Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Where Is God in Adoption?

The year was 2009.  I had won a giveaway of Russell D. Moore's book Adopted for Life:  The Priority of Adoption for Christian Familiesand Churches.  

I devoured it in a matter of days, just as I do any newly released adoption book.  

And it made me squirm.  

I'm a person of faith.  I became a Christian at age 9.  I've grown up in church.  (We're talking hymnals, communion, John 3:16, revival, VBS, NKJV Bible church.  Anyone else?) 

At age 27, I became a mom by adoption.  And then, just as it is now, I heard the same things over and over again.  That God "called" people to adoption.  That orphans needed us, NOW!  That we were to get saved and then adopt kids and get them saved, too.  

And none of it sat well with me.  And it still doesn't.  

"Christian" doesn't mean ethical.

An agency that has Christian in its name or description may be what you're aiming toward, because you believe that "Christian" carries with certain responsibilities and promises.  But let me be very clear:  Christianity is a spectrum, and some adoption professionals use their "Christian" status to do unethical things.  "Christian" isn't a safeguard in adoption, though it certainly should be.  We have personally worked with both Christian and non-religious adoption professionals, and above all what's most important is the professional commitment to ethics.  

The "widows and orphans" Bible verse is not about today's adoption industry.

I see it ALL the time.  Hopeful parents and those who have recently brought a child home, or hope to do so, boast of James 1:27. (NIV: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.") They use the verse to promote adoption as God's will.  

Many adoptees are not orphans.  This verse is not a command to swoop in and "save" children, especially not those who don't need "saving."  

Notice the TWO parts of the verse?  Widows AND orphans.  So often, I see adoptive parents shaving the verse down to fit their personal purpose:  to adopt a child.  

Which leads us to Ephisians 1:5 (another famous adoption Bible verse). (NIV:  "he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.")  Jesus Christ is the holiest of holy.  He "adopted" His sons and daughters through his redemptive, relentless, radical love.  

But we, as adoptive parents, aren't saviors of our children.  We just are not. And if you believe that you are the savior/superhero, it means you're putting yourself on a pedestal, leading your adoptee needing to be grateful for your "sacrifice."  And that's just jacked.  That's complicated.  That's not OK.  

God is love, and love conquers all!

Jesus' love can absolutely conquer all.  I wholeheartedly believe that.

But human love? Human love is flawed and wrought with issues.  And our human love cannot "conquer" our children's trauma, for example.  Or the needs of our children of color.

But Jesus and Moses were adopted, so God must love adoption!

There are very few similarities between Jesus and Moses being "adopted" and today's adoptions.

Today's adoption industry is full of unethical adoption professionals capitalizing on baby-hungry hopeful parents.  There are so many intricacies:  money, coercion, information, propaganda.   

I don't want you to believe you can't adopt ethically.  You can.  We did, four times.  Which leads us to this...

Where is God in adoption today?

God is in the step-by-step choices you make along your adoption journey, IF YOU ALLOW HIM TO BE THERE.   If you welcome Him into that space and honor Him in your choices, thereby also honoring the biological/expectant parents and most of all, honoring your child, the adoptee.  

You can't tell your adoptee that "Jesus loves adoption so you should love your adoption too," instead of letting your child, the adoptee, feel as he/she feels and work through his/her emotional journey.  

Instead, God can assist all members of the triad through the ups and downs that inevitably come with adoption.  The complexities, the questions, the fears, the joys.  God can be in the midst of those.  

Any type of adoption, whether it be spiritual or legal, does share commonalities:  love and devotion and hope.  But in my opinion, we shouldn't equate Jesus' death and resurrection, and His offer of salvation, to what we are doing or have done to build our family.  One is holy, one is selfish.  One is perfect, one is flawed.

There are stark differences.  And if we fail to acknowledge those differences, I fear that we have lost the depth of Christ's sacrifice for us and have put way too high of expectations on our children, the adoptees, the ones who matter most in the adoption.  

What do you think?  Where is God in adoption?  

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

10 Adoption Comments From Nosy Strangers and Real-Life Responses

We've all been there.

We're in the grocery store checkout line or at the park watching our kids or trying to select books at the library, when THAT stranger comes up and has somethin' to say about adoption.   

And we're often caught off-guard.  I mean, we're just living our life.  And then BAM!, adoption is thrown in our faces as the stranger demands we justify, explain, or explore adoption, right there, right in front of our kids.  

When I was new to adoption, I tended to give away too much information.  I wanted to please people. I didn't want to offend.  And I wanted to educate.

But the longer I've been in the adoption community (almost 13 years now!), the more likely I am to provide a "short and sweet" answer that educates but doesn't offer up any extra information that the stranger doesn't need to know.  

AND, most importantly, I answer in a way that protects my child's privacy.  

So, here are the top ten comments we get and how I respond:

Stranger:  "Your child is lucky you adopted them!"

You:  "I'm the lucky one."  

Stranger:  "How old is their real mom?"

You:  "I'm 36."  (Or whatever your age is)

Stranger:  "Are your kids real siblings?"

You:  "They aren't fake siblings."  

Stranger:  "Why didn't you have your own kids?"

You:  "My children are my 'own.'"

Stranger:  "Are you going to have your own child now that you've adopted?"

You:  "My child is my 'own' child."  

Stranger:  "How much did your child cost?" 

You:  "I paid for an adoption process, not a child."  

Stranger:  "I heard all adopted kids have problems." 

You:  "You heard wrong."  

Stranger:  "Is your son full or mixed?"

You:  "My son is human."

Stranger:  "God bless you for adopting children who needed a good and loving home."

You:  "I'm thankful to be my kids' mom."  

Stranger:  "Why did her birth parents give her up?"

You:  "Her birth parents placed her for adoption, and the reasons behind that choice are private."  

What would you add to my top-ten list?  How do you respond? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

5 Choices That Can Complicate Your Adoption Journey

12.5: the number of years we've been in the adoption community.

4:  the number of children we've adopted

5:  the number of choices you need to know about that can complicate any adoption

1:  Hiring an unethical adoption professional.

This is the #1 thing you can do to screw up your adoption journey.

Choosing an ethical agency, attorney, facilitator, etc. is critical, and I spend a lot of time and energy thoroughly explaining this here.  Because it is that important.  

If your foundation isn't one of ethics, how can you expect the rest of the adoption journey to go well?

And remember:  every decision you make today has a forever-impact on your child.  

(One of the questions I receive the most is "how do I choose an ethical adoption professional?"  I answer that here.)

2:  Paying birth or expectant parent expenses. 

This can be a hot mess.  

(At one time, I said I would never, ever pay expenses.  But that changed, and again, it got messy and complicated and frustrating.)  

Yeah, I know, expectant and birth parents expenses are legal in many states, but are they ethical?  

I think the ethics of this are in-they-gray.  Some expenses paid are reasonable in some situations.  But we also all know that money complicates things.  It can become a tit-for-tat, and that's not cool.

If you are going to pay expenses, be very clear about how much and for what, and know that no matter how much you dish out, you cannot and should not expect a placement in return.   

3:  Veering.  

You know I warned you, right?  In the chapter I titled "Stay In Your Lane"?   

There are some things in adoption that are cut and dried.  For example, a baby isn't your baby if and until TPR and revocation are done.  STAY IN YOUR LANE.

Demanding to have a say-so in the birth plan and hospital stay.  STAY IN YOUR LANE.

Pressing to know every detail of an expectant parent's life?  STAY IN YOUR LANE.  

4:  Playing dual-roles.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  It is impossible to be both social worker/counselor to an expectant or birth parent AND be adoptive parent.  You can't do both well, nor is it ethical.  That's why I'm a big fan of having an experienced, ethical, adoption-competent social worker involved in any adoption.  Because your job is to be the child's MOM, not the birth or expectant parent's social worker.  

If you pour so much of yourself into the role of "counselor," you will have less of yourself to be your baby's mom.  To be your partner's partner.  

You cannot do everything well.  You were never meant to.  It's not ethical.  It's not fair.  So just don't.  

5:  Making BIG promises.  

Wait, Rach.  Aren't you a fan of open adoption and promises?

I believe in making and keeping promises.  But I also believe in making sure those promises are organic and realistic in the first place.

Promising openness in an adoption, let's say promising X number of visits per year, for the entirety of a child's life is not only naive but frankly unwise.  Because promising such openness isn't considerate of the child.   What will the child want one day?  Need?  Require?  You don't know that when your child is merely a infant, toddler, or preschooler.   Also, you aren't taking into account real life:  people move, people change.   

Make short-term, organic promises.  Keep the communication open.  Step by step, month by month, year by year.  And always, always do what's best for the child. 

And certainly, never make promises you don't intend to keep or promises based on trying to secure a placement.  Because that placement is of a baby, and that baby has a right to thoughts and feelings regarding his or her adoption. 

What would you add to my list?  What have you learned throughout your adoption and parenting journey?

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!