Tag Archives: african american adoptive parenting

Four Years a Family

Hope and I marked our fourth year as a “legal” family this week.

We didn’t do much. I took her to school, which is a rarity these days. I did her hair for her. We shared a hug and said that we were happy to be a family.

That’s it. No big todoo.

We’ve come a long way since that date four years ago when we both peered into the screen of my iPad looking at the judge and social worker 3,000 miles away. My daughter has the permanence that she desperately needed. I could say that adoption plays a huge role in our life, but really, it’s all the stuff that led to the adoption that shapes and contours our life.

Hope was 12 when we met and when we finalized. She’d lived 12 years. She had 12 years of life experiences. Those experiences taught her a lot.

She learned a lot about love and family. She learned a lot about hurt and pain. She learned a lot about trust and how not to have it. She learned to be scared. She learned to also be a fierce advocate for herself. She learned how to survive some of the things that she experienced. She learned to survive the foster care system. She learned that bad things happen to good people.

She learned countless other things too.

Some of those lessons were hard for me to wrestle with in thinking about how to create a family with Hope. Hope also had to learn that some of what she experienced in her short life didn’t have to be her whole life. I had to learn patience (something I still am working on) and deeper levels of compassion and empathy than I ever knew.

We both had to change quite a bit to make this work, and we did. We’ve evolved a lot in a relatively short period of time.

As a parent, I often feel like I could always be doing so much more. The metrics along the way can be really challenging and I like metrics—but they aren’t easy in day to day parenting. On the one hand, I have managed to keep her alive, clothed, fed and a few extras–#winning. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to measure my parenting performance when it comes to some of the landmines that we’ve endured during these years: am I doing the right thing for her with school? Could I do more in helping her navigate her extended birth family relationship? What about her social interactions? Am I supporting her enough there?

Who knows.

What I do know is I’m committed to doing my best for Hope. I’m gaga for her. I look at her sometimes, like recently at the boarding school interview, and I’m like, damn, this kid is really going to be ok. I’m honored to be a part of that.

I don’t know what future observations of our finalization anniversary will bring. This was low key. I’ll never forget the day; I just know that I won’t. It’s significant for me. I probably won’t bring it up again for Hope though, even though she seems to enjoy the acknowledgement. Who knows.

I’m just grateful for the opportunity to parent her and to reflect on our journey.

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Doing Right by Hope

I listen to a podcast called, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. A recent episode explored the feelings of a father and daughter who lost their wife and mother to cancer when the daughter was just a toddler. The father remarried and never really discussed his late wife, so his daughter was never sure whether it was ok to talk about her.

As I was listening to the show, I started wondering am I doing enough to make Hope feel comfortable talking about her birth family. We have a relationship with a portion of her birth family, and that has been a little hit or miss just based on Hope’s desire. I made sure that I got numerous pictures of one of her parents and they are hung prominently in our home. I have made it clear that whenever she is ready to visit her family, I’m down to make it happen. She expressed an interest in her birth mother, I looked for her and found her. When she said she was satisfied just knowing where she was but didn’t want contact, I put the info away and told her she can have it whenever she wants.

I’ve told her numerous times that if she wants to talk, I’m here. Anytime, anywhere.

And yet, I do wonder if I’ve created the right environment for Hope to feel like she can tell me what she needs around accessing her birth family.

I have learned that my daughter’s feelings about her family are complicated. There is a lot of loss, feelings of rejection, anger, but also love and affection. I know that my daughter can sign a birthday card and say that she hopes to see them soon, but when I ask to schedule a visit she says no, what she wrote was really just a pleasantry.

Early on, I fretted that her birth family would be upset that I was keeping her away from them. We are a four hours’ drive away but are connected by phone, email and social media. We’ve visited several times; of course, they would like us to visit more often. I don’t want to put up roadblocks to reunion if that’s what everyone wants. The reality is that my daughter’s idea of reunion and theirs don’t jive at this point. I’ve learned to be really honest with them about what she’s going through and how much contact she wants. Those are hard conversations to have with a family that also feels like Hope is the prodigal kid, who was lost and now found. I try to make sure that cards get sent, pictures and band concert programs are mailed so that they can see she’s doing well, but truth be told, there’s not much contact between Hope and her family.

On the daily, we don’t talk about her family of origin much either. Occasionally something will remind her of an episode from before my time and she’ll share it with me, usually something funny, sometimes something dark. The dark stuff is always very sad, and honestly, those are the stories that more often get repeated…verbatim. Therapy has helped her write some new scripts, but old habits and trauma die hard. Occasionally, I’ll ask about a parent and she’ll share a little story or shut down the conversation, depending on her mood. This is how we roll; I don’t have much to compare it to, so I guess this is normal. I listen to adult adoptees and know that it can be super complicated. I know that Hope will come into her own and decide if, how and when she wants more of a connection to her birth family. I just don’t ever want her to feel like she doesn’t have my support or that she can’t bring it up in our home. I try to follow her lead on creating and sustaining chosen connections.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve tried to create a space that supports her, values her family yet consistently prioritizes her emotional needs. It’s hard though; it’s complicated. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much sometimes. Hope is getting older; emotionally she’s still pretty young despite her gains over the last few years. I see her turning into a young adult; I see her questioning a lot of things about the world and about herself and about her personal history as she lived it and interprets it. I know in the coming years I’ll be transitioning from active parenting to a parent-guide of sorts as she comes into herself and launches into the world. I have no idea whether what I’m doing on the birth family stuff will bear fruit—or even what that means, honestly. I just know I want her to be happy and healthy, and I want her to know I’ll always ride hard for her.

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.


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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Rested & Ready

Normally, on MLK weekend I plan some edutainment activities, but I was just struggling with my emotional responses to my daughter so much recently that I couldn’t get it together enough to plan anything. So, on the one hand I feel like I failed in my aspirational goal of being a social justice mom, but really, I got something else right this weekend.

I took care of me.

After raging like a hurricane, and giving off caustic energy for several days, I was exhausted. So, I rested. I did my workouts, planned my meals and crawled into my bed with a good book, my heated blanket and Yappy. I just tuned everything out (including Hope, other than making sure she was alive and fed) and relaxed.

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I aspire to Yappy’s self-care commitment.

I breathed.

I made tea. I online shopped and ordered myself an obscene number of new spring dresses.

I luxuriated in solitude and exhaled.

And then I was able to think about how to get us back on track. Hope is an amazing kid, and amazing kids do dumb stuff sometimes, it’s just what they do. Heck, I did it too back in the day. Of course some of Hope’s dumb stuff is informed by a history of messy stuff.

I decided I would speak my peace to Hope and put this episode behind us, though she still has some consequence time to pull during the next week.

In speaking to Hope I had to remind both of us that anger is usually informed by hurt, deep hurt. It’s easier to be pissed than it is to be sad. I was sad that she broke the rules. I was sad that she violated my trust. I was sad that she self-sabotaged. I was sad that she seemed unable to take responsibility for her behaviors. I was sad and that made me mad.

And then I hugged her and reminded her that I loved her and that I have feelings that I struggle with too. And we turned the corner emotionally, ventured out to a new international store (I bought all kinds of goodies!), went shopping, and worked out.

I’m rounding out the holiday weekend by dying my hair—a new midlife crisis habit I’m enjoying. My hair is more gray than black now and about 4 months ago, I got it in my brain that after 10 years of avoiding dye like the plague, I would dye my hair fantastically bright colors. Because my gray is resistant to color and I choose semi-permanent color, I could enjoy temporary bursts of color without long term commitment. #perfect I started with a soft pink in October and followed with a bright purple. Tonight, I dyed it teal. It will have faded some by the time my annual conference rolls around in 5 weeks, but it will still be blue and the non-conformist in me is delighted about that. #notoconformity #mylifemytermsmyhair

I hated how I felt emotionally last week…really hated it. I’m proof that when you can choose to change your mood. It’s normal for all of that emotion to build up. Therapeutic parenting is….draining. I love my daughter, and I personally don’t have any other style of parenting to compare it too other than observation of others parenting, but I gotta say, I don’t enjoy therapeutic parenting much. #realtalk #truth

It’s essential for us and especially so for my Hope, who needs more connection and more safety than your average kid. And well, there’s hardly anything I won’t do for her; I’m committed to therapeutic parenting.

I’m ready to face another week and so is Hope. Tomorrow we will work out in the evening and chatter about our day, all while hoping that the anticipated snow misses us so we can keep the regulated good times rolling.

I am rested and ready. I’m thinking that is good enough on the edutainment front for this holiday.


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