Thursday, August 28, 2014

Open Adoption: Beautifully Broken

Recently, I was asked to blog about the hard parts of open adoption.

Deep breath.

We keep a lot of our adoption details private.  Not because we are ashamed or stuck up, but because we believe in respecting the privacy of our children and their birth families.  Adoption is complicated.  Or, my favorite word to describe our adoptions: bittersweet.

I greatly admire our children's birth families for agreeing to be part of an open adoption.  Why? Because sometimes it's easier just NOT to know.  NOT to feel.  NOT to "go there" (wherever there is at the moment).  I cannot imagine how simultaneously difficult it is to see their child being raised by someone else while also feeling immense joy to have accessibility to their children through phone calls and texts and letters and pictures and visits. 

Open adoption presents many challenges for all triad members.  (Triad=birth families, adoptive parents, and the child who was adopted---also called an adoptee.)  Adoptive parents make sacrifices of time and energy to keep adoptions open.  For example, my family makes 2-4 trips a year to our kids' birth city which is about four hours away from our home.  We usually stay 2-4 days per trip.  We also, as adoptive parents, have to deal with reoccurring emotions surrounding openness.  These emotions may be frustration, jealousy, and disappointment. 

Perhaps the most difficult part for us, as the adoptive parents, is explaining open adoption and the letdowns/disappointments we've had to our maturing children. These disappointments include cancelled visits, no-show birth family members, or unmet expectations of what a visit should or shouldn't be.  Openness also triggers questions of absent birth family members: who they are, where they are, and why they aren't available.

For birth parents, I can only imagine that it's hard to see us, the adoptive parents, making all the decisions and holding the power in the situation, even when we work very hard to "even the playing field," offering love and respect to the biological family members, accommodating their needs for more or less contact at any given time.  The truth is, there will always be an imbalance, a dash of discomfort, and the reality that adoption is messy from the get-go and that messiness is always, to some degree, present.   I am certain they imagine what life would be like had they of parented.  And I have, at times, felt tremendous guilt for being a parent through adoption. 

I admire them for the faith they have in us.  I want to do "right by them."  I want them to know I love my kids with all my heart, and I am beyond honored to have been chosen to parent my children.

We have promised to fulfill our end of the bargain.  We keep our promises.  Always.  We show up, on time, with a good attitude.  We are excited to see them.  We take photos.  We converse.  We ask questions about hair care and family traditions.  We celebrate their victories (a new job, a new apartment, a new baby).  We encourage them to press on during challenging seasons. 

Our goal in open adoption is to provide our children with access to their biological family members.  And not just access (to things like health information), but relationship.  The opportunity for relationship.

We don't want to ever be the ones who close the door.

So we fight through our feelings. We compromise.  We make adjustments.

We realize we are incredibly fortunate to have openness.  Our children will have choices growing up. Choices regarding contact, regarding information, regarding opportunities.  Not all adoptees have openness.  

Is open adoption easy? 


Is it beneficial?


Is it hard?


Is it best?

For us, yes.

Openness is a journey through a relationship.  There are ebbs and flows.

But I'm not throwing in the towel, not out of selfishness or a desire to have an easier life.  We didn't just adopt and move on.  We adopted FOR LIFE.  We chose this path. 

We chose the messiness.

The beautifully broken. 

So until our children are old enough to take the reigns in their open adoptions, deciding if they want more or less, we will keep at it.  And whatever our children decide in the future, we want them to know that we support them and that we always worked to keep the open-adoption door wide open.

For now, I know one thing for certain:  the kids' birth families and us, we love the children we share.  Deeply.  We want what is best for them.  We want them to flourish.  We want them to do life big

And that is the tie that binds us.


To learn more about open adoption, please check out the chapter entitled Two Mommies, Two Daddies:  Navigating Open Adoption in my book Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent's Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bandages for Kids of All Colors

Meet our newest advertiser, Tru-Colour Bandages!  Here's what creator Toby Meisenheimer has to say about his new company.                                                                       

Rachel: Tell me about your company.
Toby: Tru-Colour Bandages exists to promote Diversity in Healing.  For nearly a century, the world has accepted the fact that bandages come in one main skin tone, and relegated ourselves to cartoon characters when that didn't seem to fit.  Our mission is to address that imbalance and change the way bandages are sold forever.  I might just wear a dark bandage myself for the next 95 years until that becomes a reality!

Rachel:  What inspired you to create bandages for various skin tones?
Toby: My aha moment as an adoptive dad. We have 5 kids...2 that look a lot like us, and their 3 younger adopted siblings who don't.  I'm admitting failure as a white person to have lived nearly 40 years on earth and not noticed that entire cultures and people groups were being ignored (intentionally or not) by the bandage industry.  It's not right.  I'm sad to say that it took a personal encounter with me putting a bandage on my son Kai's forehead about a year ago and seeing for the first time the ridiculousness of it all.  I mean, the cosmetic industry has dozens of shades and skin tones.  But not bandages?  Not cool.  
I'm actually a financial planner by trade, with no hobbies, but I do enjoy business startups. So I went back to my alma mater and started asking some college students (my 11 year old son is the ball boy for the Wheaton men's lacrosse team) what they thought of the idea and if they'd want to be a part of it.  Their enthusiasm, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit astounds me.  They are a generation that "gets it" and wants to see this solved.  We're not the first to try this, but we want to be the first to scale this.
Rachel:  Obviously, it's not just about bandages.  What stronger message are you trying to convey?  
Toby: We are successful if we change the bandage industry to match a variety of different skin tones.  If we are the company that is the catalyst to make this happen, then awesome."  
"I want my kids to have a choice when it comes to bandages.  Putting a bandage on my son or daughter when they are hurting is a huge thing.  It says, 'I'm here.  There's a fix for your hurt.  It's my job to help you forget your pain, overcome it and move on.'  When they already feel different than other people, it's nice to send them a message that there's a special bandage just for them and made for their uniquenesses.  Plus, let's be honest: If I can cut the crying down by a few minutes and it only costs me a dime, then sign me up!
Rachel: Are there more products in the works?

Toby: Yes! But we're secretive about this right now.  Our company is actually Tru-Colour Products, LLC, and our mission is to address skin-tone lack of diversity product injustices everywhere.  We need to be successful and sustainable with bandages first, but we have a vision to:
1. Help non-profits potentially use bandage packs as fundraisers.
2. Partner and advance other startups looking to address other potential products that are inadvertently targeted to white kids, when they could be made more attractive to a more diverse audience.
 Find Tru-Colour Bandages on

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Response to Michael Brown's Death

My name is Rachel.  I’m a St. Louisian.  I live in a middle class community that is safe, clean, and friendly. We have excellent schools, manicured lawns, and pristine parks.

But I’m still really scared.  And disturbed.  This bubble doesn’t protect my family members.  This bubble doesn’t exist. 

I’m a mom of three young children: two girls and a boy.  Right now, we are preparing the kids for the start of a new school year.  One is headed to kindergarten, the other to preschool.  

My life as a stay-at-home mom, wife, author, and freelance writer is busy. I run my kids to activities, I fold laundry and clean up spills, I prepare meals, I make appointments, I read to my kids and kiss their hurting places.

But right now, I’m really distracted.  I cannot easily focus on the tasks before me.  Because when I look at my children, I cannot stop thinking about Mike Brown.  I think about looting, about guns, about dark skin and light skin contrasting, about perception, about the media, about history, and about the future.

I’m white. My kids are black.  And we live just 24 miles from Ferguson. 

As my children meet their new teachers for the year and we begin a new session of gymnastics and swimming lessons, I keep thinking about people of authority and asking myself, “How can I teach my children to obey and respect authority when I don’t know if I can trust that the authority figure has my child’s best interests at heart?”

This isn’t a rant on the police.  This is about any person of authority who holds power and exercises that power over my three precious children and children who look like them.

Right now the news channels, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, co-workers and the couple next to us at the restaurant, our hairstylist, our friends:  they are teaching us with their photos, their opinions, their lack of comments, their shares, their likes.    There seems to be many arguments that divide Americans on the death of Mike Brown, but one of the most prevalent is this: was the shooting about race? Overwhelmingly, people of color are saying yes while white people are saying no.

My children love the police and what they believe cops stand for. They love to put on police hats and “arrest” one another and their playdate friends with toy handcuffs.  They love to give out “tickets” for speeding and stealing stuffed animals. When we have the opportunity to speak with a police officer in our community, the cops offer my children sheriff’s badge stickers, high-fives, and even a quick viewing of the red and blue flashing car lights. 

Will these same officers who high-five my children today be arresting them, questioning them, following them, or even shooting them tomorrow?  What happens when my children are no longer living in my home, or when they are driving or walking somewhere with their teenage friends, or when they apply for a job with their white-sounding last name but show up as they are, people of color?

One day last winter, I overheard my children giggling in my son’s room.  I opened the door to see that the older girls had taken my son’s hooded shirt and pulled the hood over my son’s head.  My son was furiously nodding his head from side-to-side, laughing in delight at the feeling of the hood against his short hair while enjoying the attention of his sisters. There they sat, sunlight streaming in to the baby blue bedroom, happy and safe. And in that moment, I thought about Trayvon.  And then about my son.   I could barely breathe.

I worry what will happen when my middle child, a very dark skinned little girl, misbehaves in class.  Her high energy personality can certainly propel her to be driven in life, but it may also get her into trouble.  Will she be punished more frequently, more harshly because she is black?  The statistics say yes.  

I am very concerned that so many white people refuse to talk about race with their children and instead boast of colorblindness.  Newsflash: colorblindness doesn’t exist.  And not only does it not exist, but it dismisses people.  I’m reminded of the day my daughter started at a new preschool.  I was waiting outside after school to pick up my daughter.  One little boy rushed out and said to his mother, “There’s a brown kid in my class!” And the mom shushed him.  She was unaware that I was one of the brown kids’ moms. 

She shushed him.

Colorblindness does exactly what it seeks to avoid: ignorance.

And honestly, I feel that parents who preach colorblindness do so out of a lack of racial literacy, a lack of self-awareness, a lack of a diverse circle of friends, and/or a lack of willingness to look at personal biases.  They are scared.  Uncomfortable. Uneducated.  So they pass those things on to their kids, smiling, and saying, "We are all equal."  And, "There's only once race.  The human race."

My kids are black.  They will face issues that white kids won’t, and my whiteness can only protect my kids for so long.  They are growing up and they will be under increasingly more care by authority figures who aren’t their parents: teachers, coaches, other parents helping in their classrooms, friends’ parents at play dates and birthday parties.

I don’t know how I can tell my children to trust and respect authority, because even when they do everything right, everything we expect of them (be polite, stand up for truth, fight for justice, love Jesus, be kind, use their manners), they won’t necessarily be protected or respected by the imperfect humans who surround them. 

My only hope as a mom is that God protects my children, because I cannot always shield them with my white privilege or my motherly protection.  They will meet police officers without me by their sides.  They will be in classrooms without me by their side.  They will be in swim class and gymnastics without me by their side.  They will be at a friend’s house without me by their side.

Our family has and always will live in a sort of racial purgatory.  We love first and teach that our value comes from being redeemed by Jesus.  But we do not, we do not, ignore race, racial injustices, or racial triumphs. And we know that we have this blend of blackness and whiteness that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  

My heart aches for this young man and his family. My heart aches because I’m a mom and that teenage boy who died shares the same brown skin my boy has.

I know this post is a jumbled mess.  I don’t know how to bring it to order. I can’t make sense of this tragedy.

What happened to Mike Brown brings out a lot of things that white people normally don’t have to confront.  But when confronted, as I’ve seen on social media, a lot of ugliness comes out. And the looting of local business, that’s just a complete distraction from the real problems and the tragedy.   Two wrongs do not make a right. There’s a disturbing lack of empathy.  

Let me be clear.  I believe every life has value.  I believe that Jesus died for every person and wants to see each of us redeemed by saying yes to His gift of salvation.  And in the meantime, we’re going to live in a world that overwhelmingly worships sin: pain, gossip, injustice, thievery, disillusion.

There is only one hope for redemption.  The only justice is in Him. 

When we see people the way Christ sees them, everything changes.  When we carry the burden of another, we are loving like Jesus.

But in order to get there, we have to push past every distraction, every roadblock, every temptation which so easily ensnares us.  And that’s hard to do.  In fact, we cannot do it on our own.  We can only do “all things” through Christ who gives us strength.
There is so much noise right now.  The television, the computer, the conversations (and the lack of conversations, which speak volumes).  I just want to make like a little kid, put my fingers in my ears, and hide under my bed.

Every time I have found myself teary eyed, heavy-hearted, and disgusted, angry, and confused, God has whispered Romans 12:2 (NIV) to me:

 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God, place divine protection on my children, particularly right now as we start a new season of our lives. Help us as a family to be discerning, empathetic, and strong. Keep us from succumbing to the temptation to believe that the world will ever satisfy. Renew our minds and calibrate our hearts. We are yours. Let everything we do point to You. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Flashcards for Black Kids: ABC ME!

I was on Facebook last week when a friend of mine posted about a new set of flashcards for black kids. Immediately intrigued (and quite excited!), I clicked on the link and within minutes, I had an e-mail out to the creator applauding her idea and product.

I have been a long-time advocate of products for black children, and I'm thrilled to see so many fabulous products being created in recent months. 

Meet my new friend Leilani Brooks, co-owner of ABC ME flashcards. And please find the company on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California immersed in diversity. Diverse friends, diverse schools, you name it. As I became an adult I saw that our country wasn't so diverse in their thinking or treatment of others. Namely the minorities. I began to worry for my children who are African American and how they will be treated in a world that tells them that greatness comes in the form of being a platinum rap artist, or a reality star with a raging temper. And so while homeshooling my son I came across a deck of flashcards depicting our nation's Presidents. The final card being President Barack Obama. The pride I felt looking at that card is really what birthed this project. I wanted to see a whole pack of US. Not just one here or there. I thought how powerful for a child to see themselves reflected on every card. To see the possibilities. I wanted it for my son and daughter. Then I wanted it for everyone's son or daughter. I chatted the idea up with a good friend and historian Stevi Meredith who agreed to come on board, and we sat on the idea for a few months. Then the Trayvon Martin verdict came in. It was with that verdict that I realized that while we can't change the way others choose to see us, we can choose the way we see ourselves. And when our kids see themselves as leaders, entrepreneurs, Olympiads, writers, then we begin to change and shape what society thinks. They will learn their history and it will in turn inspire them to do great things. That is my hope with ABC Me Flashcards. That the cards will inspire kids to Live to Learn, and Learn to Lead. Other cultures will follow. 


Friday, August 8, 2014

"We're a Real Family"

I'm thrilled to share my article, "We're a Very Real Family, Thank You Very Much," which was published over at Scary Mommy today!   It's been shared on Facebook over 23,000 times in just a matter of hours! 

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

I hope you'll take a few minutes to read my post from last year, which is among my most popular blog posts of all time.

And for more information on breastfeeding an adopted child, please click on the Huffington Post Live link on the left.   

Friday, August 1, 2014

Good Reading!

Happy (almost) weekend, readers!

Here are a few articles that have caught my attention over the past week. 

First, here's an awesome article from The Huffington Post on race and kids

There's a fairly new page called Brown Boy Genius that is a must-"like."

And if you haven't been over to lately, please stop by.  Back-to-school advice, adoption-themed must-read books, and the things adoptive and foster parents hear over and over again.