Tuesday, October 30, 2018

5 Things I Wish Others Understood About Our Adoptive, Multiracial Family

Here we are, on the eve of the month we'll celebrate ten years of being a multiracial-adoptive family.  And there are things I wish I could tell the society about our family, things they would readily receive and accept.  Perhaps you've felt the same?

1:  We're a normal family.

Despite appearances, our family love and life are both real.  We live normal, busy lives and do normal, busy things.  Nothing special, exotic, or phenomenal.   Yes, there are things we do differently (at times) than an all-biological, white family:  but in the day-to-day of our lives, we are just us.  Homework.  Chores.  Appointments.  Outings.  School.  Work.  You know, family life.  

2:  Colorblindness isn't real.  (And in fact, it's ridiculous.)

In this family, we acknowledge and celebrate race.  We don't ignore it or attempt to neutralize it.  Our kids know they're Black.  They know we are white.  They take pride in their skin color, the kink in their hair, the deepness of their eyes, and their history as people of color.   There is no need to whisper "Black" like it's a bad word or a secret.  We all literally see the melanin differences!  Colorblindness is a lie

3:  We are raising Black children: which means that just because we're white, our parenting isn't.

I guess you'd think, duh.  But there's an expectation among some white people, that because we are white parents, we are raising Black kids as if they were white children.  Granted, some multiracial families DO this, and it's an incredible disservice to their children.   Because "cute" Black babies grow up, and our white privilege umbrella doesn't extend once our kids are older and more independent, such as when they go to the store with a friend or drive a car (without us present).  We are preparing our kids for teenage-hood and adult-hood as BLACK people, because that is who they are.   We do this with our "village," such as mentors, braiders and barbers, friends, and other influential, trusted people of color whom we have chosen to surround our family with. 

4:  Open adoption is not "cool" or strange, rather, it is what's best for our family.

When people learn that my children have open adoptions, the responses are usually brimming with trepidation OR with awe.  Though the "wow, that's cool" comment is meant to be a compliment, what I'd love for others to understand is that adoptees have two families who, through open adoption, become one:  one who is FOR the child.  The open adoption isn't for the sole benefit of any parent involved; rather, a healthy open adoption is to benefit the child.   (And even if an adoptee doesn't have an open adoption, the adoptee has two families.)   Now, open adoptions aren't a "piece of cake":  they are complex, requiring a lot of grace, energy, time, and flexibility.  But, in our experience, are worth it.  And, in the case of a transracial adoption, birth family can provide necessary racial mirrors for their birth children.

5: We, the parents, are the lucky and chosen ones.

I cannot tell you how many times someone has told my children directly that they are "so lucky to have such great parents."  (We have thus far avoided anyone telling them they are "so lucky to be adopted," though I know many other families have experienced this.)  Variations of this include telling a family "God bless you for giving kids in need such a loving home."  We also do not tell our children that we "chose" them, rather, we believe that we, the parents, were chosen by our kids' birth families to be parents.  Adoptees, time and time again, express the burdens put upon them by people insisting they are "lucky" (thus, they should be grateful for being adopted), that they are "gifts" to their parents, and that they are special because they were "chosen."  We, as parents are mindful that this language is not only inappropriate, but it puts undue stress on our kids, AND, it's not true of our family.  In fact, we believe that we can be grateful for our children without referring to them as "gifts," as "lucky," or as "chosen."

Adoption is our normal.  Being a family by adoption, also our normal.  Parenting kids of color, also our normal.  We're cool with it.  Get to know us, and maybe you will be, too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

5 Simple Hacks That Can Help a Child with Seeking Sensory Processing Disorder

I've written about our struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder, which seems to be more and more common among children, and even more common among adoptees.   

We've learned a thing or two (or a hundred) about some of the tools and techniques that you can use to help your kiddo who has SPD.  Here are my favorite five SIMPLE hacks:

1:  Gum.

Chewing gum is great for a seeker.  (It can also help those with anxiety.)  It satisfies some of the need to seek without being cumbersome or big.  I have found that the sensory chewie necklaces are great at meeting oral sensory needs, but I struggle with one, their cost, and two, the fact that they're so germy!  A kid's necklace touches surfaces, hands, etc. and then goes into our child's mouth.   Gum is inexpensive, it's easy to carry, and I've heard from some other moms that gum is even in their child's IEP!   My recommendation is to be selective in which brand you buy.  We avoid artificial food dyes (as they tend to cause mood changes in kids).  There's the debate of which-is-better:  artificial sweetened gum or real-sugar gum.  We choose to stick with this brand of gum.  We do require that gum stays IN the mouth.  If it's becoming a toy/distraction, it's gone.  Luckily, my kiddo doesn't know how to blow bubbles.  

2: Backpack with weights.  

We carry a small-ish backpack with us everywhere we go and use it as-needed.  The trick?  We put ankle weights at the bottom of the backpack!  These serve a dual-purpose.  First, they weigh-down the backpack, providing sensory input.  Two, they can also be taken out and worn to provide sensory input.  Voila!  Just make sure the weights aren't too heavy for your little one and the backpack has good strap-support, as well as straps correctly adjusted to fit the child.  My son uses this backpack, and we got ankle weights at Five Below (for yes, $5).   

Other items in the backpack can be gum (point #1), small sensory toys, or just favorite toys in general.  One day I realized that my kiddo with SPD already had the perfect fidget toy:  a small Transformer! (I stress the "small" part as smaller toys and pieces help with fine motor skills/strength).  So don't feel that you must spend a lot of money on designated sensory toys.  You can often find "sensory toys" in the dollar spot bins at Target, for example, or other items at your local dollar store.  

3: "Let me see those eyes."

Ok, you might be a little lost on this one.  Let me explain.  When an environment is too sensory-stimulating, you may notice your child's eyes darting about.  It's hard to focus with all the stimuli!  The voices, the lights, the temperature, etc.  We have a saying:  "Let me see your pretty brown eyes."  It might take a few reminders, but it works.  I get down on the child's level, I rest a hand somewhere on the child's body, and I ask for their eyes.   This isn't a new trick!  My mom required us to look in her eyes when we were kids.  It's a way of connecting BEFORE correcting/communicating (thank you Dr. Purvis!).   

4:  In-place exercise.

We cannot always stick to a routine.  For example, in the summer, I established a routine for my children that alternated gross motor time with other activities.  I worked hard to incorporate heavy lifting/pushing work for my child with SPD into almost all our routine.   

But there are times you just cannot.  So we established a few in-place exercises:  wall push-ups, squats, jumping in place, and "punching" (where I assign them to "punch the sky, punch the floor, etc.") where they air-punch the direction I give them.   My kids LOVE to take turns being the exercise leader.   You can do this in almost any space.  

We also like to do yoga.  I'll burst out, "Yoga!" when things are getting out-of-hand:  and they'll assume a quiet/calm yoga pose with their eyes closed and hands in front of them at heart-center.  Yes, this can get a little silly at times, but it does help!  (You can also put on a free Cosmic Kids Yoga video:  I swear they are magical!)

5:  "I'm feeling ______."

This is a simple tool I use with all my kids, SPD or not.  When they're upset or struggling, I say, "I'm feeling..." and they know to fill in the blank.  For example, they might say, "I'm feeling sad."  Then I say, "Why are you feeling sad?"  We walk through the feelings.  Now with a child with SPD, they're likely over-stimulated, under-stimulated, or simply overwhelmed.   Once they can name their feeling (remember, anger is a cover emotion!), we work through meeting their needs.   (In order to get them to the "I'm feeling..." place, you first need to perhaps follow #3 (establish eye contact).  

What are some of your SPD hacks?  

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Navigating Adoption When Your Baby is Suddenly a Tween

It was an ordinary day, doing ordinary things.  But what happened next was abrupt.  Perhaps you've been there, too.

I was looking at one of my daughters and realized she was a tween.  

It was like all the sudden, Doc McStuffins and My Little Ponies and ballies in two-strand twists were no longer acceptable.  It was all about Shopkins, K.C. Undercover, hip hop dancing, asking when she can have her own cell phone, and having sips of coffee with us on Saturday mornings.  

Where did my baby go?!? 

I've done loads and loads of research on what's tweens (considered children ages 9-13) and teens (13+) need, adoption-wise, but now I was living it, not just writing and talking about it.  My research was in books and blog posts, talking to parents of tween and teen adoptees, talking to adoptees themselves, and observation.  

And here's what I've learned:  five things you MUST do if you're parenting a tween adoptee.  

1:  Have the talk.

If you haven't already, now is the time to have "the talk" with your child.  (Now there are two talks in the case of transracial adoption.  The talk I'm referring to here is the body-birds-bees talk.)

The reason?  Well, one, information and education.  This is true of any tween.  But two, I have often said, it's hard to get the "big picture" of adoption if the child doesn't understand conception, pregnancy, birth, and bodies.  I mean, the whole "stork" business is ridiculous, for any child, but especially for an adoptee who has a first set of parents. 

How this should be done is controversial.  A lot depends on your faith, your own upbringing, your history:  but I want to urge you to use correct terminology, give your child factual information, and provide resources that the child can read if/when he or she wants to.  And if you struggle to have this talk with your child (no shame!  many parents do struggle), get some guidance and insight from professionals and other experienced parents of adoptees.  

You also need to talk to them about puberty, privacy, body positivity, stranger awareness, and all sorts of other things!  

I should note, we had this talk with our kids much earlier than the tween years.  I also believe this isn't a singular talk, but an ongoing conversation.

I'm a big fan of talking, but also of giving your child resources that he or she can refer to privately and on his or her own terms, processing the information at their own pace.  

2:  Read up on adoption during (before) these years, and begin sharing more information with your children.

There are some amazing books available to families.  Last year, I interviewed adoption therapist and transracial adoptee Katie Naftzger, on her book Parenting in the Eye of the Storm:  The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.  I encourage you to read the interview and buy her book.

I also have found these books helpful:  

See if there is a tween/teen adoption support group in your area.  Some of my friends take their children to culture camps every summer so their children can connect with other adoptees who share their same race.  Of course, it's never to late to get a mentor for your adoptee as well! 

And remember, empathy is ALWAYS the right answer when your child has feelings about adoption.  It's THEIR journey, and you are along for the ride:  not the other way around.  

3:  Remember that connective parenting doesn't end just because your child is another year older.

If anything, connective parenting is more important than ever before! Refresh your memory on The Connected Child, check out the free videos on the Empowered to Connect website (I cannot tell you how many times I've frantically looked up a video there!), and remember the core principles you used up until this point.   This is a good time for you and your partner to create a new parenting plan, adjusted to meet your child's needs and situation. 

Tween hormones:  they will be one of your greatest challenges.  Be sure to refer to point #1, and tell your child:  hormones can make you have mood swings, they can make you feel more emotions more intensely: and this is normal.  Talk to your child about how some methods and tools to deal with their feelings.  AND, recommit to connective parenting, because Lordy, you're going to need it!   

One thing we do, that I shared in a prior post, is take our kids on dates.  There is no reason for this to stop just because your child is a tween (or teen).  Though he or she may begin toddler wave #2, seeking independence and some isolation from parents, it doesn't mean this is what you have to accept as the family standard.  Take your child on dates that he or she enjoys, preferably ones that involve interacting, such as going to your tween's favorite restaurant together for dinner (vs. something like going to a movie, where you aren't speaking to each other).  

4:  Seek professional help.

If your family doesn't have an attachment-connective-adoption- competent mental health professional on stand-by, this is the time to find one.  Even if your child seems totally fine, there is no harm in having a go-to person if the need arises.  (My friend Madeleine Melcher, an adoptee and mom by adoption, advises in her book that parents shouldn't "borrow trouble"---meaning, don't put issues on your child that he/she doesn't have, but also realize you know your child best and need to do what he or she needs:  a sacred parenting balance.)  Also, my reading of adoptees has taught me that they often hide their true feelings for a number of reasons, one of which is because they are fearful to upset or hurt their parents.  Having a neutral, third party available is a safety net for parents and children.

I think it's important to share that some generations and some individuals still subscribe to mental health stigmas.  They might feel shame seeking professional help or feel that such services are only for "other people" who have big problems.  This simply isn't true.  Mental health services can be incredibly beneficial to anyone.  If you find yourself hesitant to seek professional help for your child and/or your family, because of your own beliefs, work to overcome those so that you do not avoid giving your family what they need to be successful!   One way to do this is to seek counseling as an individual, to "test out the waters."  

5:  That other (critical) talk.

If you've adopted transracially, this is also a good time to have a more in-depth conversation with your child about the realities of being a person of color and interactions with police, as well as the broader issues of racism.  Like the "birds and the bees" talk I referred to in point #1, the other talk is NOT a one-time talk, but an ongoing conversation.   There are resources available to families for these conversations, but first, you must yourself have an understanding of race in America.  You can check out this prior post on five books I recommend you read.  

I urge you to talk to your friends of color to assist you in talking to your child.  This is NOT the time to be prideful:  rather, you NEED trusted friends of color to help you parent your child.  As your child is increasingly independent, you'll need to have these conversations again and again, preparing them for facing police encounters without the umbrella of your white privilege.

Parenting our tweens is an honor, but it's also a major responsibility.  How have you navigated the tween years so far?  Or what are you doing to prepare to do so?  

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Yes, You Should Have an Adoption Baby Shower

Several weeks ago, I asked my Facebook followers this question:

The overwhelming response was consensual:  YES!  Have the shower!

I admit, I REALLY wanted as shower when we prepared to adopt twelve years ago.  As soon as we revealed that we were going to adopt, my sister and friend started planning our shower, which happened just a few weeks after we officially started waiting. 

It was everything I hoped for.  Sugary sheet cake and snacks.  Lots of conversation.  And of course, so many gifts.  The ducky theme was gender-neutral and adorable.  


I think what meant the most was how many people turned out to celebrate with us.  My guess is, many had never been to an "expecting a baby" shower before.  In fact, it was my first adoption baby shower.  

If you're going to go the route of having shower, here's my advice:

1:  Don't have the shower for a baby you are matched with (in a domestic infant adoption).  

The truth is, that baby isn't yours.  The love for the baby may be growing rapidly in your heart, but that baby is "the baby" and not "your baby" if and until TPR and revocation are over.   I am not saying to withhold excitement.  I'm not saying "guard your heart" to the point that all pending-motherhood joy is sucked out of your soul.  What I am saying is that you need to respect and honor the expectant parents and the unborn child by being ethical in all your choices:  big and small.  

2:  Keep it gender-neutral.

I read it almost weekly.  Hopeful adoptive parents post about a failed adoption after they already had the baby's nursery completely ready, complete with the baby's name on the wall, and lots of baby goods received at their baby shower, including monogrammed bibs.  I'm not a superstitious/knock-on-wood kind of person.  So I'm not saying "don't jinx the match."  What I am saying is this:  if the adoption doesn't happen, you're choosing so much more pain by walking past an empty nursery with a baby's name on the wall, a baby you will not bring home.   By all means, get a nursery ready, but leave some space for personalization after a placement.  

3:  Register.

So going off point #2, be sure to register.  There are so many benefits to this including avoiding duplicate gifts, getting discounts on future purchases, and more.  Target, for example, offers it's registrants a discount on anything not purchased off their registry.  Registering for gifts also allows you to ask for what you want and need.  Having a registry makes returns and exchanges easier as well.  Registering helps you "nest" for your baby, again, helping you feel that you are a REAL mama-to-be.  

4:  Celebrate the opportunity to educate others.

Expect lots of questions about adoption.  This is a fantastic opportunity to educate others.  We even put an adoption Q and A on the tables for our guests, which our older attendees especially appreciated.  You can use adoption children's picture books to help decorate, as well.  And don't forget to toast your guests for supporting you and loving on your future baby!  

5:  Enjoy.

Many hopeful adoptive moms struggle to feel like Real Expecting Moms (which I talk about extensively in my latest book).  There is so much guilt, confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety that come with waiting to adopt.  This often stems from a good place (ethics and empathy-which you can learn all about in the free e-book I send out).  But bad feelings feel, well, bad.  You have to make up your mind to enjoy your baby shower.  After all, you've attended your fair share of showers, supporting other mothers-to-be.  You need to decide that you ARE a REAL hopeful mom who IS expecting a baby via adoption.  Because of that, it is perfectly OK to enjoy preparing for the baby who will become yours and the motherhood that awaits you.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

3 Easy Ways to Connect With Your Kids Individually When You Have a Big Family

If you follow me on Insta, you'll see I have an affinity for the #BigFamilyProblems. Mostly because, well, that's my life.  

In all honesty, I often use the hashtag sarcastically.  Because I LOVE having a big family.  And I love having an even number of children.  My middle two tend to "buddy up" while my oldest and the baby do the same.  Or sometimes the oldest two girls gel while the younger two play together.   It can be pretty awesome!

But we need to remember that our kids need some one-on-one time with mom and dad.  Having "buddies" (aka, siblings) is great.  It really is.  But our kids are individuals with their own needs, personalities, and dreams.   

So here's how we make sure each of our kids gets some one-on-one time with mom and/or dad:

1:  Go on a date.

Yes, just like you might date a spouse or partner, you need to date your kids!   Our oldest three are on a rotating schedule.  They get to pick which parent takes them on the date and what the activity is.  It's usually about an hour of time.  Sometimes we manage two dates in one weekend, while other times it might take us an entire month to get to all three dates.

The date doesn't need to be expensive.  With a big family, I know it's not realistic to spend a ton of money.   My kids most commonly choose getting ice cream or lunch, because they get to pick the place and take their time.   

Other ideas include a solo trip to the park (free), a trip to the store to spend their allowance, or occasionally, a movie.  (Though this often ends up being a double-date where one parent takes two kids.)  

2:  Run an errand. 

I look at this as a win-win.  Your family needs groceries, and a child can accompany mom or dad.  This gives us time to chat and usually the chosen kiddo gets a special treat of some sort, such as a quick run through the drive-thru for a hot chocolate.   If we're at a store that has toys, we linger on that aisle for a bit and listen to our child's interests.  

One of our kids loves to go through the car wash, for example.  Another child loves going on a library run.  It might even be driving up to the drive-thru pharmacy to pick up the family prescriptions.  We roll the windows down and blast that child's favorite music.  Sometimes they request gum from my purse, which is also a big deal since we don't let our kids chew gum all the time. You can make every day errands special!  

3:  Linger at bedtime.

Sometimes we linger a little longer with one kiddo at bedtime, giving us the opportunity to chat, cuddle, or listen to them tell us about something that's pressing on their hearts.  Bedtime is a great time to unwind and talk, parent-to-child, while the other parent gets the other kids to bed.  I recommend this most on nights that is not a school night, mostly because school nights are stressful for all.   

I also like to give my kids a "good dream in their mind" by saying something aloud that they love and touching their forehead. The kids even ask for a "good dream" before bed sometimes.  This sets the tone for a good night's sleep.   

My kids also love when I ask them questions such as "The Favorites Game." I ask them three questions about their favorites, such as:  what is your favorite food, what is your favorite season, what is your favorite color?   It's super simple and fun.  

A few guidelines:

-Make your dates technology-free.  Except, of course, to snap a few pictures to commemorate the fun.  You keep your phone tucked away, and you don't let your child bring a device. 

-Set a budget.  This makes the date-choosing fair to all the kids and keeps your family's finances in mind. 

-Create a schedule.  As I mentioned, we rotate dates with our oldest three kids, but we don't do it every weekend.  However, putting dates on a calendar is helpful for kids to know what's happening, with whom, and when.  

-Give choices.  Older kids may know exactly what they want to do, but younger children are often more successful with choices.  "Do you want to go get ice cream, or do you want to go to the park?"  

-Make dates about time-spent-together (experiences) and not things.  I'd suggest not making dates a toy-buying-excursion, unless of course, it's something linked to an activity.  Like you purchase water guns and then have a water gun fight together when you get home.