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. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dear Sugar: When You're Called a Savior for Adopting Your Children

Dear Sugar:

If you've been a parent-by-adoption for any length of time, it's happened to you.   

You're mothering your children:  maybe selecting apples together at the grocery store, pushing your daughter on the swing at the park, or volunteering in your son's classroom.  When someone decides to proclaim you as superhero-savior for adopting. 

"Your child is so lucky!"

"There are so many children who need a good home!"

"God bless you!"

The assumption is that children who were adopted most certainly were rescued from birth parents who were young, promiscuous, poverty-stricken, drug abusers who lived in dirty, dangerous environments not fit for a child.  But thankfully, we, the parents-by-adoption, swooped in, our arms and hearts and pocketbooks open.   We who can afford beach vacations and leather furniture and sparkly Martha-Stewart Christmas trees.   We who are educated, level-headed, "fit" to parent.  We who can offer a child grandparents and homemade Valentine cards and lots and lots of love (because, after all, love conquers all).   

So much assuming and stereotyping.     

Now I'm not interested in handing out my children's stories to random strangers.  I am also not making it my life's mission to be an adoption educator while trying to help my little one calm down during an epic tantrum (which is ALWAYS seemingly the "right time" for a stranger to ask about adoption or proclaim me as some sort of super mom).   

But what I am interested in is shutting down a conversation that is quickly spiraling out of control WHILE my child is standing right beside me listening.   

When someone decides to "compliment" me as my children's savior, I always meet them with very simple, direct responses that do not invite further conversation into our private lives.   

The quickest way to address the misguided "blessing" from a stranger is to say: 

"I am the lucky one."  

"I am honored to have been chosen to parent my child."

"My children have two families who love them very much:  one by birth and one by adoption."

Because my goal (and yours) is to protect and love our children, not satisfy the curiosity of a stranger or accept a "compliment" that puts us above our children in terms of worth or value.   Our children shouldn't be forced to feel grateful for being adopted, for being moved from one family to another. They also shouldn't have to choose between their birth family and our family: because they can co-exist.   There's room for us all.  

How do you respond when someone calls you a savior or superhero?   Let's talk on Facebook!   

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dear Sugar: 8 Things That'll Get You Through the Rest of Summer Break

Hey, Sugar:

I know.  We're in the homestretch.   Kids restless.   Mama exhausted.  Boredom collides with sibling arguments collides with mama's frustration.  It's hot.  Dreadfully hot.  Like too hot to swim kind of hot.

As a mom of four:  I GET IT.   This parenting thing, especially on the verge of summer ending and school beginning, is absolutely draining.   Like not even a venti cup full of straight-up espresso shots can save you.

During these final days and weeks, let's talk about survival.   Because if mama is happy, everyone is more likely to be happy.   So make a list and check it twice (sheesh, I do love me some Christmas and snow sounds REALLY nice right about now).   Here is my mom-will-survive-the-rest-of-summer-list, and you go ahead and make yours.  Like make a list and paste it somewhere visible as a daily reminder to treat yo'self.

Rachel's list:

1:  Flavored "sparkling" carbonated water.   No calories, no artificial dyes, no sugar (or even fake sugar), hydrating, refreshing.  I drink at least two a day, sometimes even four.  My favorite flavors are black cherry, white peach, and blueberry (which Target sadly stopped making, and I'm clinging to my last two cans!).

2:  Great books that I can read over and over.  Here are a few of my faves, and if you click on the images you can view details:

3:  Fewer commitments.   Saying no is so empowering.  It's OK to be too tired (and impatient) for playdates, for extracurricular activities, for getting up early to be somewhere.   Your kids will be JUST FINE.

4:  Order school supplies online.  The stores are INSANE as soon as the supply lists are released.  NO THANK YOU.   I'm a huge fan of Target and order all my kids' supplies online.   And if you want to save big, check out my Target couponing and savings tips.

5: Make your kids a sensory rice bin.  We currently have THREE:  solar system, rainbow, and under-the-sea.  They're inexpensive and magical.  ALL of my kids love them, despite the age range!  Plus, I love that this is the perfect rainy or too-hot day activity.   (Skip the slime, people.  That stuff doesn't come out of anything and is just gross.   Rice bins last for years; slime doesn't.)

6: Simplify meals.  My favorite thing to whip up when the kids are starving? Scrambled eggs, a frozen veggie, and a piece of fruit.  VOILA.   No one wants to cook when it's 100+ degrees out.

7:  Have family reading or game nights (or days!).  My kids LOVE LOVE LOVE this.  And it surprisingly kept them occupied for well over an hour.

8:  Get new multicultural art supplies.  Cover a table with paper from a big roll.  Then lay out the supplies and little hand mirrors (to help them create self-portraits).  Have fun, kids!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dear Sugar: Your Burning Adoption Questions, Anxiety, Gender Preference, Profile Books, and More

Dear Sugar,

Occasionally I ask my Facebook followers what they want to know about adoption, so today I'm answering some of your questions! Let's get at it!  

Q:  I have a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.  Can I still adopt?

The answer is, probably yes. Many parents-by-adoption have various health issues, whether it be mental or physical.  The most important thing is that your health issue is "controlled" and under the supervision of a medical professional.   I also think it's important that you are aware of your needs and are honest about where you are, because the adoption journey can be really mentally, emotionally, and (because of those) physically draining on a person.  It's likely your social worker will ask for a letter from your doctor regarding your health issue, which will be part of your homestudy process.   Just be honest (with your social worker and yourself)!  

Q:   I'm overwhelmed by all the adoption resources:  books, blogs, articles, workshops.  How do I choose?  

With adoption resources, I think the idea of "less is more" is false. The more perspectives you have, the better off you are as a parent. That said, I know it's not realistic for you to spend all your spare time reading adoption resources.  So my advice?  Start by reading ONE resource from EACH of the adoption triad members:  parent-by-adoption, adoptee, and birth parent.   Then once you've read those three resources, choose another three.   By making small goals (three resources at a time), you'll be more likely to actually read the resources.   To get started, here are three book suggestions from triad members:  Finding Motherhood (Jill M. Murphy)-birth mom and mom by adoption; Dear Adoptive Parents (Madeleine Melcher)-adoptee; You Can Adopt Without Debt (Julie Gumm)- mom by adoption.   

Q:  Should I have my profile book professionally created?

More and more hopeful parents are opting to have their profiles professionally created.  Most of us aren't graphic designers AND writers, so creating a book is a BIG deal.  I think the main question to ask yourself is this:  Is this profile book authentically me?   That's what's most important.  A good professional profile designer will help create a book that clearly is the REAL you.   Also, consider your budget.  Having a professional create your book comes at a cost.    At the end of the day, choose ethics.  Send out profile books that are truth-tellers, because what's at stake is SO important.  

Q:  I cannot have biological children.  Do I share that in my profile book?

It's your choice, though an expectant mom may be curious as to why you are choosing to adopt.  Just know that whether or not you choose to disclose in your book, you might be asked by an expectant mom why you are opting to adopt.  In some ways, it's easier just to put it all "out there" and "up front," since a question later (and in person) may catch you off guard.  The thing I don't want you to do is turn your profile book into a "sob story," where you pour out your story to expectant mothers and potentially induce some sense of guilt or obligation.   Your story is yours, and you can decide how to share it.   

Q: I really want to adopt a girl.  Is it OK to have a preference?  
I have strong feelings on this one---but remember, I'm only one person and my word isn't adoption gospel.   I do not agree with allowing parents to select the sex of the baby they will adopt when we're talking about domestic infant adoption.   Here's why.  One, your child might be thought to be a boy or girl and then surprise, is born and isn't what was predicted.  Are you going to back out of the match because the baby isn't your "dream" or "preferred" baby?   Two, a child isn't going to be a certain way just because he or she is a boy or a girl.  I have a daughter who loves dragons and basketball and the color blue.   She's not "girly." So if your preference is based on expectations and demands, that's not fair to the child.  We need to let our kids be who they are, not force them into a category out of selfish desire.  

Now, I have plenty of friends who did state a preference, and I believe that's their choice.  Their children are a joy.   But for me, I wasn't at all comfortable choosing a preference.   In fact, our son was thought to be a girl (surprise!) and one of my daughters was thought to be a boy (surprise again!).  I'm happy with our family:  three girls and one boy.   

I just wanted to be a mommy.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Ways to Prepare Little Ones for Back-to-School (Diverse Resources Included)

Dear Sugar:
It's that time of year.  School supply aisles are packed with moms acting like it's Black Friday. They've got their venti iced coffee in one hand, a mile-long list in the other, while they push the cart with their midsection.  Their eyes?  Bloodshot.  This is serious.

Back-to-school is a time many of us moms have a love-hate relationship with.  We get all soft, feeling sad that our "babies" are going to be getting on buses and spending their days with someone who is not us.  On the other hand, the sibling wars, the "sharking" (yep, that's a verb) around the pantry for snack #26 of the day (and it's only 10:15 a.m.), and heat waves---we are just DONE.  OVER IT.

Going back to school can be especially hard on younger kids.  An abrupt and extreme change in their routine, meeting a stranger who is now the authority (teacher), making new friends (hopefully), and all the transitions (bus, classroom, cafeteria, gym) can be overwhelming and exhausting.

And it's hard on us mamas, too.  My kids all start school at the same time (this year at THREE different schools), but they arrive home at different times.   And then there's the after school meltdown...which I really do not want to even think about right now, so let's move on.

This isn't my first rodeo, so here are my tried-and-true tips to help you and your littles ease back into the school year:

1:  Get diverse toys and books.

Two weeks before school starts, I gather up books from our home library to read to the kids.  This helps them get into the school-year mindset.   Each of these feature diverse characters, reflective of my children's schools.   (Click on the book image to learn more.)

2:  Play school.

Oh my goodness, do kids love to "play school."  Take turns being the teacher, do workbooks and art projects, and just have fun.  You can also pull out toys, such as the Melissa and Doug or Little People school bus sets.  We also love the eeBoo Create a Story cards:  the back-to-school version.

3:  Get the gear.

Shop for a first day of school shirt (online; because no one is going to the store right now).  Buy new lunch boxes.  (We do NOT buy new backpacks every year---too expensive!  But we do get one new piece of "gear" each year.)  This year Pottery Barn Kids is offering some diverse character school gear products (yeah!) that we're loving such as the ballerina lunch box, mermaid lunch box, Peanuts lunch box, and the Disney princess lunch box (Tiana included!).

4:  Create a countdown calendar.

Create a calendar two weeks before school starts.  Have the kids alternate putting stickers on the days as they pass by.   A visual reminder is helpful for kids (and mamas!).   The dollar store often has diverse character stickers.  

5:  Plan an after-school routine together.

After school is a REALLY hard time for us.  Talk to your kids about what helps them relax and refresh.  For us, we have a snack ready for the kids as soon as they walk in the door from school. And when I say snack, it's really first-dinner.  My kids are so hungry after school.  Make sure the snack is balanced (protein, carbs-including lots of fiber, and healthy fat) and has different textures (crunchy, smooth, soft) which helps meet sensory needs.    Great options include an apple with peanut butter and a Greek yogurt tube, a small sandwich and a piece of crunchy fruit, a homemade smoothie (sipped through a straw) and whole grain dry cereal or veggie chips.   Additionally, after snack we go outside (if possible) where the kids pick an activity.  My oldest prefers to sit and read or create art with sidewalk chalk, while my middle two kids (who are more active) enjoy riding bikes, playing catch, or playing with the hose.   If we have to be indoors, I let the kids play a dance or sports game on the XBOX or play downstairs (we have plasma cars).    It isn't unheard of for my kids to be in their PJS right after dinner.  Sometimes changing clothes just makes a person feel better!

How do you prepare your kids for heading back to school?  Let's chat on Facebook!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.