Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dear Sugar: Don't Get Too Busy That You Forget What's Most Important When You are Parenting a Child By Transracial Adoption

Dear Sugar:

I love finding books, dolls, movies, music, tv shows, art, even bedding that feature kids of color.  I get giddy-excited.  The same goes for greeting cards and Christmas ornaments/decor.   I love showing my kids how beautiful their skin is, how wonderful Black culture is, why Black history matters.

Lately on social media, I've seen many, many posts asking where to find Black dolls, Black books, Black movies for kids.  I think the increasingly awareness and willingness to purchase these items for children of color is fantastic.  


I want you to know that all the art on the walls, all the books on the shelves, all the music on the playlist, all the toys in the bins:  these are important, but they are not the MOST important.

When I talk to parents who have recently adopted transracially or are considering to do so, they are often receptive to me sharing the importance of filling the home with art, toys, books.  But when I talk about living, working, and playing among diversity, I can practically hear a GULP.

For one, parents by adoption feel a reign of constant evaluation and judgement from the general public.  The parent is rendered a hero and savior (not true) or a less-than, not "real" parent because they didn't biologically conceive and birth the child.   Adoption can be isolating, overwhelming, and daunting.   To willingly subject oneself to making new friends and meeting new people can be very hard for families like mine.   I get it.

So many parents opt to be wallflowers.   It's easier.  Avoid eye contact.  Don't ask questions.

This is not the way to go.  For one, you NEED a village around you to navigate parenting when you've adopted or are in the adoption process.  For another, you NEED relationships with people who racially match your child.  And your children need relationships with people who racially match themselves.

As I've said before, if you are parenting a child by transracial adoption, you are not enough.    The sooner you accept this, the better off you will be.

Making new friends requires humbleness.  It requires you to listen and learn.  It requires you to be honest.  And it definitely requires a big dose of vulnerability.  

Your child needs you to be willing.   Your White friends cannot be your Black child's racial role models.  You, as a White parent, cannot be your Black child's racial role model.   No matter how much you teach your child Black history (something that is certainly valuable and important), a Black role model you see in the media isn't going to be there for your child when someone excludes them or suspects them because of the child's brown skin.  

Besides any personal friends of yours (who racially match your child) with whom your child can see and interact with, it's important to help your child find and develop relationships with:

1:  Someone at school.  A principal, a teacher, the librarian---someone.  Someone they see on a frequent basis.

2:  Their hair braider/barber.  This person can nurture the child in a way that's been done for many years:  a Black adult helping a child maintain their appearance while conversing with them.

3:  A mentor.   I've shared many times that my girls have a Black, female, Christian mentor who is an incredible role model and family friend.  

Now, I've been asked, does all this seem calculated?  Planned?  


Having these individuals in my children's lives is intentional.  And proactive.  And mindful.  And realistic.

Yes, it takes time.

Yes, not every person of color you meet is going to be your friend.

Yes, your friends will change over time.

Yes, you will make mistakes, stumble, and eat a lot of humble pie.

That is okay.  Because making an effort and accepting the successes with the failures is better than not trying at all.  

From personal experience, I have never, not once, approached a person of color to ask about a hair product or style, for example, and been turned away or shamed.   I greatly appreciate that in Black culture, community is valued.   I see this beautifully when a person of color refers to my kids as "we" and "us"---including my children in the collective Black community and experience.   Questions are welcomed, it seems.

You need to wholly accept your children, appreciate them, nurture them, and celebrate them, and to do this, face to face, honest relationships are required.

This week I want to challenge you to be brave.  Take steps.  Extend hands and hearts.  Convey to your children that they matter.  Accept your role as their parent, but not their only navigator through life.   Ask God to bring the right people into your life and give you the courage to be vulnerable.  

You've got this!

For more, follow me on social media and check out my books.  All links in the right-hand column.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dear Sugars: Be Thankful in ALL Circumstances

Dear Sugars,

I grew up in church.  We were pretty much Baptists where we youth group kids earned t-shirts and candy bars by memorizing Bible verses.   

Have you read that verse in 1 Thessalonians?  It's 5:18.

"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."


ALL circumstances?   

Like, thank you God that my children have opened a box of tampons in the middle of Target and are throwing them like confetti while I frantically pick them up and stuff them back in the box?

Like, thank you God that my diabetes is being a total a-hole today, a feel like death, and I have no fewer than five places I have to be today?  

Like, thank you God that my dryer just stopped working and my son has no clean bedding?  

What about all the ladies out there waiting for their first baby by adoption?  

Thank you God that I wasn't chosen .... again.

Thank you God that my body is broken, and I'm a hot crying mess all the time.  

Thank you God my husband is hesitant to embark on an adoption journey.

Thank you God that my paperwork is delayed...nope, wait.  It's missing.   

Thank you God that ANOTHER friend of mine is pregnant.  

If you are in a thanks-but-no-thanks place today, I get it.   Last year, my dear friend Madeleine and I wrote a book called Encouragement for the Adoption and Parenting Journey: 52 Devotions and a Journal.   Between us, we have six kids.  Madeleine is an adoptee who wrote an incredible book called Dear Adoptive Parents (that I highly recommend!).   We wrote this book because we HAD to.  There's this place where faith and adoption intersect and it can just be pretty murky and confusing and gray and disheartening.  

There are times you don't want to be thankful.  You have not an ounce of energy left in you to even utter the words, much less think them!   How can we be thankful when everything seems to bleak?  When hope is a concept and not a reality?

First, God can handle your BIG emotions.  It's ok to get real with Him. He already knows what you're thinking and feeling and struggling with.  There's no point in making it more "pretty" and flowery and presenting it to Jesus with your lipstick and pearls on.   Messy honesty is ok.  

Second, God sees the bigger picture, beyond the moment.  There is a plan.  There is a future and hope.  

Third, there is a season for everything, and waiting, frustrating, fear...well, those are natural seasons that occur (and re-occur) in adoption.  These are the times you are getting refined.  You are getting prepared.   There is a purpose for the pain.  

When I think of being thankful in all circumstances, I think about looking at what there is that is good RIGHT NOW while still yearning for something in the future.

Thank you God that I can afford to embark on an adoption journey.

Thank you God that I have friends who will celebrate with me when my baby arrives.

Thank you God that an expectant mother chose to parent her baby if that's what she believes is best.

Thank you God that I have a supportive spouse.

As you journey, just know what Madeleine and I have both "been there, done that," and our book is intentionally written to meet you where you are:  mascara running down your face and all.  

I'm cheering for you, Sugar!  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dear Sugars: Aggressive vs. Assertive

Dear Sugars,

Do you remember that cheer from the 90s?  "Be AGGRESSIVE!  BE-E AGGRESSIVE!"

(You are welcome for getting that stuck in your head for the whole day.)

Let's talk about aggressiveness.

If you haven't already faced a lot of questions about your family makeup, you will.  Adoption brings out people's inner detective.  They simply MUST know why you didn't have your "own" children, how much you paid to adopt your child, if your kids are "real" siblings, what country your kids are from, and the social and medical history of your child's biological parents.

I recall last year when my family and I were exiting a row of seats after my middle child's basketball game.  A woman approached me, blocking us from leaving the aisle.  Her face was mere inches from mine.

The interrogation began.  

Lady:  "Are your kids real siblings?"

Me:  "Um, yes."

Lady:  "But are they really real siblings?"

Me:  "Yes."

Lady:  "Did you adopt them at the same time?"

Me:  Pauses to look down.  My daughters are on either side of me, brown eyes imploring, ears listening.  

Me to lady:  "That's really none of your business."

Whoa.  That's the first time I had ever said that to someone.  But for some reason, I felt like I HAD to.  It took some courage, but it just felt, well, right.  

Lady to my oldest:  "Do you like getting your hair done?  It's so pretty!"

Me:  Moves forward, thereby forcing the lady to allow us to exit.   I had to do this before I went all un-Jesus on her.

Later, I asked my girls if they heard what happened.  My oldest seemed uninterested, but my four-year-old said, "You told that lady it was none of her business."

They were listening. They were learning.  They were observing.

That day I learned something important about responding to people.   There's a difference between being aggressive vs. assertive.

Aggressive is antagonizing.  It invites unrest, discord.  It encourages battle, more opinions.  Aggressive is selfish.  It's about release, one-upping, and "winning."  It's about insulting and diminishing.

Assertive is about being confident.  It's about ending the conversation on your terms and the terms that are best for the children.  It invites closure, peace, honesty, and strength.   It puts the person in their place without putting them down.

I know people are curious.  I know they don't know all the right words and terminology.  But my job as a mother isn't to pat the bottoms of strangers and give them the warm fuzzies.   My obligation is to my children.

Thus, I teach them that their voice and feels and stories matter.  They matter so much, that I'm not handing their stories out like grandma's hand out cookies.   Privacy is ok.   Telling adults "nope" is ok.  Standing up for your personal rights is ok.  And until they are old enough to do it themselves, I'm certainly going to do it for them.

As women, we often feel the need to be kind, apologetic, and polite.  We don't want to be deemed rude, bitchy, or moody.  We are expected, still in 2016, to be gentle with the feelings of others.  I invite you to consider what's more important:  your child's well-being or another person's perception of you.

The next time you are confronted by someone and their tone, their question or comment, their gesture (such as trying to touch your child's braids) is inappropriate, offensive, and/or intrusive (even if it's not their intention), I want you to remember that you are the mother.  You are instilling in your children that they matter.

Instead of doing nothing (passive), or being aggressive, try this:

Be assertive!  Be-e assertive!

You won't regret it!


For more on race and adoption, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.   I have five books available on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dear Sugars: Apply the KISS Method Next Time Someone Says Something Ignorant to You

Happy 2016!

This year, I'm going to focus on writing a letter to my readers (whom I lovingly call Sugars) every Wednesday.  Most will be adoption-related, and if not adoption, then race or health or parenting.  

So here we go!  Letter #1 of the new year!


Dear Sugars:

After Christmas, I saw in several FB parenting groups where women were complaining about comments coming from relatives and friends.  Comments about adoption, comments about parenting choices (vaccines...oh, vaccines...and breastfeeding, let's not leave you out!), comments about comments...  These posters asked their FB group friends, "How should I respond?"  or "How should I of responded?"

First, know this:

People can be really, really ignorant.  And it's annoying.  And their ignorance can (and perhaps already has) festered within you for days, messing up your holiday merriment.  You reach for extra wine instead of cocoa.

I get it.

Yes, they often mean well, and often the comments come from those who truly do care about you. But sometimes, they just don't know how to say something appropriately, respectfully.  Sometimes, they just need to keep. their. mouths. shut.  But they don't, because they are relatives, friends, or co-workers, and so they feel like they have the right to speak up (and in ALL the wrong ways).

I know some people feel we live in a too PC culture where "everything offends everyone" and "you can't say anything these days."  That's not what I'm talking about here... (and let's not get into that right now, anyway)   I'm talking about the ways that you get kicked when you're down, even unintentionally.  

It's hard.  It's hard to HEAR another comment about your family-planning, for example.  And doesn't it always go that when someone asks you a super-sensitive, invasive question, the room goes silent and it feels like the spotlight is on you.


If you are like me, later you are kicking yourself for not responding quickly enough or in the the most-perfect way.  Maybe you wish you would have been more direct or less abrasive.  Maybe you are angry with yourself for feeling obligated to answer.  Maybe you just wanted to suffer in silence. Maybe you were just trying to forget for five seconds that your body isn't cooperating with your baby-making plans...and then cousin Josh decides to be funny and make some off-handed comment about your eggs.  

I'm going to take it back a few years to the KISS method.  Keep.  It.  Simple.  Sugar.

Take it from my personal experience as a person with a chronic disease (10 years in March) and a mom who adopted three times (quite obviously).  Less IS more.  I've been asked if I should be eating dessert (I thought diabetics can't have sugar).  I've been told about great aunts going blind due to diabetes.  I've been asked how much my kids cost, if they are real siblings, or if why I didn't have my "own" babies.

Maybe this season, you faced something like...  

Your mother-in-law:  "When are you two going to give me a grandbaby?"

Your neighbor:  "Oh, I see you are still breastfeeding your son.  Isn't he a year old already?"

Your step-sister:  "What do you mean you don't plan to vaccinate your child?"

Your friend:  "I just think it'd be hard to love a baby I didn't give birth to."


Just say, "Thanks for the advice."  Or, "To each her own."  Better yet, say nothing and just give a little smile.

Don't defend.  Don't explain.  Don't fumble.  Don't justify.

Just don't!

I do believe it's important to educate your nearest-and-dearest.  But maybe you aren't in a place to educate in the "heat of the moment."  That's ok.  Send an article.  Buy them a book.  Bring up the topic later when you are better prepared.

When you are adopting (and subsequently parenting), you cannot and should not take everything people say to heart, nor look at every comment as an invitation to start an emotional war.

Sugars, going forward, let's agree to apply the KISS method to all those ignorant encounters we're bound to have.  Doing so means you choose peace, you choose a higher road, and you choose to spend your energies on what really matters.

Let's have a fabulous 2016!  


For multiple daily news stories, inspiration, discussion questions, and product recommendations, please follow me on Facebook.   I'm also on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.  For lengthier info on adoption and race, as well as my two children's books, check out Amazon.