Tuesday, July 2, 2019

If You Adopt Transracially, You Must Read These Six Books

Adopting transracially is serious. It requires an immense amount of preparation, dedication, and ongoing education.  

As a mama of four, it's hard for me to get away. There are so many amazing adoption conferences and camps, but most of the time, it's not realistic for me or my family to attend. 

Therefore, I get a lot of my transracial adoption and parenting education from face-to-face interactions with those in our "village," online communication, and also fantastic books. 

Today I'm sharing with you the six current must-read books if you have adopted transracially or are considering doing so. (And here's a list of ways you can support your transracial adoptee).

Why these six?  

I think they give a broad view of race in America and helps us see how these important things like systemic racism, the preschool to prison pipeline, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, etc. relate to our multiracial families and our transracial adoptees.

1:  Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do

2: I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Me, Austin Channing Brown (author of book rec #2), and my tween

3: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

4: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

5: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

6: Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

I Took My 4 Kids' i-Pads Away, and It's the Best Move I Made

One day, I'd had enough.

You know what I'm talking about. 

My kids had been playing around on their beloved i-Pads. As the battery life drained, I told them it was time to put the i-Pads away.

You would have thought I told them Christmas was cancelled forever.

There was some sobbing.  Some complaining.  Begging for snacks RIGHT NOW.  Sibling arguing. Whining.  

And this happened every single time.  And I had enough.

So I decided that enough was enough.  And I was going to take my mom power back.

At first, I thought I'd do a ticket system. My kids could earn i-Pad time by behaving.  In return, they'd get a ticket they could turn in to me for play time. But that became to cumbersome.  I mean, what was good enough to get a ticket? How much was a ticket worth? How would I make it "fair and square" when my kids were different ages, with different abilities, and different maturity levels?

Then I thought, what if I do a sticker chart?  Sticker charts have been around for ages, used by moms to reward kids.  But again, it became too much.  A hassle. 

So I decided to go drastic and counter-cultural. 

Instead of threatening to sell the i-Pads, which is what I really wanted to do, I made a single and very firm rule.

Ready?  This is gonna blow.  your.   mind. 

My children are ONLY allowed to have their i-Pads on Friday afternoons, after school, for about two hours. 

Yes, mama.  That's it.  

Was it challenging at first? 

Uh, yeah.  Because everywhere we go, kids are on phones and i-Pads. And because when the kids were "so bored" at home (uh, have you seen your 5,000,000 toy options?), they craved i-Pad time. 

But a few weeks in, the kids knew the rule, and in fact, would remind me and each other of it. When one kid asked, "Can I have my i-Pad?" another kid would say, "We have to wait until Friday." 

Why Friday?

Well, for one, all of us are exhausted.  TGIF, right?  For another, it's not a school night.  

Here's how it works. 

My kids get home from school.  They unpack their backpacks, then eat a healthy snack, and then, once everyone has done those two things, it's i-Pad time.  For two hours.  

I don't force any educational games. I don't hover over them.  They have to stay in the living room (no electronics in the bedrooms).  

After the two hours, it's time for a shower and then dinner.  Then it's popcorn and movie night.  Then bed.  

You might be wondering what's happened since the rule was implemented. 

We were talking to each other.  

They had time to play with their toys.

We took advantage of every nice day, playing outside. 

My children's mood and behavior improved.

There was less arguing and more positive attitudes. 

Everyone was kinder, more patient, and definitely more aware of each other's feelings.

As for me? 

I didn't have to constantly make up new rules and reward/punishment systems.

The only way a child's i-Pad time is taken away is if they use their i-Pad inappropriately (download a game without asking or look up something inappropriate). But this hasn't happened because they're closely monitored, and they certainly do not want their i-Pads revoked!  

I've been asked by so many parents, when I share our rule, "How do you do it?"

They tell me: their kids are addicted to their electronics. The electronics are a great distraction.  But these parents have the same complaints and challenges I did:  their kids are cranky, argumentative, moody, and disengaged.  They aren't happy.  They aren't smarter.  They aren't kinder.  They aren't present. 

So how did I do it? 

It's simple, really.  I'm the mom.  The i-Pads are ultimately mine.  The kids can either follow the rules and enjoy their i-Pad time when given, or deal with the consequences. 

Here's what shocked me at first, and does shock other parents.  THE RULE WORKS.  IT FREAKING WORKS!  

(Also, in case you're wondering, my kids do not have cell phones, and my husband and I DO NOT let our kids play on our cell phones.  NOPE.  I don't have a single game on my cell!  As far as music? There's music on my kids' i-Pads, my kids have radios/CD players, we have a music system in our living area, and I have a super old i-Pod that can be used by the kids occasionally).  

Mamas, give it a whirl.  I know it sounds impossible, but I'm telling you, it's made such a difference in our family!  Try it for a month.  Let me know how it goes! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The 10 Best Picture Books that Teach Children About Slavery and Juneteenth

Slavery and Juneteenth are HARD topics. Thus, many parents do not want to broach them with their children. And there's the argument to be made that we can over-emphasize parts of Black history, including slavery and Civil Rights.

Black children shouldn't be subject to only learning about the hardest parts of history; but we shouldn't avoid the topics either. And let's not forget that ALL children need to learn about "Black history." Because Black history is American history. 

Juneteenth is coming up, (June 19th, for those who aren't aware), which provides us with an important opportunity to talk to our kids about slavery, as well as emancipation.

Here are our favorite children's picture books addressing these difficult subjects. Click on the book cover to read reviews, descriptions, and purchase if you wish:

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Our Multiracial Family's Summer Fun and Swimming Must-Haves

Summer break starts in just a few days (!!!) for our family, and this year I'm ready to roll!  Because when you have curly-headed, melanin-rich kiddos, it's best not to just slather any ol' sunscreen on their skin or rely on big-box store swim caps.  

If you know anything about me, you know we prefer to live as non-toxic as possible. We also prefer to buy products from Black-owned small businesses. We personally use all of the products I'm recommending!  

1:  Swim caps.

Last summer, I learned about Swimma, a Black-owned swim cap company. We love that the caps come in different sizes and colors! Since my kids swim every day, it's important for us to protect their hair (including their parts) from the sun and pool chemicals. Plus, wearing a cap saves a lot of hair prep and after-swim-care. 

2:  Sunscreen.

Everyone in our family (parents and kids) uses this sunscreen (I love this combo pack: sunscreen and insect repellent). The ingredients are fairly healthy, I like the high SPF protection, and the pump-spray is easy to use and transport. (The downfall, it does not go on clear. It does have white tint to it.) I'm not a fan of aerosol sunscreens which contain toxic propellants. 

3:  Aloe.

Right before our family vaca to Sanibel Island in January, I discovered this aloe gel by one of my favorite natural brands. It not only works on sunburns, but also bug bites as well as other "first aid" needs. Plus, I'm a huge fan of all-things-tea-tree. This product smells more like aloe than tea tree: FYI.

4:  Moisturizer.

It's important to follow up outside and pool time with a great moisturizer. Our family uses a few different lotions, including Sweet On You products (talk about yummy scents!) and Avalon Organics Aloe lotion (I love me some aloe!) because it's essentially scent-less (for those who are sensitive to smells). The Sweet On You products are much thicker, and the Avalon product is thinner. The Avalon product has a lavender option (great for kiddos who struggle to fall asleep/calm down) and a peppermint option (great for feeling refreshed!). 

5: Bandages.

More outdoor play means more boo-boos. Our family loves Tru Colour Bandages, a company started by a dad-by-transracial-adoption. The bandages come in three skin-tone colors. They are latex-free and don't contain any antibacterial creams built-in (which we like because some kids have allergies to those creams). 

What's your family's favorite summer must-have product? Be sure to join the conversation on Facebook or Instagram!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

5 Things Hopeful and New Adoptive Parents Need to Know Right Now

I was once there. 

Brand spanking new to adoption.  Completely consumed by new-mommyhood.   Diapers.  Bottles.  Nighttime feedings.  Pacifiers.  Medical appointments. 

I had big ideas and no experience. 

And here we are, twelve years and four kids later.  A lot of time.  A lot of experience. 

I spend a good part of my day, every day, talking to families-by-adoption and fostering.  In messages, in comments on posts, and via e-mail. I've read a lot and heard a lot, and "a lot" makes me cringe. 

Now, I'm not about to slap the blame on newbie parents.  Let me be very clear about that.  There are two struggles newbie parents face:

1-lack of experience.

2-lack of education.

The lack of education part falls largely on the parents' adoption professional.  This person or entity SHOULD prepare the family as much as possible. 

But when I look back on our own experience, we were ONLY prepared (as we could be) because we took the initiative to throw ourselves into the adoption community (via reading, meeting with people, etc.) for the fourteen months we waited for our first child.  And we have yet to let that education journey cease.  We are ALWAYS learning and changing. 

Our agency didn't prepare us.  They didn't. 

Perhaps, if you're a newbie, you're in the same boat we were? 

So here we are, in this place of experience and education, and I want you to know that the following are things I hear often from newbie parents.  And they aren't OK. 

1:  "I don't care what color my baby is."

But you should.  You should.

Your baby's color (their race) is who your child is.  It cannot be changed, erased, minimized, or ignored.   Doing so is detrimental to the child's well-being. 

You need to care and care A LOT about your child's race.  You need to prepare, learn, change, grow.  You need to NEVER stop learning and changing.   EVER. 

Because, just in case you're confused or uncertain, America and race have a nasty, complicated history that isn't going anywhere. 

It's time to get woke and stay woke about race in America.  There's some great books you can read, for starters. 

2:  "DNA doesn't matter, because love is what makes a family."

DNA was your child's start.  DNA is your child's forever imprint.  DNA absolutely matters.

I'm raising four adoptees, all of whom have some level of contact/communication with their biological families.  Some relationships are much closer than others, and in these relationships, especially during visits, there is a CLEAR connection between the biological family and the adoptee.  It's in the ways they speak, look, gesture.  It's in preferences and personalities.   It's in the way a laugh sounds.  It's in EVERYTHING.   And it matters.

Of course, of course love can make a family.   I say ALL the time that "love made my family."  But there's not a competition between adoption and biology.  It's unnecessary.  They can co-exist.  They should co-exist for the well-being of the adoptee. 

There are other phrases I don't use, too.  The ones I don't use and why is shared here.

3:  "I chose to adopt a newborn, because I didn't want to adopt a child who might have issues."

Let me cut-to-the-chase here:  children adopted at birth can have "issues." Medical issues, mental health issues, adoption struggles. 

Arguably, adoption is trauma. Some adoptees swear that yes, all adoption is trauma for the adoptee.  Some argue it's not.  Some argue that "some" adoptions are trauma.

I'm not here to tell you which is right.   But I am here to tell you, you are not adopting a "blank slate" just because your child came to you at a certain young age. Your child was with his or her biological mother, in utero, for a significant and critical time period.   This cannot be dismissed, ignored, or minimized.  Furthermore, adoption is a severing.   Either or both of these things can be traumatic. 

I highly recommend you read and consider the book so many of us in the adoption community swear by and lean on:  The Connected Child.   There are loads of free videos on their website, too, which can be helpful after you read the book. 

I also want you to know that you shouldn't "borrow trouble."  Madeleine Melcher, an adoptee and mom by adoption, explores this in her book (which is written directly to those who adopt).   Please, please read the book.   It's incredibly encouraging and insightful.   Basically, Madeleine doesn't want us to force our kids to have issues ("borrow trouble") because of our own hang-ups and adoption education (sometimes from unreliable sources); but she also wants us to be open to our children's individual needs. 

4:  "Her bio mom and I are best friends.  I mean really, we are like sisters!"

I always hold my breath when I hear something along these lines.

First, I readily admit, each open adoption is unique.  And nothing irks me more than when outsiders dissect or judge the decisions of an adoptive parent, birth parent, and adoptee.  However, it's really important that good, long-lasting relationships take place organically AND intentionally

And ultimately, the relationship between a birth and adoptive parent shouldn't be selfishly motivated (what makes each of them feel good) but what is best for the adoptee.

Always, always, always, what is best for the adoptee is the most important thing. 

Open adoption is complicated.  It just is.  Any relationship based upon a major decision (like placing a child for adoption) is going to be complicated. 

The relationship between the biological and adoptive parent needs to be honest, flexible, organic, sacred, respectful.   It needs to be safe.   And all of these things take constant work. 

5:  "I don't know when the best time is to talk to my child about adoption, so I just haven't yet." 

Let me be perfect clear:  the best time to talk to your child about adoption is from day #1. 

There is no "perfect moment" for the "big reveal." 

There is no single and perfect moment.  Talking about adoption is a life-long conversation.  And adoption is far from perfect. 

There is no big reveal. Adoption, again, is a life-long conversation.  Not a one-and-done. 

I understand that many are uncertain HOW to talk to their kids.  That's OK.   But just because you aren't sure you have the perfect words or timing doesn't give you permission to avoid the conversations. 

Talk to other parents-by-adoption.  Talk to your adoption professional.  Talk to adoptees.   Get educated.  Get ready.   

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Best Books to Teach Kids About Black Excellence

In our home, we learn about Black role models and Black history year-round, as it should be in your home, too.  Because Black excellence (gasp!) isn't limited to MLK Day, Black History Month, Kwanzaa, and Juneteenth.  (Two of the four are rarely acknowledged in society anyway.)

Teaching your children about Black excellence doesn't have to be complicated, though I understand it can be overwhelming.  As a parent by transracial adoption, you want to do your very best to educate yourself and your kids, but where do you start?

First, please just start.  Don't over-think.  You're just stalling! You were chosen to be your child's parent, and it's time to own that role and take it seriously. 

Second, do not count on school as the primary and sole source of teaching your child his or her history.  Though I certainly applaud schools that celebrate Black History Month and entities that honor MLK as a holiday, these are not enough.

I've complied this collection of our favorite Black excellence children's books.  They've been selected for their beautiful illustrations, variety of individuals represented, and readability.  We also prefer books that can be shared with a broad age range, given that our four children range from a toddler to a tween.

How can you utilize the books?

-read a page/chapter a day to your kids

-establish a family reading night (no electronics, snacks, blankets and pillows, and of course, books), and have these books readily available

-create a system for your kids where they can earn rewards for reading books

-have older siblings read to younger siblings

Click on the book picture to read reviews, descriptions, and have the option to purchase.  Happy reading! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

6 Simple Ways To Connect With Your Tween Daughter

And just like that, I had a tween daughter.

And just like that, I had to up my connection game. 

Understand, a tween has a lot going on.  She is caught between the child years and the teen years.  She might be mature one minute and temperamental the next.  Puberty is in full-force.  Tween years are confusing and exciting.  And you may find yourself wondering how in the world you will navigate the ups and downs while staying connected to your child.  

(If you, like me, are parenting adoptees, you know why connection is super important!)

1:  Get creative.

We use this journal to connect with one another.  We also do something called "create art for the other."  We basically created a piece of artwork for the other person and then had a "big reveal."  You could do other things:  create a playlist for each other, for example.   If you're less likely to "invent" creativity, try coloring side-by-side.  I highly recommend this hair coloring book for Black girls or one of these affirming, encouraging coloring books (one is faith based, one is not).  If your daughter is more active, go on a nature hike together, play basketball, etc. 

2:  Take her on a date.

This need not be expensive or all that creative.  A date might mean browsing the bookstore or library together, grabbing tea or ice cream, or painting pottery.   Anything that doesn't involve a screen is great!   The point is to talk and have fun.  

3:  Play what she likes.

My tween is really big into a few specific toys right now.  Sometimes I'll plop on the floor of her room and say, show me your favorites right now!  I can instantly see the light in her eyes.   It gives her the opportunity to be an expert/leader on a subject and for me to be the listener/learner.   Another option is to have your tween teach you something.  For example, my daughter is in ballet and loves showing me moves!

4:  Read to her.  

Reading a book aloud is a great way to get into your tween's world.  What is reading?  What interests her?  What will happen next?   A chapter book is great, and I think bedtime, when all is cozy and more quiet, is a great time to read together.  Because my tween is doing some therapies right now involving her vision, we use the evening time for my hubby to read to her, this devotional and this Black girl chapter book, while my daughter wears her special glasses and listens.  

5:  When she wants to talk, you listen.

I know this sounds SO simple, but it's really challenging.  The reason it's important to stop and listen is because tweens are dealing with big (and swinging) moods and emotions.   So to say "just a minute" or "let's talk about that later" may mean missing the conversation completely.   If the conversation is too big/involved for the moment, it's OK to acknowledge the importance of what's being shared and agree to a time when you'll devote your full attention to brain-storming and problem-solving.  Just make sure you address it that day.   And please, please check out the glitter jar analogy.  It's a game-changer!  

6:  Surprises.

One thing that can bring a tween joy are surprises.  Take her lunch at school or put a note in her lunchbox.  Buy her something just-because.  Take her on a date (#2).  Leave something lovely on her bed to discover when she gets home from school.  Tape a note to the bathroom mirror.  Surprises, like dates, do not need to be expensive or big.  A simple surprise can convey how much you love your child and believe in her.  This new book, specifically for teen adoptees, is a creative diary of sorts.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Teaching Young Transracially Adoped Kids About Race

Informing (and empowering) your child that he or she was adopted from the very first day the child comes to you is important, and so is talking to your child about race. But the big question I get from parents is HOW?   

This is a valid question.  After all, race conversations can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and uncertain.  If you don't racially match your child, how are you qualified to talk to your child about race?

The FIRST thing you should do is work on getting educated yourself.  Notice I say "getting educated" and not "get educated."  It's not a one-time event:  it's a marathon that NEVER should end when you are parenting kids of color. 

How do you do this?  You read articles and books by people who racially match your child.  You get your news from places like The Root and News One.  You subscribe to magazines like Essence.  You seek people of color in creative outlets like art and music.  You make sure your circle of friends is diverse.  You worship and play in places that are predominately attended by people who racially match your child.  You attend conferences, go to museum exhibits, and find a mommy mentor for yourself-a woman who racially matches your child.  (Read all my thoughts on supporting your child here.)

Yep, it's a lot of work.  But when you chose to adopt transracially, you chose to be the best mom you could to your child, which means, work.  The hardest things are often the most rewarding. 

While you're doing this (remember, you aren't going to stop), you are going to work with your child on his or her racial competency. 

Birth to age one:  What an exciting and quickly-changing time this is!  With infants, you can purchase board books featuring children of color and read them to your child.  You also want to understand racial norms:  like not cutting your son's hair until he's at least one and keeping your baby girl's hair protected and healthy, including a satin crib sheet.  Finally, get a kid-safe mirror.  Young children LOVE looking at themselves.  This is a great way to start introducing your child to his/her skin color.

One to two:  You now have a toddler who is rapidly changing.  Continue reading board books and buying art.  Introduce your child to music created by people of color.  Create playlists!   When looking for childcare, try finding a babysitter of color for your child.  You also might start exploring mommy-and-me classes; search for those in diverse areas.  Change up hair products based on the child's changing hair needs, and be sure to establish positive hair time that doesn't involve a tablet or i-pad.

Two to three:  Keep reading those books (check out our fave books for Black boys here), listening to music, buying art.  Though we aren't big TV people, Doc McStuffins (Disney) and Motown Magic (Netflix) are great shows for children this age.  Also, show your child The Snowy Day (Amazon).  Keep expanding your circle of friends, looking for diverse mommy-and-me classes, and finding diverse babysitters.  Begin exploring coloring books featuring characters of color and washable markers and crayons in skin-tone colors.

Three to four:  As you search for a preschool for your child, diversity matters!  Not only the student and school population, but the classroom materials.  Are there books, action figures, and books featuring people of color in the classroom?  Does the school acknowledge and celebrate Black history?  Keep up at home:  books, music, toys.  Children this age can handle sturdy pictures, so create a kid-safe photo album for your child and talk about the beautiful skin tones of the people in the pictures (hopefully including birth family).   This is a great age to find a great hair braider for your child or step up your game and find an excellent barber, if you haven't already done so.  Finally, this is a great age to start talking about FAMILY diversity.  

Remember, race should be acknowledged and celebrated, not ignored!   Talk early, talk often.  

And I want to encourage both you and your child to learn as you go.  Remember, you aren't going to get your "race education" in a day, week, month, or year.  It's a lifetime commitment to learning and growing.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

5 Things Your Adoption Agency Probably Didn't Tell You

Our adoption education wasn't great.  I'll be honest.

I thought the agency we had chosen would enlighten us.  Prepare us.  Give us Adoption 101.

But I was wrong.  

ALL of our education initially came from our determination to self-educate.  We met with families who had adopted, we read books, and we talked (a lot) about adoption.  Then came the experience of being parents.  As the years went on, more and more resources became available to us (thankfully!).

Unfortunately, to this day, when I share information about adoption, too many current and hopeful adoptive mamas are shocked at what I share.  And I wonder, why didn't their agency tell them this???

So today, I want to share with you five things I've learned that adoption agencies aren't regularly sharing:

1:  Open adoption is really freaking complicated.

Open adoption is often advertised by adoption professionals as a win-win-win (for the adoptive parents, adoptee, and birth family).  Everyone knows how the other is doing, there's ongoing communication, and the mystery of adoption is nearly eradicated.  It's perfect, right? 

Or maybe, you're feeling totally opposite.  You are terrified of open adoption because of what your agency HAS told you.  It sounds good, maybe even too good to be true, and you're not having it.

Well, open adoption, like everything in adoption, is complex.  There's nothing easy about it.   Yes, it can be beneficial,

2:  Cute babies of color become threatening in the eyes of society as they get older.

Adoption agency websites and brochures feature a diverse "cast" of babies, but the melanin-rich baby that society "oohs" and "ahhs" over today, is the preteen, teen, or young adult subject to America's racism tomorrow.  Even kids as young as toddlers can experience racism, such as the time my two-year-old son was called a "cute little thug" but an acquaintance. 

You need to be prepared to parent kids of color for the long-haul, which means a commitment to for a lifetime.

3:  Some adoptees will experience and express trauma.

Even babies adopted at birth can experience trauma, including if a birth mother had a challenging pregnancy from stress, substance usage, health struggles, etc.   Some adoptees state that the separation they experienced from their biological families (yes, even at birth) has caused them to feel broken, hurt, angry, and confused for much of their lives (or, it's surfaced in certain seasons, such as when they had a child themselves).   You can read some posts by adoptee Michelle Madrid-Branch here and here.

This is why many of us in the adoption community are pro adoption-education and pro attachment-parenting.  These two things, we believe, are vital to our children's well-being.  I highly recommend that parents read this book on attachment and trauma in the adoptee.  Because the more you know, the more you are able to help your child!  I also recommend this book written by an adoptee directly to those of us who adopt children.

4:  You must tell your child early and often that he or she was adopted.

I see posts regularly where a mom-by-adoption asks, "When should I tell my child that he's adopted?"


Adoption should be a continual conversation in your home, not a one time talk or a big reveal.

Pray for your children's birth families nightly (and aloud), have photos of them in books or in frames, and have books about adoption for your child.  As the child gets older, you can consider an adoption support group for adoptees and an adoption-competent therapist. 

5:  You might experience post-adoption depression.

Many adoptive parents focus on the struggles a birth parent has after placing a child for adoption:  and rightfully so.   But what agencies don't always tell parents is that if you adopt, you can experience post-adoption struggles, including adoption. 

There's only one book on the subject, and I'll be honest, it's quite text-bookish.  This is why I wrote this relateable, conversational post on post-adoption depression.  I was floored by the number of comments and messages I receive from people sharing their stories of post-adoption depression. 

If you are hoping to embark on an adoption journey, get started with this guide.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Best Affirming Picture Books for Black Children

It's time.

Time for what?

It's time for you to add to your children's book collection!  

As I've shared in the past, it's very important for our children of color to see themselves and their Blackness be affirmed.  The world works really, really hard to tear our children down, so we work even harder to build them up! 

One of the best ways to do this is to have books in your home that tell your children that they matter.  That they can be the star of the show.  That they are magical and wonderful.   

Today, we're excited to share with you our top ten favorite children's picture books that affirm Black children.  If you click on the book image, you can read reviews and purchase if you wish: