Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dear Sugar: On Not Dictating Your Child's Emotional Response to Adoption

Ever since I started school, I wanted to be athletic.   But it just wasn’t in me.  

In third grade, when it was my turn to kick during a PE kickball game, I missed.  Every.  Single.  Time.   And in fifth grade dodge-ball, I was the tall, skinny girl who couldn’t catch or throw, so I just stood in the game awkwardly until I was the only one left.   The kids tried to cheer for me to hit the player on the other team, the person I was terrified of because I feared the rubber ball leaving his tight grip and smacking me in the face.   So I  just cowered while my teammates starting cheering for the OTHER guy to get me out so we could start the game over already.  

When I got to middle school, I still wanted to be an athlete, so I considered cheer-leading.  All the cool girls were cheerleaders.   Yet, I had no tumbling classes under my belt, no strength, and very little confidence.  

So in eighth grade, I decided to go to volleyball tryouts.   I spent the day before tryouts practicing with a BASKETBALL in my front yard.   Can you imagine a basketball hitting the bony forearms of an eight grader who had yet to even think about starting puberty?  It was frigid outside, but I practiced for hours. 

I made the team.   (I’m guessing there were no cuts.)   And I was deemed captain of the “C” team.  Yes, as in there was an A team, a B team, and then a C team.   I was in charge of the sixth graders.  I finally had what I wanted:  a uniform, a position, a team-name, teammates, and some sort of prestige among my peers.  

As we headed to our first game, cramped on a school bus, the coach stood and gave us a talk.   Part of the lecture was about winning and losing.   If we win, she said, we could have snacks after the game and cheer and carry on victoriously.  If we lost, we should travel home in a somber mood:  no talking, cheering, or giggling.   

This was so strange to me.  I grew up in a loud, opinionated, vocal family.   There were five of us.  My dad was a disc jockey and salesperson.   My mom stayed at home with us.  My sister had a “verbal diarrhea” issue prompting my mom to constantly tell her, just because you think something doesn’t mean you should say it.   My sister and I argued relentlessly, mostly because of our shared bedroom space in which I was tidy and she hid cheese-balls and chocolate under her bed—yet we were best friends.  My little brother was the rope between our tug-of-war and was always at the mercy of our antics. 

In essence:  we said what we thought.   We talked a lot.  My mom used to say all she wanted for any holiday gift was “peace and quiet.”  

The coach was telling me HOW to respond to something.   It made no sense to me.  Was this what it meant to be on a team?   We had to be unified in everything, directed by an adult?  We weren’t free to have our own reaction?  Our own emotions?  Our own opinions? 

It felt like oppression.   That someone was moving into my sacred space and trying to conquer.   It didn’t sit well with me:  not out of rebellion or lack of respect for the coach.   I was just uneasy about the whole thing, but in my middle-schooler mind, couldn’t pinpoint why.  

That was twenty-one years ago.   And this captain of the C volleyball team hasn’t shaken that lecture. 

When I see the many, many posts from new parents-by-adoption and those hoping to adopt, I remember that bus ride.   These current and hopeful parents ask and ponder:

·         What if my child wants to call his or her birth parents “mom” and “dad.” 
·         I’m not comfortable with visits.  We want to stick with just pictures and letters. 
·         I don’t want my child to be confused.
·         I can’t wait for our child to have once-a-week visits with his birth mom. 
·         Should I tell my child that she was conceived by rape?
·         When should I tell my child his adoption story? 

Parents:  here’s the deal.   It’s up to us to reveal all the information, as age-and-developmentally appropriate, to our children.  It’s not up to us to dictate their reactions or shape their stories in a way that’s more “gentle” (aka:  concealing details).   We are to be authentic, forthcoming, and proactive.   We are to be truth-tellers, empathy-servants, and hug-dealers.  

We should also be space-givers.  By that I mean, give our children the space to process and to react as they feel is appropriate.    We shouldn’t try to mold the outcomes to make ourselves feel better.  It’s not about us.   We shouldn’t tamper with the evidence, so to speak.  

We have the obligation and the privilege to give our children what we know.    It is not up to us, as the coach did to me, dictate the child’s response to the events that have already taken place. 
There are thousand decisions you will make as a parent surrounding the child’s adoption.   Questions that need answers.  Answers that prompt more questions.   Confusion.   Joy.   Wondering.   Peace.   All of these.  None of these.  Some of these. 
There’s no perfect way to navigate.  Though I know many post to Facebook groups seeking to find the no-fail answers to their burning questions.   Often when questions are asked, the parent already knows the right thing to do, or the wrong thing that should be avoided.   The goal in parenting (by adoption or biology) is not perfection.  The goal should be to demonstrate the things that make us good, that enable us to process the things life throws our way and respond to others:  empathy, kindness, honesty, encouragement, and, of course, abundant love.  

And if there is a “do not” to be shared, it’s this:  do not tell your child, or expect of your child, to handle adoption in any certain way.  A way that makes you more comfortable or proud.  A way that doesn’t ignite jealousy.  A way that makes you let out a breath of relief.   Your focus is on your child.   You demonstrate authenticity in disclosure, teaching your child that your home is a safe space for authenticity to happen. 

You can do this.   Your child needs you to be ready with an open mind, heart, and arms, no matter how he or she responds.  


For more inspiration, check out the book I co-authored with Madeleine Melcher:  Encouragement for the Adoption and Parenting Journey:  52 Devotions and a Journal.   And check out Madeleine's book Dear Adoptive Parents:  What You Need to Know Right Now-From an Adoptee.  

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Practical Tips to Get Out of Your Winter Funk

Dear Sugar,

I live in the Midwest where we have extremely hot summers and dreary winters.   These "dead" seasons can be really hard on a woman, whether she's a mom or a hopeful mom.   

Right now, it's post-holidays (no more cheery Christmas music, twinkling trees, or cookie trays) and pre-spring:  it's just winter, but without the glittery snow.   We're seeing a lot of gray skies, windy and chilly days, little sunshine, and too much indoor time.   Motivation = 0.   

If you are in this place, here are five practical ways to get out of the funk:

1:  Lessen screen time.
I know, I know.  But it REALLY does make a huge difference.  Post-election news has been nothing but grim.  The politically polarizing posts on social media are enough to make us all lose our minds. Additionally, I pretty much never feel better after a scroll through my newsfeed, do you?   I encourage you to set limits for yourself, whatever those may be.   For me, Instagram and Pinterest are always happy places, where Facebook tends to suck the patience right out of me (well, the little patience I had).    I'm also in a season where I've decided no social media after 5 p.m. or on weekends.  Whatever works for you, do it.   And if you're brave enough, take a hiatus from social media for a set period of days, weeks, or months like I did.  (Though I will certainly miss interacting with you on my Facebook page.)   I recommend reading Hands Free Mama to motivate you to take the social media break or set the limits you desperately need.  

2:  Read (and Journal).
I know, I just told you less screen time, and when I say read, I mean read an actual book made of paper.  I'm working to pour into my own soul rather than deplete my mental energy.   A few suggestions include Only Love Today, Wild and Free, and 52 Lists for Happiness.   If you're currently in an adoption rut, my friend Madeleine Melcher and I co-authored Encouragement for the Adoption and Parenting Journey: 52 Devotions and a Journal, a book to inspire and uplift.   And there is nothing wrong with picking up some Chick Lit book or a cheap romance novel.   

3:  Movement. 
Notice I said "movement" and not "exercise."  Do something active that brings you energy and inspiration.  For me, a walk, dancing, and lifting free weights does the trick.   For you it might be running, yoga, walking your dog, swimming, or something else.   I never make movement about calorie burning.   For me, movement's #1 benefit is to become more aware of and prioritize my body so I can be more "fit" physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.    Movement helps you sleep better, reduces anxiety, and boosts "feel good" hormones.  I suggest putting movement as a "to do" on your calendar (for me, it's currently Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings) as well as work it in when the opportunity presents itself (see #4).   

4: Get outside.
When the opportunity presents itself, get outside.  We've had a few sunny (and slightly warm) breakthrough days the past few weeks.  We get on our coats and head outside, letting the sunshine kiss our cheeks.  It is amazing how much better we feel after just ten minutes in the Great Outdoors. Linger outdoors whenever you can.  Better yet, combine your commitment to Movement with your outdoor time:  a walk, playing catch or basketball with your partner or child, etc.  

5:  Connect.
Connection is something we are desperately missing these days, and we try to fill that void with more screen time, more food, more work.   But truly, nothing can fill the connection void guessed it, connection.   I'm committing to getting coffee with a friend one morning a week, or two mornings if we don't have any medical appointments.   These moments with my friends have made such a difference in my days.   It's a chance to listen, love, and laugh.    Another connection goal we're establishing in our family is to have reading night every Wednesday evening.  So we do early dinner, early bath time, and then get in our pjs and lay on the living room rug and read, read, read.   My spouse and I plan to continue our reading commitment once the kids go to bed, pulling out our recent favorite books and relaxing together.   Wine included.   A great book to inspire intentional connectivity is Craving Connections, which I'm currently reading.  

Of course, none of these are substitutes for seeking professional intervention if you need it, whether that be seeking a counselor or seeing your doctor to be checked for anemia, depression, or a vitamin deficiency (such as vitamin D).  

What has helped you get out of a funk in the past?  What practical goals can you set for yourself during this season of life so that you can be happier, more motivated, and more energized?  

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dear Sugar: On Humbleness in Adoption

Dear Sugar:

Tell me I'm not the only one who does this...

I go to the grocery store armed with my coupons, reusable bags, and a long list.  I'm usually accompanied by at least one of my four children. 

I get all the groceries, filling the cart.  Then I zig-zag around the store with rapidly decreasing energy at least two more times for everything I forgot or skipped before.   

I make it to the checkout.   I slide the items on the conveyor belt while asking one or two or three of the children NOT to touch the gum packets and trashy magazines.   The cashier rings everything up, I hand over my coupons, and then I pay.   Then the moment comes.

"Would you like help out to your car?" asks the person who bagged my groceries.   

Before the question is even fully uttered, I interrupt with a a clear, loud, and insistent, "No, thanks." 

Then I smile (see how confident I am?), and push my cart forward...slowly.  Because I'm trying to edge kids to the door while pushing a really, really freaking heavy grocery cart into a bumpy parking lot (usually in the rain, because why would it NOT spontaneously rain when I go to buy groceries?).

When we make it to the minivan, there's the struggle of trying to use the automatic doors WHILE children are pulling on door handles.   Once the kids are safely inside the van, I open the trunk to place the groceries inside.  Only to find that I forgot to remove the stroller that takes up the entire trunk space.  So then I'm left stuffing groceries in whatever crevice I can find while the rain pours down upon me.  I shove the empty cart into the adjoining cart corral and jump into the driver's seat of the van.

Wet.  Irritated.  Tired.  

But I will not be deterred.  

When I get home, I tell the kids to go inside, and I proceed to attempt to carry every single grocery bag, no matter how heavy or how full or how fragile the bags are, into the house ALL AT ONCE.   Because why in the world would I make two trips from my van, which is just two steps away from the door into the house?...and yes, we're in the garage, so I'm longer getting rained on.

Why?  Why not accept the offer of the grocery bagger?  Why not unload the car bag by bag vs. all at once?   

It's called stubbornness, and efficiency, and a whole lot of other things.  But it's all just pride in a bad disguise.  

And it's ridiculous.   

I'm active in the adoption community and have some years of experience under my belt.  I see it time and time and time again:  the DIY hopeful parent or mama-by-adoption (already parenting) who wants to do it all herself.

Sure, she'll post an occasional question in an adoption FB group full of strangers.   But she's pretty much flying solo, because she's spent SO long trying to become a mom.   She doesn't want to rely on anyone to do something for her or on her behalf. 

I talk about this in my first book Come Rain or Come Shine, in chapter three:  Super Parent Syndrome.   In short, parents who adopt are put on a pedestal (by themselves, their agency, the biological parents, friends and family, strangers, the media, etc.) which puts SO MUCH PRESSURE on them to be everything.  This leads to pride.   

And remember that thing about pride?   It goeth before the fall.   (Prov. 16:18.)  

How many times have you successfully carried in all the groceries at once without damaging at least one item?  Without a bag breaking?  Without banging into a nearby wall?   Without feeling the pull of your arm muscles and the ache in your back, not just in that moment, but probably the next day, too?


When a Black mom approaches you and offers a suggestion for your daughter's hair, consider.   When an adoptee tells you that isolating your child of color in an all-White community is dangerous for his well-being, listen.  When a birth mother you meet is aching for a photo of her biological child and you remember you forgot to send an update to your child's birth parent last month, take note.  

Stop hesitating and re-positioning yourself on the pedestal.    Find your child a mentor.   Go to the adoption support group meeting.   Read the book.   

It boils down to humility.

Do the stuff.   

It's all for your child who depends on you to make the right choices, do the right things, meet and invite in the right people.   

Yes, agreeing to let someone else help with the "heavy lifting" is going to require some bravery.  But the trade-off is peace, empathy, wisdom, and hope.    

What's the alternative, Sugar?   Remember, Proverbs warns us that pride = destruction.  And the first step is choosing pride.  If we elect to dance with pridefulness, we will inevitably engage in destruction.  

You've been chosen to parent your child, for whatever reason.  It is an honor, a privilege, and a serious task.  It's a blessing.   Be brave.  Have courage.   Get off the damn pedestal, no matter who or what put you on it, then kick the thing over.  Break it up with a big hammer.   Sweep away the shattered pieces...

and embrace the joy of having open hands, ready to receive the assistance that is waiting for you.  


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Dear Sugar: Valentine Gift Ideas for Young-ish Black Children

It's almost Valentine's Day, Sugar!  

If you've been here awhile, you know I LOVE holidays.   I have decor, I have food, and I always have little gifts for the kids.    It's so fun to celebrate in big and small ways!

Here are my suggestions for Valentine's gifts for young-ish Black children (some of which my children are getting this year!).  All feature Black characters and/or include Black characters.  Click on the image to learn more:

-This post contains affiliate links.