When Adoption Is Misrepresented

My youngest child likes to watch motivational videos on YouTube. Sometimes, the videos are fictional stories based on current life issues. One particular video caught my eye, so I sat down to watch it with him. Adoption is the main theme of this video and in my opinion, they got so many things wrong. When adoption is misrepresented, I tend to notice.

*I decided not to post a link to the video as I do not want to promote it. The story is fictional, using actors.*

Scene: A couple introduces a school age girl to their middle-school-aged daughter and says,

“Meet your new sister.” Their daughter reacts by saying, “She’s not my real sister. I’m your real daughter. She will never be my sister.”


The girl runs off, crying and soon the parents start scolding their daughter for her actions. Then, they said the words that cause me to cringe every time I hear anyone say them.

“We’ve been waiting until the right time to tell you but…” They go into this toxically sweet explanation of how they couldn’t have a baby and decided to adopt her. “So, you see, you’re adopted as well.” The girl said something like, “My entire life has been a lie?” They comfort her and she (quickly) becomes okay, again. She then runs upstairs to comfort her newly adopted sister.”

End scene. Cue throwing up a little in my mouth.

There are so many things wrong with this video. While I believe the creator attempted to teach a lesson about assumptions and adoption, it was way off and a total disaster. (This is my perspective of an adoptive parent – not of an adoptee.)

First, it’s never going to feel like the “right time”. Because let’s be honest, a lot of us (AD parents) fear the child rejecting us. Here’s the reality, though – kids deserve to know their histories. All of it.

Using adoption positive language in our home (once we were legally cleared to do so) became the norm. The words – adoption, foster care, biological families, biological mothers/fathers, siblings, etc – were words my kids were familiar with. Placed as infants, they grew into toddler-hood and school-age-hood knowing they were adopted. We don’t fear discussions about it. Our kids take charge of these discussions, ask questions, etc. They grieve when they need to – not when we’re ready for them to.

Seriously. It’s never going to feel like the right time for you (adoptive parent) but if you hide adoption from your child, don’t expect him or her to trust anything else you say. Their entire lives may feel like a lie – because omitting the truth is very similar to it.

Okay, second point. It is unrealistic for a child to just go, “Oh, okay. Now I know the truth and I’m all good.” Um, nope. From witnessing my children, I have seen that adoption is very much an evolutionary process. Each and stage of life brings about unique challenges.

Sometimes, it’s heavy. Sometimes, it’s light. But it’s always about their needs, not ours. When they come to us to talk about it, we stop and listen. When they eventually say they want to reunite with biological family, we will stop what we’re doing and ask if they need help. It will be when THEY’RE ready, not us.

Third point – Please do not use infertility as the sole reason you adopted your children. Let’s say that again. Do not use your infertility as the sole reason you adopted your children. My kids know I can’t have babies. They figured it out when asking if I could have a sibling for them. I have never said, “The reason we adopted you is because we can’t have a baby.” The truth is that is not the reason we adopted our children. We adopted them because we loved them and when the opportunity came, we took it.

Literally, cringe-worthy. Infertility comes into play in a lot of adoptive families’ lives but it should not be the only reason for adoption. Adoption deserves better. Our kids deserve better.

Fourth point – Just say to no to surprising people with new siblings, etc. Kids are not presents that you lay under a tree. We’ve surprised our kids with a new puppy but I could never image surprising my kids with a new sibling. Every ounce of that is wrong. Kids should be a part of the discussion.

When we took in my youngest (who is also biologically related to me), our kids were a part of that discussion. They were only six and four; yet, we included them. We call our third adoption a “surprise” but not because it was a surprise to our family – as in “here’s your new puppy kind of surprise”. We didn’t plan to adopt again. So to us, it was a bit of a surprise.

Looking at my son when the video ended, I said, “I think her parents should’ve told her she was adopted when she was a lot younger. Do you?” His answer: a resounding “YES”. My kiddo is only eight and struggles with comprehension but he understood very clearly what was wrong with the video. When adoption is misrepresented, it does more damage.

I sure wish media did the same when creating tales about adoptive families and adoptees. They miss the mark nearly all of the time. This so-called motivational video got it all wrong, as well. Adoptive families and adoptees are either portrayed as over-the-top positive, lovey-dovey or the lead perpetrator of heinous crimes in an episode of a crime show. There’s hardly even a show with adoption theme that represents the vast majority of us – just normal people doing our best to live and love.

We must recognize adoption for what it is – a complex, multi-layered experience. We aren’t perfect and I know every (adoptive) family will experience different things, but we must always put kids first – before our feelings, before our fears. When adoption is misrepresented, it hurts everyone involved – adoptive parents, biological parents, and most important, adoptees.

loss is often overlooked in adoption

I’ve known for years that loss is often overlooked in adoption. I’ve seen it in my own family and the lives of others. This week, loss hit our home.

Legs shaking as I walked down the stairs to my child. “Hey, I need to talk to you about something,” I said.

My child looked up. “Uh-huh?”

“You’re not in trouble. I just need to tell you something. You know how your biological mother calls me from time-to-time?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, she left a message yesterday and I don’t want to wait any longer to tell you. Your biological father passed away this week.”

Silence. My child wouldn’t look up from the Ipad screen as I explained what I know and only what I know. It was my responsibility to tell my child the exact truth. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“Adoption is our life experience, but I’m not in competition with your biological family. I care about them. I don’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes; to have a biological parent that I don’t know. If you ever need to talk or ask questions or any of that, I need you to know that it’s okay.”

“Okay”, my child said.

The truth is I’m just saddened about all of it. To be the one to tell my child about the passing of a biological parent breaks my heart open. I’ve sat in the reality that adoption is both a blessing and a burden.

A blessing that gives every single day.

A burden that continually humbles me.

Loss is paramount in adoption. Anyone who says differently needs to do a serious heart-check about it. While we acknowledge what is believed to be a God-ordained weaving of our family, we also mourn that we will never be able to replace what should have been for them.

God doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want families like mine to have to care for children like ours. He never intended for families to be broken by trauma, abuse, and absolute hardship. This reality smacks me. It breaks me.

When I say that loss is often overlooked in adoption, I mean it. When I say that loss is weaved into every fiber of it, I mean it.

I know it. I live it.

While adoption should be celebrated, at the same time, it should also cause one to consider the deep meaning and reasoning behind it all. I will never replace what my children have missed. I will never be their biological parent and fill that hole in their lives. This agonizes me.

But, I can do what I know needs to be done. I can be honest. Tell the truth. Be open and genuine.

I can welcome questions and console tears.

Barrenness dropped into my life. The only way to become a parent was through adoption. But, friends, the full measure of that emotional responsibility pricks my heart nearly every day.

Yes, loss is often overlooked in adoption but the truth is that loss is weaved into every fiber of it.

actions speak louder than words

Our kids are really good at saying, “I’m sorry” and I’m happy about that but often, their apologies are followed with the same behavior. The pattern is: behavior, “I’m sorry”, behavior – repeat. Regardless of how many times I’ve said, “An apology is the first step. Changing your behavior (or at least trying to) is how you fulfill an apology” or “actions speak louder than words”, they just don’t seem to grasp as well as I’d like for them to.

Recently, I announced that we were doing a Tuesday Night Teaching. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you will know that I’ve done several of these throughout the past year. It went something like this:

“Kids, do you know how I always tell you that an apology is good but after you apologize, you need to work on changing whatever it is that you had to apologize for?” (They all agreed.)

“I’m going to show you what that means. Here is your apology.” I wrote the word ‘sorry’ on a piece of paper and put it in a cup of water. I then wrote the word ‘sorry’ and put it in a cup of peroxide.

After a few seconds or so, I pulled out the note in the water and rubbed it gently with a towel. The word ‘sorry’ stayed there. I then pulled out the note in the peroxide and rubbed it gently with a towel. The word ‘sorry’ faded.

“Do you see that?” They all closely looked it over. Their eyes checking out every part. “The apology in plain water stayed put. It didn’t change. It’s because there are not any active ingredients in plain water. The apology in peroxide faded. It’s because there are active ingredients in peroxide.

Apologies take action. If you say you’re sorry but you don’t take any action to correct it, the apology just sticks around. Nothing more…and the reason you had to apologize may also stick around.

If you take action and change your behavior, the apology fades but what takes its place is a clean slate. If you keep hurting a friend over and over again but not changing your behavior, eventually that friend will leave and all that will be left is the memory of your apology. But if you hurt a friend, say you’re sorry, and then change your behavior to show that, chances are you will still be friends. Apologies require action.”

After this, I read 1 John 4:7:

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

I ended the lesson by talking about how we are children of God and we are to love others. Apologizing is a form of showing love but changing our behavior or working on the things we do that hurt others is an essential part of loving people.

Friends, actions do speak louder than words. Words can hurt and they can also help, but just as love is a verb, so is apologizing.

**Author’s note: I’ve been devoting more time to my social media platforms, especially Facebook. To see more of my posts and daily life events, please consider following my page by clicking on this link: Barren to Blessed Facebook

Today is the Day, Birth Mother

Today is the the day, Birth Mother. On this day twelve years ago, we walked out of the courtroom with our forever. But I can’t and I won’t forget that it’s also been twelve years since you last kissed him good-bye.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine us back in the room where we used to visit. That stale room didn’t speak of the love flowing from it. Colorless walls didn’t paint the scene of two strangers brought together on behalf of a new, precious soul. We spent so much time in that room. Holding him, soothing him and swapping stories of life.

And then, we had to say goodbye to the room where our story took flight. One final goodbye. We embraced and exchanged well-wishes. But they didn’t serve justice to the journey we just traveled. Our road coming to an end. You held him and kissed him. Oh, the bittersweet taste of that final kiss.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

I don’t know what it would be like to exist in your shoes; to carry the ghost of a child you barely knew. I don’t want to imagine it but I can’t help myself. The truth is that a piece of my heart walked away with you on that day and it has never returned.

Today is the day, Birth Mother. As we ate cake and celebrated adoption, you were on my mind. You’ve never left. How could you? I don’t want you to. I don’t ever want to forget you. Because of him. Because some stories should never be erased.

The closer he gets to being an adult, the more I feel the pain; that urging to slow things down, revisit earlier years, and hang on even tighter. Even that feels selfish. For you, he’s still that clumsy little babe who cooed and giggled at the sound of our voices. Moments captured in time. Ones that never aged.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

Today is the day, Birth Mother. Years ago, the gavel fell and that chapter closed. But a continuation of our story emerged; one of challenges and cheer, of laughter and fear. You haven’t been here for it, of course, but in many ways your presence is still felt.

In my mind’s shadows of that old visit room.

In his laugh.

And his heart.

In his crooked smile.

And all the other things that make him delightfully who he is; who we are.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

This Journey We Are On

There are a lot of worries about this parenting gig. Raising kiddos who are neurologically different offers me multiple moments of worry. I know I’m not supposed to worry. I know that the Lord who knit them in their biological mothers’ wombs has already weaved the tapestry of their lives. I need to trust more; to trust this journey we are on.

Scrolling through some old pictures today, I came across this one taken by my friends at Freedom Photography back in 2013 (before the adoption of our youngest son & when I went through a dark-chocolate dyed hair phase – ha!). Looking at my kids’ tiny little faces with their scrunchy, sweet smiles greets me with great joy.

The statement on the chalkboards sends a ripple through my heart. We weren’t together at birth, but our journeys began together on those days; those laborious, wonderful moments. Those moments belong to their biological mothers. They always will.

If everything we experience is easy, I doubt we could call it a journey. Perhaps, we are meant to stumble a bit along the way so that we can learn how to rise after a fall. Or, maybe, we are meant to mess it all up so that we can know what it is to receive and offer grace. It might be that our hearts are meant to be torn apart so that we can know what it feels like when they are made whole. Maybe, the best part of the journey isn’t so much the final destination, but all the bumps, bruises, and tenderness in between.

I’m not perfect. I won’t ever be all I need to be for my children or my husband. I struggled today and probably will tomorrow. And, do you know what? That is okay. It’s going to be okay.

Pieced together by many little parts of the story – some joyful, some devastating. We are travelers in this journey, each with our own part to play.

My mom always reminds, “The right thing to do is never the easiest.”

And, goodness, this journey we are on isn’t easy, but it is so right. 

Just a Little Longer, Baby

“Just a little longer baby” This thought has been a recurrent one in my mind as my oldest on approaches adulthood. After watching a him singing a song he made (around age 4 or so), I looked at my husband, started crying and said, “I miss this. I miss the little boy he used to be. It goes by so fast.”

We put a lot of emphasis on celebrating and grieving our “last babies”. I get it. I really do. But, oh man, there is something about watching our first babies grow up. It is a slow process of grief and yet, it seemingly happens overnight.

One day, your first baby is stacking blocks to his own amusement. Laughing at all the silly jokes. Crawling into your arms. Asking to be held. In the tiny, sweet voice, you hear, “Just a little longer, Mommy”.

And then, that little boy is gone. That voice is gone. All the silly jokes are gone. The amusement at stacking blocks is gone. Time is cruel. It steals from us – carries pieces of our hearts away. You look at your first baby and think, “Just a little longer, baby.”

I used to cringe when people would tell me that “it goes by fast”. It’s easy to get annoyed by this because you are just so darn tired and busy. I also used to wonder why elder women (and men) would stare at my babies, grinning to themselves, and giggle a bit. I know now. They were going back in their minds to when their babies were young; visiting a place from long ago, a tourist in a land they cannot stay in.

And now, I’m there. I’m a tourist walking through the land of memories of my first baby. We are getting closer to him becoming an adult. Gulp. In the blink of an eye, he went from being that curly-haired, goofy little dude to a teenager just five years removed from adulthood.

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t feel good. Sometimes, I feel that my heart just can’t take it. I don’t like being this kind of tourist. I don’t want to just visit that place from long ago. I’d rather move back there and do it all over again.

Just a little longer, baby.

Just a little longer.

Life Lesson: Apples to Apples

In continuing life lessons for my kids, I decided to focus on loneliness. For fun, I’m calling my lessons, “Tuesday Night Teachings“. They look forward to Tuesday nights and ask, “Are we going to have a Tuesday Night Teaching?” This one is called, “Life Lesson: Apples to Apples”.

We sat around the dinner table and took turns telling each other what we are thankful for. It was a pleasant sound to this mom’s ears to hear my kids talk about being thankful for people in their lives, including our family.

This conversation about being thankful for each other was a perfect lead-in to tonight’s lesson.

“Don’t leave the table just yet. I want to talk to you. I saw something on Facebook that made me really sad. A guy lost his pet cat and asked for help finding it. He said it was the only thing left in his life. It made me cry for him because he later found that his cat had gotten hit by a car. I thought about how lonely he must be without his pet – especially because he said that his cat was really the only thing left in his life.

There are a lot of lonely people in the world.”

Passing the bowl of apples around, I asked each person (including myself and husband) to pick the one that is the most appealing to them. There were six different apples in the bowl. Each of us grabbed the one that we wanted and then took turns telling why we picked that apple.

“Now let’s all take a bite of our apples.”

The kids giggled a bit. My oldest son joked about thinking he might have swallowed a part of the core.

Lining the apples up next to each other, I said,

“Look at that. They are all so different on the outside, but look at the inside. They are the same. People are a lot like apples. God created us to be unique in our skin color and size. We each have our own ‘flavor’ but on the inside we are the same.

Do you notice that there is one apple that wasn’t picked? That is how some people feel. For instance, some people are left out because of the way they look or the color of their skin or for other reasons. On the inside, they are just like you and me.”

I ended the lesson by talking with my kids about how loneliness is a big problem in our world but if we can get past what is on the outside of a person and look at the inside, maybe we can help each other not be so lonely.

I’m really hopeful that each little nugget of wisdom about God’s truth seeps into their pores; creating a future filled with a genuine love of others. God doesn’t ask us to necessarily like everyone but he does ask us to love one another.

This God-kind-of-love sets the lonely into families.
It sees us from the inside out.
This God-kind-of-love can change generations.

I believe that.

John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

(Life Lesson: Apples to Apples – what other ways have you used to teach children about loneliness?)

Seasons of Change (Life Lesson)

A few months ago, I started weekly lessons with my kids on Tuesday nights. Although I’ve taken a break for the holidays, I plan on returning to “Tuesday Night Teachings” after the new year. My kids really seem to enjoy them! Here is one lesson that I taught called, “Seasons of Change”.

I started off by reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to my kids.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Looking towards my children, I said, “Dad and I have been talking a lot about how much we’ve changed since we were younger.”

One-by-one, I placed the leaves on the table and asked, “What is this?” Each time I pointed to one, they said, “a leaf”.

“Yes, and look at how much the leaves have changed. In life, you will go through a lot of seasons and changes. There will be some days that you feel ‘green’ and happy and other days where you may feel ‘yellow’ or sad. Sometimes, you feel ‘red’ or angry about things going on. Just like these leaves, you will change and go through different times in your lives.

Do you notice that even though a leaf started off green, it ended up red, and even though it went through this season of change, it is still a leaf?” Nodding their heads in agreement, “Yes!”, they said.

“The cool thing is that even though there are changes, the leaf is still exactly what God designed it to be. YOU are as well. Regardless of what you go through or how you change, you were born a child of God and you will always be a child of God.”

Ending the lesson, I explained that this is one of the most important things to remember in life. The only constant is God. When everything else around us changes or when we go through different seasons, God remains the same.

If there is one thing I can hope to teach my children, it is this:

Regardless of what experiences they endure or the seasons of change they go through, I truly desire for them to know just how deeply they are loved by God, how they were created with a purpose, and that they will always be one of His kids.

Ramen Noodles and Trauma

A few days ago, I shared a story on my blog Facebook page (@barrentoblessed) about ramen noodles and trauma. Yes, ramen noodles and trauma. My cousin is a foster parent who recently adopted four siblings. She and her husband are also fostering the fifth sibling.

Here is the post as written by my cousin:

“Tonight, after 2.5 years of living here, my oldest son sat down at the table with this. He was about to chow down when I stopped him and asked what in the world he was doing.

He said, “I made myself dinner.”

“But it isn’t cooked. I can cook that you know.”

“Well, I wanted to eat something I used to eat a lot with my old family.”

So we sat down and I asked him to tell me about it. He said that they wouldn’t feed him due to being passed out (you can guess why) and he would have to make dinner for himself and his brothers (2 and 4 months when they came to us). He said that all the money they had would be spent on cigarettes and other fun things and so he would find change in their van and would buy Ramen packets at the store down the street (at 6!!!!).

He said he didn’t know how to boil water, so he would eat it like this. And, he actually grew to like it. So, he would break it up for his sibling, and would try to make bottles for the baby (at 6!!!!!!).

Guys. I asked him to make me some. And, I sat there beside him and crunched it down with lots of water because it’s not great…and he just started talking about how the first time I made them ramen, he wouldn’t eat it and I told him I remembered. He said it’s because it reminded him of his ramen packets and he didn’t trust me (big thoughts for 9!).

He said he isn’t sad he’s not with his “old family” (his words) anymore, but that sometimes HE LIKES TO REMEMBER HOW STRONG HE HAD TO BE.

I write this so everyone knows, trauma isn’t healed quickly (sometimes never), an adoption doesn’t erase the past or the memories, kids can change, they will change with love, and to never give up on a kid because “they are hard”. And then, I walked away in shock, in sadness, and so so so proud of how strong my baby is. He’s so wonderful. And, we love him so much.”

I ended it by saying this:

“Friends, THIS is the life experience of kids who come from hard places. THIS is living a trauma-informed life. We can’t imagine what kids from hard places have lived through. It is not just about one act of abuse or neglect, it is about living in survival mode and doing it day in and day out. It is about making sure younger siblings are also surviving, even at the expense of childhood.

Trauma infuses itself into every pore. Kids just don’t forget it. Their brains and bodies won’t let them. Those of us privileged enough (yes, I said privileged) to enter into the lives of children with hard life experiences must be willing to sit down, eat uncooked ramen noodles and listen. We must not give up.

Our kids didn’t.”

Something about this post shook people up. Before I knew it, the post took off and soon became viral – with a reach close to 18 million people, over 9,000 comments and over 160,000 shares. Good Morning America featured it on their website.

People were sharing their own stories of trauma, eating ramen noodles as children, and their experience with foster parenting kids who come from hard places. Overwhelmed. Surprised. Shocked by it all. I felt all emotions in just a short span of time.

Childhood trauma adversely affects children over a span of their lifetime. Trauma doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t healed overnight. The more we listen to children, seek to understand their stories, and connect with them in a loving way, the better they WILL heal from trauma. I believe that and science proves it.

Was it kind of neat having a “viral” post? Yes. Thrilling to be featured by Good Morning America? Absolutely.

Do you want to know what really stirred my heart, though?

Witnessing love pouring out. Reading thoughts of people seeking to understand trauma. People sharing kindness, hope and prayers for children as well as foster families.

Imagine it – a world where hurting children are met by embracing love; where every child can call home a safe space.

Just picture it. I do. This is my hope. This is my prayer.

on this day of thankfulness

On this day of thankfulness, my childhood has been on my mind. Maybe, it is because my daughter is now the age I was when I had my hysterectomy. Sometimes, I see myself in her. Curious. Strong-willed. Lover of fluffy things. Empathetic. Other times, I don’t.

Barrenness rushed in like a thief in the night. It didn’t just steal from me at that time, in that present moment. It kept stealing each and every day as I grew up. A stalker. A shadow that didn’t go away. A reminder of what was missing.

On this day of thankfulness, I’m reminded of the power of restoration. That somehow, grace had the audacity to chase me down, prove me wrong and breathe love and life into my soul.

Thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who took my physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness and flipped the script.

Lightness out of darkness.

Fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Gratitude replacing grief.

On this day of thankfulness, I am truly blessed.