Book to be Released Next Week: Confessions of an Adoptive Parent

When I posted this photo on Instagram and Facebook, a number of my friends who are foster or adoptive parents (or preparing to be either of those!) commented that they were interested in what the book was all about.

I heard both Mike and Kristin Berry speak back in October at the Refresh Chicago 2017 Conference and was encouraged by their words and by the conference in general, so when they announced that this book was coming out this year, I was honored to be invited to be part of its launch team (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book and the pre-order bonus materials in exchange for my participation in the launch team.) 

The book has a very similar feel to the Refresh Conference – one of its primary aims is to make sure that foster and adoptive parents understand that they are not alone. Mike tells a number of stories from his own experience as a foster and adoptive parent (while still keeping many details of his children’s stories private), which help to communicate that no matter what a family is experiencing, their struggles are not unique. The Berry family has parented children who behaved in unsafe ways with other children, who became pregnant earlier than planned, who have had to be placed in residential treatment facilities for periods of time, whose experiences of trauma directly play into their behavior, and who are not always respectful, kind, mature individuals. No matter what struggle an adoptive or foster parent is walking through, this book will offer reassurance that they are not the only ones.

It’s also very readable – I carried it with me and read it all over the place 🙂

reading while waiting for Miranda’s swim meet to start!

Some of what I found most helpful from the book were the reminders to press on. Berry writes, “So now we have a choice. We can shake our fists at the heavens and say, ‘This wasn’t part of the deal,’ or we can choose to move forward, love our children through the trials, work to understand trauma, and live to the best of our ability in this new normal” (p. 76-77). Probably all of us parents have had moments of wondering whether this life was really what we signed up for, but I appreciated the encouragement to persevere through the hard times. Berry says, “I’ve found that when I stop dwelling on what I wish would have been, and accept what actually is, I find hope quicker” (p. 77).

Reminding us all that there is hope, no matter what, is another of the main points of this book. Part of that is practical encouragement – Berry tells multiple stories of kids and young adults who were making bad choices but whose paths eventually changed, and he offers the reminder that we are all in process, saying, “I didn’t come from a traumatic situation the way some of my kids did, but I still had to journey to where I am today. Twenty years ago I wasn’t able to do what I do today” (p. 187). And another part of this reminder that hope exists is spiritual. Berry writes, “That’s where I find hope – not in the wreckage of this journey, but in the fact that Jesus has willingly entered into our darkest moments and fights with us and for us in the middle of it” (p. 123). And he says, “You and I need to trust the God who created the universe and gave us life, confident that He holds our broken kids in His mighty hands” (p. 188).

Our children are younger, and we haven’t had all of the experiences that the Berry family has. However, we have had our own struggles as parents, and we do see the effects of trauma in our kids’ lives, and not everyone around us understands why we make the choices we do for our family. It’s encouraging to know that there are others out there who do understand this adoption parenting journey. And I appreciated the reminders to have hope and persevere in loving well, even in the midst of hard situations with our kiddos.

If you’re looking for some encouragement in these areas, I’d absolutely recommend the book! And if you pre-order in the next few days, there are some pretty extensive pre-order bonuses, which you can check out here!

Book Thoughts: Teaching from Rest

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will already be aware that the first book I chose to work toward my 2018 goal of reading more non-fiction is Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie.

Every time a question comes up in the homeschool mom groups on Facebook asking for book recommendations for moms themselves, this book is suggested over and over again. I couldn’t figure out what could possibly make it that popular. Surely it couldn’t be that good, right? Wrong. It is that good.

Even the foreword of my copy is covered in hand-written notes!

Early in Part One of the book, the author shares a quote from C.S. Lewis:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

She follows that with some practical application for homeschooling moms: “Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that is. Rest begins with acceptance, with surrender. Can we accept what He is sending today?”

Wow.

As a mom of 4 kids ages 7 and under, my day is full of “interruptions.” I never accomplish all that I write down on my “to do list.” Never.

And yet this is the life God has given me. I need to slow down and accept, moment by moment, that this child, the child in front of me right now, the one who is melting down because she didn’t get her way or the one who is celebrating the pee art dinosaurs he has just made on the couch (true story – see below), needs my attention and my affection and my loving teaching. And that is exactly what God would have me prioritize (as opposed to the next item on my list or, worse, the next post I could scroll to see on Facebook), and when I accept that, my attitude will be much more peaceful and in line with where God would have me focus my attention and energies.

pee art – “two dinosaurs”

I also appreciated the reminder of what I’m truly called to do. The author writes, “Most of my own frustration comes for forgetting what my real task is in the first place. He’s called me to be faithful, yet I’m determined to be successful.”

Yes. Obviously I need to have goals for my children – but especially as they grow older, I cannot force them to accomplish any given objective. In truth, my job is to be a faithful teacher. I need to pray. I need to meet each child exactly where he or she needs me to meet them. I need to teach, to present materials and ideas and concepts, and to encourage thoughtfulness. Each child will do something different, something unique and very much their own, with what I present to them, and my job cannot be to force those results, but to be faithful in what I teach.

I also so appreciated her writing about what curriculum is. She says, “Curriculum isn’t something we buy. It’s something we teach. Something we embody. Something we love. It is the form and content of our children’s learning experiences.” And a few pages later she writes, “Remember, how far we progress in a book does not matter nearly as much as what happens in the mind and heart of our student, and for that matter, in ourselves.”

I am so guilty of thinking that the curriculum I use in teaching my children lies solely in the materials I purchase. And then I become bound to those purchased materials, obligated to complete them in their entirety within a less-than-12-month time period. And that’s just not reality.

It is my job to educate my children. The materials I purchase are the tools at my disposal for pursuing that objective. If this year’s poetry selection in our purchased curriculum just isn’t doing anything for us, but I’ve heard about another book that is stellar, a substitution may be a great idea. If we take breaks from our purchased curriculum to study emotional self-regulation or visit a museum and learn about dinosaurs or listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches or to go to the fire station or to do a unit study on the Olympics and that enriches my children’s education, that’s just fine.

It is my job to nurture my own children, connect with them, prioritize my relationships with them. No one else’s homeschool will look exactly like ours, and that’s the way it should be. In working to serve God and my own family, I have freedom to teach what and how my kids need, in a way that works for our family.

I was encouraged by this book to grow myself, to be a person who slows down and reads and contemplates ideas. I want to live a life that I’d be happy to have my children imitate. I want to slow down, seek God for our family’s homeschooling journey, and really focus on relationships with each of my children. I want to take each moment as it comes, whatever it brings, and teach my kids throughout the day. I finish the book encouraged and refreshed in this long winter stretch of homeschooling, excited to live out these ideas of teaching from rest.

Book Thoughts: Siblings Without Rivalry

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sibling relationships – how to cultivate good relationships among all 4 of my children. There has been a lot of discussion about sibling relationships within the China adoption community lately (I wrote this guest post last month for a popular China adoption blog), and, more personally, Matt and I have been working on addressing some concerns we have about ways we’ve seen our kids interacting with each other . We have a lot of different dynamics going on in our family that complicate our kids’ sibling relationships – we have both biological and adopted children; we’ve virtual twinned and adopted out of birth order; and we have 4 kids with the age difference between our oldest and youngest being only 4.5 years. We have girls and boys; introverts and extroverts; sensory seekers and sensory avoiders.

As a researcher, my instinct whenever I encounter a situation in which I’m not certain how to proceed, is to find a book 🙂 The book Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish came well recommended, and I’d appreciated another book they’d written, so I dived into this one last month.

I found it often helpful but also sometimes not incredibly practical, at least for my crew.

The book begins with encouragement to understand our children’s perspectives. They are individuals with individual preferences, and they may not always get along perfectly or appreciate one another, and we as parents need to understand that and give them good, healthy ways to express their feelings honestly.

It then discusses the dangers of comparisons, which, to me, tied in closely with their discussion of placing children into roles. Making comparisons includes things that are, to me, obviously problematic, like making a statement to a child like, “Your sister always gets her math homework right; why can’t you?!?” But it also includes interactions that have a bit more subtlety – any discussion a child’s accomplishments relative to those of another child; labeling children as “the athletic one” and “the funny one;” and only allowing children to pursue interests at which they are the best in the family. This section forced me to ask myself some questions, in particular about the strategies I use to parent my oldest two children, who are less than a year apart in age and spend much of their time together but who are also very different.

I was reminded of that this week when a Facebook memory popped up from two years ago:

Madeleine CaiQun – “Mom, if me and JieJie want to be flower girls in Uncle Daniel’s and Sharon’s wedding, we’ll have to practice – it’s a big job for 5-year-old girls!!”
Miranda Grace – “I have practiced enough. I even knew how to do it before I practiced. Watch me.”

It’s easy to box them in, to make assumptions about who they are and who they will be, and not give them space to explore beyond that. It’s a tough line to walk – encouraging each of them in who they are but not pigeonholing them or restricting them. I want them to be free to explore and become exactly who God created them to be, and their relationship with each other is going to be part of that, but I hope it will be an empowering part, as opposed to a limiting part.

Relatedly, there was discussion about treating children uniquely, not equally. We need to give each child what he or she needs, which is not necessarily the same thing that a brother or sister needs. The book encouraged parents to treat our children as we hope they will become and empower them to become that.

The last section of the book focused on conflict. I found a large portion of the conversation helpful, but I also disagreed with parts of it. The authors’ suggestions for helping your children in working through conflict are, essentially, to acknowledge that the situation is complicated and acknowledge your children’s feelings but then to assure them that you are certain they can come to an agreement that works for everyone and leave and allow them to work it out on their own.

Sometimes that works well. I followed their directions almost exactly one morning when we were in Wisconsin and my two big girls were fighting over some toys, and the result was that they worked it out on their own and enjoyed hours of happy play time together.

However, the fact is that our children are often doing as well as they can in the moment. Sometimes a brief interlude in a fight with a sibling, taking time to tell the story to a parent and have their feelings acknowledged, is enough to help them come out of a state of dysregulation, and they can then focus more and work through the conflict themselves – but sometimes it’s not. And sometimes children are children, they’re young, their brains are not fully developed, and they simply do not have the skills to resolve a conflict on their own.

At our house we practice scripts. Probably the earliest one was this –

  • “May I have a turn with that toy when you’re done?”
  • “Yes, you may have a turn when I’m done.”

Do I expect my 7-year-olds to say exactly that to each other every single time one of them wants a toy that the other one has? No. But practicing that script in different situations when they were 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 gave them a framework to understand the dialogue that can occur. It helped them to learn that they were not allowed to take toys from one another but that there was an expectation of sharing. It also helped them to practice working out conflict with each other.

If kids are calm and if they truly have the skills to work through the conflict themselves, I think the book’s recommendations can work – but I don’t think those conditions are always met (and this may be true in particular for kids who have experienced trauma).

In general, I found the book helpful. Though I didn’t agree with every single one of its recommendations, it challenged me to reconsider the ways in which I think about and interact with my kids, and it gave me some new strategies to put into practice. For me it was a worthwhile read!

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 🙂

Homeschooling 2017-2018

Our 2017-2018 school year is well underway! We’re about 8 weeks into our curriculum, which is, as usual, not quite as far as I’d like to be but is absolutely far enough 🙂 This year we have Miranda (2nd grade), Madeleine CaiQun (1st grade), and our two littles, Atticus and FangFang, along for the ride.

I do actually have some goals for the littles this year! This will be the last year for which I do no formal schooling with them at all, but I want to start getting them prepared for that. To that end, we’re working on learning letters and numbers, and I’m more intentionally spending some time reading books to them (which is, honestly, most of what their “pre-school” year will look like anyway!).

Things are a bit more intense with the bigs 🙂 We are using primarily Sonlight curriculum again, and everyone was super excited for our box day!

As usual, the girls dug in and started reading through a few of the books right away 🙂

This year, we are using Core C for our History-Bible-Literature package – it is year 2 of World History (picking up after the Fall of Rome). Honestly, while I know there are people who are passionate about ancient history (I’m looking at you, David!), I’m enjoying getting to slightly more modern times.

We’re also using Science C, which has some biology but also focuses on geology, meteorology, and mechanical technology. So far we’ve been learning about animals and about how our human bodies work, which has been fun for all of us.

One thing that is new this year is that I have the girls each doing their own level of readers, with Madeleine CaiQun actually at the higher level. I knew even toward the beginning of last year that she was a notably strong reader, and while she struggles a bit with appropriate expression when reading out loud, she continues to be an excellent reader. She’s using the Grade 4 Readers this year. Miranda is also a great reader, and for this year she is working her way through the Grade 3 Readers.

This is the first year during which I’ve allowed the girls to do any of their reading silently on their own, just reporting back to me afterwards and talking with me about what they’ve read. I know this is the beginning of a transition for us, toward them being able to do more schooling independently. To be honest, it is a bit sad for me, in that I’m no longer intimately involved in everything they’re reading and doing, but it’s all part of the process of growing up and gaining independence, and I know it’s ultimately a good thing 🙂 And one advantage is that I more often catch them digging into good books and curling up on the couch to read all on their own!

We generally start our days with seat work. Every family has to find their own routines, and over time, we’ve found that this is what works best for us! Miranda is continuing with Singapore math – at the beginning of the year, she finished up their 2nd grade curriculum, and she is now well into 3rd grade math. Math is pretty intuitive for her, and it brings me a lot of joy to work through it with her. It’s so neat to see her grasp new concepts – this week we tackled two-step word problems, and I wasn’t sure whether she’d understand the logical leap right away, but she absolutely got it!

Last year we tried a few different things for Madeleine CaiQun, for whom Singapore was not as good of a fit. She does best with a slow pace and with the incorporation of manipulatives and a gradual transition to completing the same math problems without those manipulatives. We ended up landing on Math-U-See as a math curriculum for her. Obviously it would be convenient (and cheaper!) to have every child in our family using the same curriculum, but one of the benefits of homeschooling is that we can work with each student in the way they best learn, and this is an instance in which we see that playing out well in our family. We started with this curriculum mid-way through the year last year, so Madeleine CaiQun is wrapping up her Alpha year, and when she finishes that, we’ll start on Beta.

We are continuing to use Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting practice, with Madeleine CaiQun having another year of practice with printing (with her book modeled by Atticus!) and Miranda starting to learn how to write in cursive.

To round out our Language Arts curriculum, we’re using First Language Lessons: Level Two and All About Spelling (continuing in Level One).

We actually tackle our school work throughout the day, starting with seat work at the table (math and handwriting) and then taking a break. Miranda, in particular, does best if she gets to move around before spending a lot more time doing school. After our break, we move to the living room and snuggle on the couch for most of our “reading school,” after which our afternoons are usually pretty free (though we’re often finishing up something that didn’t quite happen that morning!). But our days conclude with the last of our school work, as Matt puts the littles to bed, and the big kids and I snuggle in my bed and use our read-alouds as bedtime stories.

Overall, the year is off to a good start 🙂 I’m thankful, yet again, for awesome curriculum options, and I’m thankful for this time I get to spend with my kiddos!