Taking Care of Roots {a little lesson with my daughter}

My daughter came home from school this past week and said, “Mom, we played foster care at school today.”  She then said, “I was the foster child and I had two moms.”  I told her that sounded fun and interesting.  We went on with the rest of the day and she didn’t mention it again.

I thought about this conversation the remainder of the week.  My daughter is very smart, willful and can be extremely challenging.  She walks to the beat of her own drum and is fierce in so many ways.  However, it seems that the older she gets, the more she thinks, questions, and talks about being adopted (even in non-direct ways), and the more concerned I am about her sense of self-worth and identity.

During our foster parent training, one of the videos we watched showed a foster mom and her foster daughter planting flowers together.  Although a bit cheesy and scripted, the point was made that using things like gardening or other activities is a great way to connect with children.

20170415_130021Yesterday, as my daughter and I were planting flowers, I took a look at her little hands digging in the dirt, remembered the scene in the foster parent training video and thought, “If I get an opportunity, take it.”  As I lifted the flowers out of their containers to transplant them, I grabbed the root bed and held on firmly.  I said to my daughter, “You know, the roots are really the most important part of flowers.  Even if you transplant them from one place to the other, as long as the roots are taken care of, the flowers should grow just fine.  If you don’t take care of the roots or feed, water and help them to be stable, the flowers won’t do very well.”

My daughter said, “Kinda like if a baby tiger is taken away from its mother and no one takes care of it, it will die.”  I said, “Kinda unless another tiger family takes it in and takes care of it and gives it ‘roots’ to grow, then it should be just fine.”  As my daughter plunged her hands into the dirt, she said, “I didn’t know my birth mom, right?”  I said, “Well, you were a newborn, so no, I don’t think you would remember her.”  She then said, “Yeah, but you got me and take care of me now.”  I said, “Yes, it’s kinda like taking care of flowers.  Even though we are transplanting these flowers, as long as we give them what they need, they will be just fine.  The same goes for you.  You came to us and we are your family.  Families give us roots to grow.”

We spent the next few hours digging in the soil, planting flowers and just talking.  I watched as she carefully watered and tended to them.  I’m not quite sure if this conversation will actually make a difference in her life, but I do believe that intentional parenting, backed up with nurturing and honesty, will give her and my other children the best chance they have to navigate this world and their place in it.  Most importantly, I deeply hope that it will help them understand that being adopted is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

If you have a child from another mother’s womb, it is important to not be scared of answering questions as they come.  Think outside of the box.  Take moments such as the one I described to connect with your children.  You don’t need to come up with elaborate plans or ideas.  Just be authentic, in the moment, honest and insightful.

Just as we tended to the roots of our flowers, my hope that is that the roots of all children will be met with nourishment, stability, and love.

 

Let Your Heart Speak

It was a particularly rough day at our home. One of my kids struggled ALL DAY with making poor choices, being rude, etc. After a long night, my child said, “I bet you wish you didn’t even adopt me. I bet you wish I was just dead.” I took a breath, thought for a minute, looked at this precious little soul, and then said, “No. If something happened to you, I would miss you every single day for the rest of my life.”

My child collapsed into my arms, crying, and said, “That is the kindest thing I’ve ever heard.” We spent some time crying together and reassuring each other that we are okay, we love each other, and that I (and daddy) are so thankful to have been given the gift of adoption.

A few things come to mind regarding this experience. If you plan on building your family through adoption, please understand that your child(ren) might say things like this. This particular child of mine has been with us since infancy; still, yet, we find ourselves always having to show reassurance through our actions and words. It can be typical for a child who has been adopted to consider his or her “status” in the family. Don’t fear it. Just understand that it can happen.

It can be really hard to fall into the habit of parenting that is too regimented and scripted. I’ve been to lots of training regarding behavioral issues/special needs and I have taught them as well. However, when in the moment, it is hard to remember what is the right and most appropriate response to take.

It is recommended (at times) to hold your ground and be direct with your expectation, but in the moment I described above, I decided to let my heart speak.  My child’s words seemed to be about something more than being angry for some trivial issue. Instead of giving a consequence for the behaviors that preceded the statement, I chose to reveal a truth to my child, and I could tell that my words were unexpected, yet perfect for the moment.

Looking at my child in that desperate state and hearing my child’s words that tended to originate from a place of not feeling secure and good, I was able to see more clearly the power of grace. When I’ve said to God, “You’ve just forgotten about me. You don’t even care. I wonder if I was even worth being created”, I know that He has responded with, “You are loved. You are special. You are unique. You have worth. You mean something.” If I desire this response from God and all the grace that comes from Him, then how in the world would I not want to dish it out to my children or give them the response they need?

There is something pretty powerful when we choose to parent from the place of grace. It can be so hard, though. When the kids are acting up, embarrassing us, or saying mean things, the natural instinct is to defend oneself or give a directive. I’m learning that being an imperfect parent is okay. Not having the right or more disciplined response is okay. I’m trying to allow my heart to speak more, instead of letting my frustration be the author of my words. At the end of the day, when the years have come and gone, I know there will be a lot of regrets and thoughts of “I should have been better”, but I also know that my children will have no doubt that I deeply love them.

If you are building your family through adoption, my advice for you is this:  You will feel judged by others. You will be asked far too many personal questions about your child and your parenting style. You will not feel capable of handling strong emotions from your child. You might question what the heck you are doing and if you are just messing your kids up. You could face lots of obstacles and deal with issues and needs that you did not face as a child. Yet, despite all of this, if you stick to resilience and stand firm in the belief that YOU are exactly the parent that your child was meant to have and needs (however messy it is), then you will be okay.

Let your heart speak.

Of all the regrets we may have as parents, this is not one of them.

Six Things I’d Like You to Know About Adoption {adoption is not perfect}

November is National Adoption Awareness Month in the US.  It is a month when we celebrate and advocate for adoption.  Being an adoptive parent myself, I fully understand the highs and lows of it.  If you are considering building your family through adoption (especially after years of infertility), here are a few things I’d like for you to know.

  1. Even with the joys of adoption, there is sorrow.  You will find that you love your child or children so much that you grieve for their life stories.  You know that they have come to you after a tremendous amount of hardship and despair of their birth parent(s).  With adoption, comes loss.  Helping your children understand and grieve this is part of your responsibility as a parent.
  2. You won’t and can’t have all of the right words at the right time.  People may say things to you that just throw you off.  You usually find the right response hours later and after the moment is gone.  There are also questions and statements that your children will state at the most random of times.  Just be prepared to not be prepared times like this, because they will happen.
  3. Adoption doesn’t stop at the declaration of the Judge.  I’ve said it before, but in many ways, adoption is an evolutionary process.  As your children grow up, they will yearn for answers from you, and they will want to know more about their histories and birth families.  This is natural and should not be taken as a negative.  Your children love you.  They just want to know more.
  4. You will have moments when infertility still sneaks up on you.  Let me give you an example.  Recently, I spoke at an infertility conference hosted by a local church.  I had prepared what I was going to say and tried to stay on target.  About mid-way through, I found myself struggling to hold back tears.  I said, “I would not trade my kids for anyone else’s.  I just wish I would have carried them in my body.”   This statement was not planned.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  These feelings and waves of emotions will stick with you long after adoption.
  5. You have to be flexible and adaptive in your approach to parenting.  As much as family members adore and deeply loves my children, I still catch them saying things like, “You never acted like that as a child.”  Typically, the way we parent is either very similar to our parents or it can be the exact opposite (if raised in an abusive, neglectful or troubled home).  I recall being a sensitive child and just the thought of making my mother cry was enough for me to stop whatever I was doing.  I’d like to be able to parent the same way or have the same expectations of my children, but I’ve learned that I cannot and must not do this.  I’ve had to adapt and be flexible about my expectations and approach to parenting.  What works for my friends’ kids or worked for me as a child, won’t work for mine, and that’s okay.
  6. Adoption is so amazing.  There is a deep joy that dwells within you when you look at the children whom God picked for you.  It is hard to describe and a bit ironic in how you just know that your kids were meant to be yours.  Is it perfect?  No.  Does it always go smoothly?  Absolutely not.  However, it is hard to deny that adoption is an amazing and incredible experience.

In celebration of National Adoption Awareness Month, we should focus not only on children and older youth in need of adoption and adoptive families but also on the authentic and honest sharing of experiences and lessons gained through adoption.

Adoption is not perfect, but my friends, neither are we.

Adoption is Not for the Faint of Heart {let’s get real}

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November is National Adoption Month and I LOVE it. Do you want to know why? Because it dedicates a lot of attention to the need for adoption and the diverse stories of adoption that are out there in the world.

What we usually see during this month are wonderful images of adoptive families smiling for the camera. What we don’t see are the tears, hardships, and struggles of adoptive families. I think it is only fair that if we set aside a month of celebrating adoption, we should also include conversations about all that encompasses it; not just the smiley, cute, feel-good moments.

Here is the truth: As an adoptive family (and I don’t mind that label), we are very normal in our basic rigmarole of the day. However, our days probably look a little different from other families. There are moments when we don’t have the right words, we recognize that genetics is a mightily powerful thing, and we wonder “will this get better?” There are times when one of our kids says, “You’re not even my real mom!”, “I bet you wish you didn’t adopt me.”, or “Why couldn’t I stay with my birth mom?” These things, my friends, are not what we often see or hear about during National Adoption Month.

So, let’s get real. Adoption absolutely changed all our lives. It made me a mother. It made my husband a father. It gave our kids permanency and the opportunity to grow up without the threat of abuse and neglect. However, adoption is certainly not for the faint of heart.

It hurts when your child tells you or asks you the things mentioned above. It is heartbreaking when you don’t know or have answers to questions that doctors are asking. It is alarming when you think about whether your kids will have anger about being adopted as they grow up. It takes a whole lot of energy and patience to handle the issues that come up during the day. It stings when you are rejected or verbally abused or disregarded by the very child that you would give your life for. Like I said, adoption is not for the faint of heart.

Before you go and wonder about the state of parenthood for me, let me explain that I fully believe in the blessing of my kiddos. I adore them. I cherish them. I love them to the moon and back and know that God fully weaved our family together, but I also strive to be authentic about our journey. If I were to tell you that everything is peachy all the time and we are all so in love with each other all the time, I would be a liar.

If you are considering adoption, I want you to know that it is truly a miracle in life. You will recognize a humbling love that is freely given. I also want you to know that there will be moments and days that it doesn’t feel good. You will shed plenty of tears in the corner of your room.

You will pretend that you are having the best of days while knowing the distress that occurred just moments before. You will discover some truths about yourself, and you may not like them. You will feel the vulnerability of others and it will hurt.

Let’s get real.  Adoption is not for the faint of heart, and therefore I know it is an absolute blessing to be a mother through adoption.

 

 

 

 

 

to love what family is {this is what matters}

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Here is a pic of my two cutie-patootie boys.  Oh my, how the time goes by.  Our ten-year-old is insanely protective and in love with his little brother.  In turn, our four-year-old just adores his big Bubby.  This right here is what adoption is all about.

They both came to us with similar characteristics in their stories, but completely different set of circumstances.  Both have those chocolate eyes that melt your heart, a strong will, a little disenchantment (at times) regarding their sister and curiosity about the world surrounding them.

I could not imagine life without them, and I don’t think they would want to imagine life without each other.  Before we decided to take in our little guy, our children asked a ton of questions.  “Why does he need to come stay here?”  “Will he be able to stay forever?” Questions like these are super normal for children whose parents decide to bring in other children.  We answered with age-appropriate honesty, and our kids completely accepted our little guy as he was – as his situation was.  They just wanted to love on him.

These boys are six years apart in age and are not related biologically, but let me tell you, there’s a whole lot of love and life when it comes to adoption.  There are so many things that we parents can determine our success by, but my hope is that I’m measured by what our children view family and love to be.  You don’t have to look the same, share genetics, or be there from the very beginning to know what family is; to love what family is.

Friends, this is what matters.

An Open Letter to Adoptive Fathers {and my own husband}

Hey, you…a father formed through adoption,

You are a father formed through the miracle of adoption.  I’m writing this because I’m all sentimental and stuff about my own husband, and also because I want to encourage you in your walk through the terrain of adoption.

You have probably heard people say, “I just don’t think I could love a child who was not born to me as much as I could one who was.”  Yeah.  I know.  We’ve heard it, too.  You sit back, absorb their words, and think, “How could you not?”  After all, you HAVE experienced the incredible feelings of wholeheartedly loving a child who was not born from your biology.

You know all too well that this kind of love takes a tremendous amount of work but in many ways, it is effortless.  It is complex, yet simple.  It can get ugly, but oh man, it can also reveal great beauty.  It certainly requires fortitude, patience, empathy, and compassion.

You took a hard look at the situation that led you to your child, and you said, “Yes.”

Yes to the idea of adoption.

Yes to the paperwork.

Yes to the expenses and training.

Yes to the belief that adoption matters so very much.

The word “yes” is a marvel, isn’t it?  When you spoke that word, you opened an entire world to your family and your child.  You refused to be a man who turned away.  You dug in deep, disregarded all of those doubts, and you pushed forward.

Your child may not be born to you, but in so many ways, the two (or 3 or 4) of you have grown from a place that not all parents can claim; your hearts.  What was born within in you is that unending desire to help your child, to understand the way his or her world works, to provide stability and love, and to offer your child the best chance for a life of love, success with relationships, and the complete recognition that his or her life is one of great worth.

Hey, you…a father formed through adoption,

In a world of fatherless children and fathers who refuse to stand up, you took a stand and you stood tall.  I can’t think of anything more manly or wonderful than this.

Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

 

Home Is Where Your Story Begins (sort of)

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“Home is where your story begins…”

This is the sign that is hanging on a wall covered by the artwork of my children. I’ve had it since our oldest was a baby.  Today, my daughter looked at the wall, and said, “That’s not really true, you know.” I said, “What’s not true?” She said, “Home is where your story begins. That is not true. Your story begins in your birth mom’s belly.”

She moved on and went about playing around the house, but of course, I’ve thought about this conversation all day. I promise you we do not prompt discussions about adoption or biological parents. It may seem like we sit around and hash out our adoption story with the kids on a daily basis, but that is not true. Honestly, we rarely talk about it unless they mention it.

Over the course of the past few weeks, both of our older children have randomly said things about it. What this tells me as a parent is that they are both coming into recognition that adoption is a big deal, that their lives have a different component than their non-adopted friends, and that they are figuring it out as they go along and grow older.

And, you want to know what? I’m both excited, a bit relieved, and a little scared by it. I’m excited that they trust us enough to bring us their questions. I’m thrilled that they seem to understand (as much as their age allows) that they grew in a different mother’s body. I’m relieved that I can start sharing more about their stories as they grow older, and that, so far, I haven’t totally messed it up.

However, I am also a little scared – scared that they will experience a measure of heartbreak (and rightly so) for not being able to grow up in their families of origins. I’m scared that the next question will be one that I will have to answer with truth, even though, some of the truth is ugly.

This is the life of an adoptive family. We chose to tell them as young as possible (like reading stories about adoption when they were barely toddlers) that they were adopted. When they were learning to count, we would say things like, “two mommies”. When they played with baby dolls, my husband would ask, “Did you adopt that baby?” And, so on.

No regrets. Only truth.  

My daughter’s insight caught me off guard today, but it also caused me to be a bit in awe of her.

Yet again, this is another example of a life lived from barren to blessed.