Monday, May 27, 2013

Lack of Empathy: A Confession (With, Of Course, an Adoption Tie-In)

My way or the highway.

That's how I've lived my life for as long as I can remember.

To my defense, I am type-A, determined leader.  I can get a job done.  I can meet a deadline, reach a goal, and make a dream come true.

To my detriment, in achieving, I tend to lack empathy.

Much of this, I know, stems from my diabetes.   Long story short:   I was really sick for 1.5 years, was diagnosed with type I in an ER, and immediately put on my big girl panties and started dealing with my disease.  Sink or swim, do or die.  I picked "swim" and "do." 

And that's how I feel that everyone should deal with his/her health.   If you know that you should exercise and eat right and take time to de-stress, why aren't you doing it?    A bad day here or there, fine.  We all have them.  But to wallow in pity and complain to me (which hmmm, might actually be simple sharing of struggles and not true complaining....)....well, I don't have it in me to say "awwww" and pat your back and offer you a Kleenex.

I know, right?  Harsh.  Unfeeling.  Cold.    Inconsiderate.

To me, it's simple.  If you know what to do and you don't do it, you don't deserve my time and energy.   I can't help you.  I can't fix you.

Ah, there's an issue. 

I want to fix people.   Well, I want to help them fix themselves.   So I freely offer advice, give you a list of book titles or blogs or professionals, and I do so unapologetically and confidently.   

And I expect you to listen, accept, and move forward.    Thank you very much.

The problem is this...

One, that means I'm putting myself above another person.     Um, stupid.   Stupid, Rachel.

Two, that means I'm not so good at listening to the hearts of others.   Sucks. 

Because I'm a mother of three kids who came to me through adoption.  And slowly, we are inching toward phases/ages/stages in which my children will ask some really interesting, really tough, really heartfelt/heartbreaking adoption-related questions.  Or express feelings.

And I'm really, really scared that I'm going to suck at responding.

However, I have found that if I just listen quietly, nod encouragingly, and take a deep breath, the "right" answer comes to me.

Like when Miss E asked me a few months ago if Baby Z was crying because he missed his birth mother.


So I stopped.  Took a breath.  And I said, "He probably does miss her."   And then, "Do you miss your birth mom?"

She says yes and then brings up another topic.  We continue with our bedtime routine.

That was it.

I think I did ok.   Surprisingly.  Thank God.  

I truly don't know how to become a more empathetic person.    My philosophy and life is put your mind to something and do it.     No ifs, ands, ors, or buts.


Sometimes I wonder if I need to take a listening class.  Or read Listening for Dummies.  (Is there such a book?  Hmmmm....must research).    Maybe I need to offer zero advice and enter conversations with no expectations.   

But as I type this, I think, yeah, right.   Like that's ever going to happen.

I'm driven.    I'm knowledgeable.  I'm a leader.  Those are great things...

But sometimes a kid needs JUST a mommy, not an educator or guide.  Sometimes a friend needs just a friend, not a Heloise of all things adoption.  Sometimes a husband just needs a wife, not a Sargent.

So, without an ending piece of wisdom, without a tidbit of advice, without an ounce of dishonesty about my true "condition"...I leave you with this.

I need a lot of grace.   I have a lot of work to do.     

Open Adoption: What Does It Take?

I'm asked A LOT about open adoption.

Well, I should say, I'm told a lot about open adoption from people who aren't adoptive parents, adoptees, birth parents, or adoption professionals.    It goes like this.  Someone learns that we have open adoptions---three, in fact.  

Scrunched up face followed by, "You mean the kids SEE their real parents?"



"Aren't you scared they will take the child back?"


"Aren't you scared the kids will be confused?"

Ok...deep breath...

Yes, the kids see their biological parents and siblings.   We are real parents.  Their birth parnets are real parents, too, but they aren't the only REAL parents in the equation here.  Thank you very much.

No, they will not be taking the children back.  That's why there are adoption laws and lawyers and counselors (separate representation for birth parents and adoptive parents) and proceedings and one very, very ethical adoption agency.     However, I'm not fearful that seeing the children will make the birth parents go crazy and try to grab the kids and take off running.    Because why?  That's not what sane people do.   And because they can see the kids when they want to.   And just because they are birth parents does not make them unstable, scary, unreliable, crazy people.  

No, I don't think my children will be confused.   We are very clear in our conversations about who is who.  We use the terminology we have decided is appropriate based on our adoption ethics and personal situations.    The kids only use the name "dad" for one person and "mom" for one person (me).   We use the birth parents first names, we discuss who they are and why they are significant people in our lives.   It's not confusing.    It's matter-of-fact, honest, and heartfelt.

I believe people sense that open adoption is a weakness in me.   Or that I'm trying to be PC and smooth over or force contact.    Maybe I'm a bit mentally ill?   Is this really the right thing for the kids?

Here's a great blog post from last month that touches on how I feel about open adoption.

As the author says in the title, open adoption is about commitment.

For me, it's commitment to my adoption ethics, to my children, to the biological families.  It's commitment to not let my personal feelings or emotions overtake the goals of open adoption.  It's a commitment to dive on in to an adoption visit, not matter how awkward or uncomfortable it can be sometimes.  It's about loving the people who created my child and love my child, and in turn, love my whole family.  It's about giving my child a gift:  to have communication with the people who created them and gave birth to them.    It's about having current medical information and family history.  It's about possibilities and joy and moments.  It's about displaying Christ's love to my children and their biological families.  

It's not about me.

And it's not about outsiders who spew birth parent stereotypes and media-driven fears.

It's about my children.

That's what a real mom does.  :0) 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Saying No is Really a Way of Saying Yes

I've learned the art of saying no from a good friend.    It's not easy to learn, as women tend to be quite prideful in saying how busy they are; we post it on Facebook, we gripe to fellow moms in the stands at our kids' baseball games; we complain to our husbands.  Being busy has become glorified, in a twisted sort of way. 

As my father taught me long ago, being busy doesn't equal productivity.

How's your busyness resume?   How often are you home vs. running around like a "chicken with their head cut off"?    How much free time do your children have?   How's your weight?  Your mental health?  Your nutrition?   Is your home fairly tidy/clean, or is it in perpetual state of disaster?     How do you feel when you get into bed each night and get up each morning?  How's your children's moods?  How's your marriage?  Your friendships?   Are you taking time to communicate with God?  

Are you happy?  Is it well with your soul?

I've been thinking a lot about these things lately.   My children are 4.5, 2.5, and 4 months.   My oldest is a year away from preparing to be in kindergarten.  This might mean homework.   And a desire to be in an after school activity.    And more birthday parties.     And then, just a few years behind her is child #2 and then child #3.   

I have to make sure I'm taking deep breaths just typing this...because I fear becoming a parent whose week is consumed/dominated by children's activities.    Will I get sucked in?  And if yes, will I make it out?

I was reading a magazine article the other day that profiled a few women who had made significant changes in their lives.  One women said that her big change was saying no---a lot, loudly, and without regret.    Her goal was to be mentally present with her family.  Saying yes to every opportunity (grand or rather undesirable) meant her mind would be elsewhere.

Personally, I struggle greatly with being somewhere else.    It's partially my creative mind.  I'm always thinking of another book idea, another article to write, something I forgot, something I need to still accomplish that day, the laundry that needs to be moved from the washer to the drier, the friend I haven't talked to in ages.    And then, of course, there's the new business.   And deeper questions like what I need to be doing to improve my marriage, how I'm going to find a reliable sitter for my children, if I should go back to teaching in the fall or not, how to get my blood sugars under even tighter control...

So, now I'm thinking about what areas of my life need more focus, and what needs to be let go and/or being told "no."

Some helpful books to get you started, ones I'm the midst of, include The Mission of Motherhood, Desperate, and Out of the Spin Cycle.

So onto that obligation stuff.   Everyone seems to want a piece of you.    And it starts, hands down, with your children.  They are NEEEEEDDDDYYYYY.    Any mom can testify that by about six at night, you are touched out.    Because whether you work or stay at home with your kids, you've been touched by them A LOT in the minutes you've been with them.    Then your church wants you to join another Bible study or serve on a ministry team.  And you need to sit down with your husband and pay bills.  And your boss has just demanded that you pick up the pace and get your projects you can take on more projects.   And your child's teacher needs you do a few projects.    Can you join the PTA?, begs one of your friends who is desperate for some help.    Fund raise for that club your kid is in!   The list is a mile-long.

Is it fair to say no?   Is it ok to say no?   How will you feel if you say no?   What will you do with time you are given when you say no? 

(Think about it....are you saying yes out of fear of what others will think, of what you will think about yourself, out of fear of what you will do if you have a few spare minutes every day?   What's holding you back from saying no?)

Right now, I'm the minority:  somewhat by default and somewhat by choice.   For one, I've been getting pretty good at saying no, even when the opportunity is something I'd really like to seize.   For another, my kids are not quite at the age where things are getting crazy.

So, how do you know when it's ok to say no?
  • Is the opportunity worth the trade-off?  What will you have to give up in order to give your time, money, and effort toward the opportunity?   (Be honest with yourself and realistic).
  • Is the opportunity something that appeals to you?  (It is NOT selfish to give your few yeses to what you truly have a heart for.  God gave each person gifts and talents and inclinations to be used for His glory.  If you are taking time to do that which isn't appealing to your gifts, you are giving up on what God might be having you do instead)
  • What are your priorities?   Make a list.  Yep.  Do it.  On a piece of paper.    Does the opportunity fall in line with your list?
  • What will this opportunity teach my children and spouse?   Yes, they may not be present at whatever it is you say yes to, but they will learn that X leaves mom tired/hungry/moody/deprived or it leaves mom energized/thankful/blessed/nourished.  
  • Is the opportunity something you are using to look good to others?  Are you thinking of saying yes in order to not hurt someone else's feelings or to avoid the confrontation of saying no?  Are you saying yes in order to pridefully proclaim that you are sooooo busy with yet another activity?
How to say no:
  • First, it's ok to tell the asker that you'll need a few days/weeks to think about the opportunity.   Let the person know you'll get back to him/her by X date.
  • Second, revisit the above questions. 
  • Third, when you decide to say no, do not feel that you must justify/explain.   It's fine to simply say with confidence and kindness, "Thanks for thinking of me.   I'm saying no this time."     If you ramble on about your reasoning, it gives the person the opportunity to express dismay/anger/hurt feelings and question your motives or ask you to justify/validate.     There is no need for this and only creates the drama you wished to avoid.  If you think you might consider a similar opportunity in the future, it's fine to say, "Keep in mind the next time you need someone."
We don't need to fill every moment of our lives with something.    The best things happen spontaneously, without calendars or cell phones or adults barking out directions or instructions.

Carpe Diem.   It happens intentionally.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Racism, Oversights, and Lack of Realism: What Century Am I Living In?

 White parents of non-white kids know the truth.

Racism still exists...and we're not talking about watching films about Ruby Brides or reading a book about slavery.

I'm talking about current literature and films.

For example, the other day I took the kids to the library and grabbed a few, well, ok, a ton, of children's books.    I was so excited to pick up Ponyella, a book I'd seen in a Scholastic booklet.  

My girls and I sat on the floor and spent some quiet time flipping through the books we'd checked out.   I excitedly pulled out Ponyella to find pages such as these.  Ponyella being the dirty, white horse ("dirty" because of the work her stepsisters make her do); the stepsisters are the dark horses:  black and brown.  




According to the book's description, which I read later (bold/larger font is mine):

In this clever retelling of Cinderella, Ponyella longs to show Princess Penelope her fabulous leaps and jumps at the Tippington 25th Annual Grand Royal Pony Championship. But Plumpkin and Bun Bun, the mean ponies she shares a farm with, say that Ponyella's farm chores make her too dirty to be a champion.
With a little help from Ponyella's fairy godmare, her coat becomes marshmallow white once again, and her mane silky and beautiful. It's love at first sight for Princess Penelope and Ponyella — but what will happen when the magic runs out at noon?
Ahem?   Excuse me?  Are you kidding me??
Sadly, this is all too common.
Look at the BIG stink The Princess and The Frog made.   A Black princess, Disney promises!  Horray!!!  Yay!!!   Then she spends most of the movie as frog or as the cool Black friend of Charlotte (who is naturally rich and beautiful).      (Not to mention, the movie is quite scary and demonic, that I don't let my kids watch it!) 
Oh, and what about Sophia the First?   She's all the range on Disney Jr.   And she was supposed to be Latina.    But when the show aired, Sophia was had milky-white skin and reddish hair.   Oops, says Disney.  
Dolls are another example.   Even when companies attempt to represent brown-girls or create a doll for brown-girls, there are more fails than successes.   So-called Black dolls often have long, silky, straight hair, blue or green eyes....and these dolls appear to be racially ambiguous.   There will be five white dolls in a collection and one brown-skinned doll who is supposed to be all-other ethnicities.    Or something like that.  
My point is, it sucks. It sucks for not just my children or your children, but the White kids, too.   Where is the representations of the real world?  A world where not all darker-skinned beings are the "bad" guys or girls?  A world where toys truly represent what people of that race look like?   Their hair texture and eye color are accurate?    Where are the beautiful princesses who are mocha-skinned?  Why is there not an afro poking out of Rapunzel's tower?
And before you think I'm crazy/oversensitive/ this video.   
Racism is learned.  Fear is learned.   Stereotypes are taught...and learned.
So parents, be very careful, very discerning, when it comes to what your child reads and watches.    It does matter.  A lot.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Discipline, Tiredness, and Life With Three

Just when you think you have things "innnn controlllll" (as Animal says on The Muppets)...your kid or kids (in my case) hits a new stage and the tried-and-true plan goes out the window.

We've had a lot of struggles in the past few months.

For one, I'm learning (and finally, settling into) to parent three kids.   The other day I asked my husband, "What did I do when I only had two kids?"   I cannot even remember what that life was like, that life that was only 4 months ago.

For another, my second child, who is 2.5, cannot stay in bed.   We've tried everything.  Everything.   So before you ask if I've purchased a noise machine, given her a supplement or special tea, had her iron levels checked, dimmed the lights, turned on the ceiling fan, or let her read books in bed, baby-gated or crib-tented her in....well, just don't.     And her antics keep her sleep-loving older sister awake, and then hysterical.  Bedtime has been a complete circus.

Then the kids, after being healthy all winter, all got colds.   And then Miss E's asthma and allergies flared up (hello spring and all it's allergens) and Baby E got a bad case of croup which meant by day, she was her energetic self and by night, she couldn't breathe, was crying so much she puked all over me, and we had to sit with her in a steamy bathroom reading books until she could finally chill out.

Then by the time we got both girls asleep, Baby Z would wake up for his last feeding, leaving zero time for mom and dad to look at each other for a few seconds, talk about the day, or even breathe.  

We've also been dealing with a few open adoption struggles.

Ok, so back to discipline.

It's so easy to get fed up, frustrated, and just really really pissed off.    For one, a mom of multiple kids is juggling not only multiple personalities and preferences, but new life stages and struggles.   My oldest really wants me to just do stuff with her and just sit and listen to her.  My middle child wants me to watch; additionally, I have to keep my eye on her at all times because she's a daredevil.  (I'm typing this as she inches off the couch to sit on the end table and play with the lamp while peeking at me under her eyelids to see if I'll respond.)   And of course, having a new baby brings about it's own constant challenges and adjustments.  

I'm realizing a few things:

1:  It's ok to have a day that the world would deem "unproductive."   If all we accomplish is getting dressed, playing, and eating----well, that's ok.   If we skip preschool because it's just better to sleep in and have a lazy morning where everyone wakes up well-rested and happy, that's ok.   If we aren't in 20 million activities (like most other kids I know), well, that's great!  More time for free play that isn't directed/dictated by adults.

2:  Parenting is exhausting (and Mommy Brain is a true medical condition).  Having three kids is way harder than two.  WAY HARDER.  I will even get all three kids in the car and think, "Where is the other kid?"  (Yep, there is no fourth kid.  I can't even remember some days how many kids I have or what their names are).    So carving out as many mini-breaks as I can is ok.  It is ok to ignore my kids' antics on the playset while I read a magazine.   It's ok to shush them for fifteen minutes so I can call a friend or check Facebook.    It's ok to forgo doing dishes to cuddle a child and hear what's on her heart.  

3:  Discipline doesn't have to be complicated.   Don't let personal emotions/moods dictate how discipline goes.   Pick a consistent method and do it.   We use 1, 2, 3 magic a lot.   I've also done a bit of reflection/research on parenting.   Two things come to mind.  

---How I speak to my children.    I know I need to get down on their level, look in their eyes, and respond firmly and calmly to them.  Proverbs 15:1 advises to speak gently, not harshly (to avoid harm), and Eph. 6:4 advises parents not to provoke their children which leads to anger.

---How I punish them.   First, I love what my dear friend said recently when I asked her what she would say her parenting style is.  She said, "Parenting with grace."     So here's my thoughts on spanking---that hot button issue that boils blood.  :)    It seems that spanking is less and less popular/promoted as an effective discipline method.    I grew up in a household that occasionally spanked.   Adoptive parents are not supposed to spank their children (saith DCFS...and/or the agency....but that's another issue altogether).  Once I heard a preacher talk about how parents often quote "spare the rod, spoil the child" as their reasoning for spanking, and then he said that the "rod" in Bible times was used as a teaching tool, a guide, a symbol, not a spanking tool or metaphor.   Think about it.  "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."   Or think of Moses staff that he carried, using it to demonstrate God's power.

So punishment tends to be more creative.   Slam the door?  You will open and shut it 10x nicely while counting.   (Works like a charm!)    We use standing in the corner a lot.   If there's any physical aggression toward another, we have an apology/forgiveness mini-session plus a talk about "nice touches" well as talking about the appropriate way to stand up for oneself ("Don't do that to me!  I don't like it!" while standing up and looking the person in the eye).    We love the book "Teeth Are Not for Biting."  I've found that short, repetitive phrases work really well.  (We SO often say, "When you make a mess, then you clean it up.")  

I'm also learning to really let some stuff go.   Let the kids work out their issues at times.  Not jump in every four seconds.   (I saw a mom at the library the other day with her maybe 1.5 year old, who said, when her daughter wouldn't share toys with my 2.5 year old, "We are still learning about the word share."  I wanted to laugh and say, "She's your first kid, right?"   Because it's completely natural for a 1.5 year old to be selfish!   Now I'm not saying don't encourage sharing...but the situation reminded me of how far I've come as a mom and how much more relaxed I am now).    No hover-parenting. 

I feel like when you teach good manners and responses in your home, it will come naturally to the kids over time, and you don't have to stand there with your hands on your hips and hover, hover, hover, or praise, praise, praise, or remind, remind, remind.  

A lot of views stem from the fact that I teach---mostly freshman.  And there's an increasing number of students who cannot seem to function without Mommy and Daddy.  They blame the teacher for their bad grades, lack of learning/understanding, and overall, their tough days.   They don't take responsibility for their actions.  They speak to teachers as if they are peers or worse, scum on the floor.    They text or FB in class, leave trash on the tables, and ask, "Are we doing anything in here today?"    

I swear, my preschooler acts better than many of my students. 

And it's really sad.

All this to say----parenting is a big job.  And parenting three kids is a REALLY big job.   And I don't want to screw it up.

So I'm going to give myself grace.

I'm going to give my kids even more grace (because they are dealing with an imperfect mommy).  

I'm going to take into consideration their personalities and stages/seasons.

I'm going to keep changing....bending with the wind....and reading "Shades of People" for the 1000th time, and praying that God grants me more patience with Baby E when she gets out of her bed....again....

because that's what is working.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mother's Day

On Mother's Day,

I'm thankful for my mother.  Strong, humble, constant.

I'm thankful for my husband's mother, who raised a super-guy.

I'm thankful for the many grandmothers my husband and I have been blessed with---some biologically ours, some through un-official adoption.

I'm thankful for all the women who have recently adopted or who are waiting to adopt or adoption is growing in their hearts.   I can't wait to see what happens next! 

I'm thankful for my children's birth mothers:   they chose life, they chose us, the still choose love.

And I'm most thankful for the honor of raising my children:  Miss E, Baby E, and Baby Z.   Our journey has been incredible and nothing short of a miracle.

Dear reader,

May your Mother's Day bring forth joy, reflection, peace, and maybe some chocolate.  ;)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

This Year Just Keeps Gettin' Better!

A baby.

A book.

And now...a business!

My friend and I have just opened (like just opened...literally) our Etsy shop:  Heart On Your Tee.   We sell super-super-super soft t-shirts that celebrate adoption, special needs, and people of color.   You pick not only your shirt color, but also your ink color.

Please visit our shop.

And like us on Facebook---where you will learn of promotions, giveaways, and more inspiration.