-Chick-A Pop:  the light kettle corn flavor is the favorite.  

2:  Read hair books.

Keep all your hair books in a tote or basket that you can get out during hair time.  The tote can easily be stored, and the hair books, read during styling time, makes them special.  

There are so many excellent books for Black boys and girls on hair with more options coming out often.  I list our favorites for boys here and for girls here.  Another option is to purchase Black hairstyle magazines to flip through.  

Children who can read can practice reading aloud to you, or younger kids can listen to an older sibling read aloud to them.  

3:  Play with sensory toys.

For kids who need sensory input during hair styling sessions, yet you need them to hold mostly still, I recommend letting them sit on a wiggle cushion or a bean-bag chair.  There are also some fantastic fidget toys that keep your child's hands busy without compromising the necessity for them to sit while you work.  

Another option is to create a sensory box that fits on your child's lap.  Fill the box with sensory materials depending on his/her age and ability.  Great options include different fabric scraps, felt, colorful pipecleaners, ribbon, yarn, pom poms,  etc.  If you opt for the pipecleaners, kids can string pony beads onto them.  (I avoid allowing kids to play with a rice bin, slime, or cloud doh during this time, simply because in my view, it's too risky for there to be a spill or for hair to get into the materials.  However, Play-doh, like this sparkly version, may be a good option.)  

For younger ones, the "touch and feel" board books are a lot of fun.  Some touch-and-feel board books include Disney's It's a Small World series, any of the DK books, and the Bright Baby touch-and-feel.   Lift the flap books like those by Karen Katz and these (my toddler's favorite!) are also a great option.

4:  Encourage participation.

I have my girls put their beads of choice onto beading tools while I'm parting, banding, and braiding their hair.  I also offer hair product choices (like, which scent do you want?).  Or if we're using Gabby Bows, I have them unsnap the ones they wish to have in their hair and line them up for me.  My baby enjoys holding the different combs and hair product bottles.  You can also purchase dolls with style-able hair so your child can work while you do.  

Letting your child explore the different materials you're using is a way to create a positive and hands-on hair experience.  

5:  Offer empowerment, pride, and affirmations.

I take hairstyling sessions to be an opportunity to affirm my kids, their skin, and their hair.   I tell them how awesome it is that they are Black:  their hair can do so many things!  I give them options between two styles and let them choose.  When they get their hair braided with extensions, they have say-so in the length, the color (we often add color!), and the style.  They choose their beads or barrettes.  I keep a hand mirror near by so they can see how their style is progressing and admire the finished style.  

This isn't a stand-alone way to make the hairstyling session enjoyable, but it is definitely the most important and can be combined with the other routines.  

What are your tablet or I-pad - free tips for making hair styling time more enjoyable for your child?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

5 Important Lessons We've Learned About Parenting Adoptees

I can hardly believe that ten years ago, we completed our first homestudy and started waiting for our first child!  

We thought we knew adoption. After all, we'd met with other families-by-adoption.  We'd read books, articles, and blog posts.  We weren't just hearing.  We were listening, learning, and applying.  

But with time comes experience, and wow, have we had some experiences over the past twelve years (the period of time from when we decided to adopt until now).  Four children placed with us, twenty "rejections," two interim care infants.   

1:  Love isn't enough.  

This is a BIG one.  

Because we're programmed as a society to believe love is all we need.  That love conquers all.  "Live, laugh, love."  You get the point.  

Many adoptees come into their forever families having experienced trauma.  Trauma, as we know, changes the brain.  That's why so many families like mine swear by the book The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family, follow attachment parenting techniques, and swear by all the things Empowered Can Connect can offer us.  

Love is a critical foundation, but it isn't enough.  Because adoptees have needs beyond love.  We can't love our children's trauma out of them, nor should we try.  Instead, everything we do is based on love, but we know that we don't start and stop with love.  

The earlier families who choose to adopt understand this, the better off they are, and the more likely their adoptee is to flourish in life vs. suffer in silence, confusion, and frustration.

2:  Initiate adoption conversations.

This was some of the first adoption advice I ever received, and interestingly, I was reminded of it when I read this fabulous young adult, adoption-themed novel.

My friend, mama to a transracial, international adoptee, told me that she used stories that came up in the media to check in with her child about adoption.   

The truth is, your child, at some point (and likely many points) is thinking about his or her adoption.  

When you, as the adult, initiate the adoption conversation, you send your child one very powerful message:  that you are a safe person to approach about adoption.   

I read online ALL the time that adoptees want to search for their biological families, but they are too scared to broach the subject with their parents.  The last thing they want to do is hurt their parents' feelings.  

But what if adoption conversations were normalized from very early on?  What if children knew they were adopted from the get-go?  What if parents reminded their kids, over and over, that adoption-talk is OK?  

3:  Empathy:  always.  

I run a large adoption triad support group, and a few years ago an experienced attachment therapist spoke to our group.  I had the opportunity to speak with her one-on-one, and I asked her about a personal situation we'd encountered with one of our children whom was struggling greatly with an absent birth parent.   And she told me something I'll never forget, that our response, as adoptive parents, should always be empathy.  

Not correction.  Not explanation.  Not a lecture.  Not ignoring or sugar-coating or sweeping under the proverbial rug.   

Take the emotions for exactly what they are, and in return, offer empathy.  

4:  Listen to what your child needs. 

There is a lot of "noise" in the adoption community.  Some of it is so incredibly important, so incredibly crucial, and very helpful.  But some of it isn't.  

There are times, several years ago, that I felt like I could never "measure up" to be the mommy my children needed.  My children were doomed. I was doomed.  We were all doomed.  I felt this way after spending WAY too much time online.

If you notice, those who comment online tend to be one of two extremes on ANY subject.  There is very rarely balance.  Because the people who are in-the-middle usually aren't online passionately arguing.  Why?  Because they are living life!  

My friend Madeleine Melcher, who is both an adoptee and mom-by-adoption, wrote a wonderful book encouraging and educating adoptive parents.  In the book, she stresses over and over the importance of listening to YOUR child.  

Because she knows, and I know, there is no such thing as adoption gospel.  Of course, there are things that are clearly wrong and unethical.  But there are many things, as Madeleine shares, that are in-the-gray.  

Who matters most in any adoption?  It's your child.  So listen to him or her, above all, because as Madeleine says, that is the voice that matters the most.  

(PLEASE buy and read her book!  I promise you will be blessed by it!)  

5:  Tell the truth.  

This is something I say to my kids ALL the time.  That telling the truth is SO much better than lying, concealing, hiding.  Telling the truth, even when it's hard, is always the right thing to do.

This means that your children need to know THEIR truth, and you, as their parent, have the privilege and honor and responsibility of doing so.  

You are always telling your child his or her adoption story, adding details as the child matures and as new information is made known to you.  (This book is incredibly helpful in assisting parents talk to their adoptees and foster children.) 

I know that some of these details aren't pretty.  I know that as a parent, you are scared to tell your child because as a mom, you want to PROTECT your child.  But guess what?  Not telling the truth creates distrust, and it teaches your child that there is something shameful about their story.   

The Bible is right. The truth = freedom.  Freedom allows a child to know the full picture (as full as possible) and to process that picture.  And remember, if you are responding with empathy (point #3), initiating adoption conversations (point #2), parenting with love and then some (point #1), and listening to your child (point #4), you are more likely to be the parent your child needs you to be than if you aren't.  

Friends, I truly believe that adoptees can be raised by woke, loving, empathetic parents.  That's exactly why I wrote The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption.  To give you the book I didn't have twelve years ago.   And I want to thank my readers for all the beautiful e-mails I've received as a result of them reading the book.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Where Is God in Adoption?

The year was 2009.  I had won a giveaway of Russell D. Moore's book Adopted for Life:  The Priority of Adoption for Christian Familiesand Churches.  

I devoured it in a matter of days, just as I do any newly released adoption book.  

And it made me squirm.  

I'm a person of faith.  I became a Christian at age 9.  I've grown up in church.  (We're talking hymnals, communion, John 3:16, revival, VBS, NKJV Bible church.  Anyone else?) 

At age 27, I became a mom by adoption.  And then, just as it is now, I heard the same things over and over again.  That God "called" people to adoption.  That orphans needed us, NOW!  That we were to get saved and then adopt kids and get them saved, too.  

And none of it sat well with me.  And it still doesn't.  

"Christian" doesn't mean ethical.

An agency that has Christian in its name or description may be what you're aiming toward, because you believe that "Christian" carries with certain responsibilities and promises.  But let me be very clear:  Christianity is a spectrum, and some adoption professionals use their "Christian" status to do unethical things.  "Christian" isn't a safeguard in adoption, though it certainly should be.  We have personally worked with both Christian and non-religious adoption professionals, and above all what's most important is the professional commitment to ethics.  

The "widows and orphans" Bible verse is not about today's adoption industry.

I see it ALL the time.  Hopeful parents and those who have recently brought a child home, or hope to do so, boast of James 1:27. (NIV: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.") They use the verse to promote adoption as God's will.  

Many adoptees are not orphans.  This verse is not a command to swoop in and "save" children, especially not those who don't need "saving."  

Notice the TWO parts of the verse?  Widows AND orphans.  So often, I see adoptive parents shaving the verse down to fit their personal purpose:  to adopt a child.  

Which leads us to Ephisians 1:5 (another famous adoption Bible verse). (NIV:  "he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.")  Jesus Christ is the holiest of holy.  He "adopted" His sons and daughters through his redemptive, relentless, radical love.  

But we, as adoptive parents, aren't saviors of our children.  We just are not. And if you believe that you are the savior/superhero, it means you're putting yourself on a pedestal, leading your adoptee needing to be grateful for your "sacrifice."  And that's just jacked.  That's complicated.  That's not OK.  

God is love, and love conquers all!

Jesus' love can absolutely conquer all.  I wholeheartedly believe that.

But human love? Human love is flawed and wrought with issues.  And our human love cannot "conquer" our children's trauma, for example.  Or the needs of our children of color.

But Jesus and Moses were adopted, so God must love adoption!

There are very few similarities between Jesus and Moses being "adopted" and today's adoptions.

Today's adoption industry is full of unethical adoption professionals capitalizing on baby-hungry hopeful parents.  There are so many intricacies:  money, coercion, information, propaganda.   

I don't want you to believe you can't adopt ethically.  You can.  We did, four times.  Which leads us to this...

Where is God in adoption today?

God is in the step-by-step choices you make along your adoption journey, IF YOU ALLOW HIM TO BE THERE.   If you welcome Him into that space and honor Him in your choices, thereby also honoring the biological/expectant parents and most of all, honoring your child, the adoptee.  

You can't tell your adoptee that "Jesus loves adoption so you should love your adoption too," instead of letting your child, the adoptee, feel as he/she feels and work through his/her emotional journey.  

Instead, God can assist all members of the triad through the ups and downs that inevitably come with adoption.  The complexities, the questions, the fears, the joys.  God can be in the midst of those.  

Any type of adoption, whether it be spiritual or legal, does share commonalities:  love and devotion and hope.  But in my opinion, we shouldn't equate Jesus' death and resurrection, and His offer of salvation, to what we are doing or have done to build our family.  One is holy, one is selfish.  One is perfect, one is flawed.

There are stark differences.  And if we fail to acknowledge those differences, I fear that we have lost the depth of Christ's sacrifice for us and have put way too high of expectations on our children, the adoptees, the ones who matter most in the adoption.  

What do you think?  Where is God in adoption?  

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

10 Adoption Comments From Nosy Strangers and Real-Life Responses

We've all been there.

We're in the grocery store checkout line or at the park watching our kids or trying to select books at the library, when THAT stranger comes up and has somethin' to say about adoption.   

And we're often caught off-guard.  I mean, we're just living our life.  And then BAM!, adoption is thrown in our faces as the stranger demands we justify, explain, or explore adoption, right there, right in front of our kids.  

When I was new to adoption, I tended to give away too much information.  I wanted to please people. I didn't want to offend.  And I wanted to educate.

But the longer I've been in the adoption community (almost 13 years now!), the more likely I am to provide a "short and sweet" answer that educates but doesn't offer up any extra information that the stranger doesn't need to know.  

AND, most importantly, I answer in a way that protects my child's privacy.  

So, here are the top ten comments we get and how I respond:

Stranger:  "Your child is lucky you adopted them!"

You:  "I'm the lucky one."  

Stranger:  "How old is their real mom?"

You:  "I'm 36."  (Or whatever your age is)

Stranger:  "Are your kids real siblings?"

You:  "They aren't fake siblings."  

Stranger:  "Why didn't you have your own kids?"

You:  "My children are my 'own.'"

Stranger:  "Are you going to have your own child now that you've adopted?"

You:  "My child is my 'own' child."  

Stranger:  "How much did your child cost?" 

You:  "I paid for an adoption process, not a child."  

Stranger:  "I heard all adopted kids have problems." 

You:  "You heard wrong."  

Stranger:  "Is your son full or mixed?"

You:  "My son is human."

Stranger:  "God bless you for adopting children who needed a good and loving home."

You:  "I'm thankful to be my kids' mom."  

Stranger:  "Why did her birth parents give her up?"

You:  "Her birth parents placed her for adoption, and the reasons behind that choice are private."  

What would you add to my top-ten list?  How do you respond? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

5 Choices That Can Complicate Your Adoption Journey

12.5: the number of years we've been in the adoption community.

4:  the number of children we've adopted

5:  the number of choices you need to know about that can complicate any adoption

1:  Hiring an unethical adoption professional.

This is the #1 thing you can do to screw up your adoption journey.

Choosing an ethical agency, attorney, facilitator, etc. is critical, and I spend a lot of time and energy thoroughly explaining this here.  Because it is that important.  

If your foundation isn't one of ethics, how can you expect the rest of the adoption journey to go well?

And remember:  every decision you make today has a forever-impact on your child.  

(One of the questions I receive the most is "how do I choose an ethical adoption professional?"  I answer that here.)

2:  Paying birth or expectant parent expenses. 

This can be a hot mess.  

(At one time, I said I would never, ever pay expenses.  But that changed, and again, it got messy and complicated and frustrating.)  

Yeah, I know, expectant and birth parents expenses are legal in many states, but are they ethical?  

I think the ethics of this are in-they-gray.  Some expenses paid are reasonable in some situations.  But we also all know that money complicates things.  It can become a tit-for-tat, and that's not cool.

If you are going to pay expenses, be very clear about how much and for what, and know that no matter how much you dish out, you cannot and should not expect a placement in return.   

3:  Veering.  

You know I warned you, right?  In the chapter I titled "Stay In Your Lane"?   

There are some things in adoption that are cut and dried.  For example, a baby isn't your baby if and until TPR and revocation are done.  STAY IN YOUR LANE.

Demanding to have a say-so in the birth plan and hospital stay.  STAY IN YOUR LANE.

Pressing to know every detail of an expectant parent's life?  STAY IN YOUR LANE.  

4:  Playing dual-roles.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  It is impossible to be both social worker/counselor to an expectant or birth parent AND be adoptive parent.  You can't do both well, nor is it ethical.  That's why I'm a big fan of having an experienced, ethical, adoption-competent social worker involved in any adoption.  Because your job is to be the child's MOM, not the birth or expectant parent's social worker.  

If you pour so much of yourself into the role of "counselor," you will have less of yourself to be your baby's mom.  To be your partner's partner.  

You cannot do everything well.  You were never meant to.  It's not ethical.  It's not fair.  So just don't.  

5:  Making BIG promises.  

Wait, Rach.  Aren't you a fan of open adoption and promises?

I believe in making and keeping promises.  But I also believe in making sure those promises are organic and realistic in the first place.

Promising openness in an adoption, let's say promising X number of visits per year, for the entirety of a child's life is not only naive but frankly unwise.  Because promising such openness isn't considerate of the child.   What will the child want one day?  Need?  Require?  You don't know that when your child is merely a infant, toddler, or preschooler.   Also, you aren't taking into account real life:  people move, people change.   

Make short-term, organic promises.  Keep the communication open.  Step by step, month by month, year by year.  And always, always do what's best for the child. 

And certainly, never make promises you don't intend to keep or promises based on trying to secure a placement.  Because that placement is of a baby, and that baby has a right to thoughts and feelings regarding his or her adoption. 

What would you add to my list?  What have you learned throughout your adoption and parenting journey?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Dear New Foster Mom, a Love Letter from Natalie Brenner

My friend Natalie is a new foster parent, as well as a mom to two sons, one of whom came to her by transracial adoption.  She blogs, she's takes pretty pictures, and she's a book author.  She's on Twitter, Insta, Pinterest, and Facebook if you'd like to connect with her.

Today, we're talking about foster care and what you need to know!  

Dear New Foster Mama,

It’s so much, isn’t it?

Your new child via foster care has been with you for about three weeks.

The initial excitement is beginning to thin out, as both of your honeymoon phases dwindle to an end.

You’ve made and attended a ridiculous number of appointments in just three weeks: feelings doctor intake (that’s what we call our counselors around here to help make sense of it all), regular well child check up, abuse team appointment, lawyer meet and greet, permanency caseworker introduction,  dentist assessment, psychological evaluation, and likely other therapies such as occupational or speech.

Have you dug your heels in, grounding yourself secure in safe soil and soul support? You’re going to need it.

As your child senses safety and security, consistency and space to be his age, you can nearly count on his body reacting and pushing back. His brain has been hard wired through trauma, reconstructing pathways and changing the way his system might naturally work if raised in a healthy and stable, low-cortisol environment from conception.

As you settle into what is your new norm—her as your daughter, you as her current mom—grief will begin to settle in for the both of you. You’ll grieve life as it was, sure. But you’ll also grieve the immense and countless losses your child will carry forever. Even though your home offers stability, safety, and space for her to be a child, it does not offer the biological roots she was created to live with.

Speaking of you as mom, I’d like to give you the freedom to see yourself as that role: yes, in your house, you are mom. Your (foster) child may not call you “mom” and that’s okay, even healthy. No pressuring needed, we only want our kids to feel safe and comfortable. But when asked if you’re “mom,” I want to empower you to walk in that identity. You are absolutely mom and these children don’t need their story of being in care shared with all the passerbys.

New Foster Mama, I want to sit you down and tell you something: you can do this. You can walk with your son through the broken and tragic pieces of his heart. You can make space for his sadness, his anger, his denial, his sense of betrayal, his loss. And you can sit in it with him, telling him it’s okay to be sad. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. It’s okay to not want to be in this home, but this is where you are for now, and you are safe. You can root on his family of origin.

I want to tell you something else: there will be days, maybe weeks turned months, that you want to call your child’s caseworker and say, “This is too much. I need this child gone by Friday.” But Mama, I implore you to sit down and think this through. Have you been caring for yourself so you can care for this child? Have you made self-care an important part of your week, so you can pour yourself into the pieces of this child hungering for what you have to offer?

New Foster Mama, here are some ways I’ve chosen to take care of myself so I can keep saying yes, even when I want to say no:

  • Tea with myself, my journal, my bible. You may not be a journaling or bible type, but the point is that I sit with myself and I process through writing. I don’t bring my computer, though I’m behind in work. I sit, I write, I process, alone and in the quiet.
  • Counseling, both individual and couples.
  • Date with husband at least twice a month (in addition to counseling!)
  • I ask for help when I need it and hire a babysitter, because you know what? Mama’s human too and Mama needs help.
  • I hire a house cleaner once a month, no shame.

New Foster Mama, I want to tell you of some invaluable resources I have discovered. I want every single foster mom to know these things; they revolutionize the way we see and parent our children from hard places.

Are you ready? Jot these down:
  • TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention). This is the number one best way you can spend your time learning about how to best parent and understand your child. No time spent on educating yourself about TBRI is wasted. Start with this video by Dr Karen Purvis
  • The Connected Child. This book falls in line with TBRI and connected parenting. It is not a waste of the little time you have, I promise
  • Connected Parenting FB Group. Though in person support groups living similar lives are ideal, these online groups are incredibly helpful.
  • Angela Tucker’s piece about answering our kid’s stories.

There are so many things to juggle when you’re a mama, and when you become a foster mama, the layers run deeper. It’s not a competition, it’s just a fact. You have to consider different cultural and ethnic identity, trauma and attachment, and these things in and of themselves are layered more than an onion.

You will grow tired and weary. It’s not a matter of if,  but when. You will be frustrated at the system that is set up to support and serve no one, especially your wounded child.

Statistics show that your child will likely move back home, reunify with his or her parents. This is hard for many reasons. Sometimes we wonder if it’s actually safe at home, if true change has occurred. Many times we know it’s safe and we celebrate the beauty of reunification, but grieve deeply the loss of a child we poured our whole self into. I want you to know that it’s okay to be sad, to grieve the transition, even while also celebrating reunification. Grief is healthy.

I believe the most broken parts of us only reveal the depths of our love.

Hey New Foster Mama,

You know what I cling to when the sadness of trauma sweeps over me? I cling to the honor and privilege it truly is to sit in the gap with these kids.

They are arguably the most vulnerable in society, and the humbling reality it is to sit with them in these trenches is gripping. While they are uncertain, scared, and likely struggling with anxiety...we get to be stable, secure, and give them permission to be those things.

So keep clinging to that. Keep clinging to the Truth that they are worth it, they are worth all the ounces of energy and they deserve all the love in the world.

I root you on, Mama. I do.

Sincerely and warmly and joyfully,

Natalie Brenner