Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Eat My Words and Help Clean a Room

Here's what you should never do: brag online about something your kids are doing well because of your amazing parenting skills, as I did when I wrote about my daughters keeping their bedrooms clean last month. Why? Because it is one of those inevitable laws of the universe that as soon as you do so things will begin to unravel. Ashley really had been doing well with her room when I wrote that post. For months, she had kept it in very good shape. Not perfect. But not bad at all for a 10-year-old.

By yesterday, however, her room had reached full-out disaster stage, as in can't-walk-from-the-door-to-the-bed-because-of-all-the-stuff disaster stage. In general, my philosophy is that my kids' rooms are their own spaces. I ask for -- and sometimes even get -- their cooperation in maintaining order in shared spaces, such as the living room, but I'm more relaxed about their bedrooms, because, well, they're their rooms.

Up to a certain point, that is. My tolerance, it seems, has a limit, and Ashley's room had reached it, becoming essentially unusable. (She actually slept on the pull-out couch in the living room on Thursday night because her room was such a mess.) Also, we needed to move the window air conditioning unit into her closet for winter storage, but the closet was full of stuff. Something had to be done.

As I wrote in that earlier ill-fated post, I normally expect my daughters to do their own room cleaning. That's the flip side of the your-rooms-are-your-own-spaces coin; I don't expect their rooms to be kept perfectly clean; I do, however, expect whatever cleaning is done to be done by them, not me. But rules are meant to be broken, and this situation clearly seemed to call for some parental guidance. I told Ashley I would help.

We spent about four hours working together in that room, and by the end of it all we had three bags of trash and five bags of old toys and clothes ready for donation, all parted with willingly. In some of her previous cleanings, various unrelated items had been shoved into bags and boxes; we sorted through all of those. Three categories: trash, give-away, keep. Summer clothes were put into the drawers under her bed and winter clothes were folded and put into her bureau. Dresses, shoes, and, of course, the air conditioner are now in her closet. Oh, and we bought a new zebra print comforter at the mall earlier in the day. The perfect (and seriously cool) final touch!

Is the room now completely neat? No. As the hours went on and she got tired, I noticed her shoving items into the cubbies of her desk with less than careful attention. Was the job fun? Uh, not exactly. In fact, at one point I got pretty cranky with her. (When I later apologized to her for my crankiness she said, "That's OK. I understand that you get that way sometimes." I love that both of my daughters seem to get that parental crankiness is not something to be taken personally. Parents are human. We get tired; we grump; and we still love our children even in those moments -- which isn't to say that I'm not working on reducing my level of crankiness.) But it was time spent together, and when we were done we both had a feeling of satisfaction. Her dad and Mackenzie were by that time watching TV in the living room downstairs, but we opted not to join them. "Don't you want to hang out in my amazingly clean room?" she asked. Why, yes, yes I do. So we ended the night on a cozy note, watching one of her favorite TV shows on a laptop as we sat on her bed under the zebra print comforter.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mommy Page Interview

Guess who's the featured blogger on Mommy Page today! That's right -- it's me. (I also stole the cookie from the cookie jar, in case you were wondering.)

I hope you'll stop by and check out my interview as well as other great content on the site.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Morning Musings

I read a bunch of adoption blogs yesterday, as I do most days, and woke up this morning with an image in my mind of a plant pulled out of the soil. I think this image captures something that I hear many adoptees trying to express online. We sometimes find ourselves in discussions in which non-adopted people are talking about the adoptive family's ability to provide sunshine and water and Miracle-Gro, and we are saying yes, that is all well and good, but what about the soil? Can't you see that we need the soil? Can't you see our bare roots hanging there? And it can feel rather surreal at times, like we are pointing out the emperor's lack of clothes but nobody can hear us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Visit Backlash, Part Two

I want to share a bit more about what happened here this weekend, because it was difficult, but it wasn't, and isn't, all bad. In fact, all in all, it was probably an important step in Ashley's development and healing.

Erica and Ashley had a visit on Saturday, and during that visit Ashley asked some difficult questions about why Ashley and her siblings had been removed from Erica and why they didn't go back. Erica answered honestly, in age appropriate language, and an important conversation about addiction and recovery ensued. Ashley was reassured that nothing that had happened was her fault. She got to hear that Erica had always wanted her but just hadn't been able to get well in time.

It was a good conversation. As Ashley's other mother, I am OK with everything that Erica shared. More than OK, in fact. These are all things that I wanted Ashley to hear from her.

But it was a lot to process. And when an adopted child is processing difficult stuff, guess who usually bears the brunt of it? You guessed it -- the adoptive mom. So Ashley pushed me away, and then she reconnected. For whatever reason, that was something that she needed to do as she walked through this.

She needed me to be her punching bag for a while, and to see that I loved her anyway. She needed to push, and see that I respected her boundaries but wasn't going to disappear. She needed to take out her emotions on someone, and I was the safest person to be the recipient.

And then, bit by bit, she made her way back to me. She sought me out and found little ways of reconnecting. We are back on track ... for now. It seems inevitable that more stuff will come up for her through the years as she makes sense of her journey through foster care to adoption. When that happens, her dad and I and Erica will all do our best to guide her through.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Visit Backlash: Not Our Best Day

In general, I tend to paint a pretty rosy picture of open adoption on this blog. That's because my experience really has been mostly positive. Adoption isn't all roses and sunshine -- it involves grieving and loss -- but the openness part, for me, has been rewarding.

So, in the spirit of honesty, I want to share that we have struggled today. Or at least, I have struggled. I've written previously about visit backlash, the period following a visit with the biological family in which the adoptive family deals with the fallout, but it's something we haven't personally experienced in a long while. Until today.

We had a visit this weekend that stirred up some things in Ashley. She's processing, and, unfortunately for me, a big part of that processing has involved distancing herself from me. Ouch.

I understand that visit backlash is part of the process. I know that it's temporary and it's something you walk through with your child. We've gotten through it before, and we will get through it this time. But that doesn't mean it's easy.

Open adoption isn't about easy. I've been lucky; as an adoptive parent I've found that it has had many benefits for me. But that isn't why I do it. I do it because it benefits my child. It may be hard to see it in this moment, but I know that it does. What's happening now isn't about me. She's making sense of things. She's finding her way. And though she may seem to be pushing me away, she actually needs me, and my commitment to this process, now more than ever.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adoption Bloggers Interview Project 2011

Adoption Bloggers Interview Project 2011
I am very excited to be participating in this year's Adoption Bloggers Interview Project, along with 119 other bloggers whose lives have been touched by adoption. The concept behind the project is simple: the participants were paired off at random and then spent some time getting to know each other's blogs before interviewing each other by email. Today is the day that we are all publishing the results, and I am honored to introduce you to Brittani of Loved_BE. Brittani is an adoptee, foster care alumna, a birth mom, a scrap booker, and much, much more. She has a beautiful son named Isaac. She also has great insights to share, and I hope you will not only enjoy getting to know her through this interview but will stop by her blog as well. And I hope you'll check out the other pairings, too. I know I can't wait to do so! Many thanks to Heather of Production, Not Reproduction for organizing all of this. And now, here is Brittani in her own words: 

1) Can you tell me a little bit about your history as an foster alumni and adoptee?

The first time that is documented of us being taken away from my mom was when I was 4. However, there were several times before that as the problems began when I was born addicted to methamphetamine. We were moved every 2 to 3 months from the time I was 4 to the day my mom signed the TPR when I was 7. I moved 16+ times in those three years. I was adopted and moved out of state shortly thereafter and I lived with them for three years. My amom was diagnosed with lupus and the circumstances led to me being placed back into foster care when I was 10. Between the ages of 10 and 18 I moved another 7 times before finally aging out of care. I lived with Bruce and Karman for my junior and senior year of high school and I consider them to be my "forever family". I continue to have a relationship with them and go "home" for holidays and family gatherings.

2) Did you later reunite with your birth family or part of it?

I found my birthmom when I was 12 but I did not have a relationship with her until I was 15. When I reconnected with her the second time, I also found my older brother and sister. I found one of my younger sisters when I was 18 and the youngest is yet to be located. I found my birthfather when I was 18 and learned that I have two biological brothers and two step-brothers all who I still have not met in person (I also have not seen my dad, although I am in touch with all of them).

3) On your blog you write that you could never have done a closed adoption as a birth mother. Was this something that you felt certain about right from the start or did you come to this realization gradually?

I decided to place my son for adoption when I was just over 3 months along. From the time that I made that decision I was sure I wanted a closed adoption. Then around month 7 I started to realize there was no way I could survive placement if I did not know how he was doing. By the time he was born I was confident I had to have an open adoption agreement. 

4) Was your decision to place and/or your determination to have an open adoption in any way influenced by your own history as a foster alumni and adoptee?

Growing up in a cycle of poverty, instability, and largely without either parent, I have always known I wanted more for my family. Growing up I made it my mission in life to be everything my mother couldn't. I recognize that is not the healthiest way to deal with grief, unfortunately my attitude toward my pregnancy was no different. I wasn't about to bring a child into my life if I couldn't offer him health insurance, a college fund, a father, and a white picket fence. My opinions on all of those things are drastically different now that I'm on the other side of it but unfortunately there is no going back.

I know firsthand what it is like to "need" to know where you came from and who gave you life. I always wanted my son to have the security of knowing his roots, even when I didn't think I wanted contact with him - there was never a time when I didn't want him to know who I was. 

5) Can you tell me, and my readers, a little bit about what your open adoption looks like. How often do you visit with your son and how do you keep in touch in between visits?

This one is tough because he is just over a year old. Before he was born we met with a lawyer and set up a contact agreement that stipulates we should have one visit per year for the first two years. Initially we had updates every month and that went to every other month after his first birthday. I believe after his 3rd birthday it goes to once every 6 months and once he is in school it is just once a year. I'm a little fuzzy about what we agreed on for those last few though as they are still so far away. The important part though is that we are in contact far more than that. We have only had one in person visit since his birth because they live out of state and visits are challenging. But, his mom sends me photos a few times a month sometimes, we are friends on Facebook, and have Skype'd with them several times. She frequently sends me videos and picture messages throughout the month and we have a relatively close relationship. I do not necessarily have a direct relationship with him yet but come on, he's only one :). 

6) What thing do you most appreciate about having an open adoption?

The photos and videos. I love that I not only get to hear how he is doing but I get to see it too. 
I also love the relationship that has formed between his mom and myself. I treasure her and greatly respect her. 

7) What has been the hardest part for you about having an open adoption?

The distance. The fact that we live in two different states is very hard for me, although in choosing them it was a determining factor. Initially I did not want a local family. My perspective has changed on so many things post-placement.

8) How has becoming a birth mom affected your relationships with other people in your life?

My relationship with my parents (Bruce and Karman) is significantly better and significantly worse because I placed my son for adoption. During my pregnancy my dad and I became very close for the first time ever in our relationship. We have remained close since I placed Isaac. However, I have struggled with accepting the fact that they refused to support me had I decided to keep Isaac. For them, me keeping him was never an acceptable choice. They told me they would not help me if I decided to keep him and I'm not sure I will ever be able to forgive them for that.
It has also negatively impacted my relationship with several members of my birth family.
The only place it has really had a positive impact on relationships is online. It has allowed me to form relationships with other birthmoms as well as adoptive moms through blogging. 

9) If you were having a conversation with an stranger or an acquaintance and happen to reveal that you are a birth mother, what is the one thing they could say to you that would be most supportive?

"I'm sorry for your loss." And leave it at that. Following it up with, "But you are so unselfish and he is so loved..." or something to that affect, just adds insult to injury.  Acknowledging that it is the most painful thing I've ever done means far more than anything else that could be said.

10) On your personal blog, you mentioned impact of your job as a nanny on your healing process post placement. Can you tell me a little more about that?

I basically just talked about how it was challenging to care for an infant who is just one month younger than Isaac and how watching her go through various developmental stages was painful because it was a constant reminder of all that I was missing with Isaac. I wrote that post in May and I think now, 6 months later, I can also acknowledge that having this job has helped with the healing process. I am far more aware of my parenting inadequacies, as I spend 10 hours a day caring for an infant, than I probably would be if I didn't have a nanny job. I am also more aware that I could have done it. As I've said many times on my blog :)

11) Are there other things that have contributed to healing since your son's birth?

Scrapbooking is like really fun therapy for me. It is probably close to the same price (*wink wink) but you have the benefit of working through the emotions when you are alone in the comfort of your own home. And you end up with a wonderful keepsake of your child's life at the end of the book. 

12) You recently spent time in Africa and you have written about some of the different cultural attitudes towards adoption and unplanned pregnancy. What do you see as some of the advantages and disadvantages of the different cultural approaches?

As a birthmom I am very fond of the East African cultural attitude towards parenting. They strongly encourage mothers to care for their own children and when a child is abandoned/orphaned the child will either go to live with biological relatives or close family friends. One of the advantages to their approach is that family bonds are highly valued as is maintaining cultural ties. One of the disadvantages to this approach is that there is no infrastructure in place to care for the overwhelming number of abandoned/orphaned children. There are more children in need than there are willing caregivers. Often times leaving children starving and alone living on the streets. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unadoptable Is Unacceptable: Adopting From Foster Care

There are more than 100,000 youth waiting for permanent families in the U.S. foster care system. Children often wait five years or more to be adopted, have multiple foster homes, and are frequently separated from siblings. And tragically, tens of thousands of children of "age out" of the system each year without finding permanency.

In a guest post on the blog Foster2Forever, Rita L. Soronen, President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, wrote "there are … many challenges that anyone jumping into the child welfare system faces -- unresponsive agencies, paperwork, system delays, and lack of post-adoption resources, to name just a few.... But we cannot give up."

If you are considering adoption as a way to grow your family, please watch the following video and consider if you might be the right family for a child who really needs one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Adoptive Families and the Internet

Another topic that was discussed during Karen Cheyney's presentation at ACONE's Adoption Conference this Saturday was the problematic issue of tech-savvy adopted kids making contact with biological families without the adoptive parents' knowledge. In today's world of social networking, it is often fairly easy for tweens and teens to find biological parents online. For me, this is one more reason why it is important for adoptive parents to build real-life, positive relationships with birth parents whenever possible, and as early as possible. It also highlights the importance of creating an atmosphere of acceptance in the home so that the adoptee will feel comfortable talking to the adoptive parents about the first family.

Because here's the thing: most adoptees are going to have a desire to reach out to the biological family at some point. It is natural for adopted children to desire a connection to their roots and sooner or later they are likely to seek that connection ... with or without the adoptive parents' support. If you are an adoptive parent, wouldn't you rather be involved?

Open adoption allows the connection to biological family to occur in a safe, supervised manner, with the involvement of the adoptive parents. It can help to demystify the birth family, rather than positioning them as the forbidden fruit. An adopted teen won't need to sneak away to try to meet up with her birth mother if that birth mother is already a regular part of her life.

Yes, you should monitor your child's online activity and teach about internet safety, but as your child gets older, he or she will have opportunities to access the internet outside of your home and it will become increasingly difficult to monitor all social-networking activity. Keeping the lines of communication open between adoptees and adoptive parents, and, when possible, between adoptive parents and birth parents, can also be an important part of creating safety. 

Related Posts:
Being "Emotionally Open" to First Families
Let's Get Real: Embracing Duality in Adoptive Families
Are You an Attuned Adoptive Parent?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Adoption Conference

Today I attended the Adoption Community of New England's November Adoption Conference. My favorite speaker was Karen Cheyney of Bright Futures Adoption Center who presented a workshop entitled "Healthy Relationships with Birth Families." I found myself nodding in agreement through much of her presentation.

Here are a few of the points she made that resonated with me:

*When adoptive parents show a willingness to be connected to the child's birth family, that communicates acceptance to child.

*Children in open adoptions can get answers to normal questions about their histories, which allows them to move onto other developmental tasks without getting stuck on adoption-related issues.

*It is important for adopted children to be able to talk freely about adoption without worrying about loyalty issues. It is important that they be allowed to care about both sets of parents without feeling guilty.

I'm hoping to write more about this conferences and some of the things that came up for me at it in the coming days.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shattered Families

My (biological) brother and his team at the Applied Research Center made this heartbreaking video about the separation of children from undocumented parents. Please watch:

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