Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Adoptee and Mom-by-Adoption Michelle Madrid-Branch Answers Your Burning Adoption Questions

Allow me to gush?

Michelle Madrid-Branch is one of my favorite adoption community members.  She's an advocate for adoption, for adoptees, and for parents-by-adoption.  In addition, she's a book author, blogger, and podcast host.  I've had the honor of guest blogging for her on the subjects of faith + adoption and on saying good-bye to adoption.

Today, Michelle is answering three of my readers' adoption questions:

"What are your thoughts on changing adoptees' names? I almost feel bad wanting to change my kids' names but at the same time I want to gift them some part of our family and our traditions."

Hi, Penelope. Thank you for your question as it is a very important one. I can answer in two parts: first, as an adoptee and second, as a parent-by-adoption.

As a young adoptee, my names were changed—first, middle, and last names—upon the finalization of my adoption. For me, there was always a sense of sadness as a child, just wondering where the “first me” had gone. It caused confusion. With the stroke of a pen, that girl no longer existed, yet I still felt her inside of me. I mourned the little girl who no longer had a name. And, it took some time for me to embrace my new name and to merge those two little girls into one whole and complete woman. 

Shakespeare asked the question, “What’s in a name?” The answer, I believe—as it pertains to adoption—is quite a lot. I think it’s important to keep an adoptee’s name. What exactly that looks like, will differ for every family. A parent might solely keep a child’s name, or add their name to something new…honoring both birth heritage and adoptive heritage.

I am, as I mentioned, a parent-by-adoption. I have two children who were adopted internationally. I chose to keep their names in honor of their birth stories, birth heritages, and birth cultures...and I also added a name to their birth-names that honored their adoptive stories. 

Adoption is a weaving: something that has come before is being woven into something new. In my experience as an adoptee and parent-by-adoption, I have grown to know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that it’s important to honor both.

"Open Adoption is what everyone promotes now. However, that is not an option for some of us for safety reasons especially when it comes to severe domestic violence. How do you explain that to an adopted child?"

Hi, JoEllen.  Thank you for this very important question. 

The safety of our children is always top-priority. Open adoption cannot work if there is risk of violence and abuse. 

As much as we advocate on behalf of open adoption—when all adults involved are showing up responsibly and lovingly—we have to realize that, in some cases, open adoption is not an option. I think being tender and real with our kids (in an age-appropriate way) about why is critically important. 

You might say something like this:

Right now, your birth mom/birth dad are currently going through challenges that have nothing to do with you, who you are, or the amazing person you are growing up to be.

Know that I love you, I will always love you, and I'm always going to be here to protect you.  I'm proud of you.  And, I'm so very happy to be your mom/dad.  I am always here to listen, to hear, to walk with you, and to comfort you.

I hope this helps. 

"I have no idea why our son’s birth mom chose closed adoption, but I have the same the question about how to explain it’s a closed adoption in sensitive ways that hopefully won’t cause anymore pain and confusion to him."

Hi Jessica. I struggled with my own closed adoption my entire childhood and into my adulthood. Closed adoption, for me, is difficult as it denies truth-in-history and truth-in-identity to the adopted person.

I am always in favor of openness in adoption, if it does not cause further trauma for the child/children involved.

Knowing why your son’s birth mom chose a closed adoption may or may not ever be revealed. So, it’s important to be honest in that way. If we don’t know, as parents, it’s okay. It's better to be honest than to try and force answers we don’t have.

You might say:

I don’t know exactly why your birth mom chose a closed adoption. What I do know is this: I love you. I am so very happy to be your mom. I love your birth mom because she gave you life. And, because she did, I get the great honor of knowing you and watching you grow. I am here to support you always. If I ever learn more about your adoption, I promise to come to you and tell you. If you ever have a question or need to talk, please know that you can come to me and I will drop everything to listen to you. We’re on this journey together!

My thanks to Michelle for her loving answers!  You can follow Michelle on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, read her writing on her website, and purchase her children's book, The Tummy Mummy, or her adult book, Adoption Means Love.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

5 Popular Adoption Phrases You Won't Hear Me Say or Share, and Here's Why

These adoption phrases may be popular, they may be catchy, but when you really think about it, they really aren't true of adoption for everyone.  

Perhaps you've heard some of these, or even used them yourself?  Before you share these on social media again, or don't respond when someone says them to you, I want you to consider WHY I don't use these and perhaps, why you shouldn't either. 

1:  #AdoptionRocks

I have read many adoptees share that they loathe this hashtag, and I totally get why.  I have never been comfortable sharing it, mostly because after a decade of parenting, I realize that adoption is many things, many complicated and bittersweet things.  #AdoptionRocks is simple.  Too simple.  It's also very adoptive-parent centric:  a point of view that excludes how our kids and their biological parents may feel.   

This isn't to say our children can't be proud to be adopted.  This also isn't to say that a biological parent cannot feel content or at peace with their decision to place.

But I feel that #AdoptionRocks isn't my hashtag to tout.  Why?  Because I know the intricate truths that parenting adoptees brings and reveals, and I want to honor those.  And because, as I share time and time again, it's not all about me or you.  Adoption should always be focused on the child.  

2:  I carried my child in my heart, not my womb.

Reason #1: It's too damn cheesy.   

Reason #2:  I cannot compare my experience (waiting for a child, preparing for a child) with the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual battles a birth parent has faced.   

Again, it's just not my place as a parent-by-adoption to "claim" any part of the conception, pregnancy, or birth of the child I adopted.   To do so insinuates that I'm attempting to compare my experience to that of a birth family member's or I'm trying to steal part of their experience. 

No, thanks.  

3:  DNA doesn't make a family; love makes a family.

Ok, now I do use #LoveMakesaFamily often in my social media posts.  But never, ever with a statement about DNA not making a family.   Because no matter the relationship your child does/doesn't have with his/her birth family, the birth family is ALWAYS your child's FIRST and BIRTH family.   

DNA does create family.  So does adoption.  

I don't see any reason to discount either or try to "one up" the biological connection.   And it's certainly not my place to dismiss the importance of birth family to an adoptee.  

4: Adopted children are gifts.

Listen, I'm loud-and-proud to be my kids' chosen mama.  I am very thankful that they are my kids.  However, my kids aren't objects, gifts, to be given.  They are human beings with thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  They are people, not presents.  

5:  Adoption is the new pregnant.  

Hmmmm.  Adoption and pregnancy really have zero similarities.  Plus, adoption isn't a bandwagon to jump on.  

This phrase also tends to minimize the difficulties of adopting:  the mountains of paperwork, background checks, interviews, education, financial sacrifices, relationships, and waiting.  Adoption has an enormous impact on the trajectory of a child's life.  Adoption is a serious, life-altering decision.  

Learn more about what I don't say, and why, in the chapter "All Aboard the Cliche Train" (pages 107-109) from The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to Make Hair Styling Time Enjoyable for Your Black Child (Without Relying on an I-Pad or Tablet)

Four kids, four very different responses to hair styling.  Oh, and did I mention, it's been almost a decade of hair styling?!?   

My oldest:  so easy.  Not tender-headed AT ALL.  Give her a snack-cup and she'd sit as I learned to part, band, braid, and bead.

But my second daughter, oh my.  She was SO tender-headed.  To the point where she and I both wanted to just cut her hair.  Yeah, I said it.  Cut it ALL off.  It was just excrutiating from start to finish, for both of us.  I was in tears as much as she was, feeling like I failed as a mom.  But we stuck it out, and eventually she began to outgrow her inability to tolerate hair sessions.  

My son is a strong sensory seeker, but haircuts and hair styling can be a challenge.  We are pretty particular about how his hair is simply because it needs to be simple and practical.  I explain our hair care routine for him extensively in this prior post.  

My toddler isn't easy-peasy, but she's not very tender-headed either.  We stick mostly with puffs and finger coils for now, with occasional free-hair days in between.  

In our almost ten-years of styling, there's been much trial-and-error.  I am thankful for our tried-and-true routines, and I hope they help you, too:  

1:  Watch affirming movies.

I love showing my kids movies like Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Whoopi Goldberg.  The variety of hairstyles (Whitney's afro, Whoopi's dreds, Brandy's curls) can be a great talking point during the movie.  And I dare you not to sing "Impossible" the whole week long after watching!   

There's also the lovely "I Love My Hair" video from Sesame Street (I have that song memorized!)---though I'm not sure you'll want to watch it on repeat for the duration of the styling session.  

My kids LOVE popcorn, and it's an ideal snack for hairstyling sessions (easy to vaccuum up) and isn't sticky.  We usually pop mass batches on the stove (big family life), flavor with a little bit of butter and pink sea salt.  But sometimes we'll get the kids Boom-Chick-A Pop:  the light kettle corn flavor is the favorite.  

2:  Read hair books.

Keep all your hair books in a tote or basket that you can get out during hair time.  The tote can easily be stored, and the hair books, read during styling time, makes them special.  

There are so many excellent books for Black boys and girls on hair with more options coming out often.  I list our favorites for boys here and for girls here.  Another option is to purchase Black hairstyle magazines to flip through.  

Children who can read can practice reading aloud to you, or younger kids can listen to an older sibling read aloud to them.  

3:  Play with sensory toys.

For kids who need sensory input during hair styling sessions, yet you need them to hold mostly still, I recommend letting them sit on a wiggle cushion or a bean-bag chair.  There are also some fantastic fidget toys that keep your child's hands busy without compromising the necessity for them to sit while you work.  

Another option is to create a sensory box that fits on your child's lap.  Fill the box with sensory materials depending on his/her age and ability.  Great options include different fabric scraps, felt, colorful pipecleaners, ribbon, yarn, pom poms,  etc.  If you opt for the pipecleaners, kids can string pony beads onto them.  (I avoid allowing kids to play with a rice bin, slime, or cloud doh during this time, simply because in my view, it's too risky for there to be a spill or for hair to get into the materials.  However, Play-doh, like this sparkly version, may be a good option.)  

For younger ones, the "touch and feel" board books are a lot of fun.  Some touch-and-feel board books include Disney's It's a Small World series, any of the DK books, and the Bright Baby touch-and-feel.   Lift the flap books like those by Karen Katz and these (my toddler's favorite!) are also a great option.

4:  Encourage participation.

I have my girls put their beads of choice onto beading tools while I'm parting, banding, and braiding their hair.  I also offer hair product choices (like, which scent do you want?).  Or if we're using Gabby Bows, I have them unsnap the ones they wish to have in their hair and line them up for me.  My baby enjoys holding the different combs and hair product bottles.  You can also purchase dolls with style-able hair so your child can work while you do.  

Letting your child explore the different materials you're using is a way to create a positive and hands-on hair experience.  

5:  Offer empowerment, pride, and affirmations.

I take hairstyling sessions to be an opportunity to affirm my kids, their skin, and their hair.   I tell them how awesome it is that they are Black:  their hair can do so many things!  I give them options between two styles and let them choose.  When they get their hair braided with extensions, they have say-so in the length, the color (we often add color!), and the style.  They choose their beads or barrettes.  I keep a hand mirror near by so they can see how their style is progressing and admire the finished style.  

This isn't a stand-alone way to make the hairstyling session enjoyable, but it is definitely the most important and can be combined with the other routines.  

What are your tablet or I-pad - free tips for making hair styling time more enjoyable for your child?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

5 Important Lessons We've Learned About Parenting Adoptees

I can hardly believe that ten years ago, we completed our first homestudy and started waiting for our first child!  

We thought we knew adoption. After all, we'd met with other families-by-adoption.  We'd read books, articles, and blog posts.  We weren't just hearing.  We were listening, learning, and applying.  

But with time comes experience, and wow, have we had some experiences over the past twelve years (the period of time from when we decided to adopt until now).  Four children placed with us, twenty "rejections," two interim care infants.   

1:  Love isn't enough.  

This is a BIG one.  

Because we're programmed as a society to believe love is all we need.  That love conquers all.  "Live, laugh, love."  You get the point.  

Many adoptees come into their forever families having experienced trauma.  Trauma, as we know, changes the brain.  That's why so many families like mine swear by the book The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family, follow attachment parenting techniques, and swear by all the things Empowered Can Connect can offer us.  

Love is a critical foundation, but it isn't enough.  Because adoptees have needs beyond love.  We can't love our children's trauma out of them, nor should we try.  Instead, everything we do is based on love, but we know that we don't start and stop with love.  

The earlier families who choose to adopt understand this, the better off they are, and the more likely their adoptee is to flourish in life vs. suffer in silence, confusion, and frustration.

2:  Initiate adoption conversations.

This was some of the first adoption advice I ever received, and interestingly, I was reminded of it when I read this fabulous young adult, adoption-themed novel.

My friend, mama to a transracial, international adoptee, told me that she used stories that came up in the media to check in with her child about adoption.   

The truth is, your child, at some point (and likely many points) is thinking about his or her adoption.  

When you, as the adult, initiate the adoption conversation, you send your child one very powerful message:  that you are a safe person to approach about adoption.   

I read online ALL the time that adoptees want to search for their biological families, but they are too scared to broach the subject with their parents.  The last thing they want to do is hurt their parents' feelings.  

But what if adoption conversations were normalized from very early on?  What if children knew they were adopted from the get-go?  What if parents reminded their kids, over and over, that adoption-talk is OK?  

3:  Empathy:  always.  

I run a large adoption triad support group, and a few years ago an experienced attachment therapist spoke to our group.  I had the opportunity to speak with her one-on-one, and I asked her about a personal situation we'd encountered with one of our children whom was struggling greatly with an absent birth parent.   And she told me something I'll never forget, that our response, as adoptive parents, should always be empathy.  

Not correction.  Not explanation.  Not a lecture.  Not ignoring or sugar-coating or sweeping under the proverbial rug.   

Take the emotions for exactly what they are, and in return, offer empathy.  

4:  Listen to what your child needs. 

There is a lot of "noise" in the adoption community.  Some of it is so incredibly important, so incredibly crucial, and very helpful.  But some of it isn't.  

There are times, several years ago, that I felt like I could never "measure up" to be the mommy my children needed.  My children were doomed. I was doomed.  We were all doomed.  I felt this way after spending WAY too much time online.

If you notice, those who comment online tend to be one of two extremes on ANY subject.  There is very rarely balance.  Because the people who are in-the-middle usually aren't online passionately arguing.  Why?  Because they are living life!  

My friend Madeleine Melcher, who is both an adoptee and mom-by-adoption, wrote a wonderful book encouraging and educating adoptive parents.  In the book, she stresses over and over the importance of listening to YOUR child.  

Because she knows, and I know, there is no such thing as adoption gospel.  Of course, there are things that are clearly wrong and unethical.  But there are many things, as Madeleine shares, that are in-the-gray.  

Who matters most in any adoption?  It's your child.  So listen to him or her, above all, because as Madeleine says, that is the voice that matters the most.  

(PLEASE buy and read her book!  I promise you will be blessed by it!)  

5:  Tell the truth.  

This is something I say to my kids ALL the time.  That telling the truth is SO much better than lying, concealing, hiding.  Telling the truth, even when it's hard, is always the right thing to do.

This means that your children need to know THEIR truth, and you, as their parent, have the privilege and honor and responsibility of doing so.  

You are always telling your child his or her adoption story, adding details as the child matures and as new information is made known to you.  (This book is incredibly helpful in assisting parents talk to their adoptees and foster children.) 

I know that some of these details aren't pretty.  I know that as a parent, you are scared to tell your child because as a mom, you want to PROTECT your child.  But guess what?  Not telling the truth creates distrust, and it teaches your child that there is something shameful about their story.   

The Bible is right. The truth = freedom.  Freedom allows a child to know the full picture (as full as possible) and to process that picture.  And remember, if you are responding with empathy (point #3), initiating adoption conversations (point #2), parenting with love and then some (point #1), and listening to your child (point #4), you are more likely to be the parent your child needs you to be than if you aren't.  

Friends, I truly believe that adoptees can be raised by woke, loving, empathetic parents.  That's exactly why I wrote The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption.  To give you the book I didn't have twelve years ago.   And I want to thank my readers for all the beautiful e-mails I've received as a result of them reading the book.