Tuesday, November 12, 2019

5 Facts From My Kids' Adoption Stories I Don't Share With With Strangers--And Why

How many times have we been doing something completely normal--like shopping, waiting in a bathroom line, playing at the park--and a nosy stranger has asked us an inappropriate, intrusive, and very personal adoption question?

Dozens--no, hundreds--of times. 

Many years ago, I'd overshare. And I completely regret doing so. But live and learn, right? Know better, do better.

Here are five facts from my kids' adoption stories that I'm not dishing to strangers:

1: How much their adoptions cost.

Let me be clear. All four of our adoptions were ethical. I have no regrets about the amount of money we spent to adopt our children.

The problem is that often, strangers and acquaintances will ask--brace yourself--how much our children cost.

I do explain that we paid for an adoption process and not a child. Though my opinion is when an adoption is out-of-the-norm in terms of costs, there's the definite likelihood that it's a child-selling situation.

I do share what an adoption journey is and what a range in which that adoption journey may cost.

2: Their medical history.

This should be a given, but parents should not share their child's medical history (adopted or not) with strangers and acquaintances. However, there's the assumption that a child who was adopted was drug or alcohol exposed and has something "wrong" with them as a result.

This is offensive because--one, not every adoptee was exposed to substances and two, even if they were, it's no one's business!  And certainly, this is sacred information that belongs to and should be shared with your child and medical professionals, not a random person at the mall.

I'm all for telling our kids, straight up, their background and their diagnoses. I don't conceal the realities from my children. As a person who has a chronic illness and is a breast cancer survivor, I believe there is power in owning our diagnoses--embracing those and using them as springboards.

3: Why they were placed for adoption.

This is a big one, right? The reasons our children's first/birth/bio parents chose not to parent them (or had their rights involuntarily terminated) are not up for public consumption. 

As the parent, you might feel the reason is no-biggie--but the problem is that the adoption is not about us!

4: Their birth names.

My kids are very proud of their names. As I've shared in THE HOPEFUL MOM'S GUIDE TO ADOPTION, our kids were co-named by us and their birth families. Their birth names and their names do not 100% match in some cases--and I believe, like medical history and the reasons they were placed for adoption, their birth names belong to my children. These names can be shared or not at my children's discretion--not to satisfy the curiosity of a nosy stranger.

5: Their "realness."

You knew I was going to bring this one up, right? Because my #1 pet peeve is when someone asks me if my kids are "real" siblings or asks me questions about their "real" (birth) parents.

I've written about this extensively--but it boils down to this. Birth and adoptive--we're all real. The DNA is real and cannot be discounted. Nature AND nurture matter. Likewise, our family--though none of us share DNA--is absolutely real. 

Realness isn't dependent upon the beliefs of the asker, right?

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Raising Cultures Mama Keia Jones-Baldwin on Foster Care, Adoption, and Being a Multiracial Family

I had the honor of meeting Keia Jones-Baldwin after seeing her viral Facebook post when she and her family announced to the world that they'd finalized their foster son's adoption. What about Keia's family captured the internet's attention? Keia and her husband are Black, and they're raising a Black daughter, a biracial son and daughter, and now Princeton, who is white. 

In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, I wanted to get to know Keia more and share her incredible journey with you. Because as we know, there's a desperate need for foster parents in the United States.

Rachel: Like me, you have a big, multiracial family. Break it down for me: who is who?

Keia: I'm Keia Jones-Baldwin (36), and a therapist. Then there's Richardro (36), a police officer. There's Zariyah (16), Karleigh (16), Ayden (8), and Princeton (2). We live in NC.

Rachel: You're a multiracial family, with some of your adoptions being transracial. What's the reaction been to your multiracial family, especially to your white son? 

Keia: We have received so many mixed reactions. Our intention is to always try to educate others on multicultural families so that it will be normalized. We are sometimes met with rude comments and remarks such as, "Why didn't you adopt a black child?" Or "Why would you not allow him to live a better life with white parents." It is this kind of thinking that holds the world back from seeing the beauty in our differences. Differences should be celebrated and appreciated!

Rachel: You adopted from foster care. Please clear this up for everyone: if you are fostering a child, the goal is reunification, right? But if that isn't possible, then what? Did you plan to adopt, if possible, or were you shocked when your boys became available for adoption?

Keia: My husband and I were foster parents first. We had no intentions on adopting initially because we didn't know if we would have the capacity to love a child the way we loved Zariyah.  When a child comes into care, they tell you that reunification is the first plan. After they see that the paln is going in the way of adoption, they give you the option to adopt first. We had both Ayden and Princeton for 2 years before they became eligible for adoption. By that time, those were my children. I loved them, cared for them, and couldn't imagine them not being a part of my life. There was not a second thought in our minds to adopt our sons after 2 years of so many ups and downs. They deserved stability and a forever family. As parents, how could we look at our children and tell them that the only mommy and daddy they knew was no longer going to be in their lives. I would never! 

Rachel: What are some of the challenges foster parents face? Were you prepared for these, or did you learn as you went? Any resources you recommend? 

Keia: I will always tell anyone that is considering becoming a foster parent, be prepared for a child to be reunified with their birth families. It will be hard because during the time you have them in your care, you will become attached, we're human! My husband and I have a saying, "We are gap standers." We stand in the gap for the parents that are trying to get back on track in hopes of being reunified with their children. It was trial and error, we learned as we went, with each foster child. They all have different needs! Support groups for foster parents have definitely been instrumental in helping us to maintain that balance as well as the support of our families, and our foster care supervisors.

Rachel: What's the best thing someone says to your family about adoption/foster care/race? What's the worst? 

Keia: On our family blog Raising Cultures, we have met some wonderful people, other multicultural families that have given us so much hope and encouragement surrounding our decision to adopt transracially. Our motto is, "Love is Colorful." We don't all have to look alike to love alike! The worst thing someone told me was I should of left my son in the "pound" with the rest of the "white dogs" ...out of all the things I've heard and been faced with, that was probably the most disturbing and gut punching. As a Therapist, I try to keep in mind that people who think like that are bitter and living with hatred in their hearts, and that's the sad part.

Rachel: You have social media pages entitled Raising Cultures. Tell me about why you chose that name and what it means to your family.  And, what's next for your crew? 

Keia: Ah! Raising Cultures! It was literally God sent. I woke up one morning out of a dream with the words "Raising Cultures" in my spirit. I meditated on it and God provided me with the vision of the blog. I've had the blog since July 2018, that's what most people don't know! People think I just started the blog a few weeks ago in light of our adoption, but no! I started the blog to share the love my family has for one another in hopes that it will inspire others to make adoption an option! Now! Raising Cultures is this "thing"! I'm so tickled and a little bit shocked at how the page has taken on a life of itself! It's full of resources, education, and love for foster, adoption, and all families! We preach inclusion and respect! That's my cyber family! 

As for what's next! We we're just on the Kelly Clarkson Show to discuss our adoption love story! It was so exciting! It is important for multicultural families to be represented! We have to move the conversation forward about transracial and interracial adoptions, especially black families adopting children of other races so that it's not frowned upon or looked at as a "bad decision." We are now just trying to take it all in so we can start preparing for the Jones-Baldwin Turkey Day shenanigans! 

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

If Your Child Struggles With Anger, Meltdowns, and Tantrums From Autism, ADHD, or Sensory Processing Disorder--Try This

Meltdowns, tantrums, and anger outbursts are nothing new to many parents who have children with special needs. ADHD, autism, and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), as well as kids from trauma who tend to go into fight-or-flight mode, can struggle immensely.  

I am one of those parents who didn't know what to do for my child. I understand the idea that when the "downstairs" brain is triggered, the "upstairs" brain isn't able to properly function. Until we can calm the downstairs brain, we cannot appeal to the upstairs brain.

But what does that mean? How do we regulate the downstairs brain when our children are triggered--and that manifests as anger, tantrums, and meltdowns? 

We have to meet the need.

Sounds simple, right? But of course, it's not. It never is. 

I absolutely believe in being as proactive as possible. That's why we have a home sensory gym. My kids can swing, jump, roll. Gross motor activity is so important--no only for regulation, but for overall health. 

We keep our kids well-fed. They get three balanced, healthy meals and three snacks a day to keep them off the blood sugar roller coaster. Each of my kids also has a water bottle that they are expected to drink from all day at school (or at home). They should arrive home with an empty bottle. Each of my kids has a different color of this water bottle, and my toddler has this smaller version.

We don't overschedule our children. We get them outside as much as possible--for fresh air, gross motor, vitamin D3, and sensory input. We also value sleep, because a good night's sleep is critical to how the next day will go.

But of course, these things aren't always (or even frequently) enough. Some children are prone to having struggles. And in these cases, when they "flip their lid," what are we to do? 

If your child's other needs are met, meaning, they aren't tired, hungry, or thirsty (as emphasized in The Connected Child), perhaps they need something else!

I spoke with a dear friend of mine who is a mom of seven and has several kids with special needs. She'd made each of her kids their own sensory box. It was portable and contained tools that could help soothe them. How brilliant! 

I already keep a bin of sensory toys upstairs in my dining area (of all places) so it's easily accessible to all my kids. This includes our favorite chewy necklace, a wiggle cushion, tangle toys, a suction ball, a fidget cube, vibrating teething toys, therapy putty, and more. 

But it was for the group--not solely for the struggling child. So I decided to make my child something special. It's called an Angry Bowl. 

It's simple. When the child is feeling angry (preferably on the verge of melting down/running off/having a tantrum)--the child says, "I need my Angry Bowl."

Because when the downstairs brain is flipped and the upstairs brain isn't able to maturely communicate need, I made our Angry Bowl super simple: with only three tools inside it. And the great thing is, you may already have everything you need already in your home!

Angry Bowl:

--a plastic bowl with lid

--a handmade label for the top that says "____'s Angry Bowl" and I drew a sad face with an arrow to a happy face

--dye free, peppermint gum, because peppermint can help ease stress and anxiety and chewing meets oral sensory needs

--blue tinted sunglasses (I got mine free from our orthodontist!), because blue is soothing/calming

--a spiky, squeeze ball that fits into one hand, because it can be squeezed or bounced OR this color-changing putty (that changes color from the heat of hands--so the more it's worked, the more quickly it changes color: brilliant!)

The Angry Bowl rules are simple (because they have to be):

--ask for it or take it off the table when you need it (for real--we keep ours on the dining table)

--if you aren't able to ask for it or take it, the parent might sense the child needs it and grab it or ask the child if he/she needs it

--child must use all three items in the bowl. My child puts on the glasses, pops two pieces of gum in, and squeezes/bounces the ball. We do this because initially the child realized they would want their Angry Bowl solely for the gum (when the child wasn't angry)

The goal is that spending some time with the Angry Bowl will regulate the child. THEN you can discuss what happened; what triggered the anger. What can we do next time we feel this way? Do we owe anyone an apology? What should we do next? 

A few tips:

--use the tools that work for your child. If your kiddo doesn't like peppermint gum, try another flavor of "healthy" gum such as wintergreen or cinnamon. If a spiky ball provides too much sensory input, substitute something softer and squishy such as these balls.

--see what you already have. I had a bowl, a spiky ball, gum, and sunglasses. 

--purchase multiple items. I recommend making multiple bowls. Keep one in the car, one in your house, and possibly give one to your child's teacher to use for him/her if the items are approved. You might even have the "angry bowl" added to your child's IEP or 504

--don't put too many items in the bowl. Doing so will overwhelm a dysregulated, upset child. Fewer options (that work) are better.

--if at first you don't succeed, try again! Experiment with the number of items, the types of items (don't forget that color and scent might play a part in the success of the bowl), the rules.

--I've linked multiple must-read books throughout this post. Read them! I've learned so much from authors such as Karyn Purvis (The Connected Child) and Dan Siegel

Remember, you can't reason with a dysregulated child. Until they are brought back to a state of calm and regulation, a "lecture," yelling, etc. are pointless. Plus, a reasonable discussion is so much more productive. Lectures and yelling and chastising and over-disciplining only lead to more dysregulation.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

5 Things Young Adoptees Need Their Parents to do for Them

After a decade of parenting adoptees, I've learned a thing or two (or a hundred) about what I need to be doing for my kids. Not only do I have a tween, but I also have two elementary age kiddos, and a toddler.

Remember, love isn't enough. It's a powerful, necessary foundation, but a child who was adopted needs so much more.

Here's what I make sure to do for my young adoptees, and you should, too:

 1:  Initiate adoption conversations.

When we were first waiting to adopt, a friend of mine who adopted one child internationally, shared with me that she and her husband use every day situations (including stories in the media) to bring up adoption to their child.  She shared that we can't always rely on our kids to bring up their adoption thoughts to us. 

By taking the initiative to start open, empathetic conversations, we are teaching our kids that it is safe and healthy to talk about adoption. 

You need to get comfortable using adoption vocabulary. 

A post shared by Rachel Garlinghouse (@whitesugarbrownsugar) on

2:  Tell the truth about their adoption story.

Of course, we don't give our kids all the details when they are infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, but as their maturity builds, they deserve to have their entire truth.

Read that again: THEIR entire truth.

Yes, there are some not-so-pretty details to some of our kids' stories, which is why you need to have an adoption competent therapist on-hand for your family. You also need to never stop learning about adoption--reading everything you can get your hands on. Get educated and keep getting educated so you can be the parent your child needs you to be.

3:  Read adoption books.

I’m so thankful. ⭐️ spoiler alert: The other day, after watching “Dead to Me,” it dawned on me that the reality is that my husband could have left. Bowed out. Backed out. Things got tough. Really really tough. ⭐️ He could have left when I almost died. Or before. When I was wasting away and depressed-with no answers. ⭐️He could have left when I said, I don’t want to put my body through the hell of a pregnancy. ⭐️He could have left the day the doctor told me I had cancer. ⭐️He could have left when I had a mastectomy. ⭐️He could have left during the three (plus) month recovery when he had to do EVERYTHING for our family, as well as strip blood from my surgical drains for three solid weeks. ⭐️He could have left when I had subsequent medical trauma anxiety. ⭐️ He could have left. But he didn’t. ⭐️ plenty of partners do. They bail. They can’t handle the pain, the work, the relentless commitment. ⭐️ he could have left. ⭐️ Last night I captured him reading to our son. Every night. Usually the same book. And it’s one of those longggg bedtime books. Then they cuddle and pray. My husband listens patiently to our son’s run-on, imaginative stories. they kiss goodnight. Magic. ⭐️ My kids have a daddy who shows up every single time. I have a husband who shows up every single time. He’s our glue. ⭐️ . . . #daddydoinwork #dad #husband #breastcancer #mastectomy #type1diabetes #dadlife #faith #marriage #marriagegoals #whitesugarbrownsugar #husbandandwife #whataman #type1diabetes #sunday #sundayvibes #weekend #bigfamilylife #bigfamily #thankful
A post shared by Rachel Garlinghouse (@whitesugarbrownsugar) on

Reading to your child has so many benefits. For one, it promotes attachment and connection. It helps your child build vocabulary, enhance their listening skills, and in the case of adoption, learn about adoption itself. 

I have several book lists available to you to help you get started. Here's one adoption book list along with discussion questions to ask your child after reading. I do recommend you preview any book before reading it to your child to make sure it's appropriate.

4:  Learn about trust-based, attachment parenting.

I'm a fan of Empowered to Connect, which is trust based parenting that build attachment. There are many ways to build attachment with an adoptee, and the book The Connected Child (which I consider the #1 book ALL parents of adoptees must read!) can help you get started. I also recommend reading The Whole Brain Child.

5:  Protect their privacy.

I've said it many times: do not hand out your child's adoption story like a grandma hands out cookies. The story isn't for anyone and everyone. It is sacred. It is private. And it belongs to your child. 

Remember, your allegiance is to the child you were chosen to adopt. You can educate others without disclosing your child's private adoption story.  Plus, imagine how damaging it would be if your child learned an important part of their story from someone you disclosed the story to--someone who didn't deserve that sacred privilege. 

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