Adoption

Adoption: Love is Not All You Need

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This month is forever etched in my heart. It’s the month we are intentional about giving thanks. It’s the month we celebrate adoption awareness month across the nation but above all it’s the month I became a mom.

I wasn’t supposed to be a mom. At least not the traditional way.  Yet God blessed me with a wonderful opportunity to see our son be born 13 years ago this month. In my post, Adoption: A Glimpse Into the Day My Son was Born, I share my step by step recollection of his birth. It changed me forever.

I can’t even believe that 13 years have passed since the day I saw him catch his first breath. As he has grown older his understanding of adoption has grown as well.

Recently, I asked him a series questions about his adoption experience. *He said it was ok to share some of his feelings with all of you. Some of his many thoughts we kept private.We shared the ones he felt would help other families. *

Conversations About Adoption With My Teen

How do you feel when you think about adoption?

“Adoption makes me both happy and sad. I love my life with you and daddy and at the same time I miss them (his first family).”
This is what I call double dipped feelings. Double dipped is when an experience gives you happy and sad feelings at the same time. That’s really how adoption feels for many adopted youth.

As adoptive parents we have an opportunity here to have honest dialogue with our children about the complexities that come with adoption and that it’s ok to have both sets of feelings. It natural to feel this way. We should never take offense to it or expect them to be thankful for being adopted.

I wonder if love is enough when you are adopted?

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“Love is enough because without you and daddy loving me (even when a mess up) my life would be a sad place. It’s enough because you guys do so much for me. You buy me stuff (he’s rotten and it’s all my fault), you teach me to be kind and we talk about adoption whenever I want to.”

I’d like to focus on his last point. We encourage him talk about adoption whenever he wants. As an adoptive parent and professional I believe Love can be enough when followed by action. In my interview on the Multiracial Family Man Podcast, with Alex Barnett, I shared my thoughts on what love needs to look like for an adopted child. In that intereview, I said “Love must be followed with action.” However, action requires honesty, commitment, flexibility and places our son at the center not me. Love brought us to him and action in love keeps us growing together. This means that fostering a relationship with his first family is our obligation as his parents. We don’t wait for him to bring up his birth mom. We do. we make it a safe space to talk about his real feelings.

Should all kids know they are adopted?

Wait some kids don’t know they are adopted!!? Why not?  Yes they should know!!! It’s their story and their right to know. Right mom? I’m so glad I know even when it makes me sad sometimes.”

Some adopted families are  unique in that we are the keepers of our child’s story. We dictate when and how we share it.  It requires having difficult conversations when you least expect it like the time he was a ring bearer at my sisters wedding and right after he exited the sanctuary and we were ready to take photos he tugged my dress and asked “Mommy were my real parents married?” Or the time we had the sex talk but couldn’t do that without him asking questions about when Mrs. L was pregnant with him. As adoptive parents, we never know what moment will prompt a conversation about adoption. What I do know is that just like when he asked the question at my sister’s wedding I dropped everything took him to the side and answered his question. We have to make time for the tough conversations.

Now that you are 13, what would you like your family to know about your adoption?

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“I have a big family from Ms. L ( first family) to yours and daddy’s family. I think of myself as the cornerstone. I connect all of you.”

This kid is wise beyond his years or maybe his life story makes him this way. He was born knowing what it means to have loss and love. I always tell him how happy we are that he was adopted and at the same time we understand that those feelings of joy are tied to loss for him.

One thing I can say about my kiddo is that he loves hard and well. He adores his grandparents and misses his cousins when they are gone. His uncle Alex is the coolest guy he knows and he knows his aunties even his Titi Yvette will buy him whatever he wants.

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A great example of this is our recent family (indoor) skydiving trip. He wanted everyone one there ( cousin’s, tit,etc). Our love of him is mutual so that meant that althogh we were freaking out we would all be there. You see, even though we were all terrified and he was straight up fearless he taught us a valuable lesson. Often times adoption may feel like free falling. No real clear direction. In the end with the right support, love and commitment you can soar high!

Everyday this man child teaches us what it means to be an amazing human being, to love well and be exactly who God created us to be. That is how adoption has changed my life forever. It continues to teach me that love may not be enough but it is an amazing place to start.

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Adoption: The Classroom, Educators, and Adoption

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Every year he has gone to the same school with the same kids in the same community. Until now he has been educated in a community that knew he was adopted. My striding brought him here. That’s why when relocating the mister and I did lots of research and chose the school before selecting our new home. We knew a good school was the key to his success.

Yesterday we visited that new school and we let him set the pace and take the lead. He shook hands, introduced himself, and let people know what he needed. When it was all said and done he said, “This new school is awesome!” For any parent that relocates with school-aged children, you know it was a great relief to us to hear him say that.

One thing we didn’t do was discuss the fact that he’s adopted with his new school administrators. Why would we need to share that at all? Being an adoptive family adds an additional lens to every aspect of our life especially as it relates to school. I think we didn’t touch on adoption yesterday because as he grows we are encouraging him to set the pace on what part of his narrative he shares with the world. It’s important that he knows he’s adopted but even more important that he decides who gets to know his story. Many adoptive parents don’t always understand that our children have the right to say who gets to know their story and who doesn’t.

The adoption process itself is in part to blame. When you are adopting, a big part of that journey is making it public. For those who require monetary support, sharing your story is a major part of that journey. A former adoption co-worker shared a story of meeting a dear friend’s new adopted daughter. After saying how cute the baby was she bravely asked: “So what’s her story?” What the adoptive mother said next, changed our adoption journey forever. She kindly responded with ”We are not comfortable with sharing her story with everyone when she doesn’t even know it. We’d prefer to keep it private for now.” I thought their stance was impressive. From that moment on, both the Mr. and I agreed that we needed to set firm boundaries on how we shared his narrative.

When he was younger, hubby and I navigated his story. Living in a small rural community at the time, it was important for us to set firm boundaries with who knew the details of his story and who didn’t. Now that he’s older and understands the concept of adoption he gets to determine who knows and who doesn’t. Even in sharing this part of our journey I needed to get his permission to post it.

Educators & Adoption

With that said, I do believe that it is important if not critical that teachers know if they have an adopted child in their classroom. In my professional and personal experience, some adoptive parents don’t always get why sharing that information is important. For our family, sharing that our child is adopted is very different than sharing his adoption story. Providing educators with information about our child’s specific needs help our son continue to learn and embrace his story. We believe our adoption story can be private but it should never be a secret.

I have found that in today’s modern adoption world there are many tools for parents and teachers to use that help with engaging in an honest conversation about adoption. My good friends at the Quality Improvement Center for Adoption & Guardianship Support and Preservation developed the easy to read handout entitled “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” As with any tool take from it what applies to your family and chuck the rest. Another tool that has been invaluable for our family is the WISEUP workbook by CASE. This tool helps adopted youth and their parents role-play how they would respond to tough questions about their adoption with peers. 

Last night, I was discussing with our little man how he felt about his sharing his adoption story at school. What he shared was pretty mature if you ask me. He said, “I think teachers should always know I was adopted and I will let the kids know once I can trust them.” Here are three reasons we share that our son is adopted with his teachers:

1.     Adoption Sensitive Classrooms - We want teachers to create adoption sensitive classrooms. It’s crucial that teachers know that some adopted kids are “grappling with issues related to identity, belonging, or attachment; managing complex and/or non-traditional relationships and roles with their birth family; experiencing loss and grief; and figuring out how to be in a family of a different culture or ethnic group.”

2.     Assignments Matter - We desire a classroom that considers adopted children when selecting assignments, and celebrating holidays. Often, family tree assignments are difficult for kids who have been adopted. I do believe that assignments like these can help foster an intentional conversation with your child about adoption, however, it must be one that parents are aware of in advance. In addition, teachers may be open to modifying their teaching plans to be adoption informed.
 

3.     Adoption Status - We want to encourage teachers to recognize that children might be sensitive about their adoption status. It will help teachers be aware of conversations that may come up in the classroom. For some children, difficult anniversaries impact their ability to learn. Teachers who are aware of this can be a help to their adopted student rather than a hindrance. 

According to the Institute for Family Studies “Adoptive parents reported that an 83% majority of their children enjoyed going to school and nearly half - 49% - were doing ‘excellent’ or ‘above average’ school work.” With the right support and information educators can help their adoptive students thrive.

 

 

 

Striding: Moving Into Our Purpose

Spring of 2017

Spring of 2017

We made a bold decision this month. A decision for our family. An important one for our son. A huge career shift for me. We are moving. It’s not been an easy one to make but definitely the right one. Striding lead us here. Striding means to walk with long decisive steps into a specified direction. That pretty much sums up our life over the last several years.

Over the last 15 years our NC life has been filled with love and laughter. We have built lasting friendships with great friends that have become family. Our son has bonded with other adopted children and through my work has met adult adoptee’s like Rhonda Roorda who have inspired him to share his own adoption story. We found a church that helped our son grow his faith. We have spent many years here with our family sharing traditions and raising our children together. We have built a life here and its been good.

Our sweet home for the last 14 years. 

Our sweet home for the last 14 years. 

Striding for Our Son: Being multiracial in our area can be hard. As our son has grown older, we are finding that living in an area that is demographically lacking in diversity is not the best for him. When you have a family that looks the same you don’t have to constantly justify that you are a family. In my post “The New South” I talk a great deal about some of the tough moments we have experienced as a family here in North Carolina. Moments like my husband being confused as our son’s case worker rather than his daddy. Or times when my husband and I have had to navigate tough conversations with our son about being called the N-Word, police brutality, and why people stare at us. Over the last 2 years hubby and I have engaged in deep conversations about our desire for him to experience many different people from all around the world. That is why we have traveled to many countries with our little guy. We wanted him to know the world is big and full of different kinds of people. What we realized is that we want him to have the rich diversity we had growing up. For us to give him that meant we needed to relocate.

Getting updated immunization for his new school in FL. 

Getting updated immunization for his new school in FL. 

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Striding for Our Marriage: I’d like to think that anyone who spends time with us knows that we love each other deeply. It’s hard when some in your community don’t embrace that. We knew when we got married we would face adversity. I would argue the many multiracial relationships do. Being a multiracial couple has its challenges. The part of the country you live in can influence that greatly. Many have made assumptions that we weren’t together. We are typically offered separate checks at dinner and struggle with the million stares we get when we are out around town. I’m not saying the relocation will fix the experiences we have had as a couple, but having less of it would be amazing. The bottom line is that we want to live in spaces that make us feel less like unicorns and more like a loving couple. We are also keenly aware that in order for the South to change, families like ours need to be visible within the community. Which is why we aren’t leaving the South.

Striding into Purpose: Since November of 2017, God has positioned very specific people to lead me in this new direction. It started with a 2-hour conversation with a mentor that lead to this site being created and has recently exploded into what I now know to be my purpose. So what is my purpose? It’s pretty simple really. My purpose is to use my experience, story, and platform to help other adoptive/ multiracial families thrive. I’m now striding in my purpose and that is why I know it is time to go. I’m just so excited that my purpose is also positioning me to move my family to an area with more diversity and opportunities. That it is taking us closer to my sister, her family, and a new church that I have admired for a while. I’m ready to lead in purpose.

My talented dear hubby has also stepped into his purpose. In the summer he will return to school to complete a degree in Environmental Science at Penn State. Relocating will give him access to opportunities to serve the community and planet. His passion in caring for the planet has influenced our son who believes daddy is a hero. His new position as a Campaign Manager has placed him in the center of a national debate on what our role should be in caring for the planet. Stay tuned and watch this guy change the world!

A Final Thought…

I have LOVED my job here in NC. Leading a great team that supports families in the post reunification and adoption realm has taught me so much about leading with grace and empowering others to lead. If I’m being honest, my purpose has always been in adoption. I was telling friends just the other day that my love for adoptive families came way before I was an adopted mom. The work came first then the baby. The exceptional training's I have received like The Adoption Competency Training and Learning to Lead have prepared me for my new role as Director of Adoption Services in Tampa Florida.  Opportunities to lead initiatives through the QIC-AG have put me in the same room with great influencers like Dr. Bruce Perry who recently interviewed with Oprah about the impact of childhood trauma on the brain. To say I have been granted amazing opportunities is not enough. What I know now is that I have been striding. Striding lead me here. God has lead me to take long decisive steps into a future that I could never have dreamt up for myself or for my family.

 

And suddenly you know...its time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings

Adoption: Why We Will Always Celebrate Our Son's Adoption Day

Words matter. I think they matter even more if you have experienced adoption. Phrases like “your real mom” or “your real child” are difficult to hear and yes-adopted families hear these often. For example, the phrase “Gotcha Day” has sparked a huge debate in the adoption community.

What is Gotcha Day?

"Gotcha Day" is a phrase that denotes the anniversary of the day on which a new member joins a family through adoption. It is sometimes also called “ Home Coming Day","Family Day", or "Adoption Day" – For many intercountry adoptive families, this day may differ from the actual adoption day. 'Gotcha Day' is often associated with annual rituals or celebrations.

Over that last few years, there has been a huge debate in the adoption community on whether we, adoptive parents, should celebrate our child’s adoption day. Karen Moline, author and the adoptive mother of a child born in Vietnam wrote “Get Rid of ‘Gotcha’” for Adoptive Families magazine in which she says: “Gotcha is my typical response when I’ve squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It’s a silly, slangy word...I find the use of ‘gotcha’ to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive.”

Our Decision

I have said it once; I'll say it again. Every adoption journey starts with a story of loss. This loss cannot be ignored or loved away.  This loss can be ambiguous for the adoptee especially if they were adopted as an infant. So here is the thing most people may miss about adoption. Adoption is not just a story of loss. It starts there but can grow and evolve into so much more. To our family adoption is both an act of love and loss.

In our home, we use “Adoption Day” as a day to honor our story. Our story is hard, full of loss and surprisingly beautiful.  However, many believe that no matter what name you use, Gotcha Day, Adoption Day, or Family Day it is a disingenuous day created by adoptive parents to celebrate their happiness while also possibly recognizing their child’s loss.  Some have even said that gotcha day is a narcissistic response to adoption by the adoptive parent.

3.2.2018 Celebrating our Adoption Day with cousins and granparents

3.2.2018 Celebrating our Adoption Day with cousins and granparents

Last night, in our family, we celebrated the twelth-year anniversary of the day my son’s adoption was finalized. As usual, it was low-key, quiet, and a generally private affair. As he has gotten older, he decides how he wants to spend this day and he always chooses to spend it with his family.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the child I prayed for and eventually adopted would think that my honoring his joining of our family, all be it an unnatural process, would be a way for me to boast about his loss. Those who know our story and our love for our son know we would never do anything to hurt him intentionally.

Articles like The Insensitivity of Adoption Day Celebrations by Mirah Riben,  by the Huffington Post, challenged me. I began to think are my husband and I getting this all wrong? I decided to really go to the true experts on adoption and all things gotcha day…adopted kids. I took time to interview Jaden (12) and Ella (13) about their adoption journey and how celebrating their adoption has impacted their lives.

Meet the Kids

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Ella was adopted from Guatemala as an infant. She calls her adoption day “gotcha day.”One day, when driving through a rainstorm, she asked if it rained in Guatemala and the rest is history! Ella quickly learned that there is a great need for umbrellas in Guatemala, especially during the rainy season. Ella then created her Ella’s Umbrellas initiative. Those who received umbrellas shared that during the rainy season they don't have anything to cover their children with and the umbrellas reduce their children's chances and during the dry season it keeps mom’s to protect their children from the sun. Ella has donated over 750 umbrellas so far and hopes to send over 1,000 by the end of 2018.

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Jaden was adopted domestically from NC. Jaden calls his day “Adoption Day.” Many of you have read about our mini superhero on my blog. He has been featured in posts like “Adoption: A glimpse into the day our son was born” and “Where did you get that baby?” which paint a picture of some of the beautifully complex moments adoption has thrown at us.  His heart for people is evident in the way he loves his family. His insight on his own adoption experience is what has led me to share our story.  Jaden will be the first to tell you that when it comes to his adoption he has double-dipped feelings about it and that is totally ok. I took some time to ask Ella and Jaden the following questions.


Why do you like to celebrate your Gotcha Day / Adoption Day?

E: “ Because we celebrate that me, my mom, and dad all became a family.”

J: “ We celebrate it because it reminds us that our story is special.”

How is this day different from your birthday?

E: “Umm on my birthday we celebrate the day I was born, but on my Gotcha day we celebrate the day we became a family.”

J: “My birthday is cool because it's about celebrating my life. You know, the day I was born. Celebrating my adoption day celebrates my family. Its how we came to be.”

Why is it important that your adoption day is celebrated each year?

E: “It’s very important to me because we get to celebrate as a whole family and every year we make it a special time.“

J: “It reminds me that even though I sometimes get sad about my adoption it can also remind me that it’s a good thing too. I also like that on my adoption day my family takes the time to tell me my story.”


Adoption does start with loss but it doesn’t have to end there.  Over time it can become many layers to a complex journey. It's important that we as adoptive parents not only celebrate our child's journey into our family but also that we honor their story. No matter what word you choose to celebrate your child’s day, the important thing is to celebrate your child.

 

 

Adoption: Where Did You Get that Baby?

I will never forget the day we brought our son home from the hospital. He was small, pink, and perfect.  We were scared to death and overjoyed all at the same time. I remember the first time I felt like we finally hit a routine.  As many of you know, bringing an infant home from the hospital is no small task. I remember thinking “Why did I move away from home again? Away from all my family and away from all the help in the world.” After weeks of no sleep, and showers only when my husband got home from work, I finally felt like we had a routine. What our routine didn’t include was a whole lot of outside time!

-Our first family photo 2005-

-Our first family photo 2005-

This particular afternoon with stroller in hand we braved the cold in the small town we lived in. We took a small tour of our local neighborhood and at the end when we had nearly reached our driveway saw our elderly neighbor from across the street come outside. She was saying something which I didn’t quite make out. I asked her to say it again as I hadn’t heard her the first time. “Where did you get that baby?” she repeated, this time a bit louder so I could understand.

Where did you get that baby?

I could understand why she was curious. Having not been pregnant or discussed our adoption with anyone but close family and friends, and seeing me here and now with this little baby was a shock. As our conversation continued, I quickly realized she wasn’t curious but rather concerned. I graciously explained that we were in the process of adopting our handsome son, but her expression let me know she wasn’t comfortable with the situation at all. What happened next still gives me chills. As I walked down the road, she called her nephew, a police officer, to come and figure out where I “got” our baby.

Think about that for a minute. How did I feel when he approached me?  How could I feel? Humiliated. Here I was, a government employee having to explain to another government employee who my son was and a brief story of his adoption. Humiliating for both he and I. I wasn’t ready for that encounter or many others we have experienced over the last 12 years.  I share most of these stories and what I have learned from them during my speaking engagements because I think it’s necessary for other adoptive parents to hear that they’re not alone and that they can thrive. The first lesson I immediately learned after this event was this neighborhood would never fully embrace our family. That year we sold the house and moved to a great neighborhood with very accepting neighbors.

I was ill prepared to address the interactions that were surely to come.

This encounter taught me that I was ill prepared to address the interactions that were surely to come. Over the years I have learned valuable lessons about how to parent in a way that embraces and educates our community regarding our multiracial family and our adoption journey.  This is why I believe that parents that have adopted interracially need to understand that parenting your (adopted) child will require additional skills that you may not currently possess but that you can learn.