Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dear Sugar: It's My Baby's Birthday!

Dear Sugar:

Today is my baby girl's first birthday!  I'm completely head-over-heels for our little queen, affectionately nicknamed Juice. Everywhere we go, people stop in their tracks and can't help but grin. She is sunshine.  She is joy.  She is beauty.  Her siblings cannot get enough of her. 

It feels like it was just yesterday that I shared with you the happy news that we were parents again.  We kept our long match quiet out of respect for her birth family and, if I'm honest, to protect my own hearts.  We were dealing with our own colliding emotions, explaining adoption (again) to our children, including what a match means, while also trying to still live life as normally as possible.

Ali Cummins Photography
In my new book, I talk about what it was like to wait for her.  I did the one thing I said I would NEVER do: fall in love with a baby who wasn't mine.

Sugar, no matter how many times you've adopted, it is never easy or simple or quick. There are always challenges, moments where the bittersweetness is nearly palpable.  If you are person committed to ethics like we are, you work really hard to maintain an ethical distance while also being in the match with your whole heart.  It is such a difficult balance to strike, but it's necessary.  (If you're thinking, what are ethics? What's an ethical adoption?  Please check out my extensive explanation and guidance here.) You want to be able to look your child in the eyes and say:  I did the right things, at the right times, always, no matter how difficult it was.  

Ali Cummins Photography

I do not know what else God has in store for our family.   But my heart is beautifully full right now:  three daughters and a son, all of whom came to our family by domestic, infant, open, transracial adoption, all of which started with a devastating diagnosis.  Our home is loud, oftentimes chaotic, silly.  There are tears and hugs and joys and frustrations.  There's a ton of food: always.  The kitchen dance parties are EPIC.   

These beautiful babies, whom I didn't birth but have the honor of raising, are the most incredible human beings.  I am thankful for their birth parents who chose me to be the kids' mommy.   The privilege of being chosen is something I hold sacred.  

As for today?  It's smooches and a smash cake and presents, all in celebration of our baby girl!  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: Cultivate, Motherhood by Adoption, and Faith, an Interview with Lara Casey

Dear Sugar,

What do these words have in common?
  • Cultivate
  • Adoption
  • Faith
They're all covered by creator, writer, and mom Lara Casey.

If you haven't met Lara yet, you need to. I have a mad mommy crush on her Instagram account and her new book Cultivate. Lara is the real deal: authentic, passionate, and genuine. I recently had the opportunity to ask her five questions. Enjoy!

Rachel: The #1 thing women seem to struggle with is the relentless pursuit to "do it all."  I personally believe in not doing it ALL, but doing a few things one is passionate about (and doing them well).  Yet, it's difficult.  Women are conditioned to say "yes" (to be polite and willing) at all times, yet doing so leaves us empty and exhausted.  Can we please talk about this?   How do women change the conversation in our own heads from "doing it all" for the sake of others to "doing you" and loving life?  

Lara: I love this question, because answering this will lead us to the root of so much heartache we often experience. Let's look at why we have so much (we perceive) we must do. Often, we load our plates with to-do's that we think we should have because someone else is doing something that we feel will help us find happiness, contentment, or success in the same way as them. Comparison gets us so far off the path we were uniquely created to travel. We see other's lives on social media, or in business, or even in church communities, and we compare our lives to theirs. And as a result, we end up with to-do lists that are filled with things that distract us rather than focus us on our unique priorities. We can't do it all and do it well, but we can choose to cultivate what matters. This means stewarding what we've been given well: our time, our money, our relationships, etc. When we focus on growing what we've been entrusted with, and not what someone else is growing, our lives and time become simplified. It doesn't mean it won't be hard work, but we won't be doing someone else's hard work in the process.

Rachel: Your new book Cultivate has such a simple, beautiful title.  What does "cultivate" mean to you, and how do you manifest this in your own life?

Lara: Cultivate is a rich word that God uses a few times in scripture. The Hebrew word used for “cultivate” in Genesis 2:15 is the same word translated “serve” in Joshua 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Cultivating an intentional life is about serving the Lord for His purposes and growing what matters with Him. For me, cultivating happens when I plant a seed of faith in the hearts of my children through praying for them, telling them what the Lord is teaching me, or loving them and showing them His grace. Cultivating is about digging into the hard soil to plant seeds in faith and grow good things alongside the Lord.

Rachel: The very bottom of your blog quotes 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love..."   Why this verse?  What does it teach women?  

Lara: When my husband and I were in a long season of marriage challenges, I feared it was impossible for anything to change. But God made the impossible happen. Sometimes love means taking a leap of faith to believe in what we can't yet see, and that's so much of what I experienced as He put our marriage back together. When I chose to step into the hard stuff with Him, believing in what felt impossible, it's not that He necessarily moved more, but I sure did notice Him more! And that made me bold to keep stepping out on faith. Those steps forward added up.

Rachel: Let's shift gears.  You're a mom by birth and adoption.  My readers are all moms who have adopted, are waiting to adopt, or are considering adoption.  Can you offer a bit of advice or encouragement to those on the adoption journey?  

Lara: I read countless blog posts about all the magical feelings many couples experienced when they brought their new little one home. We certainly felt powerful gratitude (bigger than I can explain in words) when we first held our new little one, but a rooted love for her grew over time. Like in marriage, shared time and experiences build your bond. Bonding wasn't "natural" for us; we were bonded by prayer. Our bond was cultivated. We had just had Joshua six months before adopting Sarah, so we had two new babies at once. The Lord grew so much good out of that sleepless season. Little by little, over time, our family and faith grew. I think having the expectation that there is nothing wrong with you if you don't instantly bond is very healthy--and essential. And it doesn't mean you love your child any less. We are a culture set on overnight results and instant success, and this applies to our families too.

Rachel: What are three things you are loving right now?  (These can be ANYTHING--book, song, food, activity, etc.). 

Lara: I am loving the book, What's Best Next, fresh red peppers from the farmer's market, and watching our kids play together. It's the best!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dear Sugar: My Two Big Secrets

Ali Cummins Photography
Dear Sugar,

So I’ve been keeping two big secrets.  And as promised, today I’m finally able to “spill the beans” and reveal what’s been going on.  

***Takes big, deep breath***

Be patient with me, dear one.  This takes courage and faith and vulnerability, three things I’m not always very good at. 

Secret #1: 

In April of this year, I found a breast lump.  I wasn’t alarmed, as I’ve had them in the past.  Genetics gave me the “gift” of lumpy, dense boobs.  In fact, I’ve had two lumps removed already, both benign:  mere hiccups in my life plans.  

This time was different. 

I went to my gynecologist who agreed we should do some further testing.  She sent me to get a mammogram and ultrasound.  Both of these took longer than usual, and I was concerned.   However, I got a call the very next day that said that everything looked pretty darn normal.  I should go back in six months and have the tests repeated, just to be safe.   I momentarily breathed a sigh of relief.

But I couldn’t let the feeling go that something was wrong.   Call it a woman’s intuition, a gut feeling, or Jesus telling me to listen to my body: but the nudging was strong

I called my gynecologist’s office and told them the lump felt bigger and heavier.   My infant, who is held almost all the time (no shame in "spoiling" my baby girl!), kept head-butting my chest, right where the lump was.  Not to mention, my seat belt and cross-body purse were constantly rubbing over the sensitive area.  It wasn’t just uncomfortable, but it was painful.  It was as if my daughter was telling me:  mom, something's not right. And the straps and seat belts would remind me also.     

The nurse gave me a list of local surgeons and said I could pursue getting additional support.  I immediately called the closest surgeon’s office and set up an appointment.   After meeting the surgeon and having yet another ultrasound, she agreed we should to a biopsy so we could find out what we were dealing with.   I had the biopsy a few days before our family's June vacation.  Two weeks later, I returned to the surgeon’s office.  And that’s when the poop hit the fan. 

No one is ever prepared to be told she has breast cancer.   I sat there on a paper-covered table, covered in a thin, mauve gown, while the surgeon went on to discuss “treatment options” and getting an MRI.  She used big, scary words and shared nail-biting statistics. I don't remember much of what she said to me, but I left that office armed with ten (yes, ten) glossy brochures, all featuring middle-aged and older women on the front and the words BREAST CANCER scrolled across the top in pink, scripted font (as if this was an exclusive party invitation and not a devastating diagnosis).    

A thousand thoughts ran through my mind.  How the hell is this fair?  I already have one disease, and now I get another one?   I have FOUR kids who rely on me for everything.   I’m going to die.   What if I need a mastectomy?   Chemotherapy?  Radiation?  

My summer was spent consumed with appointments, phone calls, tests, and lots and lots of waiting.  Waiting for results, waiting to meet with another medical professional, waiting for my surgery date.

I’m not ready to tell the whole story now.  I don’t have the energy.  I’m still only in my second week of recovery from the treatment option I chose.  I can’t lift my arms above my head, I can’t shower without supervision, I can’t lift or bend over.   I’m in this weird recovery prison where a nurse comes to my house to make sure I’m still kickin’, and people speak to me in soft, gentle voices, as if I'm a fragile toddler who might lose her cool at any minute.  I'm OK about 95% of the time, but the other 5% is hell.   
So I’m going to fast forward to the good news:  I learned after my surgery that I went from “a woman with breast cancer” to “a breast cancer survivor.” Meaning:  I am cancer-free.   Praise God!
Ali Cummins Photography
But Rach, you remind me, what’s the other secret? 

Yes, dear reader!   Let’s get to it! 

Secret #2:

As of a few days ago, the book I’ve labored over for months and months, The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption, is now available!   The boob drama delayed the publication of my book, which ended up being a blessing in disguise.  I was able to take a step back from being immersed in the push to publish and make some revisions and add some finishing touches, including this stunning cover that invites you into the world of domestic, infant adoption.   

^^^Click on the image to get details.
Sugar, I wrote this book for the woman who wants to adopt but is standing on shaky ground.  Choosing to adopt isn’t for the faint at heart.  It’s for those willing to have their hearts broken and mended on repeat. There are SO many questions about ethics, open adoption, attachment, choosing an adoption professional, responding to nosy strangers, affording adoption, finding a support group, and more.  I answer them all:  with my whole heart, with my decade of experience, and with YOU in mind.  This is the book I wish I would have had ten years ago.

I invited several ladies from the adoption community to review the book. Here is some of what they said:  

Whew!  If you’ve made it this far into the post, cheers to you! I appreciate your readership:  your love, support, and encouragement.  This detour was certainly unexpected, but it also created space for more friends, more lessons, and more hope. 
Ali Cummins Photography
I promise to share more of the story in the future, but for now, I have a good book (wink, wink) to curl up with and so do you!   I can’t wait to hear what you think about it!

Cheers to us, Sugar! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: Burning Transracial Adoption Questions

Dear Sugar:

Today we're focusing our burning adoption questions session on transracial adoption.  Here's what I'm asked most often.  Let's get at it.  

Q: I've always wanted to adopt, and transracial adoption appeals to me.  Yet I'm not sure it's the right decision.  How do you know that transracial adoption is the right choice for you?  

A:  Last year I wrote an extensive response to this very question.  You can check out the popular post here

Q:  Can we clear up the clothing debate?  Is it OK for a Black child, who was adopted transracially, to wear clothing (which seems popular in clothing lines) that feature monkeys or watermelons?   

A:  This has been a hotly debated topic in the transracial adoption community for some time.  So let me just say, as a white mama, I tend to "err on the side of caution" on this one.  Yes, I do know Black mamas of Black children who allow their kids to wear monkey and watermelon prints and don't think twice about it.  However, I think parents who don't racially match their children need to consider the possible implications and weigh those heavily.   To me, it simply isn't worth putting these prints on my children.  There are SO many other options.   So my answer?  Don't do it.   

Q:  Hairstyles.  What's appropriate?  What's not?   (Because I'm not that great at doing hair). It's really discouraging to feel that I can't ever get hair-doing right, and I don't want to impact my child negatively (socially) or harm my relationship with her.     

A:  Another important topic:  hair!   The simple answer is this:  if you struggle, you need help.  And even if you can cornrow beautifully, you might need other kinds of help (with raising your child).  It is OK to pay someone to braid your daughter's hair.  It's OK to take your son to a Black barber to have his hair cut.  In fact, I look at these experiences as opportunities for a child to partake in his or her racial culture and be part of his or her racial community.   Being able to discuss not just hair, but many topics (police brutality, appropriate clothing choices-see question #2, etc.) with my children's hair braider and barber has been incredibly helpful.   You are NOT a failure for not being the perfect hair braider or hair cutter for your child.   In fact, you're a GOOD parent for stepping up, asking for help, and learning from those who are part of your child's racial community. 

Q:  We're approached so often by strangers who ask intimate questions about my child's adoption story.  I'm certain it's because her adoption is obvious:  I'm white and my child is Black.   The thing is, I don't want to be rude, but I also don't think random people should know my child's story. Furthermore, the questions are often racially motivated (or hint at being so).   It's frustrating.  What do I do the next time someone asks another weird/rude/random question?       

A:  I know EXACTLY what you're talking about.  My family is big, multiracial, and built by adoption, and therefore, we tend to attract a lot of attention, whether it be a second-glance, a lingering stare, or an approach followed by an interrogation.   How you respond depends on what your child wants (if he/she is old enough), but ultimately, it's important, as you already know, to hold your child's story sacred.   Therefore, a simple, "That's private" is a perfectly appropriate respond.   I know many parents like to respond with a question, "Why do you ask?"  But to me, I don't really care WHY the stranger is asking, because I want the conversation's focus to change.  It's not that we have anything to hide.   But as our child's parents, we have the responsibility to respect and protect our children, as well as teach them that it's never OK for an adult to use their age, size, or status (as an adult) to bully answers out of our family.   

What are your burning questions about transracial adoption?  Let's chat on Facebook

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Meghan Joy Yancy, Mom of a Big, Beautiful, Multiracial Family

Dear Sugar:

I have a mad mommy crush on MJY's Instagram account. Every day, she's posting a photo of her gorgeous family and of the must-own cool new products for moms and kids.  So today it's my honor to share my interview with her:
Lindsay Marcus Photography
Rachel:  How did you meet your husband?  What was it like dating inter-racially?   

MJY:  I went to cosmetology school after high school and had no idea how I would even meet my husband. And it's always cool how God works because I met my husband in the most unsuspecting place. I knew who he was, but was never really interested in him. I saw him around, but was not into him. He was my brother's teammate on their college basketball team. We saw each other out one night, began chatting via Facebook and quite possibly began falling in love the night of my brother's wedding. 4 months after dating, we were engaged and we were married 8 months later. I was freshly 21 years old at the time and wasn't really aware of how the world viewed interracial couples. I just knew that I loved him. And that's all I cared about. When I began to see prejudice rear it's ugly head throughout the years, it was disgustingly surprising, but also has really allowed me the stretching room to rise above the haters. 

Rachel:  You and your husband have five children.  Obviously big families attract attention, but a big multiracial family?  Even more attention.  (In fact, that's my family too!)  Tell me, what are the biggest joys and challenges of being a big, multiracial family?  

MJY: It's so funny you say that because there are so many times we will be out and about in public with all of us and it is so blatant that everyone is staring at us. It often feels like we are unknowingly walking on a red carpet and all eyes are on us. It can feel awkward but most of the time, my husband and I just look at each other and giggle. I would say some of the challenges would be the remarks. I've been asked if I do daycare or foster care. As if it would be so odd for me to have 5 mixed race children. But really, the comments don't bother me by any means, but pave a way for us to have some great growth discussions with the kids. Some of the biggest joys are seeing each of their personalities come through. Learning their passions in life, what makes them tick and experiencing each of their unique attributes. I've watched my 8 year old daughter explain to another little girl why she is darker skinned and why her mommy is white. She answered with such elegance, grace and kindness. 

Rachel:  What's your approach when responding to nosy questions or intrusive (and unwelcome) comments?  

MJY:  I've always wanted to be super witty and make the other person feel ridiculously uncomfortable but I'm never quite quick enough to come up with something good. Instead, I usually just brush it off. I don't need to absorb someone else's nonsense and let it affect my mood. More often then not, we get many nice comments and loving glances, so it's not something we have to deal with too often. I run errands with just me and the kids often and I usually assume people just think I am the nanny. When people do ask if they are all mine, their response is shock and disbelief and they respond with some sort of "Wow, your hands are full!" or "Better you than me!" or along the lines of "Bless your soul." *Insert eye roll* and move on.
Lindsay Marcus Photography
Rachel:  Your website and social media seem to be all about one thing:  joy.  Tell me about how you chose a theme and how that theme manifests in what you do.   

MJY:  Well, my middle is JOY. It's been a part of me since birth and I've truly just always been aware and in pursuit of finding joy and living in joy. God has done some really cool things in my life and given me such a natural positive outlook on life and He has shown me the beauty in living with joy today. Right now. When I began putting together my website and social media, it all flowed very naturally. I didn't have to think about what it would all be about because it is one of the biggest part of me. Joy is always on my heart, always on my mind and something I am intentional about living in. I love being able to share that with others, and seeing joy manifest in their own lives. Maybe at first, beginning as something they need to really work at, and then, becoming a habitual every day part of their life.

Rachel:  What's next for your family?

MJY:  Prayerfully.... baby number 6! Still waiting on that and in the meantime, keeping busy with homeschooling, settling into our new house and I am currently working on writing my first book. It is all about finding joy in today and I'm really excited to see it all come into being. We will also be welcoming some exchange students into our home this year so it will be very fun for the kids and us to learn about some other cultures while also being able to show our own family culture to them. I enjoy keeping up with my blog, Instagram and my essential oil business and am so blessed I get do it all from home while raising the kids. 

Thank you for letting me be a part of this wonderful series. I love getting connected with other multi-racial families and hearing their experiences and be unified in our beautiful differences. I am honored to be amongst you all. 

  Meghan and her husband, Seborn, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota with their 5 childen (so far.) Although living in the cul-de-sac in their suburban town, they lead a slower paced life as Meghan has mastered the art of "No." They sit around for a family meal every night and ultimately end up sweeping the floors approximately 5-9 times every day. Life is beautiful and a blessing and they live that with certainty during a daily dance party. Meghan homeschools their children while running her businesses from home. She is currently writing her first book while Seborn works as an assistant principal and real estate agent. You will most often find them playing in the backyard in the summers or cozied up by the fire in the Minnesota winters. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dear Sugar: Helping Future Grandparents Understand Adoption

Dear Sugar,

Let's talk about g-parents.

When you announce that you are choosing to build your family by adoption, you may be met with a myriad of responses. Excitement, fear, hope, ignorance, elation, doubt. ALL of these reactions are normal, because adoption is a BIG deal.  And because though you have made your decision, had some time to simmer in the adoption world, they are brand new to adoption, to adoption feelings, and to all sorts of other things like terminology, timelines, and the process.  
So I want you to be ready to do two things for those dear future grandparents.

Purchase and hand them two incredibly helpful books, written just for them!   IN ON IT (by Elisabeth O'Toole) and Adoption is a Family Affair (Patricia Irwin Johnston).  Both of these books are highly regarded in the adoption community.  

Why hand them these two books?   So they can learn at their own pace, reference the books time and time again, and have resources in hand that speak directly to their feelings, concerns, questions, and joys.   

Then I want you to get them one of those super cheesy "grandparent" picture frames.  Fill the window with a short love-note about how you can't wait to give them a photo of their grandbaby one day. Thank them for supporting you.   Write something from the heart.  

Revisit the adoption conversation often with the future grandparents.  What questions do they have?  Concerns?  What are they looking forward to?  Do they need you to provide more resources like articles, favorite blog posts, or even meet with another grandparent who already has an adoptee in his or her family?  

Being proactive is so important!  Just like you, grandparents need time and education in order to understand adoption and be the best possible support to the adoptee.  

Let me know on our Facebook page:  what other books, articles, blog posts, etc. would you add to my list of must-read resources for grandparents?  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dear Sugar: School and Younger Adoptees, What Parents Need to Know

Dear Sugar:

It's back-to-school time!   Most of us who have adopted consider what we will or won't share with our child's teacher regarding adoption.   If you're struggling, here are a essential questions to ask:

1:  What info is essential in order for my child to have a successful year academically?

2:  What info is essential so that my child will have a socially successful year?  

3:  What info will help the teacher better understand and respond to my child? 

4:  Who else do I need to pull into the conversation (social worker, principal, therapists, etc.)? 

5:  What is must-share now and what is "wait and see"?

6:  What info do I need to keep private, because remember once info is shared it cannot ever be taken back?  

7:  What does my child want shared?  

Each year our children's teachers have invited us to fill out a form OR write a letter to them about our child.   This is usually information like the things that motivate the child, things the child struggles with, and then there's always a "what else?" section.   That's where adoption comes in.  

I highly recommend putting something in writing.  At the beginning of a year, teachers are so incredibly busy and overwhelmed. Having info in writing can be more helpful than a one-time conversation. 

Here are some things I usually include:

-domestic infant adoption (not foster care or international which can have different implications) 

-open adoption (because our children WILL talk about their bio siblings and parents, as well as trips to visit them---like what they did; also for the teacher to keep in mind that some assignments may need modification, such as the family tree assignment)

-who is in our immediate family

-an invitation to ask me questions or request resources 


-check in from time-to-time, especially after open-adoption visits or assignments that needed modifications.

-set up an adoption display at the school library during National Adoption Month; offer to run a training for the teachers on adoption

-donate a few adoption picture books to your child's classroom library.   Here are some of my recommendations: 

What has worked for you in the past?  What do you plan to do differently this year?  Let's chat about what has and hasn't worked for us and share ideas!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Dear Sugar: When You're Invited to a Match Meeting

Dear Sugar:

It seems surreal.  You've done all the interviews, background checks, home inspections.  You've filled out stacks of paperwork.   Then you're homestudy-ready and begin waiting.   Then comes the day your phone rings and guess what?  You've been chosen.  The expectant mother wants to meet you.  

You've envisioned this for months, even years, but now what? 

It's really simple.   You show up as your authentic self.   

If you're a graphic t-shirt and ripped jeans girl by heart, then show up as you.   If you think lipstick is for ladies who try too hard, don't wear it.   If wearing anything other than a sundress makes your skin crawl, rock your sundress.  Hubby has an affinity for socks with sandals?  Hey, whatev. If you love to bake, by all means, show up with your famous oatmeal cookies.  If you love to write, take a handwritten note (not a "thank you for choosing us card," please) offering prayer and encouragement (but not assumption).   If you are already parenting and your preschooler is a wild child, well that's just abundant energy that might make him or her an awesome big sibling.   

Let me tell you about us.  

Adoption #1:  Met for the first time at the courthouse to gain custody.  I'm a not nervous mess.  Terrified.  It went INCREDIBLY well.  

Adoption #2: Met at the agency, post-placement.  Immediately exchanged phone numbers and addresses and took loads of photos.  

Adoption #3:  Met at the agency pre-placement.  Took a small "self care" gift and a photo album full of printed pics of places around our town that we love, where our future child would get to hang out and enjoy.  

Adoption #4:  Met at the agency pre-placement.  Had a long heart-to-heart, answering loads of questions.   Asking few.  

Every meeting is different.  Every opportunity is a chance to listen, learn, and love.     

Just show up and be yourself.   Because...

It's so important that when you are chosen and placed, you are the person you represented yourself to be.  That you are, in fact, a great fit for the parents who chose you.  That you are a "what you see is what you get" person.   Because one day, you will face your child, an adoptee, and be asked hard questions.   

I want to be able to answer with a clear heart and mind.  I want to have nothing to hide.  To offer authentic, transparent, honest responses.   

I know it's easy to over-analyze yourself before or after a match meeting.  We truly are our own worst critics.   But I want you to remember you were "fearfully and wonderfully made" by the Almighty. A God who bases everything on holy truth.   

Do not choose deceitfulness.  Do not choose fear.  Do not choose aversion.   

No matter what, the placement may not happen.  Or it might.  And you cannot control a placement happening or not (nor should you ever try) based on your shade of lipstick, the cookies you do or don't show up with, or your energetic toddler.   

Show up as your wonderful self and see where the journey takes you.   You will never regret doing the right thing, always.  

Tell me about your match meetings.  How did they go?  Did the placement happen?  What advice do you have for others?  Let's chat!  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Katie Naftzger, International, Transracial Adoptee and Adoption Therapist, on Parenting Adopted Teenagers

Dear Sugar,

Today I'm so thrilled to share with you my interview with Katie Naftzger!  She is an adoptee (international and transracial) and an adoption therapist.  She's the author of Parenting in the Eye of the Storm:  The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Navigating the Teen Years, and let me tell you, every single parent-by-adoption should read this book. Even if you aren't parenting a teen, I encourage you to read the book because being proactive is so important!

Katie:  I'm a Korean-born, transracially, internationally adopted therapist. I have a younger sister who is also a Korean-adoptee but not biologically related. I grew up in urban Chicago, where issues of race, class and safety, were ever-present and interwoven into our lives. It was before most adoptive parents sought out therapy, unless they were in undeniable crisis. There were no online forums or groups. Perhaps because of this, I learned so much from my face-to-face, real time moments and relationships. My public high school was over 80% Black. I was truly a minority in a different way than I am now. Those were learning years for me. 

Being Asian in high school brought with it a specific set of issues - many Asians had recently immigrated, high-achieving but extremely low-income. I felt my privilege as someone who didn’t have to work to be here, but I also felt lost compared to them. They seemed to know who they were and where they were going in ways that I didn't. I tried to include extracurricular activities that didn't put race in the forefront, like playing flute. I played in this prestigious competition where the judges were behind a screen. For that moment, I was faceless and raceless which felt strangely liberating. 

I admired my adoptive parent's passion in continually taking steps to try to level the playing field, in their work with marginalized populations. But, they underestimated what my sister and I needed. This is the book that my parents didn’t have. 

As a psychotherapist I work primarily with adopted teens, young adults and families. I help adoptive families to feel more empowered, connected and more optimistic about the future. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with hundreds of adoptees who share feelings and experiences that they’ve never explored with someone else! And, in those conversations, I’m continually asking myself three questions: 

What are they trying to tell me?
What do they need from me?
How can I address those needs? 

One thing that I’ve learned in depth over the years is just how important their adoptive parents are to them. What they need from you is laid out in the four tasks outlined in the book - “unrescuing,” setting adoption-sensitive limits, having connecting conversations and envisioning the future.

Rachel:  You authored a new book about adoption and the teen years.   Why do parents of adoptees NEED to read this book?  

Katie:  What I was seeing was that many adoptive parents were parenting that they did when their teen was younger. And, unfortunately, what had worked in the past wasn’t working anymore. And, sometimes it even backfired. Their relationship suffered and the teen often felt unprepared for young adulthood. The goals change a lot in the teen years. When they were younger it was about reassurance, security and comfort. In the teen years, helping them to feel more empowered, competent and authentic is key. This book is not just about why that’s important, but offers adoptive parents ways to apply those insights. 

This is book is unique in that it is geared for every adoptive parent, whether you’re coasting or in crisis. It is not pathologizing or minimizing. Our reaction and lived experience as adoptees is not predetermined. That said, there are inherent losses in the narrative which are important to understand, which for many adoptees, remain unspoken, especially with those who aren’t adoptees.

The stakes are so high. The more grounded, informed and empowered you feel, the more access you’ll have to the changing needs of your adopted teen. Even seemingly small changes make all of the difference in the long run.

Rachel:  You are an experienced therapist, working with adoptees.   What do parents, generally speaking, need to understand about their teenagers that you've noticed parents seem to be missing right now?  

Katie:  One of the most important reframes to integrate, is that the adoption story is not just about abandonment or relinquishment, or loss, although there is loss embedded in it, of course. It’s a survival story. 

The adoptee survived something that others in similar situations, did not. Many adoptees talk with me about how lucky they were just to have survived. To have one’s life hinge on luck is unsettling! So, without even realizing it, many adoptees will develop survival skills that will allow them to make their own luck, so to speak. This could mean excelling in school, fitting in racially/culturally/socially, etc. It could mean a highly tuned radar for what others feel about them. There’s often a vigilance, often undetectable and unconscious. 

Rachel:  One thing I've struggled with, and so have many parents by adoption, is when our children struggle, we cannot decide if the struggle is related to adoption or not.  Can you offer any advice on how parents like me can answer that question?  And if the struggle IS adoption-related, what's the next step the parent should take? 

Katie:  Let’s start with the difference between younger adoptees and adopted teens. Teenhood brings a different lens to their relationship, whether unknown or known, with their birth parent. When adoptees are younger, they have questions, possibly hurt feelings, etc. But in teenhood, adoptees can actually identify with the birth mother. Because they’re now sexually equipped, they can put themselves in the position of their birth mother. Teens are often become able to think more abstractly so they often become interested in the feelings, details, the injustices and morals. This often includes variations on the question, how could you do this to me? 

Non-adopted teens have a birth story, but for adoptees, it’s a survival story. For adoptees, the worst has already happened. Of course, teenhood is generally fraught with risk and potential! But, adoptees are often more in survival mode than the garden-variety teen. When adoptees who come in to see me, early on, they’ll often say something like, “I can pick up on other people’s feelings. I’m extremely attuned.” But, through their tone, I know by their serious tone that it’s not just a casual trait. It’s a strategy. 

What I argue in the book is that there is a parallel process between you as adoptive parent and the adopted teen. Just as you are in some ways, a garden-variety parent, you are also an adoptive parent, and are faced with reconciling that! And, although each parent is unique, the four tasks I lay out encompass the vulnerabilities that I’ve seen in adopted teens and adoptive parents. For example, unrescuing is the first task. I believe that adopted teens often believe that they need to be rescued, and that adoptive parents are more vulnerable to rescuing. Why? The rescuing is part of the narrative. 

In terms of next steps for adoptive parents, there are four of them - unrescuing, setting adoption-sensitive limits, having connecting conversations and envisioning the future, in that order! Each task also contains simple, practical accessible adjustments that adoptive parents can make to meet the needs of their adopted teen. 

Rachel:  Besides your book (which I'm reading right now and underlining passage after passage), what other resources do you recommend parents-by-adoption read to better understand their children?  

Katie:  The podcast Journey of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is helpful if you’re interested in the research, not just about adoption, but a range of mental health issues. Add Water and Stir: Women of Color/Adoption/Foster Care/Parenting is fantastic. The Rambler includes interviews of many Korean-adult adoptees, myself included. The host, Mike McDonald is also a Korean-adoptee. AdopteesOn is hosted by a Canadian adoptee and focuses on open adoption and reunion stories. Might need Kleenex for that one! She interviews adoptees who are also therapists, which I participated in. Creating a Family is hosted by Dawn Davenport, adoptive parent, author, whom I just love. I enjoyed talking with her about the book! And, Renegade Rules is actually a podcast for parents of younger children, but we had a fascinating conversations about teens and adoption.