Why I want my son to know his birth family

When I started writing this blog, I committed to not writing about anyone else’s story or experience with adoption but mine. I’ve never mentioned personal details about Miles’ birth family and don’t plan on it. But, now that Miles is two and a half and is becoming more aware of what family means, they’ve been on my mind a lot. I’m still not going to name names or show photos without their permission, but I think it’s okay to write in more general terms.

I’m fortunate to have stayed in contact with Miles’ birthmother since he was born. She’s a wonderful, strong woman who loves him so much. He’s on her mind all of the time, and I’ve cared about her immensely ever since I met her on the day he was born. She’s doing really well these days and I love getting updates from her and keeping her informed on what Miles is doing, what he likes, what his favorite things are, etc. Miles has a full sibling, an older brother, and it’s very important to me that I give him every opportunity to nurture that connection. His brother, who is three years older than him, asks about him often. I share photos of him with Miles and he and I talk about both of them frequently. I think he’s starting to understand in a limited way at this point. He said “brother” the other day when I showed him a photograph.

We haven’t visited yet (they live pretty far away) but I plan on making the trip sometime soon. I’m looking forward to the day when we get to meet his entire extended birth family. On Miles’ birthday last year, they threw a party for him at their local park. We didn’t know about it so we weren’t there, but they had a cake with his name on it and they released balloons for him. Later that day, his birthmother sent me a video of them singing Happy Birthday to him and I couldn’t stop crying. What an incredibly sweet thing to do. We’ve watched that video hundreds of times, and I know he will treasure it forever.

People often ask how I can feel secure in doing that or if I worry that he will want to go live with them one day. The truth is that I just want to do what is best for him and I truly believe that giving him the chance to know his birth family, and especially his biological mother and brother, will be one of the greatest things I could ever do for him. I cannot control what the future will bring. All I can control is my best effort at keeping that door open for him, wherever it shall lead.

Is it always going to be easy? Probably not. Will he say something heartbreaking to me one day about wanting to live with his “real” family? Maybe. But what I’ve come to learn on this journey is that there is no such thing as too much love for a child or too many people caring about a child, and that there is no such thing as possession of a child. He is not “mine,” nor does he “belong” to anyone else. I am simply blessed to have him in my life and to have been given the great honor and responsibility of being his mother. I may not be his only mother, but I am his only mommy and that’s enough for me.

It’s more than enough; it’s everything.

 

 

 

 

Tantrum time! On discipline and setting boundaries

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Yes, our family came together differently than most others. And yes, issues surrounding my son’s adoption are pretty much on my mind 24/7. But sometimes I forget that I’m just like any other parent out there and that my toddler is just like any other toddler out there–throwing the tantrum to end all tantrums from time to time.

“No, that’s mine,” were the first three words he ever strung together. It was so cute and endearing that I had to laugh. In fact, most of the naughty things that he does are so cute that I have to laugh. Sometimes I don’t know how I will ever be able to discipline this kid because he is just so darn adorable. I mean, look at him. He has me wrapped around his finger and he knows it. I’ve got to be careful, though, because that cute little sentence was followed closely by a colossal kicking & screaming fit when I took away the Sharpie he was holding on to for dear life.

He’s almost two now and testing the waters constantly. He loves to make me laugh, but I need to be careful what I laugh at. He thinks he can get away with pretty much everything because I’m just so in love with him. He’s right about how much I love him, but it’s time for me to start laying down the law a little bit.

“You don’t want to raise a brat,” I remember my grandma saying to me once. “If you never tell them no, that’s what will happen.” (This coming from the woman who would never dream of telling me no, but I was her grandchild so I guess she thought that was different.)

I’ve spent so much time researching and reading about issues that will come up because of adoption that I haven’t spent much time thinking about discipline or the actual chaos that is toddlerhood. I think it’s time for me to bookmark the adoption articles for awhile and start focusing a little bit more on tactics to deal with the terrible two’s (which I don’t actually think are all that terrible… yet).

Mainly, I’d just like him to listen to me, refrain from throwing his entire dinner on the floor because he doesn’t want to eat his peas, and stop acting like the world is about to end because I won’t let him poke his eye out with a pair of scissors or pull the dog’s tail off.

Any advice would be appreciated on discipline methods, etc. Anyone read Love & Logic or have any other recommendations?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch this: A Conversation About Growing Up Black

A Conversation About Growing Up Black is part of a NY Times series of interviews on race. It’s a short (5-minute) “Op-Doc” in which Black males talk about the challenges they face growing up as kids of color. It’s one thing to read about racism, but quite another to hear about it from children who actually experience it.

My heart breaks when 10-year-old Maddox says, “I want people to know that I’m perfectly fine and that I’m not going to hurt anybody or do anything bad.”

I know that at many points in his life, Miles will deal with these same challenges. I hope that my husband and I can do as good of a job preparing him as the parents of these kids have done. Watching things like this confirms just how important frank-talk with him about race and the unfair realities of the world will be from an early age.

Thank you to the NY Times for this interview and series. 

 

 

But, is it diverse enough?

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I have always loved to travel, and to live in new places. I’ve called seven different cities and countless more rental houses home in the past 20 years. Each time I’ve moved, there were numerous decisions to be made: where to live, where to work, where to play being among them. In the past, I was always free to pick and choose the best neighborhood I could afford, closest to the biggest park, and the amenities that were important to me at the time.

Not once–not one time–did I have to rule out a city, town, or neighborhood I desired based on the color of my skin. While I have always enjoyed diversity, whether or not a place is diverse enough has never been a make-it-or-break-it question on my list. I never saw this as white privilege, but it’s exactly what it is.

With the adoption of my African-American son, that has all changed. If we ever decide to move, we can no longer live just anywhere. We can’t just simply choose the “best” neighborhood with the “best” schools. I have a Black son, and I don’t want his face in the mirror to be the only other Black one he sees. I don’t want to worry about him getting arrested (or worse) simply for walking home or to the park. I want him to go to a good school, but I also know that dealing with racism and othering at the best school would be far worse for him than a mediocre education at a diverse school.

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I read this article, Where Should My Black Son Go to School? the other day written by a Black mother who was trying to figure out where to live in Los Angeles. She chronicles her struggle to find a good neighborhood, with good schools, AND a healthy black population. Here’s an excerpt:

“Looking for a place with good schools, a healthy environment, and diversity has taken over your life. You can’t help but mention it in conversation at your son’s preschool. A White mom says she has never thought of diversity as being important when choosing her daughter’s school. She says it doesn’t matter. You know she is only saying this because it has never been her experience to be at risk of harm because of her race. You wonder how fast it would take her to react if no one in her child’s classroom looked like her child—if her child came home crying from being teased and insulted by teachers and peers alike from being the only one.

You realize that White moms of White children are lucky. This is the essence of White privilege. They can live anywhere and be safe. They never have to think about how these decisions will shape their sons’ educational future. And sometimes, quite literally, also his life and death.”

Before having a Black son, I didn’t quite realize the extent to which race affects every decision a Black family makes. Among many other things, I can no longer  (nor do I want to) freely pick just anywhere to live. “But, is it diverse enough?” will be the question at the heart of every major decision we make as a family.

 

 

 

 

More Children’s Books We’re Reading with Black Characters

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I discovered a few new books with Black characters this week and wanted to share for those of you looking to expand your libraries. I love seeing our bookshelves increasingly lined with characters and heroes of color.

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Not Norman, This book came as a recommendation and is super cute. I’m pretty sure I have to get Miles a goldfish now, though–and I have mixed feelings about that. Growing up, I had a fish who got pregnant and had a bunch of tiny little baby fish that the bigger fish in the tank promptly ate. Eww. Still grosses me out.

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Salt in His Shoes, My husband bought this one because one of his heroes is Michael Jordan, and this is a children’s book about MJ’s story. It’s a little old for Miles right now but we’re reading it to him anyway. Inspirational, just like the great Michael Jordan himself.

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Marvelous Cornelius – I found this one at the library and am glad I checked it out. It’s the true story of a real man named Cornelius from New Orleans who brought joy and laughter to all as he worked to help clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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Squeak, Rumble, Whomp, Whomp, Whomp, A Sonic Adventure by Wynton Marsalis – I love Wynton Marsalis’ music, and Miles is really into music right now, so I was excited to see this at the library. A story about the music in our everyday lives, it’s a fun and cute read–especially if you get really into the sound effects.

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Marvelous Me, Inside and Out is a cute tale of learning to love yourself for who you are. I hope that Miles smiles this big every time he looks in a mirror–and that he always loves and is proud of his beautiful Blackness.

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How to Tell When It’s Time to Take a Break from that Online Adoption Group

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* Based on feedback I’ve received, I have decided to edit this post. I never meant to target any one group, nor did I intend to blame birthparents or adoptees for my need to take a break from these sometimes intense discussions. That was not my intention, but it came across that way to certain people whom I did not mean to offend. So, let me try this again.

** I have decided to close comments on this post after receiving word that members of one of these groups are “campaigning against me” to invade my online and personal space and life. These people have been saying truly hateful, derogatory, harmful, dangerous, and disrespectful things about me in this group. This kind of viciousness is toxic to everyone who encounters it and I will not give these people a platform on my blog. **

I want to begin by saying that I have learned so much from online adoption groups. I have benefitted tremendously from these groups and from hearing other people’s experiences and perspectives pertaining to issues that I’m dealing with. I’m truly grateful for all of the people who take the time to participate in these groups.

But these places are not always easy spaces to be in and I think they can sometimes do a person more harm than good. Even the most well-moderated groups can get off track because there are so many mixed emotions in adoption and these groups typically include all members of the adoption triad, (birthmothers/fathers, adoptive parents, and adoptees) all who have different backstories and opposing opinions. This is a good and necessary thing because hearing/reading other viewpoints is how we learn. Ideally, we would all listen to each other with compassion and understanding and gain insight into aspects of adoption that we hadn’t considered.

But it doesn’t always happen that way, and sometimes it can all just be a bit much. When that happens, when people are burned out or stressed out or angry, discussions tend to dissolve. In my opinion, a little time-out to gather your thoughts is the best way to get yourself ready to come back and learn with a positive attitude and your defenses down. Literally, I have been doing this ever since I was a young adult and learned how to control my anger: leave the room, count to 10, take a deep breath, return. It works, and it’s all that I’m advocating here.

Here’s how to tell if it’s time to take a little break from that online adoption support group:

  • You start feeling bad about your decision to adopt. A lot of issues come up in these groups, some of which may be hard to hear. If you’re starting to feel bad about yourself for adopting or wanting to adopt, it might be time to take a short break.
  • You forget that every adoption and the people and circumstances surrounding it are different. 
  • You’re angry, and starting to let that anger consume you. I’ve seen so much anger in these online groups and some people don’t seem to be able to let it go. If a group you’re in is upsetting you to the point that you feel this way, it’s time to take a break.
  • You’re hearing so many different voices that you have forgotten how YOU truly feel and why you wanted to adopt in the first place. The more noise surrounding you, the harder it is to hear what your heart and gut instincts are telling you. Listen to everyone but when it gets to the point that you don’t know how you feel, you need to take a break even if it’s just to think.
  • You’re spending too much time there. Are you constantly replying to comments or engaged in endless, unresolvable arguments to the detriment of the people in your life?  These groups can be totally engrossing, and I don’t think that’s healthy. Unplug, log off, put the phone away and connect with the people in your life. Meet some other adoptive families in your community; talk to adoptees and birthparents in person.

If you are nodding your head yes to any of these, maybe it’s a sign that you could use a break. Just a little hiatus. You don’t have to leave the group entirely, but maybe turn off notifications/unfollow the group for awhile and resist the urge to participate for a few days. Then, when you’ve had a chance to gather your own thoughts and emotions, you’ll have the strength/will power to have meaningful dialogue with others.

** Editing to add that if you are part of a group where you feel your personal safety or the future of your business or career could be at stake simply by speaking up or challenging majority opinion or that of the admins, it’s my personal opinion that that is not a healthy place to be. This is my first experience with cyber bullying and/or cyber harassment and, frankly, it was a little scary. I don’t need that in my life. **

This Adoptive Mother’s Secret Fear

imageAt 21 months old, Miles is still unaware that our family was brought together by adoption, or what adoption even is. I’m just ‘mommy’ and we’re pretty much always attached at the hip (my hip, because he still looooves to be carried). There is nothing in his life right now that a hug from me can’t fix. I can kiss away boo-boos and frustrations, tears and nightmares; you name it.

Right now, everything is so perfect and simple.

But I have a secret: Lately, at night, when the house is quiet and everyone is asleep, I’ve been getting a little scared. Not of the dark. But of adoption.

Not of adoption itself, but of the way Miles may feel about it when he understands what it means. All too soon, he will become aware of the one thing that I won’t be able to kiss away: the fact that he was not born to me. And I worry about how he will feel when he realizes what that means.

Like every other parent, I want to protect my child from the world. But unlike every other parent, I know that there is major heartbreak in his near future: the loss that he will experience when he becomes conscious of his first family. I have always known this was coming but it has always seemed so far off. The closer it gets, though, the more I’ve begun to think about–and secretly dread–it. The day when he understands will be here sooner than I’m ready for it to be.

Part of me is also a tiny bit scared that his feelings for me could somehow change–or become complicated, at least–when he realizes that our family was formed differently than other families and that he has another mother out there. It’s not that I’m jealous or don’t want to share him or his love. That’s not it at all. I love his birthmother. She gave me the greatest gift that anyone possibly could and she changed my life for the better forever. He is and always will be part of her and vice versa and I will always honor that and do what I can to support that relationship. I know that he will always love me. I’m his mom. I know this.

But I just don’t want the way he feels about me to change at all. Ever. I don’t want anything about our relationship to change.

Will he say mommy differently or settle less comfortably in my arms? Will he feel differently somehow about our little family? Will it be the same? Will he still run to me when he’s hurt and scared, tired or upset? Will he still light up when he sees me after I’ve been away, yelling my name and jumping into my arms? Will he feel as positive about his adoption as I do?

I know that I am being silly. I love the fact that our family was formed through adoption, and I love him more than anything in the world. I am confident in our love. Our bond is as strong as it could be. I know that we will grieve his loss together and that he will be okay because he is strong and resilient. I’m trying to prepare him by telling him his birth story and introducing the concept of adoption long before he understands. I know that I shouldn’t be scared of this.

And I’m usually not. But sometimes… every once and awhile… I am.

I’m sharing this with you because I imagine it’s pretty common for adoptive parents to feel this way. It’s a reality that our children have to deal with big, complicated emotions at a young age and that it won’t always be easy. I think the most we can do is to be strong, love them the best we can, be honest with them, and create a safe space for them to share their feelings with us.

Any other adoptive parents ever feel this way?

 

 

Books We’re Reading with Black Characters and Adoption Themes


Adoption booksWe read a lot at our house. Miles would rather read a book than do just about anything else (except play outside). We visit the library a couple of times a week to freshen our supply and are always on the lookout for books to buy.

One thing you notice as a transracial adoptive parent is that the majority of children’s books out there feature white characters. Growing up white, this was just the norm for me and I never really thought about how fortunate I was to have book characters and heroes that looked like me. When you have a child of color, you quickly realize how privileged that is and that you’re going to have to look a little harder to find books that reflect your child’s skin tone and hair texture.

Children’s Books with Black Characters

By far, Miles’ favorite book right now is Taye Diggs’ debut effort, Chocolate Me! He love, love, loves this book and asks me to read it to him several times each day. The little boy in the book looks just like him–something I think he notices now. Whenever we read this one, he imitates the little boy, holding or pointing to his face and spreading his arms wide when the little boy does. The message is empowering: chocolate skin is beautiful.

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For Christmas, my brother got Miles The Snowy Day, a classic Caldecott Medal winner by Ezra Jack Keats. Miles really likes this one, too, about a little boy who gets bundled up and enjoys a beautiful snowy day outside.

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Spike Lee and his wife Tonya Lewis Lee teamed up with Kadir Nelson to write and illustrate another of our favorite books, Please, Puppy, Please. The illustrations are awesome in this one–we love the kids and the puppy (the kitty, too).

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Books about Adoption and Family (for tots)

Now that Miles is getting a little older, I’ve started looking for books with adoption themes as well. On a recommendation, we got two books by Todd Parr, a children’s writer who tackles tough subjects in sensitive ways. The Family Book is all about the many different kinds of families. The illustrations are basic — stick figures really — but it’s colorful and Miles seems to like it.

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We Belong Together is a book about adoption and families, similar in style and looks to The Family Book but focused on adoption. I feel like these two books are age-appropriate for Miles right now (not yet two) and a good introduction to a complicated subject. He’s not ready for too many details but it’s time that we start talking about adoption and family in ways that he can understand.

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We’re discovering more all the time, so I will write regularly about what we’re reading. If you have recommendations for books about adoption or with characters of color, I’d love to hear them. There’s no such thing as too many books!

p.s. These books would be good to read to white children, too, and kids with traditional families–it would serve them well to see characters of color and diversity in families so they can learn to be empathetic adults.

 

Cutting Down a Christmas Tree and Other Stuff White People Like

Last weekend we made our annual trip to a Christmas tree farm in the country to chop down our own tree. Last year, Miles was so small and still in a baby carrier, but this year he was running around like a little monster. I know that everyone who’s ever had a kid says this, but it really is amazing how fast they grow up.

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I love this age so much. Miles is talking but you can’t always understand him and everything he says is just so freaking cute. I could watch him run around all day with those short little legs and that goofy toddler wobble. He had a lot of fun following Dad around looking for the best tree.

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When we finally found it and cut it down, he was a little confused as to why we would do such a thing. He was stoic as he pondered the meaning of it all (or maybe he just thought the stump was cool).

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However, he quickly warmed to the idea that we were taking the tree with us.

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We had a lot of fun, but I noticed that Miles was the only black person on the entire farm. I had never thought of cutting down your own Christmas tree as a “stuff white people like” thing but maybe it is? (It also may have just been the day or time that we were there; I really don’t know. Also, that website is hilarious.)

Either way, it made me a little sad to think that he might feel like the odd man out in places like this when he’s older. The staff fawned over him, made sure he got a candy cane, and everyone was extra-special nice to us. But, in addition to having a really fun time, the experience also reinforced how important it is for us to build a diverse community and regularly expose Miles to Black culture, too–because the reality is that Miles is being raised by a white family that tends to do stuff that other white people do.

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My hope is that we can strike a balance and instill confidence in him so that he will feel comfortable with people of all races and in any situation–and that he will be empowered to do whatever stuff it is that he likes, no matter the social or racial construct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Abilities Every Adoptive Parent Needs

2015-12-04 11.09.00-1First and foremost, adoptive parents are parents. We have the same challenges (please don’t take your pants off in the grocery store!) and worries (the doctor said he shouldn’t be drinking out of a bottle anymore; why won’t he use a sippy cup) as any other parent out there. But, we also have additional challenges and worries that rise above those of biological families (how do I make sure he has a strong racial identity, how will he feel on “family tree” day at school, etc).

If you’re in the process of adopting or have adopted, you are the kind of person who can handle these things because you are the kind of person who takes care of business. You’ve never met a a brick wall thick enough to stop you from finding a way through or around it. I know you–you are determined and resourceful, which is good because you need to be those things, and more.

Here are 5 (more) abilities you’ll need on your journey as an adoptive parent:

Empathy. If nothing else, you’re going to need the ability to be aware of and share the feelings of other people, especially your child and his birth family. The phrase “put yourself in her/his shoes” should be running on repeat in your head at all times. Empathy will help you treat your child’s birth family with love and respect and will help you relate to your son or daughter and share in his or her grief. It is essential to let your child know that it’s OK to feel sad and that you feel it, too. Gaining an understanding of what they are going through is crucial.

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Humility. When you adopt, everything becomes about your child. There is no room for selfishness or self-centeredness in adoption. Adoptive parents do what is best for their children and not for themselves; their feelings take a backseat.  This might not always be the most comfortable thing, but that doesn’t matter. Doing the best thing for the children–whether that be working hard to have relationships with birth families or being the minority so a child can be in the majority–is the most important thing.

Strength. As an adoptive parent, you will probably hear things from time to time that might make a weaker person feel bad. You may feel like an outsider at times, when every other family is biological or people are talking about their children looking just like them or someone says something ignorant about adoption. You may be criticized for adopting outside of your race or for adopting at all. Having a thick skin, so to speak, will keep you from getting too easily bruised. Because, really, who cares what other people think? By all means, educate people and stand up for yourself and your child when necessary, but letting negativity roll off your back gives YOU the power.

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Optimism. Life is short and full of so many good things–your adoptive family is definitely one of them. There is, however, some negativity associated with adoption in various circles. We’ve all heard the adoption horror stories and read the scary articles. We must educate ourselves about the real issues that our children will face as they grow, but remember that our children are their own people and not studies or statistics. While attitude may not really be everything, it’s definitely high on the list of what defines us. Happy people are simply people who make the choice to be happy. Optimism has many advantages, from lowering stress to helping you meet goals, achieve your dreams, live longer–and be a better parent.

A Sense of Humor. Sometimes the best thing to do is to laugh about it. Laughter is one of the most fun and effective ways to bond with your child and as a family. It’s also a great release when things get too tense or serious… or when your kid takes his pants off in the grocery store. Again.