healing relationships

As I stood in the kitchen, I could hear Moriah playing in her bedroom. Little Bubby was playing in the room too. She was talking to him, but he was not listening nor even looking at her. She was pretending she is the mom and he is the dad — and she was telling him all about their baby.

She didn’t care that he’s distracted in parallel play. She didn’t care at all that he wasn’t really playing with her.  But she did shut the door to prevent him from wandering away.  She simply does not want to be alone. She needs a friend.

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Our little 3-year-old needs people near her all the time. She constantly asks if she can get in the pack-n-play with Baby Sis.  If she isn’t near one of them, she is resting her hand on me. She needs community and to connect.

Sometimes, as parents, we operate as if children do not need family.

Humans are designed to need healthy, consistent interaction from Day 1. Unfortunately, many children do not get that care.

This past weekend, Joey and I were able to get away and attend a parenting conference.  In particular, this training focused on children with difficult pasts: any child who had a stressful infancy or childhood; any child who had experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect; any child who was harmed by someone that should have protected him or her; any child who was exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero; even any child born prematurely who was unable to be held while in NICU. Children with these histories, are impacted neurologically. Simply put, their brains do not respond in the same way a child’s brain with a healthy beginning does.

Adoptive parent Terri Coley said: “A child from a hard place needs much more than a safe place to live.”  The premise of the training is this: Relationships heal what relationships harmed.

Deep healing takes intentionality.  Dr. Karyn Purvis said, “There is no quick fix for a child who has been harmed. … If you understand your child’s needs and you’re able to give it, tremendous healing can occur. It’s gonna take time.”  She recommends Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).  It’s a balance of structure and nurture (Eph. 6:4).  It is purposeful parenting.  TBRI requires me to invest myself in my children.

I recently told a friend: “It’s tough to be an introvert with clingy kids.”  I recognize (and do my best to overcome) my natural tendency to seek Me Time.  Even though I want to connect with the kids, I sometimes get “lost” in the day-to-day tasks.  This is nearly every parent’s struggle, too.

I get it: Parenting is hard.  It’s exhausting, even when you have the resources you need.  For now, I am so thankful for a preschooler who reminds me, “I need you!”  Or when her actions say: I need my family!

I know that she will stop asking one day, “Mommy, will you hold me?”  Yet she will always need connection in an age-appropriate way.  As God enables, I will strive to meet her emotional needs.

Keep up the good (hard) work, moms and dads! Your kids need you. :)

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

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rain boots are for puddles

We only needed a few things from the grocery store, so I took the three kids by myself right after breakfast. It was still early in the day when we arrived, but it was raining.

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I carried the babies through the parking lot while Moriah ran behind me. As we tried to get inside as quickly as possible, I kept reminding her, “Stay close. Don’t jump in the puddles. Keep up.”

My sneakers were already soaked by the time I looked down and saw that we were standing in two inches of water. One huge puddle blocked the entrance! It could not be avoided. We trudged through it for about 15 feet before Moriah stopped in the middle of the busy parking lot. “Mom! I am wet!” she cried.

“I know, sis. Keep moving. It’s okay,” I replied as I glanced over my shoulder. The babies were starting to slip and my glasses were covered with rain drops.

“I am WET. Why are we walking through the RIVER?!!”  She remained motionless in the puddle.

“Moriah, let’s go. You cannot stop here,” I said in a firmer voice. She whimpered as she moved toward me.

We made it inside Kroger, and I began loading the kids in a cart. I was beginning to doubt the urgency of the trip. Moriah kept repeating “I’m wet” as if she were processing trauma. I continued to rearrange the children until everyone fit–the youngest baby was in a carseat (baby carrier) in the front of the cart while the two older kids sat in the basket area. An elderly woman walked by and asked, “How will you have room for groceries?”  I smiled.

We rolled into the produce section, picked out bananas and strawberries before moving on to collect cans of baby formula. Everything was going well, despite my soggy socks and Moriah’s blank stare of disbelief that her pants were wet up to her knees.

We grabbed milk and then checked out. On the way back to our car, Moriah remained quiet. She began talking when I put her in the car, “It’s cold. And I’m wet, Mom!”  She was wearing rain boots but somehow her socks were drenched too.

I kept laughing at myself on the ride home. The previous fifteen minutes were quite an experience. I didn’t see it coming, but I should have. It had been raining for 24 hours straight. Going anywhere alone with three small kids is a juggling act — I’m used to that, I guess. But adding bad weather to the mix is an equation for real… fun.

Often in life, we look down (or up) and find ourselves in a mess. It was unavoidable, but, nevertheless, we would have appreciated a warning.

As a transracial adoptive family, I realize that there are conversations that I MUST to have with my African-American daughter. I am starting to recognize “white privilege” and how it is so much a part of my life that I never saw it. Moreover, I know that she is given certain protections while she’s in my home because I am white. But–even then–she will experience ignorance and hatred because of her skin tone.

An adult adoptee recently encouraged all white adoptive parents to talk with their children about racism. He essentially said: To not talk to your child about racism is like not telling them how to safely cross the street. It wouldn’t protect them from the real dangers. When they face racial aggression (not if, when) and they are unprepared, it will be emotionally devastating. Your child of color needs tools to prepare them for the inevitable experiences of racism.

His comments were based on personal experience.

Then, I was reminded that this morning I had instructed Moriah to put on rain boots, yet it didn’t prevent her from getting wet. She was prepared but not completely covered.

It’s a silly illustration for a very real problem. I was thankful for the reminder.

Compassion. Empathy. Preparation.

Moriah is still a preschooler, but we talk about hard issues now. She listens but does not get it. I know one day I will be the one listening without the ability to fully relate. So we are praying about how to best prepare her for life. We are praying for Christian men and women of color who can be role models and friends with our family. It is best for our whole family.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

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silence implies consent

This public “status update” was written by a fellow WAP (White Adoptive Parent) with grown children.

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Read her full letter:

Dear College and University faculty,

I am writing to ask you to save the lives of my grandchildren. Their names are Florence and Jack.

They are not my only grandchildren. I have another named Anthony, but I don’t worry as much about him. I find myself attending to only the garden-variety worries with Anthony: accidents, illness, friendships, school. My worries about Florence and Jack are much more frightening, the kind that chase away sleep and tighten around your throat, late at night when you least expect it.

I worry they will have occasion to walk alone in a white neighborhood at night and one of the people watching them from their window, will be the person who posted last week on FaceBook a picture of a noose next to a man who is black.

I worry they will be killed riding their bikes by someone like my friend’s father, who said he would “get two points if he hits a nigger with his car.”

I worry they will have someone in their neighborhood like my Uncle Jim, who defiantly proclaimed that he would be “goddamned if he would ever live next to an ignorant black buck.” It’s easier to hurt someone you think of as an animal.

I worry they will not follow their father’s example, who changes into khakis and a button-down shirt to make outside repairs on his home because it is safer for him.

I worry one of them will want a BB gun and will take it outside for target practice with old tin cans and be shot dead because of it.

I worry Florence and Jack will wear hoodies. I am not kidding. I worry that my grandchildren will wear hoodies.

I appreciate the attempts made by well-meaning people to fight racism and discrimination by attending diversity training, tolerance seminars, ethnic food fairs and cultural music festivals. But these are innocuous events that seem more about making us feel better, than actually improving the lives of those who are oppressed. I am thankful that they try but it is not enough.

I sincerely believe that the only people who can change the hatred and fear that continues to hold our country in bondage are teachers–in particular, higher education teachers. Faculty. You.

All of the power of change is in your hands. And that power comes by doing what you have dedicated your lives to and what you do best: teaching.

You know how to teach your students to think critically and look at issues and problems from all of the different angles and perspectives, through uncomfortable and prickly conversations that will make them squirm in their seats but will provoke their thinking.

You know how to teach them to be introspective, how to recognize their own biases, and to face the reality that we all discriminate and prejudge others.

You know how to teach them about the devastating effects racism and bigotry have on an individual, an institution, an economy, and a country.

You know how to teach them that white privilege is real and how the luck of the genetic draw confers power and opportunity on only some of us. And because of that, believing in the concept of a level playing field is absurd.

You know how to teach them that being “color-blind” is not a good thing and that having friends who are people of color does not make them incapable of racism.

You know how to teach your students to question everything, including themselves, and to learn how to change their own minds.

You know how to teach your students to understand that we who are white are the ones responsible for the suffering resulting from discrimination, racism, bias and bigotry. We caused it, we perpetuate it, and it is ours alone to fix.

Please teach them by example how to be activists. Show them by demanding the missions of your institutions reflect a commitment to teaching equality. Show them by altering your curriculum and your assignments to fit this mission. Teach your students to make a fuss. Teach them how to be vocal, insistent and relentless. Teach them to be maladapted. Most importantly, teach them to embrace the concept that silence implies consent.

I don’t know if there is a way to teach bravery. I don’t know how you teach someone to be strong enough to make family and friends and perfect strangers uncomfortable, when you speak up whenever an ethnic slur is used, or a bad joke told, or a belief expressed that is based in hatred. We are taught from such an early age to be courteous, to obey the rules, and to mind our manners. It is a difficult thing to push against those conventions, to remember that there is no such thing as courage without fear.

But you are faculty–you love a good challenge. Teach your students how to raise an objection. Give them the right words, the mantra that can be committed to memory and then employed each and every time they hear or see something that they know is not right. We all know what discrimination looks like. We all know what racism sounds like. We all know the words that express stereotyping or bigotry. What we don’t know is what to say to our beloved Aunt Gert or the grocery store clerk when those things are expressed. This part is the most difficult part, but also the most important. This is the part that requires bravery.

You can do this thing.

And if not you — who?

On behalf of all grandmothers who lose sleep at night, I thank you.
Nancy Erickson

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Will you share this message? Silence implies consent.

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washable

Oh, mischief.

Moriah loves markers. So when I found Crayola’s Pip Squeaks (washable markers), I thought they were worth a try. And they were on clearance.

We’ve been in all sorts of trouble since then. Markers can color on so.much.more than crayons

Example from today: After playing outside in the snow, Moriah was found quietly sitting on the couch. She was coloring herself. They stained her hands a little but it did wash off by the end of the day.

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She is learning. We’ve been stuck inside a lot this week. We went out for a few minutes yesterday and almost an hour today with Dad.

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– – – –

Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

 

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absence and presence

When other adoptive parents or adult adoptees share thoughts about the difficult side of adoption, I want to share it. I do NOT want to be melodramatic. But, really, our community needs to talk about it.

Tragedy is part of our families’ stories. Our children’s stories.

Josh Hamby is an adoptive parent living in Africa. He wrote a piece at The Archibald Project that is worth your time.

Here’s a sample:

“Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens.” – Frederick Buechner

I can’t think of a better way to describe adoption.  . . .

The call to explore adoption shouldn’t be centered around what we want. It’s a last resort for a child who has experienced tragedy. (And while I’m here, can I say those kids aren’t marketing materials? Because they aren’t, so stop using them as such.) The higher on the priority list the needs of the child are, the lower on the list of options adoption becomes. This makes adoption an extremely difficult and unglamorous journey. It isn’t always the best option, and thus we put ourselves at risk for pain.

I use that Buechner quote because I believe that’s where adoption lies – in the middle of sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy. Sin means men and women suffer from poverty and struggle to provide, absence of family is a reality for abandoned children, and tragedy is what we can call those and every other example in the book.

But grace is what awaits all of us who seek refuge from sin. It walks alongside a single mother struggling to provide and instead of taking her children from her, tells her that keeping her children is a possibility worth pursuing. Presence is what every child deserves to feel – whether from biological family or adoptive. Comedy is joy in the resolution – whatever that ends up being.

If you have the desire to adopt, I encourage you to bathe it in prayer. Hold your motives with open hands so they may be formed and shaped to look more like the Father’s heart. Adoption isn’t for every family and it isn’t for every child.

And maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe the adoption journey, as hard as it is, doesn’t always have to end in adoption. But by grace and by God, if it ends in us looking more like Christ, it is well.

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Read the full post HERE.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

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Of Loss

My experience as a foster parent is limited. We have cared for only nine children and, by the providence of God, we adopted one of those children He placed in our home. During these past four years, though, I have learned that foster care and adoption involve transition and change. And, usually, loss too.

Even though I know it comes with the territory, I don’t always feel prepared for these changes.

  • I hurt with fellow foster parents who are heartbroken for the kids who have left. I hurt with foster families who are doing all they can to allow a child with challenging behavior to remain in their home.
  • I hurt for birth families who are struggling during the separation.
  • I hurt with children who are away from their birth family — whether temporarily or permanently.

The losses are real. The pain is real.

Sometimes I feel completely surrounded by hurting people.

Even in adoption, I know it is not win-win. Our beautiful daughter has been with us since birth. I realize I have that privilege to raise my feisty girlie because her first mother chose not to parent. She will always be regarded with respect in our home — I feel a deep debt to her as I raise our daughter. Yet there is a void in our daughter’s life and in her birth mother’s life.

I can’t imagine the sorrow (sprinkled with comfort, in some cases) that a birthmom feels when she sees her child loved and cared for by another woman. That struggle could become unbearable. (I know each adoption is different. The circumstances and agreements are different. Some children enter a new family after relinquishment, others after removal by the state. I’m not an expert. But I am calling us ALL to feel with and hurt for one another.)

Hurting people often act in fear. They do or say things that they wouldn’t otherwise. There’s a common saying: “Hurting people hurt people.”  And it’s true.  Foster families (both the caregivers and the other children in the home) endure it often.  Although it still hurts, understanding WHY a person is behaving a certain way helps us to empathize.

“Everyone needs compassion, a love that’s never failing / Let mercy fall on me …”

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I don’t respond well to accusations, snide remarks, or rude behavior.  YET I know I could be that person making those remarks tomorrow (or today) if I let my focus shift away from what God has done and is doing and onto myself.  I could easily be the anxious one.

In these challenging times, God calms my spirit and reminds me that He is sovereign:

“If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
    whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
     no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”  Isaiah 54:15-17

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God is the Sovereign One! He is with me. He cares. My well-being is His concern.

I like what Matthew Poole’s commentary says: “Both the blacksmith that makes all warlike instruments, and the soldier that uses them, are my creatures, and totally at my command, and therefore they cannot hurt you without my leave [i.e. permission].”

My pastor just finished a series in Esther. He put it this way: “Esther affirms the providence of God. Nothing just “happens” in life. In fact, if just one event could occur outside of the sovereign influence and care of the Lord, then we could not trust Him. But it can’t. The Lord is in control of everything” (Seeing God When You Can’t See God, February 1, 2015).

Even in transition. Even in change. Even in the midst of loss, God cares.

Understand this: That difficult person in your life is placed there by God. “His life, his strength, his skill, are all in my hands, and he can do nothing which I shall not deem it best to permit him to do. . . . I bare [i.e. confirm that I] made him, and he is wholly under my control and at my disposal” (Barnes’ Notes).

suffer

Life, in general, often involves loss, death, estrangement, removal, change.  We cannot escape heartache in this broken world.

I am learning to let myself fully feel loss and to grieve with / for my children and their first families. I don’t always do it well. But I know we can learn from one another. We can listen and remind ourselves that God is at work in and through these circumstances. One day He will make everything right again.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

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‘Riah Mommy

Our little sassy pants is closely observing our every move. She actually wants to change diapers, wash dishes, and make meals — all the daily tasks required in a household of five. She is under my feet constantly. And correcting me when I alter the routine. (I know how you feel now, Mom!)

She is determined and confident.

Lately, she has been carrying around two baby dolls. She cares for them and speaks to them quietly. They get their clothes changed each morning and they get put to bed in their own spots each night. She requests that we all call her “mommy.”

With this spunky three-year-old, all my actual “mom jobs” take about twenty times longer. But, most days, it’s okay. She is learning.

Me: Thank you for being a helper, Moriah.

Moriah: I not Riah! I Mommy!

Me: Ok. Thank you, Riah Mommy.

Moriah: Thank YOU.

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– – – –

Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

 

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