I’m Interested in Adopting; Where Should I Start?

Over the years since we started pursuing adoption, we’ve gotten increasingly more questions about our journey, our family, and adoption in general. Frequently those questions are from people who are interested in considering pursuing adoption themselves, and they’d like to know where to start.

There are so many different avenues – adoption (or purely fostering) through the foster care system, domestic private adoption, and international adoption. And within each of those systems, there are countless other decisions to be made. If adopting internationally, from which country to pursue adopting? If domestic or internationally, which agency to use? Regardless of which path is chosen, to what age range and gender to be open? And to what special needs to be open? It can be overwhelming even to know where to start.

My initial suggestions may seem indirect, but for several reasons I think they truly are the best place to start. There are two places I’d recommend that anyone considering adoption start:

(1) First, research adoption parenting. All adoption is borne out of trauma and loss. For that reason, it is absolutely essential that children who join their families via adoption be parented in light of that reality. Of the whole wide range of parenting strategies that may work well for neurotypical children, only a subset consistently works well for children who have joined their families through adoption. The first book I’d recommend reading would be The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis and David Cross. It is the go-to book for understanding how to parent children who have lived through trauma. To be blunt, if you are unwilling move toward parenting in the way the book describes, adoption is not for you, because that is what adopted children need from their adoptive parents. If you are willing to continue to learn more about connected parenting and do your best to parent in whatever way is best for your adopted children, regardless of how different that might be from what your upbringing was or what your instincts might be, then you’ll be in a good place to start pursuing adoption.

(2) Research adoption ethics. Not all adoption programs are created equal. There is fraud. There is trafficking. A “demand” (for instance, for young girls with no special needs, who are, ideally, white) can lead to motivation to “create” a supply. I often recommend that people start out with a series of Jen Hatmaker’s blog posts to begin to learn about ethics in adoption:  Adoption Ethics Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. It’s best to research ethics at the beginning. Learn what the red flags are, learn what the potential issues are with any programs you may be considering, learn more about what questions to ask. It’s so important to do this before you have an idea in your head of what your future family is going to look like and most definitely before you have an adorable photo of an absolutely precious child, whom you want to scoop up into your arms and bring home forever. We as adoptive parents are responsible for encouraging ethical behavior by all the actors in the adoption world, and to do that, we have to understand what is happening in the adoption world.

Only after you have done some research into parenting children who join their families through adoption and into adoption ethics would I recommend that you start researching adoption programs.

Some of the best general resources can be found at Rainbow Kids and Creating a Family. In particular, this chart at Creating a Family may be helpful in comparing different types of adoption. Once you start making some choices about the specific roads you want to walk in your adoption journey, there are many more resources out there, but for broadly applicable, initial information, those are two good websites with which to start! Please also feel free to reach out to me, and I’m happy to talk more any time 🙂

A Different Kind of School Day: How is My Engine Running?

I realize I have yet to do a blog post outlining what we’re doing in our homeschooling this school year, but we have been plugging along at it 🙂 Yesterday we did something different, though, for part of our school day. I’d had in the back of my mind for a long time – months – that I needed to do a craft with my big kids that I’d seen Karyn Purvis using in one of the TBRI DVDs we’ve watched.

I mentioned in my last post that, since my weekend away in Chicago at the Refresh Conference, we’ve been seeing a good amount of dysregulation here at our house. For those not familiar with the term, I thought that Paris Goodyear-Brown gave a good definition at the conference – she defined dysregulation as “an abnormality or impairment in one’s ability to adjust, organize, or control.”

Academics are important, yes, but I was reminded in a breakout session that Cindy Lee hosted at the conference that 2 of our main goals for our children should be: (1) for them to be able to be who God created them to be; and (2) for them to reach a place of secure attachment (being comfortable in their own skin, being able to give care, being able to receive care, and being able to negotiate their needs). It really needs to be of primary importance for me to help my kids work toward those goals (and of course, work we do in moving toward those goals will also help to provide a firm foundation for academic learning!). And so, yesterday, we devoted several hours to that.

All four of my kiddos and I made “How is my Engine Running?” meters.

  • Blue is for “too slow” – when I’m feeling lethargic, tired, or sad.
  • Green is for “just right” – I feel content and calm; my state of alertness is perfect for the activity I’m doing right now.
  • Yellow is for “speeding up” – when I feel agitated or restless.
  • Red is for “too fast” – I have very big feelings, my lid is totally flipped, and my actions may feel out of control and are probably inappropriate for the situation.

We used a railroad track to demonstrate what it looks like for a train engine to be in each of these states and as a catalyst for discussing what it looks like for us to be in these states.

Then we hung up our meters in the living room in a place in which they would be easily accessible to us throughout our days at home.

(We left a spot for Matt to hang his after he gets a chance to make one, too 🙂 ) 

All of the kids loved running over all afternoon and adjusting their meters. The littles (2 and 4) are still picking up on the idea, but the bigs (age 7) are all over it. They are noticing when their own meters are edging off of “green” and when their siblings’ are – and when mine is beginning to creep toward yellow, as well!

Paying attention to your own emotional state is such a huge part of being able to address it and eventually to self-regulate. I’m particularly interested in helping my kids notice when they are drifting into that “yellow” area – some of my kiddos can seem to go straight from green through the tiniest of tiny yellow slivers, directly to red, and that’s not ideal. Both they and I need to do a better job of noticing when they start to enter into yellow territory, and having these meters has helped us be more cognizant of that.

Karyn Purvis talked a lot about the process of child development and how babies, when they’re born, rely almost entirely on external regulation. They require assistance in meeting all of their basic needs – hunger, temperature control, cleanliness, etc. As children grow, they enter a phase of co-regulation, in which they begin to participate in the process of getting their needs met, but they still require assistance from others, generally parents. And as these children mature even more, they are increasingly able to self-regulate, to meet their own needs and calm themselves. If our kids are having trouble self-regulating, we can help them learn those skills by assisting them with co-regulating.

After we made our “How is my Engine Running” meters, we talked about some strategies for co-regulating and self-regulation. None of these are revolutionary, but they are all strategies that I need to do a better job of practicing when my kids are actually calm so that they are more willing and able to do them when they are dysregulated.

I’ve found that my children are highly resistant to taking a deep breath when they’re really upset. We all know it would help, but they’re so upset they won’t do it. Sometimes, if their lids aren’t completely flipped, if I just start breathing deeply, their bodies will follow, almost unconsciously – but that’s not an entirely frequent occurrence 🙂 But this week something serendipitous happened. Miranda asked if we could buy flowers at Aldi, and they weren’t very expensive, so I said that she could pick out a bouquet of roses. And now? Now when someone is having a hard time, I say, “Would you like to smell my flowers with me?” And the child invariably says yes! Deep breath in; deep breath out. “Smell another flower!” Deep breath in; deep breath out. And…calm.

We also read some of this book.

We talked about what mindfulness is (the book defines it in an accessible-for-kids way as “paying attention to everything right now or as it happens”). And we practiced some of its exercises. We practiced doing the Sharkfin. We practiced mindful breathing. We practiced mindful noticing our feelings. And we practiced doing a body scan.

(Some of us had a bit more of a handle on the recommended posture for the body scan than others!)

We’re working on building our capacities for paying attention to ourselves, our feelings, and our bodies. And we’re working on developing more strategies for helping ourselves get to that “just right” state in which we’d so often like to live.

It was a good day. I’m glad we took the time to make this initial investment of time in growing in these areas, and we’ll continue to nurture these skills as we move forward!

Note: For more information about the ideas behind the “How is my Engine Running?” concepts, feel free to check out this basic info from The Alert Program and/or this information from The Zones of Regulation

Refresh Chicago 2017

About 2 weeks ago, I embarked upon what I believe was my first weekend getaway without husband or children in my nearly 7.5 years of motherhood – and it was glorious.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my family deeply, and had I yearned for weekends away prior to this point, there would have been ways to make it work. Last spring, I heard about the Refresh Chicago conference, and it sounded like some of the other adoptive moms with whom I’ve connected on Facebook were going to make the trip, and I mentioned it to Matt, who announced that I should make it happen. I went ahead and registered, and I convinced one of my best friends, Marisa – who is now just weeks away from becoming an adoptive mom herself! – that she should come with me.

I wasn’t exactly sure until recently exactly how I’d handle the travel details, but I need to give a huge shout-out to Chosen and Dearly Loved for truly facilitating that part of my trip to the conference. They blessed us with a matching grant when we were in process to adopt FangFang, and they reached out to their families this summer to ask if people were interested in going to this conference and offer grants to help make that happen. They paid for a huge portion of my costs of attending the conference. To my knowledge, they are the only grant organization that offers post-placement support, in addition to support during the adoption process, and that is such a huge need, that I am really thrilled to see them stepping into.

Because of that, I was able to fly to the conference without worrying about the cost, and that made it so much easier than having to negotiate the logistics of train or megabus or rental car travel. Plus I arrived in time to have tea with one of my good friends from our Chicagoland days! It was so nice to get that little bit of time to connect with her again in person. Then the rest of the trip was pretty packed with conference activities and adoptive mom hangouts!

The conference itself was great. We began Friday morning with worship, and one moment struck me and has stayed with me. There’s a line in one of the songs we sang – “and darkness tries to hide, and trembles at His voice” that was so humbling to sing in a room filled with adoptive and foster parents – because we have seen the darkness. And I want to believe with my whole heart that the darkness out there in the world today that has come into play in separating our children from their first families and in so many of the realities of their lives is truly trembling at the voice of the living God.

There was also incredible teaching. Kristin Berry is a phenomenal story-teller and encourager. Cindy Lee of the Halo Project OKC is an amazing resource for casting vision for healing from trauma and for practical guidance in how to parent kids from hard places – I’ve appreciated what she has to say every time I’ve heard her speak. I loved getting to hear from Kia Barton, now an adult adoptee, about her experience growing up as a black child with white parents. This was the first time I’d heard Paris Goodyear-Brown speak, and I was highly impressed with her deep understanding of the adversity that children who have experienced trauma can face and how to walk with them through their challenges. I was so encouraged by these reminders of how I can walk alongside my children and love them well.

In addition to the actual content of the conference, it was so encouraging to be surrounded by a group of people who get it. Wanting to be intentional about facilitating those connections and that sense of connection, in our welcome packets, the conference organizers even handed out “me too” signs that we could raise when what other people were sharing resonated with our stories.

Within this context, there was so much background that didn’t need to be explained, so many premises that didn’t need to be established. These people understand the difference between chronological age, developmental age, and family age. They understand the desire to seek for our children racial mirrors and connections to their birth cultures. They understand the tension inherent in telling our own stories and advocating for adoption while keeping our children’s stories private. They have lived the long-term realities of the lasting effects of food insecurity. They grapple with the fight for ethics in adoption. They understand what dysregulation is. They understand sensory needs. They have fought for attachment, both for their children to feel bonded to them and for them to feel bonded to their children. They don’t blink at stories of 3 hour rages; or piles of junk food wrappers found under beds; or seemingly compulsive lying, cheating, and stealing; or alternative high school placements; or police involvement with families. They understand complex developmental trauma and how it can manifest and what it looks like to parent children who have lived through that.

There is such encouragement from being surrounded by people who are walking this journey of adoption and foster parenting, too. One of the biggest blessings of the conference, for me, was getting to spend the weekend with these ladies. Thank you, Kathy, Marisa, Diane, and Becky for hanging out with me!

I actually came home feeling a bit sick, but I enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time snuggling my babies.

We’ve had a lot of dysregulation since my return, and that has been challenging, but I find myself more patient and better equipped with strategies to walk through all of that with my kiddos. It was definitely a great conference and a great trip overall. Would you join me next year?!

Homeschooling: It’s Not All (or Mostly) About Academics

Today’s post is a follow up to yesterday’s post with our mid-year update on our homeschooling year. At least in our house, homeschoooling is not all – or even mostly – about academics. We’ve found that the opportunities to address and build character are plentiful – generally more plentiful than we’d like. More than we want them to learn academics, we want them to grow as people.

This morning was no different. One of my girls needed to do a math lesson. The actual work of the math lesson would take her less than 5 minutes. However, from the time we got started on it until the time it was done, an hour and 15 minutes elapsed. Most of that was taken up with addressing issues of personal growth, in particular emotional growth.

A big thing we’re working on with our girls is emotional development. Specifically, we’d like them to be able to identify and self-report their emotions, and we’d like them to have healthy ways to self-regulate when they are dysregulated – when their more negative emotions are feeling overwhelming. We’ve found that the movie Inside Out is a great tool for us in that endeavor.

Today the daughter with whom I was working on this particular task drew two pictures for me as we were working through this situation. This was the first.

Here, Sadness is in charge of the control panel, and she’s giving a speech. Anger is throwing bricks to build a wall to keep Joy away, even though she is still in the control center. Joy is calling to Sadness to help her, but Sadness wants to listen to Anger, so she is saying, “Joy, stop talking!”

As my child and I talked through the situation, she told me she was ready to draw a new picture, and this is what she drew.

Now Joy has broken down the wall, about which Anger is not happy. Joy is running back to the control panel, telling everyone else, “Get out of my way!” Sadness is letting her take over again.

After that picture, we were ready to have another conversation about tackling her math work. When we’d first started the morning, she’d asked if she could have one minute to play a game of tic-tac-toe with her sister before she did math, and we’d made an agreement that that was fine, but she then needed to start math right away. However, once the game was over, she wanted to cut out their game and glue it onto another paper before doing math, and I’d said she needed to honor her agreement and get started on math, but she could cut it out as soon as she was done. That was what aroused some strong emotions and prompted our opportunity for pursuing some growth.

In our conversation after we had worked through some of those emotions, I told her I realized it was important to her to cut out the tic-tac-toe game, and I wanted to help her get to a place where she could do that. It was important to me, though, that we get started on math, since that was what our agreement had been. Perhaps we could make a compromise, though – she could do half of her math exercise right away, then cut out the tic-tac-toe game, and then finish her math. She countered with a proposal that she do only a quarter of it, but I showed her what the math exercise was and how quickly she’d be able to do it, and she agreed to do a full half.

Then it took less than five minutes for her to do half her math exercise, cut out the tic-tac-toe game, and then finish her math work.

And this mama was exhausted and told the big girls they could have a Wii bowling break before lunch, and we’d do more school after lunch!

Reconnecting with my Kiddos

Parenting always has its ebbs and flows, but we’ve had a rough past couple weeks around here, with one of our children in particular. Some of that has been us, I’m sure – when Matt and I are stressed out or focused on other things, we don’t do as good of a job at parenting, and he’s in the middle of his semester, and I’m working hard on accomplishing everything on my pre-adoption to do list. But some of it was definitely her and for no reason we could discern – perhaps the upcoming changes in our family? Perhaps just a phase? Who knows. It’s been hard, though. I called our social worker and asked for her advice. I asked a few friends to pray for me.

And I’ve upped my connected parenting game. I’ve sought opportunities to say yes. I’ve gotten down on my kids’ level to talk with them. I’ve been willing to work with the girls on compromises that help each of us work toward what’s important to us. I’ve proposed outings to the park just because they would be fun.

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I’ve been putting my phone down more. We’ve been role-playing tough situations. We’ve been having a lot of re-dos. I’ve been doing one-on-one dates with each of my girls.

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And the past week or so has been better, and I’ve been encouraged. It’s been hard work, but it’s worth it. I want to be able to help my kids work through conflict and handle their emotions well, and it’s worth the time it takes to help them learn those skills. And I want us to have good, healthy relationships, and it’s worth the time it takes to build those.

Even in the midst of that context, though, I was shocked by an experience we had this morning. A friend of mine, another adoption mama, is spending a week in Texas at a TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) Practitioner Training, and I’ve been following along with her blog and Facebook posts, hoping to glean any pearls of wisdom that might be helpful to me in parenting our kiddos. She posted yesterday about an example of an “I Love You Ritual.” Matt and I have the book but haven’t drawn on it as much as we probably should have. I pulled up the video to which she linked and watched as parents and children sang to each other, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, about how precious they are:

Twinkle twinkle little star
What a wonderful child you are
With big, bright eyes and nice round cheeks
A talented person from head to feet
Twinkle twinkle little star
What a wonderful child you are

I watched it a couple times with my kids and then told them I wanted to sing it to each of them. I expected them to think it was corny and get bored and run away. Not so. I was blown away by their responses. Atticus is already picking up on the motions. Miranda stared into my eyes, beaming, soaking up the message. Madeleine CaiQun refused to make eye contact at all – it was too much for her. But immediately after I finished singing to her, she crawled into my lap, curled up, and opened up about some of her fears about our upcoming trip to China. This was a holy morning at our house, my friends.

Dr. Karyn Purvis, who truly helped to bring hope and healing to so many adoptive (and non-adoptive) families and who pioneered so much of the research upon which we draw in our parenting, has a quote that is often repeated in adoption circles – “All children need to know that they are precious, unique, and special, but a child who comes from a hard place needs to know it more desperately.”

I have been underestimating the degree to which my children need to hear that message. I do need to be spending time with them, reading to them, taking them out on dates…but I also need to make sure I’m speaking directly to their hearts with my words and telling them exactly how precious and wonderful they are to me. I have a feeling this song is going to get a lot of air time in our house in the coming days and weeks and months, and I’ll be seeking out other methods of reaching out to nurture their hearts, as well.