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?