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:

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

To My Children I Adopted: I'm Sorry for the Mistakes I Made

It was in those earliest, sacred days that I failed my children the most.  

With our first child, strangers would take a peak in our stroller or baby carrier.  Their eyes would suddenly grow wide and they'd say, "Oh!"

They weren't expecting a child with smooth brown skin, deep brown-black eyes, and the tiniest afro.  

Then they would ask.  They would ALWAYS ask.  "Is she yours?"  "Are you a foster parent?"  "Why didn't you have your own kids?"  "Why did her real mom give her away?"  "Why didn't you adopt a white child?"  "What country is she from?" 

You know the questions.

And I'd tell those nosy strangers too much.  I'd entertain their nosiness and withstand their interrogations.  

I think part of it was my drive to be friendly.  I had a lot of experience in customer service before becoming a college teacher.  Talking to people is just what I did, and sometimes, I was talking to educate them.  My personality (I am my father's daughter) to conjure up an enthusiastic conversation with any willing person was doing more harm than good when it came to being a parent-by-adoption. 

We had been warned.  My cousins, parents-by-transracial-adoption, told us, "Once you put something 'out there,' you can never take it back."  We listened to them attentively and thankfully, but we didn't always remember their words when in the heart of a situation.  

It wasn't that I didn't respect my child's privacy or love their birth families.  It was BECAUSE I loved being a mommy to my little girl so much and was so honored to have been chosen by their birth families that I over-shared, in order to shed light on the beauty of adoption and my newfound motherhood.   

Later, of course, I learned that my children's stories were THEIRS and not MINE, and just because I shared in that story didn't mean I 100% owned it.  Ultimately, my story is mine, their story is theirs, with a lot of overlap.   

There were times I didn't speak up when a stranger would fondle my kids' hair.  Or the time a family friend said that my toddler loved to dance because it was, after all, "in her."  There were times I didn't correct people who used incorrect terminology or brought a racial tone to a conversation.  

There is one situation in particular that I am still dwelling on.  It happened about a year-and-a-half ago.  To this day, it's almost too painful to acknowledge.   Perhaps you have one of those, too?  

Granted, with experiences come lessons, and with lessons comes courage to do what is right.   

I know this.  

But oftentimes it's hard to forgive ourselves for those earlier mistakes, especially when they come back to bite us.  

And guess what?  Failure doesn't have a term limit.  It just crops up in new ways.  

There are still times I don't do the right thing.   I'm too dumbfounded to speak in certain situations that catch me off-guard, even when it's a question I've been asked for a decade.  There's been times I've been too annoyed or apprehensive to talk about adoption, too.  Sometimes it could be I'm having a bad day, or I'm just overwhelmed with parenting four kids, or I'm not in a "peopley" mood.   And I worry my children will interpret that as "mommy doesn't like me" or "adoption isn't OK."  

Like many women, I was raised to be polite, to feel too much guilt, and to always consider "the other" in the conversation when forming my words.  Being a "strong" and "direct" woman doesn't come easily to many of us.  We don't want to appear angry or "bitchy."   We would sometimes rather be humiliated than rude.  

Women are supposed to be warm, welcoming, and willing.







But our kids need us.  They need us to pause and consider our words, because like it or not, we do represent adoption to the world.  Some of us represent multiracial families.  But, above all, we are our children's protectors and guides.  And we owe it to them to be our best and model the right ways to engage with others. 

Our kids also need us to forgive ourselves, to not dwell on past mistakes, but instead, learn from them and do better next time.   They see us fumble, but they also see us rise when we choose forgiveness.  And that matters.  Because we're teaching our kids what to do when they make mistakes, any mistakes.  

I am sorry, deeply, for the ways I have failed my children.  I am also sorry to myself, for not letting go of these mistakes after learning from them.  

And with each passing day, I work to reject the "musts" of womanhood and replace them with the attributes that make me who I REALLY am and who I want to be. 








And most of all?



The reason I wrote The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption?  To give you the book I wish I would have had twelve years ago.  I pray that it educates you, inspires you, and prevents you from making the mistakes I made early on.