Tag Archives: Adoption Lessons Learned

Thoughts on our Attachment Journey

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about attachment. I’ve read a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of experts—including adoptees, the ultimate experts. I’ve talked to our family therapist, AbsurdlyHotTherapist, and my personal therapist about attachment too.

There have been big questions and little questions. I’ve fretted about those moments when our conflict was especially hard whether I had damaged us, whether I had fractured the glue I was working so hard to make us stick together. More recently, I’ve worried about my and Hope’s attachment status and journey as she is away at school. I find myself wondering if I did the right thing by her with the school thing even though I left the decision to go away to her; every evening I come home to just Yappy, I wonder if she’s ok and if we’re ok. After 4 years together, is this distance thing ok?

I’ve felt times of distinct struggle in parenting Hope. Single parenting is hard. Single parenting a teen is hard. Single parenting a teen from a hard place is hard. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just my truth. I’ve shed a lot of tears. I’ve worried a lot about the present and the future. I’ve worked hard to be a good advocate for Hope, but I also know that I’ve worked hard to push her, and probably not always in the best or most healthy ways. Parenting in general is hard, and “knowing what you’re doing” is a myth even in the best of circumstances.

And yet, I have sat in on adoptive parenting support groups and heard my peers also shed tears for the kids they love going through far more challenging events than I have experienced with Hope. I’ve left some of those group meetings feeling like even though these people are my people and we have some shared experiences, that my experience in parenting Hope is less challenging than I may have thought. I don’t take credit for that; I think we’re lucky and Hope has a well of resilience that I still don’t quite fully appreciate the way I should.

The last few years, I’ve really tried to give Hope the quality time, love, care, and security she’s needed. She did go to band camp for a week or so for a couple of years. I saw that she loved that experience, maybe because she loves band more than anything. In pushing her to go to an academic program this summer, I wanted her to have a different kind of experience. I wanted her to have a different opportunity. I didn’t think it would turn into anything because surely, she needed to be home. We still needed to work on attachment. She still needed my security close by.

The changes we have experienced these last 5 months or so have been dramatic. I didn’t expect that we would be here, or rather that she would be there, much less that she would choose to be there. I also would not have anticipated how it affected our relationship. It has really given me a lot of peacefulness around how I think about our attachment journey.

During a recent visit home, I noticed how relaxed Hope seemed. I asked her how she was doing, she said she was good. I asked about the depression and anxiety that riddled her academic experience. Sure, she said, school was stressful, but she didn’t feel bad about it or about herself, she felt better than before. I asked her if she felt like she made the right decision going to this school. She looked at me like I’d grown goat horns; yeah, she said yeah, shrugged, put in her headphones signaling that this was the endpoint in this discussion.

Um, ok, so, yeah.

Here’s what our relationship looks like now. We text…a lot. We send pictures, jokes. She sends me funny videos; she sends me political videos, which I especially enjoy. Sometimes we just text to say we love each other. Her goodnight texts warm my heart almost as much as when she would come into my room to say good night at home when we would invariably chat about silly things and maybe watch some silly animal videos on YouTube. When things get rough, Hope calls me—which as any parent of an adolescent kid knows is huge. Hope went through some roommate challenges recently, she texted me first and then called me. My heart both broke and soared because she was sad, and because she called me. She didn’t want me to fix anything, she just wanted mom’s comfort. She just wanted me to comfort her, that’s it. Of course, I did make some moves to lessen her pain points, but she just wanted mom’s comfort. There was a time when she would not have sought that out, much less my intervention.

I’ve learned that Hope trusts me, and that feels…amazing. I’m learning to trust Hope more on this part of our journey too.

We also delight in the time we get to spend together. The moment we see one another it’s just joy (and a huge stack of laundry). She indulges me as I take dozens of pictures of her in her ROTC uniforms and then texts them to our extended family. She can’t wait to tell me about what she’s reading or how drama club is going. We have these great conversations, and we bicker about the college applications that need to be done. Before you know it, the visits are over, and we hug it out, and she skips off back to her dorm. I don’t know what happens for her after that. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. As for me, I leave campus, pull over and cry every time. I cry because I miss her. I cry because I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together during the visit. I’m grateful that I gave her a choice on the school thing and that she seems to be doing well there. I’m grateful that we seem rock solid as a family. I’m grateful that I have a date on the calendar for the next visit.

I’ve learned that we’re ok during this chapter of our journey. I’ve learned that I’ll always wonder if we’re solid, if our attachment is strong enough or sustainable. I’ll always wonder if I’ll screw it up. I’ll always wonder about it all. But I do know that it feels like we’re ok right now. I’m holding on to that and to Hope.

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More Thoughts for Newbies

Recently I stumbled over a new show Mahogany Momology, a podcast about Black motherhood!

Awww Yeah. I’m down for that.

AND these sistas had already dedicated an episode to adoption.

Super yay! New fan for sure!

MObama

via Giphy

I settled onto my elliptical this morning and listened. The show has a cool vibe. This episode on adoption left me with a lot of feels. Like, a lot of feels about all kinds of adoption stuff.

MObama

Via Giphy

I’m totally looking forward to hearing more from the show, but I found myself thinking that maybe there’s some more I could add to my own post from May, Thoughts on Being a Newbie  based on the narrative I heard and didn’t hear on the show.  Now of course, one show can’t be everything to everyone, so I respect that the episode focused on one family’s adoption story. So…yeah.

MObama

Via Giphy

Again, I’m hardly a sage, so take all of this for what it’s worth! Here’s my latest two cents to add to your considerations on the newbie experience.

  • When choosing an agency, be sure that they engage in ethical adoption practices—this is for all kinds of adoption. Research them, feel good about how they treat you, how they view the child and how they view and treat that child’s family of origin. If this feels more transactional than family building, run, don’t walk to the next agency to check them out.

Another thing to consider is whether that agency is religiously affiliated and how that shapes they way they treat members of the adoption triad. Does the agency only work with couples? Do the couples have to be straight? Do the folks like me, single parenting by choice, also have to be straight? Is there a religious litmus test as a part of the process? How do they advocate for LGBT+ older kids who need homes who are invariably harder to place (because folks don’t want to be bothered with “other”)?

What about how much time do they give birth families to make their decisions about placement? Do they apply any pressure to birth families to decide early? How are birth families treated immediately following the birth? Is there different pricing fees for children of color? Why and how do you feel about that? How are families of color treated? How are children of color treated? Do they respect the dignity of children in need of homes?

Also, does the agency offer pre/post-adoption support? Are there opportunities for counseling referrals? Support groups? Help hotlines?

Choosing an agency is one of the most important decisions that you will make in this process. Ask lots of questions and try to get as close to right as you can.

  • Learn about interstate adoption before you get deep in the process. The rules are different state by state. The delays in placement and ability to travel with a child immediately after placement are governed by these rules, or Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). These compacts also dictate the relationships between states when you adopt from foster care. For example, my daughter’s home state reimburses our state for her Medicaid coverage. We never saw a break in coverage, and it’s a financial negotiation between the states. She could not move from her state to mine until that and other things were all ironed out. Our paperwork was submitted right before Christmas, so things were delayed a few weeks; right after the new year, our ICPC went through and we could begin to plan for her permanent transition to my home. This step is really important so take some time to learn about it before you are waiting on it to happen.
  • Think long and hard about an open versus closed adoption and put the child at the center of that decision. You and your feelings really shouldn’t be the priority. There I said it. You will have big feelings, super big feelings. HUGE feelings about this. Take some time to work through that and figure out what’s best for your child. Same advice goes for the birth family. Everyone needs to be on the same page here! Open adoption can look a million different ways, but please know that it is not simply a legal thing pertaining to original birth records, names, etc. I consider that a separate issue actually and actually mention it in my original newbies post.

The open vs. close question is about whether you are open to and willing to facilitate a relationship between your child and their biological family. There’s a lot of research on this (most of it pro-open), go Google it. Do your due diligence, not just for your comfort but for your child’s well-being.

Sure, it can be messy sometimes, negotiating boundaries, who gets called what, the various stages your child will experience as they grow in these relationships. I wrote about my own experience parenting Hope through an open adoption recently in The Gap. It has been challenging for numerous reasons, but I know having an open adoption is the right thing for us. We have access to medical history, which this year became exceptionally helpful, there has been reconnections that were important. Even in the challenging part, it has been an important way of Hope to have agency over how she wants to be in reunion.

I worry when the default decision is a closed adoption. There are numerous reasons for that choice, though, including safety and security of the child. But if you’ve chosen this path, be sure to center the decision on the child, not just what will be “easier” for you. It’s not about you.

  • Spend some time really learning about trauma and attachment. A lot of domestic infant adoptive parents don’t think this is an issue for their kiddos. It may not always be, but I listen to a LOT of adoptees who often talk about that missing piece. They know things even when we think they (infants) don’t. Learn about trauma, learn about attachment. Learn what kinds of things you should be doing to facilitate attachment, learn that it might not look like what you think it ought to. There are lots of great resources out there on these topics. Check out The Primal Wound and Kathryn Purvis’ work on attachment and connected parentin Don’t assume that because your baby was placed with you a few days after birth that their mother’s essence isn’t imprinted in their senses. Come one, we learn about imprinting in nature in grade school; this shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Learn about this stuff and marinate on it. You may find down the road that it explains a lot that you just couldn’t figure out.

Hope wants me to add that that the wound can heal or at least find some resolution. It doesn’t have to remain painful and that every case is unique. She also notes that if you’re honest every step of the way with your kids that it makes it easier for everyone. #sheswise #thatsmykiddo

  • Think about how you will talk about adoption (and foster care) with your child. I’ve made it a point to have an open policy on all topics in our home (which has led to some stunningly embarrassing moments, but seriously impactful moments). I want Hope to feel comfortable talking about her parents, her life experience before me, her feelings about her current relationship with her biological family, everything. If she had been an infant, I hope that I would have wanted to talk about her origin story, that adoption wouldn’t be a secret, that we would still have the open policy. I struggle when I hear about parents whose kids are beyond infant age, and they haven’t told them they were adopted. Um, what are you waiting for? #tryingnottojudge #effit #imjudging #sorrynotsorry Think about how you will share your child’s story with them and when (as early as possible).

So, I enjoyed the new podcast and I’m looking forward to checking out the previous episodes while Hope and I are on vacation this week! In the meantime, what other kinds of things do *you* think newbies should consider, know, learn? Share below and keep the discussion going!


Thoughts on Being a Newbie

In the last several months, I’ve had numerous hopeful and new adoptive parents reach out to me directly or through referral for some advice, guidance or new parenting wisdom.

Let me say this: I. Am. Not. A. Sage.

I am making this ish up as I go along.I also routinely reflect on my parenting and have resorted to a pass/fail grading system because too many choices always results in me self-grading at a C or below.

As I was reading something in my Twitter DMs recently, I thought, maybe I should write about this. So, here goes. It’s just a list, a random list of things–in no particular order–I did, wish I did or whatever. Keep in mind that these are all through the lens of older child adoption and may not be as applicable to other forms of adoption–though I imagine there may be numerous parallels in international situations.

  • Breathe. No seriously, thinking back to those first few weeks post placement, I swear I would find myself holding my breath sometimes. Your body needs oxygen, breathe, even if you have to do it intentionally because you aren’t naturally just breathing!
  • Make sure you have your favorite foods available to you. Yeah, yeah, for the emotional and physical health nuts who are like “don’t eat your feelings.” Eff, that; resolve to eat your feelings for a few weeks. I made a homemade cake with buttercream frosting every week for a while just so I could go to my happy place. Of course over time I packed on a good 40lbs, but I don’t regret the soothing process of cake baking and consumption.
  • Before the kid arrives, find a therapist and consider antidepressants, and for Holy Homeboy’s sake get a script for Ativan or some other situational anti-anxiety medication. There was a period where I was popping those things like Tic-Tacs. You think you won’t need a shrink; you maybe never have gone to a shrink; you may think shrinks are hokey. Whatever, get your fanny a shrink, and a good one who understands adoption and go, regularly. If for no other reason than to have a safe, private place to let all your emotions hang out because this journey will pull you, push you and make you reconsider/reframe everything you thought you knew about life. Get a shrink and possibly some drugs.
  • Learn about post-adoption depression before it happens to you. It’s a thing. It’s real. It’s hard.
  • Learn about secondary trauma. This is also a thing and it plays hella nasty with post-adoption depression. Take these last three bullets, do them, rinse and repeat.
  • Order a lock box for meds, valuables, important papers, anything you think is critical.
  • Keep an emergency bottle of wine or alcoholic beverage of your choice in said lockbox–I prefer a red that doesn’t need to be chilled and can be opened and consumed immediately. I like screw-tops because they are easy, but single-serve cans are next level too and constantly improving in quality. Wine—drink it.
  • Say no to welcoming social events–trust me you and your kiddo cannot, will not, be able to handle things for a while. They seem like a good idea and folks are eager to see your new “baby” but these events create expectations that likely are impossible for your kid to meet. You’ll go, the kid will have a meltdown; people won’t understand, graciousness will be in short supply, kid and you will be judged either in the moment or for days, weeks, months after. Protect you and your kid and just say no, not right now, maybe later.
  • Prep your family on what adoption is and what it isn’t. Try to educate them that while it might be a joyous occasion for welcoming a new family member, adopting an older child means that they’ve lost so much to be in a position to get to this place where adoption is even a necessity. It may not be a joyous occasion for your kid and folks need to respect that.
  • If you are friends or family of a newbie or hopeful adoptive parent of an older child–throw them a shower. Do it dammit. Newbies and HAPs ask for one. Don’t act like these parents and families of older child adoptees don’t need this kind of acknowledgment or prep for their “new arrival.” Do it before placement. Register. Do the stupid paper plate games. Party like you’re having or adopting a chronological baby since apparently everyone gets all excited about that life marker. You need that love and support too, even if you have to go MIA for a while after because the needs of your child/family are different than those with a newborn (see next bullet). I can’t say how many families I know of older child adoptees totally get shafted on this–it ain’t right. I’m super grateful to my childhood friends N & J for throwing me a shower. I created an Amazon wishlist, and family and friends gave us movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, spa gift cards (hello respite!) and more. This helped a lot with allowing me to provide Hope with some additional things she needed and take her on fun outings as we got to know each other better. I can never repay their kindness and support, but I have tried to pay it forward to families I’ve met online who did not get this kind of celebration before placement.
  • Prep your family and friends for the child’s arrival and that you might be MIA for months. This will likely be counter to everything they expect since they will be an older child. They will have expectations and misunderstandings that are just too high and flat out wrong. They may even guilt you for forgoing that arrival shindig. Disabuse them of these notions so that you can woo them into being the support system you need, not the one that they think you need or want.
  • After you’ve managed their expectations, be sure to have zero expectations of your own. None, or at least put them at floor level so you can claim achievement by opening your eyes every morning. That and actually getting up should count as a legit win in the beginning when the honeymoon is over.
  • Buy lots of Frebreeze or a knock-off; I’ve found that I and others with older kids experience funk at levels that rival what you might’ve imagined Vincent Price spoke of in Thriller (the funk of 40,000 years). It’s almost like the body emits noxious fumes in an effort to provide an added level of protection for the kiddo…keeping you away from them and from bonding. Add that many of our kids also have other challenges with maintaining hygiene and the funk gets beyond real. Spray some odor neutralizers, slather a little Vicks under your nose if necessary and get in there and SIT WITH THAT KID. They need to know the funk won’t keep you away. #realtalk
  • Get closed trash cans for bedrooms and bathrooms. No one, especially you, wants/needs to see that mess every day. And there will be mess. #blessit
  • Get a food delivery system. Yeah, kinda pricey, but one less thing do you have to do and older kids can follow the directions and help with dinner. Cooking=bonding.
  • Housekeeper as often as you can afford. One less thing for you to worry about, so you can focus on maintenance. It took a long time for Hope to do chores; she still struggles with them.
  • Breathe through the notion of putting Pandora back in the box. Hope had to learn how to be a kid again, which was hard for her, but necessary. It also meant that I had to have quite a few restrictions on what she watched and did. It was rough at first, but worth it in the long run.
  • Have planned respite. After the initial rough transition, I had someone come twice a week in the evening for months to just give me 2-3 hours to myself away. I wish I had done it sooner. By the time I did it, I was really lonely since most of my friends had kind of “moved” on since I wasn’t confident that Hope and I could be meltdown free during outings. I usually got take out and went to the park or sometimes even sat in my car, cried and napped. It was rough. If you’re in the DC area, I have used ASAP Sitters for years, and we’ve had several regular “minders” (<–phrasing from my very British educated ex) over the years who have made our world better. (Waves happily and most gratefully at P!)
  • Order a copy of your kids’ original birth certificate before the adoption is final. For so many states, getting the OBC is nearly impossible post-adoption. Ask the social worker to help you get it before finalization! Make it easier for your kid later, get it, put it in that lockbox and give it to them.
  • Any other legal docs pertaining to your kid–order them. I’ve ordered death certificates, military records, social security records and more for Hope. They have come in handy as she puts together the pieces of her life and constructs her own narrative. Knowing that I supported her having these documents and getting them for her have helped our trust bond.
  • Know that it’s ok to take moments to sit in your shower or on your toilet in your bathroom, fully clothed to cry, whisper a vent session to a listening ear, drink wine or whatever. I swear I spent a quite a bit of time hiding in my bathroom the first few weeks. I ate cake in my bathtub with no water on more than one occasion.
  • Figure out how you’re going to answer curious, yet overly intrusive questions about your child’s background. Folks you barely know and folks you grew up with, alike, will ask you *all* about your child’s business and their family’s business and truly think they are entitled to know this information. They aren’t, and it ain’t your business to share. Be careful about oversharing online and in person without your kid’s permission. I try to write from my lens and when folks ask questions of us, I follow Hope’s lead on what she chooses to share. This has been a progression in our relationship since when she was younger I fielded those questions more often alone. Sometimes I get my framing right; other times I realize maybe I should have framed things differently to protect my daughter’s privacy. I’m a work in progress.
  • Work on developing compassion for birth families. It’s very likely the child does NOT hate their first families; in fact, they likely love their parents immensely and even as older kids long to be with them. Whether that makes sense to you is inconsequential. It’s easy to have righteous indignation about their decisions, the effect of those decisions and choices on the kids. It takes a lot more personal work and stretching to understand sickness, addiction, how consuming poverty can be, and other surrounding sets of systemic circumstances that may have led to this child needing a home other than the one of their birth. Sure there are just a-holes who were a-holes to their kids, but for most families, I’ve learned to just embrace the “there but for God’s grace go I” belief. We are all really only one or two shitty decisions from a life collapse. Let the judgment and whatever possible sense of entitlement or deservedness you think you might have over their birth parents go–it ain’t healthy for you or your kid. Practice empathy and compassion for your child’s benefit; your relationships will be stronger because of it and you’ll model that for your kid.
  • Know that older pets may have a rough adjustment to newcomers. The Furry One experienced quite a bit of stress in his final year when Hope joined us. He was going on 15, deaf with eyesight failing. He was in the home stretch of life anyway, but the disruption was really hard for him and for Hope–he routinely chose her room to soil, when he had not previously had an issue with random incontinence. I wouldn’t have changed things; couldn’t have, but just know that it the humans in your home may not be the only ones struggling with change.
  • If you’re doing the transracial parenting thing–specifically white parents with kids of color; leave that colorblind parenting BS alone. It is a punt, a cop out and not even a good one. The goal should be to raise a healthy, well-adjusted kid who knows who they are, sees folks like them on the regular, has the vocabulary to talk about race and ethnicity personally and societally and to be raised in an anti-racist environment supported by behaviors that are anti-racist. Being colorblind is not a thing when raising kids of color. It’s not. Get your mind right about this. It’s not enough to be “not racist.” Your goal needs to be creating a loving environment that is “anti-racist” where your kids–kids of all colors–can talk about race, racism, how it shapes their life outside of the safeness of your home. Talking about race and racism is not racist behavior. The pretending that race isn’t a thing and that you are blind to skin color is inherently racist: full stop. It shuts down all conversation about the literal shell the kid walks around in day in and day out. It is oppressive: full stop. If you are doing the colorblind parenting thing, your home is not a safe place to have conversations about that experience. And in a world that is highly racialized, trust, it’s a thing. If your home isn’t safe to talk about skin color and how life is impacted by that color, then what else isn’t it safe to discuss in your home? I’m going to stop there, because like that pastor at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, I need to wrap this up. #abouttoreallygoin #separatepostoneofthesedays

These are just some of my reflections on being a new adoptive parent. Feel free to share other life lessons you’ve picked up along the way. Thanks to all my readers and followers for being with me and Hope on this journey. We still have miles and miles to go and we are learning more every day.


Thoughts on our Evolution

I’m presently relaxing after a long day of touring around Southern Greece reflecting on my travels with Hope of the last year. This trip has been our most ambitious trip yet. I have taken her on trips to multiple states and we also spent a spring break in Montreal, but this trip has changed the game.

I have wanted to travel to Greece my whole life, no really, I can’t remember a time that Greece wasn’t a dream trip for me. I’ve loved Greek and Roman mythology since I was able to barely read. The idea that things from millennia ago still stand blows my mind.

I’ve been putting it off and putting it off, almost like, I didn’t deserve to go or worried that maybe I couldn’t afford the kind of experience I wanted to have and create.

Then one day last fall, I reasoned that the way politics were going with Twitter wars between unstable world “leaders,” a roll back on the US commitment to address climate change and a steady stream of just US constructed crazy, I figured we were all going to die anyway, climate change was going to ruin the ruins and that maybe I could afford to have the kind of trip that would just bring me joy. So I started looking for tickets and an Airbnb, and I just made it happen.

I worried and fretted during the last couple of months wondering if Hope would handle the trip well. She loves history, and I know that she especially loves opportunities to experience history. I prayed that she would enjoy this trip as much as I anticipated it. And if she didn’t, I was fully prepared to drug her and beg the Heavenly Homeboy for his grace and mercy in making sure she didn’t ruin this trip for me. #Greeceismyhappyplace #behappy #dontruinit

After climbing the steps into the Acropolis a few days ago, I sobbed when the Parthenon came into view; a high bucket list item was checked off. Hope is used to me being emotional. My tears didn’t phase her. What made me struggle to hold back tears later? Hearing Hope talking almost to herself that being here, in Athens is hard to believe, that she’s standing on and next to stuff so old and historically important, stuff she read about but never even thought about visiting because…well, why would she? Throughout this trip she has commented that being here is like a dream. Just thinking about it brings a tear to my eye.

It’s been a dream for me too—for me as an individual and distinctly, as a mom.

Hope and I have changed so much over the last four years. I could not have dreamed of taking this trip with her then. I have more patience now. But I am also ok making the decision to pharmaceutically deal with anxiety freak outs (like recent bug phobia related meltdowns) and limiting choices. I try to teach Hope that freedom is about having choices, but too many choices for her can also be overwhelming—so sometimes I have to just shrink them down to 2 choices in order to make things go smoothly. I’m also ok just saying no. I’m parenting way more confidently than I used to. I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I know my kid and I get what makes her tick–that’s more than half the battle.

I’ve learned to meet my own needs. I made sure that our rental had individual rooms for everyone—I knew I would need alone time and space to just regroup. I bought myself nice things and splurged on things I wanted while shopping in the markets. I gave Hope her own money so I didn’t have to decide if what she wanted to buy was silly or not—it’s hers and she needed to learn how to treat herself as well. It she bought silly stuff, it’s not my concern; if she focused on easily consumed things rather than things like mementos, well that would just be the choice she made. It wasn’t my choice, since I got my mementos. I got up most mornings to just enjoy the quiet. #selfcare Last night, Hope even begged off dinner allowing my friend and I to go have a drink and a light dinner and have grown folk talk.

Four years ago I know I couldn’t have taken this trip with Hope and enjoyed it the way I have. I desperately wish it was longer since I’ve got so much stuff going on at work that I didn’t fully unwind, but I’m better than I was. I also have concluded that I need to get back to traveling and going ahead and just bringing Hope along. School is very stressful for her and as much as the structured days might be good for her, school life, for us, is just misery inducing. Travel might be the thing to help us soothe our souls. I might as well pull her out of school and just go.

Aside from being reminded to follow my passions, this trip has taught me how much Hope and I have evolved during our time together. There’s more growth to come, for sure, we aren’t where I’d love us to be, but gosh, it’s remarkable how much we’ve grown. I’m also so warmed by seeing how much my daughter has healed. The things she wrestles with are still there, but they haven’t dominated her this week. I think she’s really going to be ok; that means we’re going to be ok.

We head back to the states tomorrow with one of my biggest bucket list trips done. This is just the first trip; I need to return, there’s so much to see and so much to be completely overwhelmed by. It’s been an amazing experience with lots of happy tears and quality time with Hope.

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Changes, My Guest Post

I recently had the joy of having a piece published on Michelle Madrid-Branch’s website. In the article called, Changes, I took some time to think about how I have changed and what I’ve learned on my journey as an adoptive parent. You can find a link to the article below!

While you’re there, be sure to check out other posts and links on her pages! She’s pretty awesome! 😊

Changes by AdoptiveBlackMom

Seriously


Sport Parenting

As a parent, I’ve learned a lot, but one of the many things with which I still struggle is the parent vs. parent struggle.

It’s the comparison game.

It’s funny because I thought I had a hard time responding to stuff like, “How’s your daughter doing in school?  “Joe” was honor roll last quarter!”

I did, I mean, I do still have a hard time responding to this kind of inquiry.

But that’s not it. I feel like what I’m struggling with is at the other end of the continuum.

I feel like I’m competing against other parents who are parenting children who have experienced trauma.

The good news is that I’m losing, or winning, depending on how you measure things.

I checked in with a number of adoptive parent friends recently and other parents online who are parenting children like Hope.

They’re struggles seem so much worse than mine.

Hope doesn’t have the same kind of tantrums.

She doesn’t really rage.

She doesn’t really lie much.

She doesn’t sneak out.

She doesn’t act out physically.

She’s got emotional issues, but they don’t trigger some of the dramatic behaviors I’ve heard about.

Comparatively speaking, I come away from some of these interactions thinking, what exactly is it that’s hard about raising Hope? I mean, why do I get upset? Hope is not doing any of those things.

Maybe I’m making mountains out of molehills.

I find myself minimizing the things Hope and I do struggle with.

So many kids have ADHD!

All teenagers pushback and go through phases where they don’t do what they are told.

Some kids are just so immature for their ages.

I began to think that in the game of therapeutic parenting I’m totally disqualified because we haven’t got the same problems as other parents. How dare I think our problems are comparable to other parents who are struggling to parent kids with profound grief and trauma!

Gosh this is silly, right?

Of course, sometimes I torture myself by thinking I’m lucky that Hope doesn’t act out the way other kids do. How great is it that we haven’t had to go through some of that stuff! Then I feel guilty because it minimizes what I know goes on in Hope’s head and heart, and how that affects us each and every day of our lives together.

In sport parenting, I don’t win or lose, and frankly, I’m not sure which one is which. The other things I often find myself wondering is: Why the devil am I trying to compare our experiences to that of other families anyway?

We’ve all got our own drama, and we all tend to have a lot of it.  Why would it all look the same?

And apparently, how I feel about what Hope and I endure seems to be similar to that of other parents…people tell me so. There’s an emotional similarity there. Even if the drama appears different the emotional upheaval is the same.

So, why do I still pull out a yard stick to assess how we’re doing compared to other families? Is this even natural behavior? Is sport parenting really a thing?

Are we always assessing how we measure up in our own parenting fantasy?

I don’t know.

I do know that I’m going to try to quit sport parenting in 2017.


Caught Up

During a recent session with AbsurdlyHotTherapist, I got incredibly frustrated. All Hope wanted to discuss was band and her crush. For 18 minutes I sat there stewing in my increasing frustration.

Really? Is this what we’re doing today?

We aren’t going to talk about the fact that there were bugs in your room?

We aren’t going to talk about no chores?

I’m paying a co-pay for this ish?

AHT eventually got Hope to mention several things that were bothering her since school started.

I shot him some side eyes as I clearly didn’t think *those* things were nearly as important as the fact that she had a room that lured bugs to it.

Oh, I was righteous in my frustrated indignation.

AHT eventually asked Hope to give us some time to talk without her.

He asked me what I heard, had I listened? He told me what he heard. I acknowledged those things, but still wanted my drama to be acknowledged too.

I grabbed a tissue as I dropped a few tears.

He smiled and said, but you didn’t really hear her.  She is having a very hard time in school already, and she needs your help with that stuff more than you need her to tidy up.

Wait, what?

But what about *me?* #mynarcissismwasreal

Then he told me the good news. Hope is behaving like a ‘normal’ teenager. Her ability to communicate even about challenges is light years better than what it was months ago. She doesn’t practice avoidance and her confidence is up in spite of her lingering and new challenges. She can see a successful future even if she isn’t sure how to get there.

And oh yeah, she still wants to make me proud.

Well damn.

He’s right. Hope has grown emotionally so much this summer.

And I seemingly have regressed a bit.

How did I miss when she evolved into a kid who largely behaved like other kids her age? She hasn’t caught up on everything, but wow she has caught up a lot, given that she was emotionally about 5 when she was placed with me.

And me? I missed that what she really needed was for me to be responsive to her, to help her with her new problems, to just shut up and listen.

She spends so much time talking about band (and we know that I hate that) and what she’s fretting about ish that might happen a year from now. And she goes ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round, for hours.

It has been easy for me to zone out after 20 minutes and take to my couch.

Instead this weekend, I stopped her and listened for that 20 minutes, and instead of zoning out and I asked her questions. I worked on redirecting her; I focused on solutions to current problems rather than imagined problems of 2017.

And I stopped the babbling and got some responsiveness.

She’s got some new limitations right now that we need to work through, and I’m going to have to chill. I’ve got to focus on being a cheerleader rather than a disciplinarian.

I’ve got to do the laundry. I need to meal plan so that I know she’s eating healthier, and I need to be sure she’s in bed at a decent hour whether homework is done or not.

I have a meeting with the counselor this week about additional support needs for Hope.

She’s finally catching up in some key areas, so it’s time for me to change strategy and catch up too.

This parenting is a constantly evolving game of come from behind and sprinting ahead.


Curious about Her

Earlier this year, Hope asked me how I would feel about her trying to find her birth mother. I immediately replied that I would help her any way I could and that if a healthy relationship was possible I would help facilitate it.

Then she never brought it up again.

I know it’s still in there somewhere. Hope has strong feelings about her mother; I’ll say they are complicated and leave it at that.

Having been found by her paternal extended family just after finalizing our adoption was emotionally challenging for both of us. It brought up a lot of resentment, a lot of grief, but also a lot of love and connectivity. Frankly, it remains a challenging relationship with our extended family, but families are complicated, right?

Right.

So Hope’s mom…I’ve always been curious. Not much is known about her. I know certain things about her and I know what Hope thinks she remembers, but was more likely told about her mother since they were separated at such a very young age. No one has pictures of her; I asked.

A few times I broached the subject with Hope about wanting to just know where she was, and Hope said no. She seemed intent on closing this door.

Given all that I’ve learned over the last few years, listening to adoptees, I figured it would come back around, probably more than a couple of times.  So, when she asked me about how I would feel about finding her; I wasn’t surprised by the inquiry. Actually I felt prepared for it.

Now that I look back on it and our growth through these last few months, I suspect that she was might have been curious  about*my* feelings on finding her mother than on her desire to actually find her mother.

But, even the most remote interest gave me permission to pull out my keyboard and start searching.

I had her mother’s name and not much else.

About two months ago, I thought I found her on Facebook. Some of the sketchy details matched up; not everything, but really close. I could not stop looking at her picture. I searched it for Hope’s features, her skin tone. I wondered what my daughter looked like as a newborn; did she look like this woman?

I was consumed by this profile for a good week or so, and then one day I convinced myself that this was not Hope’s mother.

I was disappointed.

I wondered why was I looking, would it be better if I waited for Hope to be ready? Clearly, this was more about my curiosity at this point than hers. What would I do if I actually found her? I wondered if she even wanted to be found. Most of all, having realized that I didn’t find her, I felt a little twinge of pain in thinking she was lost to me, to us, to Hope. I wondered what that twinge of discomfort felt and how exponentially magnified it must feel for my daughter…to be lost again.

I walked away from the search that day.

A few weeks later, one Sunday morning, while sipping coffee in my PJs and watching Law and Order, I found myself searching again.

I can only explain it as a deep, bottomless curiosity about my daughter’s background. I wanted to know her full story; I love her and want to know everything about her. I want to know or at least see the person who birthed her. I didn’t know what I would do if and when I found her, but I just wanted this information so badly. I’d like to say I wanted to have it for when Hope was ready and I could just give it to her, the truth would be that I desperately wanted to know for myself.  Who is Hope’s birth mother? What does that biological link look like?

I don’t know if it’s my own infertility grief or that I’m nosey, or if knowing would somehow bring me even closer to Hope. I still had no plan for what I would do with the information after finding it. Who would I tell? What would I tell Hope? Who would support me in this crazy wild goose chase?

I never doubted that searching was the right decision; I just couldn’t comprehend what I would do with information about Hope’s mother when I found it.

Well, thanks to the power of the internet, a big hint on a search string and $35 I found her in short order from the comfort of my couch that Sunday morning. It took me longer to get out my credit card and decide whether making the information purchase was the right thing to do than the actual search for the info.

Before I knew it, I had her address, her phone number, and a background check. Two minutes later I was looking at her face on Facebook.

When I saw this woman, I knew right away, this was Hope’s birth mother. I saw that as much as my daughter looked like her paternal family, she bears a striking resemblance to her birth mother: the shape of her face, her eyes, her hair, her long limbs. It was meaningful to see the woman who gave her life because so many people comment that Hope looks like me and I think that it’s just not true. Putting me side by side her birth mother and the blood relationship is apparent.

I read the report over and over, committing some of it to memory. I saved it to the external hard drive. I printed out a copy and put it in my file box.

And then I went back to Facebook stalking her. There wasn’t much to see, with us not being friends. I saw a few pictures, a few pictures of friends and relatives.  I would check ever so often in hopes that she was one of those folks who changed their profile picture frequently. She’s not.

I began talking myself into reaching out to her, but what on earth would I say? Was that the right thing? Who was I reaching for—me and my own curiosity? Or Hope? Was this contact in our immediate best interest? What if the contact was completely rejected? What if the contact prompted a lot of expectations?

The what ifs are endless.

I eventually discussed it with my therapist. She asked a lot of questions, a lot, over a couple of sessions. She convinced me to put the brakes on things. She also asked me to broach the subject with Hope and AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

I sat with it for a couple of weeks, worried about Hope’s reaction.

During a game of 20 questions I asked Hope how she would feel if I found her birth mother. She grimaced, and said very little. I let it go for a couple of weeks. I circled back around and reminded her of our conversations about finding her and how she reacted to the possibility of finding her. I told her I had found her, that I knew where she was and knew how to contact her. Hope thought quietly and said, “That’s ok, I don’t want to.”

And so, I dropped it. The file is away on the hard drive and the papers are in the box. I sense that we’ll revisit it when she’s ready. I’ll be with her every step of the way.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I thought of her birth mother often. I still have all of these questions. I still want to know if there are baby pictures, what Hope was like as an infant. I have a deep desire for answers about our daughter’s life. And I want to know about this woman who gave Hope life. I just want to know more about her, since she’s just such a mystery to me and to Hope.

But that’s all for another day. I may find out, I may never know. I’m not even sure I’m happy I found her since it feels like she’s kind of off limits. She’s like money burning a hole in my pocket, I want to spend by asking a million questions. But it really…all this curiosity is for another day.

I know that, for now, the status quo is what Hope needs to feel safe and secure. I don’t know what is behind her birth mother’s door, and I have to trust that Hope’s memories and stories are what they are. More than anything I want to support my daughter and her continued healing and development, and right now, it seems that she wants me and just me.

So, curiosity won’t be killing me this time.


On the Humble

Sometimes, it hurts to think about how my learning curve impacted Hope.  I mean, I think we’re doing great now that I finally got a clue and because I’m constantly working to learn how to parent her and meet her needs. I’m proud of my growth, but yeah, I get sad and a wee bit embarrassed to admit what a bit of a parenting shrew I was in the early days.

I also recognize that I may be hard on myself, and I have had folks tell me to go easy on myself. I guess because I know that a lot of people were hard on Hope and didn’t go easy on her that I won’t allow myself that grace in her name.

In either case, that learning curve remains steep.

We are sliding into our match anniversary soon; three years ago, some crazy professional people thought I would be a good match for Hope. Their decision changed our lives.  I remember so many people asking me if I was ready to parent a tween who had been in foster care for years.

Um, nope, but hey, I’m going to do it. We’ll get through it.

And we have, but not without so many struggles.

The transition was a dramatic struggle. At one point I thought that this would never work; she was having such a hard time.

Convincing her to buy into my idea of family life after having been in foster care was a struggle.

Food choices were a struggle.

School is a struggle.

Social interactions, yep, you guessed it, a struggle.

Therapies, medical care, medication compliance, all a struggle.

Understanding the full grasp of diagnoses and whether the labels help or hurt have been a struggle.

It hard. It’s all hard. And me and Hope, despite our narrative and this blog, we aren’t special. We’re just everyday folks trying to live from one moment to the next. I reject all the halos and angel wings folks try to foist on me; we’re just a family trying to make it.

One late night recently, I was catching up on reading some posts in an adoption support group. I was reading about a struggle a new parent was experiencing that Hope had endured and that, frankly we still kick around a bit: chores.

I reflected a lot as I was trying to type out my answer on my phone.

My biggest struggle in being Hope’s adoptive mom is checking my entire ego at the door. Admittedly I have a huge personality, I give off big energy, I like having a big voice and probably at some point in my life even demonstrated a few bully tendencies. Setting down my ego and keeping it in check is one of my life struggles as a mom.

Chores are a big flash point in my need to ego check.  Like many foster kids, Hope moved from place to place in trash bags. Valuing and caring for material things was a rare practice because things routinely disappear, are lost, stolen or otherwise just or go missing . The chaos in her room tends to reflect her emotional state. She loathes doing chores (who am I kidding, so do I). She wants to earn money, but she is so used to not having things over her short lifetime that she isn’t strongly motivated to do chores for money. Her ADHD typically means that unless the task is directly related to something she wants to do, is time bound, and personally beneficial, it really doesn’t ring her motivation bell.

It took me a year to realize that me telling Hope to clean her room actually jived with her desire to have a clean room but operationally she would try to clean every drawer, refold all the clothes and dig under the bed and the cleaning exercise would turn into a 10 hour, yell, cry-laden experience that made us both miserable. When my light bulb went on, I realized that I would have to be responsible for deep cleans and that Hope needed a short list that represented a tidy room daily.

My point really is that everything I thought I would do parenting Hope was, frankly, off course. My therapist sat me down one day and said:

“Do you want to be right? Do you want to give an ish about what other people thought about me and my parenting? Or do I want Hope to thrive? If it’s the last option, you’re going to have to put that ego of yours and those preconceived notions of yours in a box and put them on an emotional shelf in the back of the closet because they have no place here.”

Well, damn.

Part of checking my ego is about redefining success. I’m forced to constantly adjust myself and family assessment. I was away for nearly a week for work recently. What did success look like when I arrived home:

  • Hope took her meds every day.
  • Yappy didn’t poop in the house due to anxiety.
  • Some of the healthy food I left behind was consumed.
  • Chores while I’m gone? What are those?
  • Yappy got a bath while I was gone, not because I told Hope to bathe him but because she said he needed one (10 extra points for Hope).
  • I know that she bought school clothes that met my criteria for just one step outside of her jeans and tee comfort zone (30 extra points for Hope).
  • Her room was nearly spotless when I got home from my trip.

I treated her like she won the super bowl for Casa d’ABM because she showed initiative AND followed directions remotely.

The rest of the house was a mess. There were dishes in the sink that might have been there long enough to wave at me.

I made a short list of things for her to do the following day that began to get us re-regulated.

I used to be furious to have to do that. I used to get mad at the nanny for not taking care of more stuff around here. But then I realized that my absence was stressful; that the nanny’s job was to keep Hope and Yappy alive and entertained and that my job was to play my position—to love the kiddos, not judge them as they survived the stress of my absence and to get us back on our regulated journey.

The irony is that in fact, it was all about me. They missed me, and I missed them (note Yappy gets all zonky too, so yeah, it’s them). But my job is to help alleviate the stress and fear that I’m not coming back; in those moments, it’s not about me at all. It’s all about them.

Parenting is humbling, it really is. The decisions are tough, the expenses are crazy, the scheduling is consuming. It really is like just thinking of yourself as a cup and pouring it all out for the benefit of your kid. It is pretty selfless and pretty exhausting.

But ahhh, those moments when Hope tells me some parent-approved version of her secrets, smiles when we are in the kitchen together or just texts me that she loves me, those moments are everything. They are the greatest reward for learning to practice humility.

 


We are Enough

You are Enough

Parenting a child with trauma is exhausting, and often doesn’t feel as rewarding as we know it is. The return on our love and attention investments is a long-term proposition. And it isn’t about just us and our evolution in parenting, and it isn’t about finding all of the new folks that this quote suggests. It is about helping our children find themselves, their true selves. Our job is to help them realize who they are and who they can become in spite of all they’ve been through, all they’ve endured and all they survived.

And despite having so many unmet needs, as human beings and as parents, our job is to  show empathy and to help our children find themselves and their work. It really isn’t about us. That’s hard, and sometimes it’s very painful.

I hope one day I will look at my daughter and see the return on my investments. Parenting her is the greatest challenge of my life, and I learn about myself through her every day.
Some of what I learn I’m not proud of, and some of what I learn surprises me. I never would have thought I was this strong; I never would have thought I was this courageous; I never would have thought I could work this hard. I also never realized I was this weak; I was this sensitive, or that I was so easily hurt.

This journey changes you.

I hope it changes Hope too.

In the meantime, we are enough as we are.


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