Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Dear New Foster Mom, a Love Letter from Natalie Brenner

My friend Natalie is a new foster parent, as well as a mom to two sons, one of whom came to her by transracial adoption.  She blogs, she's takes pretty pictures, and she's a book author.  She's on Twitter, Insta, Pinterest, and Facebook if you'd like to connect with her.

Today, we're talking about foster care and what you need to know!  

Dear New Foster Mama,

It’s so much, isn’t it?

Your new child via foster care has been with you for about three weeks.

The initial excitement is beginning to thin out, as both of your honeymoon phases dwindle to an end.

You’ve made and attended a ridiculous number of appointments in just three weeks: feelings doctor intake (that’s what we call our counselors around here to help make sense of it all), regular well child check up, abuse team appointment, lawyer meet and greet, permanency caseworker introduction,  dentist assessment, psychological evaluation, and likely other therapies such as occupational or speech.

Have you dug your heels in, grounding yourself secure in safe soil and soul support? You’re going to need it.

As your child senses safety and security, consistency and space to be his age, you can nearly count on his body reacting and pushing back. His brain has been hard wired through trauma, reconstructing pathways and changing the way his system might naturally work if raised in a healthy and stable, low-cortisol environment from conception.

As you settle into what is your new norm—her as your daughter, you as her current mom—grief will begin to settle in for the both of you. You’ll grieve life as it was, sure. But you’ll also grieve the immense and countless losses your child will carry forever. Even though your home offers stability, safety, and space for her to be a child, it does not offer the biological roots she was created to live with.

Speaking of you as mom, I’d like to give you the freedom to see yourself as that role: yes, in your house, you are mom. Your (foster) child may not call you “mom” and that’s okay, even healthy. No pressuring needed, we only want our kids to feel safe and comfortable. But when asked if you’re “mom,” I want to empower you to walk in that identity. You are absolutely mom and these children don’t need their story of being in care shared with all the passerbys.

New Foster Mama, I want to sit you down and tell you something: you can do this. You can walk with your son through the broken and tragic pieces of his heart. You can make space for his sadness, his anger, his denial, his sense of betrayal, his loss. And you can sit in it with him, telling him it’s okay to be sad. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. It’s okay to not want to be in this home, but this is where you are for now, and you are safe. You can root on his family of origin.

I want to tell you something else: there will be days, maybe weeks turned months, that you want to call your child’s caseworker and say, “This is too much. I need this child gone by Friday.” But Mama, I implore you to sit down and think this through. Have you been caring for yourself so you can care for this child? Have you made self-care an important part of your week, so you can pour yourself into the pieces of this child hungering for what you have to offer?

New Foster Mama, here are some ways I’ve chosen to take care of myself so I can keep saying yes, even when I want to say no:

  • Tea with myself, my journal, my bible. You may not be a journaling or bible type, but the point is that I sit with myself and I process through writing. I don’t bring my computer, though I’m behind in work. I sit, I write, I process, alone and in the quiet.
  • Counseling, both individual and couples.
  • Date with husband at least twice a month (in addition to counseling!)
  • I ask for help when I need it and hire a babysitter, because you know what? Mama’s human too and Mama needs help.
  • I hire a house cleaner once a month, no shame.

New Foster Mama, I want to tell you of some invaluable resources I have discovered. I want every single foster mom to know these things; they revolutionize the way we see and parent our children from hard places.

Are you ready? Jot these down:
  • TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention). This is the number one best way you can spend your time learning about how to best parent and understand your child. No time spent on educating yourself about TBRI is wasted. Start with this video by Dr Karen Purvis
  • The Connected Child. This book falls in line with TBRI and connected parenting. It is not a waste of the little time you have, I promise
  • Connected Parenting FB Group. Though in person support groups living similar lives are ideal, these online groups are incredibly helpful.
  • Angela Tucker’s piece about answering our kid’s stories.

There are so many things to juggle when you’re a mama, and when you become a foster mama, the layers run deeper. It’s not a competition, it’s just a fact. You have to consider different cultural and ethnic identity, trauma and attachment, and these things in and of themselves are layered more than an onion.

You will grow tired and weary. It’s not a matter of if,  but when. You will be frustrated at the system that is set up to support and serve no one, especially your wounded child.

Statistics show that your child will likely move back home, reunify with his or her parents. This is hard for many reasons. Sometimes we wonder if it’s actually safe at home, if true change has occurred. Many times we know it’s safe and we celebrate the beauty of reunification, but grieve deeply the loss of a child we poured our whole self into. I want you to know that it’s okay to be sad, to grieve the transition, even while also celebrating reunification. Grief is healthy.

I believe the most broken parts of us only reveal the depths of our love.

Hey New Foster Mama,

You know what I cling to when the sadness of trauma sweeps over me? I cling to the honor and privilege it truly is to sit in the gap with these kids.

They are arguably the most vulnerable in society, and the humbling reality it is to sit with them in these trenches is gripping. While they are uncertain, scared, and likely struggling with anxiety...we get to be stable, secure, and give them permission to be those things.

So keep clinging to that. Keep clinging to the Truth that they are worth it, they are worth all the ounces of energy and they deserve all the love in the world.

I root you on, Mama. I do.

Sincerely and warmly and joyfully,

Natalie Brenner

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

9 Must-Read Adoption-Themed Books for Adoptive Mamas

Summer is in full swing, and one of my goals is to fall back in love with reading!  This stemmed from my stint with breast cancer last summer (I cannot even...) and then stumbling upon an article that shared the fact that reading drastically reduces stress, just like yoga and meditation can!  

I've always loved a good book, but with four kids, silence is very rare.  And honestly, silence usually indicates the kids are up to no good!  

However, since it's summer, we've re-instituted family reading nights which is the perfect opportunity for us to ALL pull out a good book, cozy up in our pjs, and have some popcorn.   

Here are some new(er) adoption-themed books you MUST READ this summer!  ***Click on the pic of the book to read reviews and purchase***

Far From the Tree (Robin Benway)  - fiction

Several of my followers recommended this book to me.  Technically a young adult novel (which I'm totally loving right now, including Angie Thomas' book that I've purchased THREE times for different people as gifts), this book explores being an adoptee, a birth parent, reunion, and siblinghood.  

The Lucky Few (Heather Avis) - non-fiction
 I loved this book SO much that I interviewed the author about it.  Heather Avis' memoir focuses on adopting her three kids, one transracially and two with special needs.  She also talks about loss, leaning on God, and open adoption.  I found myself underlining quote a few paragraphs to reflect on later. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)  - fiction

Eleanor struggles with social skills, and she thrives on predictability and routine.   Then she meets two men who dramatically change her world.   Eleanor has survived trauma and has major mommy-issues.  I couldn't put this book down, as I fell more and more in love with the characters and both their tragedies and triumphs.  This book is set to be made into a film, produced by Reese Witherspoon.

Dear Adoptive Parents:  Things You Need to Know Right Now From an Adoptee (Madeleine Melcher) - non-fiction

I'm totally obsessed with this book, and for good reason.  It's really easy to get "down in the dumps" about adoption, especially if you spend a lot of time online.  There were times I truly believed my children were doomed and I was a failure as a mother.  Instead of pouring my energy into reading negative adoption posts, I chose to pick up Madeleine's book and get encouraged!  Madeleine is an adoptee and mom-by-adoption, and she knows what she's talking about!  

The Orphan's Tale (Pam Jenoff)  -fiction

Noa was just 16 when she was forced to give up her baby (whose father was a Nazi soldier).  After discovering a train car full of Jewish babies, Noa takes on and goes on the run, eventually joining a German circus.  The story focuses on secrecy, motherhood, love, sisterhood, and hope. 

Daring to Hope (Katie Davis Majors) - non-fiction

I got this book for Christmas, and I've been slowly working my way through it.  Why slowly?  It's a pretty heavy read, laden with Bible passages and detailed stories from the author.  Katie's story is extraordinary.  Unconventional.  

Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate)  - fiction 

It's 1939 when four siblings are kidnapped from their home and forced to live in an orphanage ran by cruel and manipulative staff.  One by one, the siblings are adopted and must live with the trauma and secrecy.  Present day, a young woman set to marry, discovers that her family isn't exactly who they thought they were.  Through extraordinary life-altering moments, the reader is taken from past to present and back again, holding our breath to see if reunion will happen or if hope is lost.  This book is based on true events.

Ginny Moon (Benjamin Ludwig)  - fiction
Ginny is in foster care, but manages to find her birth mother through Facebook leading to a series of terrifying and heartbreaking events.  Ginny is determined to go back and get something (someone) she believes she left behind when she was taken from her biological mother.   This heart-pounding novel is one you won't be able to put down.  

The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption (me!) - non-fiction

Of course, I'll wrap up this list of fabulous must-read books with my latest.  I cover everything you need to know from the thinking-about-adopting stage to the months after an adoption finalization.  I insert plenty of wit, but mostly, it's just wisdom from a decade of experience in the adoption community.  

Happy reading, happy learning, happy summer! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Our Son's Hair Routine, Favorite Hair and Skin Picture Books, and Haircut Questions

As a mama of three daughters, I often focus on resources to empower them.   After all, girls are stereotypically the ones who struggle with their appearance.  And when you're raising girls of color like I am, their appearance intermingles with culture, racism, colorism, and history.

But today, I want to share our favorite children's picture books that empower our Black sons to love their skin and hair.  Click on the perimeter of the book to learn more and purchase.  Click on the center to pin on Pinterest.  

And now, our son's hair routine!  Again, click on the perimeter of the image to check it out on Amazon.  Click on the center to pin on Pinterest.  

We typically wash and/or co-wash with this shampoo and conditioner.  I love the light scent! 

We moisturize with Curls leave-in.  This one smells like cake batter.  In the summer, we like to switch it up and use the Curls blueberry leave-in.   

Then we create defined coils using this coil sponge.  It's so easy to use and quite inexpensive! 

How often does our son get a haircut? 

Our son gets his haircut approximately every 3 weeks.  Because of his sensory issues, more frequent haircuts are difficult.  But with patience, time, and finding the right barber, haircuts have become increasingly more successful!  

Wouldn't it make more sense or be easier for us to cut his hair at home?  

It would be easier, but it wouldn't provide him with the cultural experience and growing competency I believe a Black child needs.  Having a Black barber is incredibly important!  We have found a barber who takes appointments.  His shop is a quiet, calm space (because of the appointments) that seems to meet the needs of our child and set our child up for success!  

Why not try a longer hair length or different style? 

We keep our son's hair very short (a 1 on the sides and a 2 on the top), in a fade style.  This minimizes the amount of time haircuts and styling takes.  It also fits him!  

As he gets older and can handle some of the hair care on his own, we will give him more freedom to choose his style.  But for now, we are making sure his hair cutting and styling experience is as positive as possible, given his sensory issues, by keeping hair short and simple, while still culturally appropriate.   

I can't wait to hear from you!  Your favorite hair products, your favorite hair-and-skin books for boys, and your son's hair routine!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

5 Ways to Mess Up Open Adoption

In April, I shared with you five ways to help create a successful open adoption.  So today, I want to re-visit this important topic, but share with you five ways I see parents messing up open adoption.

First, open adoption is defined as the triad (that's the birth family, adoptive family, and adoptee) having some level of an ongoing relationship, usually through direct-contact.  This might mean texts, phone calls, e-mails, and visits. 

1:  Too much, too soon.

Whether this is during an adoption match or after a placement, some parents give out too much, too soon.  This can be everything from contact information (address, cell number), to life details (where you work, what you believe in, etc.), to contact itself.  Why is this problematic?  Because all good relationships develop healthily through organic growth.

2:  Holding back.

While you don't want to give too much, too soon, you also don't want to hold back too much.  This person is planning to, or has already, entrusted her child to you.  Therefore, you do need to be "open" to have a successfully open adoption.  This doesn't mean you disclose every little life detail (your income, your weight, your social security number---duh), but you do need to be vulnerable and willing in an open adoption relationship.  Otherwise, you are hampering its ability to succeed.

3:  Tit for tat.

Just as you disclose information to the expectant or birth family, you want some information from them.  This can be positively motivated:  you want to be able to convey information to your child (the adoptee).  But interrogating an expectant or birth family member, or demanding information because you somehow feel entitled to it, can have negative consequences and damage the relationship

4:  Guessing.

You do not know how the other person is feeling.  They do not know how you are feeling.  Therefore, if you are unwilling to communicate rather than guess/suppose, you are setting the openness up to fail.  Ask questions.  Check in with each other.  Be honest.   But don't guess.  There are too many factors and circumstances in every person's life for guessing.

5:  Taking everything personally.

Once again, things happen in the other person's life.  Things happen in your life.  Every single emotion or question or statement or reaction isn't always (or even often) rooted in you.  This is why we need to go back to #4.  Guessing doesn't work.  Ask, but again, as I shared in #3, don't enter into conversations feeling entitled to every tidbit of information. 

And when a birth parent is struggling, you need to point him or her back to the social worker (hopefully the very ethical one).  You cannot and should not assign yourself the role of birth parent counselor AND mom to your child.  I go into detail about this in my latest book.  Because your #1 job?  To be your child's mom.  Trying to be counselor can hinder or even harm your relationship with your child, with your other children, and your partner. It can take a toll on your own health.

You cannot bypass the work, time, commitment, authenticity, and grace that open adoptions take.  Please don't try to "fast pass" or bypass or ignore.  Do the work.  Make the changes.  And avoid burning bridges that cannot be repaired.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Dear Foster Dad: from Dr. John DeGarmo, Foster Care Expert

It's Father's Day week, and today I invited my friend Dr. John DeGarmo to bring encouragement to all the foster dads out there!

During my decade plus experience as a foster father, I have had over four dozen children come to live in my home.  Some children have stayed only one day, while others have stayed as much as a year and a half while in foster care.  One thing I have learned while taking care of these children in need is that, above all, these children simply wish to be loved in a healthy and safe manner.  

As I wrote in my book, Love and Mayhem: One Big Family’s Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption, many children in foster care will try to resist this love, and tragically even try to sabotage it in some way.  To be sure, there are those children who are difficult, who are challenging, and who are exhausting.   Yet, each deserves to be loved unconditionally for who they are.  As a foster parent, this is one of my greatest responsibilities, as well as one of my greatest privileges.

Sadly, many children in foster care come from homes where violence reigned.  Profanity, abuse, and harsh words filled the air that surrounded a child.   Additionally, where love was to be a child’s cornerstone, there was neglect instead, as the basic needs of the child were not met, and where the emotion of love was instead substituted with just the opposite.  

Along with this, there may be those children in foster care who have had poor examples of fatherhood in their lives, resulting in poor examples of so called “manliness.”  There are those who may believe that a real man does not express love, does not state that he loves someone, or even grant a hug to another under the misguided belief of weakness.  

For a child in foster care who may have been abused, beaten, or neglected, this type of love is most important.  Without this type of love, a foster child will not form necessary and healthy attachment with others, resulting in a number of attachment disorders.  Emotional difficulties such as a of lack of self worth, trust, and the need to be in control often result in the lack of unconditional and healthy parental love.  As anyone who has worked with foster children will tell you, most foster children face an enormous amount of emotional issues, many times stemming from the lack of healthy love.

With this in mind, it is especially important for a foster dad to communicate love to their foster children at all opportunities, and in a variety of ways.   A strong foster dad is one who is not afraid to say “I love you” to his wife, to his children, and to his foster children.  These simple words, these three words, can make a significant difference to a child who has only known violence and abuse.  Along with this, foster dads need to be nurturing to the foster children in their home, as well.  

There are those moments when I am weary, and feel I have very little love and compassion to give.  Indeed, there are those moments when I must pray for patience with a child who has spent hours screaming in rage at my wife and me.   Yet, I also recognize that these children are suffering; suffering from horrors I may never understand; horrors that I have dedicated myself to protecting them from while in my home.  

Indeed, these children need my love. In truth, foster dads need to be comforting to a child in need, gentle in his words and actions.  After all, this may be the only positive example of a loving father that the foster child may ever have.  

-Dr. John DeGarmo:  The Foster Care Institute 

Connect with Dr. DeGarmo on Twitter and Facebook

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

5 Summer Must-Haves for the Multiracial Family

Summer is in full swing here, and if you're like me, you know it's going to be three months of both fun and sibling bickering and boredom and chaos.  That's summer for ya.   

If you're part of a multiracial family like I am, you need to know about these fabulous products to help make your summer a little more sweet and sane.

Sun Protection

Yes, people with more melanin in their skin can get sunburns and can get skin cancer and can also face issues from sun damage including discoloration.  Yet vitamin D deficiency can have major health consequences; this stems from too much indoor time and too much sun protection.  So what is a parent to do? 

We wear sunscreen during peak sun hours, but generally speaking, we aren't out swimming during those hours.  Our swim time is usually in the later afternoon after the baby's nap.  

Which sunscreen is best for kids of color?  

You don't want unhealthy ingredients, nor do you want it to bleach your child's skin.  We use this sunscreen because it comes in a spray bottle (easy to target areas), it's reasonably priced, and it's considered safe and healthy (non-toxic).  It also has a barely-there scent.  

And don't forget to protect hair from the sun and pool chemicals, too.  I recommend putting a sleep cap over your child's hair, followed by this "long hair" swim cap that's perfect for braids, dreads, etc.

Art Supplies

We love to have lots of art supplies on hand for those hot, sunny days or hot, rainy days when going outside is unbearable or not possible.  But you want your art supplies to reflect your kids!   I recommend this skin-tone paper (for portraits), these markers, and these crayons.  There's even paint options!   

Of course, you'll also want scissors, stickers, coloring books, stencils, etc. on hand-as well:  these are great items to get at your local dollar store.  I also love to cover the table with paper so everyone can work together to create a mural.  We also go on nature walks, gather up natural materials (flowers, rocks, pinecones, etc.) and these as stamps into paint.  The kids LOVE this activity! 

I'm a big fan of sensory play, but on scorching hot or rainy days, you might be stuck indoors.  This is a great opportunity to create and play in a rice bin.  (My kids, ages 1-9, all love rice bins!)

Personal Product Bags

If you're like us, you're taking your kids to various activities and camps throughout the summer.  If your kiddo is spending the day elsewhere, consider making them a personal product bag to carry with them.  This may include lip balm, mini-deodorant (we buy Native, Schmidt's, or Jason's), mints, first aid gel and moisturizer, etc.  Teach your child to check their skin and lips and address as-needed. Of course, throwing in a few Tru Colour bandages that match his or her skin tone isn't a bad idea, either! 

Popsicle Molds

Children of color have a 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, so encouraging active play and healthy eating is crucial since type 2 diabetes is primarily a lifestyle-based disease.

Buying healthy popsicles (not the artificial-dye and sugar-filled ones) is really expensive, so we DIY by using these popsicle molds. (Since we have a big family, we own three mold sets!)  We buy a variety of fruits and let the kids create their own flavor combinations.  For the liquid, we usually just use plain water or Trader Joe's low sugar lemonade (sweetened with Stevia) mixed with water.  

Great popsicle recipes for kids and adults (including boozy popsicles) can be found here and here.  

Educational Fun

We do some homeschooling in the summer.  For example, this summer my five-year-old son will continue to learn how to read while my nine-year-old is focusing on honing her math skills.  

I love choosing educational fun where my kids are represented.  A few suggestions include the ABC Me (Black History) Flashcards, Eeboo's I'll Never Forget a Face matching game, books like Little Leaders:  Bold Women in Black History and What Color Is My World?.

If you're feeling creative, generate some lessons/activities with your kids.  For example, teach them about the man who invented the super soaker, and then hand out water guns for some outdoor fun.

Don't forget to take education outside of your home:  concerts, museum exhibits, festivals, library story hours, etc. 

What are your summer plans?  What products does your family love?