Adoptive Parent Questions

On this blog, I typically write about lessons I’m learning and experiences I’m having.  I don’t write from a place of complete resolution very often—my blog title is “Journeying with Him,” not “Journeyed” or “There!”–but I always try to share SOME nugget of a lesson learned or perspective gained so reading it isn’t just a waste of your time.

Today, I thought I’d break from that and write from a place of complete NON-resolution about some of the things that I find myself thinking about as an adoptive parent.  None have answers; they’re just things I think about and weigh from time to time.

So many of my readers have expressed an interest in adoption.  Here are some of the things you may find yourself considering if you go that route.  Some apply to multiracial families, some to open adoptions, some to adoption in general.

Race/Ethnicity:

-In an average week, what color is my child’s world? Is she seeing people who look like her? Where is she seeing them? What are they doing? What assumptions might she make about people who look like her from what she sees? In other words, is she seeing black/biracial people in a variety of jobs with various levels of educational attainment and SES, or is she just seeing white people and/or white people who are served by black people?  (The default in our area is one of those two, which frustrates me to no end, but that’s why I think about it and try out different solutions.)

-Do we have friends of other races? Do we have friends from other ethnic backgrounds? Are we spending enough time with them to make sure they are quality friendships? Do my daughters know these friends?

-Do we see and spend time with other multiracial families?

-When my daughters read books and watches TV, does they see children that look like them and families that look like their family? If not, where can I find these materials for them?

-How do we talk about race in our family? What are our terms, what is our approach, and what is developmentally appropriate? For example, Zoe just started talking about “dark skin” and “light skin,” “brown eyes” and “blue eyes.”  Do we add words to the conversation like “beautiful” and “different,” or just keep it to the color descriptions right now? At what point do we progress the conversation to why our skin is different?

-How do I best care for my daughters’ hair? What products, grooming routines, and hair styles do I need to learn about to keep their hair healthy and to help them feel comfortable? What resources do I still need to learn about and who can I call for more consultation?

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-The same questions above, in relation to their skin?

-What will my daughters look like as they get older? Will my daughters be accepted in this mostly-white area? Will boys want to date them? Will they be accepted in image-focused activities like dance team or cheerleading if they want to (and do I want them to? Ha).  These are the kinds of questions that every mom probably has, but I have no insight from my own life to draw from as I sit around projecting into the future 🙂

Adoption:

-Lots of my friends are pregnant right now.  Zoe has been very intrigued with the concept of a “baby in belly” and talked about how “Baby Zoe” was in my belly.  I told her that some babies grow in their mommy’s bellies and some grow in their mommy’s hearts, and that she and Riley grew in mommy’s heart.  This was probably not developmentally appropriate and it’s definitely not biologically accurate; however, I did not want her walking around with the incorrect thought that she grew in my belly, and she is not old enough to really understand the concept of her birth mom.  When do I begin unpacking this for her?

-Likewise, Zoe understands that “P” had something to do with Riley’s birth.  What does she understand? How much should I discuss this/how much should I have discussed this?

-We have a lot of adoption books, all depicting different aspects and stories.  How often do I read these, which should I read now, and how much should I just let her set a pace for our discussions on this?IMG_2884

-What resources (if any) should I provide to friends as they discuss our family with their kids?

-What language do I teach my girls about how to tell their own stories?

-As my daughters grow and understand their stories, I know that aspects of their identity, self-esteem, and sense of belonging will probably be impacted by the fact that they were placed for adoption.  What else might be impacted? How do I build strong foundations for my girls in these areas now? How do I know if they are struggling at some point?

Birthparents:

-How do I best preserve memories of their birth stories, correspondence with their birth parents, legal documents, photos, etc.? Keeping up with a baby book is already a struggle, but I have to make time for this too, as they deserve access to information about their stories.  What’s the best way to do this for them, and when do I introduce these records of their stories to my daughters?

-How will each daughter’s individual story affect her at different stages of her life? What do we tell each girl, and when do we share that information?

-I have different types of information about each daughter’s story (and different pieces of missing information in their stories).  How will the holes in their stories affect them as individuals and as sisters?

-What will our ongoing relationship with both girls’ birthparent(s) look like? How do I best serve my girls? How do I best respect their birth moms? Should I still be sending photos to one of their biological grandmothers, who asked me to, even though she never responds?

-How are our girls’ birthparents doing? Do they need anything? We can’t really give it to them if they do, but are they doing okay? How are their families? Along those lines, how do you keep wise boundaries (relationally and emotionally) in place, while still loving?

-There are some aspects of my girls’ stories that I’ve chosen not to explore.  Is this actually doing them a disservice, or is it the best thing for them and for respecting their birthparents?

-Will we be asked for something by our girls’ birthparents in the future?

-Will our girls wish we would have done something differently someday?

-Should I reach out and say “thank you” to their birth moms on Mother’s Day, or is leaving them alone more helpful for them?

-Is sending lots of photos at our pre-determined photo intervals helpful, or does it harm the healing process? Is 7 better than 30, or is 30 better? What updates do I include? Do they want to see their baby only, or does it bring them more peace to see their baby in her community/family? Is it safe to share these photos? Are these photos being shared outside of our private communication? Do any of our photos reveal anything I don’t want shared about our neighborhood, family, or community?

Closing thoughts 

As you can see, some of these questions are productive and some aren’t.  Some questions have research and a best practice recommendation surrounding them, while others have have no answers and no way to get closer to answers.

Listing all of these questions all out like this probably makes it seem like I fret a lot, but the truth is that I am usually too busy with the logistical concerns of caring for a baby and toddler to spend lots of time analyzing these questions (and I would never let myself think about all of these questions in a row anyway…hello, anxiety!)

Still, I should think about them from time to time, as I think it would do my children a disservice to parent them as if we weren’t a multiracial family, as if we weren’t an adoptive family, or as if loss wasn’t a part of their stories.  (For more on the latter, read this fantastic blog post.)

And I do have one answer: the best things I do as an adoptive mom is the best thing any mom can do, and that is to pray for wisdom, trust that God will give it to me, and take the advice in Philippians 2:4: “…each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If I am interested in my daughters’ emotional lives, proactively begin conversations with them about their feelings as they grow, pray for them, and seek insight into how to understand and support their unique needs, I cannot go wrong.

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What I Do

I have been trying to write a variation of this post for a few months.  Every time I sat down to write it, the words that came out were academic, impersonal, distant.  I had a truth I wanted to share, but somehow, it was getting stuck.

Start with the personal.  The answer came tonight as I made pizza for my family.  As I spread the pesto and washed the mushrooms and grated the cheese, the words began.  And as I am learning to do, I baked the pizza and plated the food and praised the toddler and put the pajamas on and sang the goodnight song, holding off the flow of words but not losing the spark.  And now I sit down to write these words, that once were choked and now are loud:

I am finally proud of what I do. 

So here’s the personal: when I first became a stay-at-home-mom, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stay home, but I felt mixed about the decision itself.   I was proud that I had made the decision based on my values instead of societal pressure, but I still felt societal pressure.  Additionally, my success at work had become a huge part of my self-worth, and taking it away left some definite holes (this actually prompted some positive growth, but growth isn’t always easy).

On a day-to-day basis, caring for my daughter and seeing the benefits of my work with her took away this angst.  I knew I had made the right choice for her, and honestly, I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, so it felt like the right choice for me as well.

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But when I had to admit to other adults what I did full-time, it was a different story.

For about a year after leaving my full-time job, I dreaded the “so, what do you do?” question that people would ask at parties and networking events.  I didn’t know what to say.  Did I tell them what I was capable of, or what I was currently doing?

After a few social events fraught with these instances of panic and pause, I asked David, “what do I say when people ask me what I do?!”

He mildly replied, as someone who was not experiencing an existential crisis would, “maybe say what you do?”   

But to me, the answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom” somehow reflected “I am June Cleaver and hoped and dreamed that I would find fulfillment in the home as a homemaker.”

I knew people who had dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom since second grade.  These are the same people who spend lots of time on Pinterest and who can make pie crusts from scratch.  THOSE people were the stay-at-home moms.

I was not.  I hadn’t spent my whole life waiting to be a wife and mother; I was surprised when I wanted either.  I liked working and advancing professionally.  I’ve only made two pies ever, and both burnt.  And so even though I found myself happy as a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t seem like enough. 

So, “I used to be a —–” is what I would settle on, feeling like a fraud, “but now I’m a (hurriedly under my breath) stay at home mom and I do consulting work part time on the side too.  Man, this bruschetta has a kick! Gotta go get some wine! I hope I never see you again and that you don’t remember this conversation at all!”

It’s hard to put into words exactly why this role was hard to own, but I think some commentary from our culture will help:

From an article on depression among executive women: 

“Choose a female-friendly employer, said Harriet Greenberg, a partner at Friedman LLP, an accounting firm in New York City. Its open-door policy and flex-time option help women cope. If a woman stays home for a few years to chase kids, ‘she’s welcomed back,’ she said.”   (Source, emphasis mine.  The semantics kill me! We couldn’t possibly be imparting anything of VALUE during those times with our kids…nope, just chasing them).

From a conversation last Friday with a new colleague: 

“So, what did you do before children interrupted your life?”

From a conversation with a man (who has children!) two summers ago: 

Him: “So, you left your job? Do you actually find that spending your day caring for your child is fulfilling?
Me: “Yes, I do.”
Him: “Really??”

From a conversation with a recent (female) college graduate: 

“I bet you can’t wait to get back to work, huh?”

I’m not trying to be overly sensitive, nor am I skewering anyone quoted above for their word choices.  These comments and excerpts reflect a larger debate in our culture over the value and necessity of a stay-at-home parent.  I understand why we have that debate, and from a sociological and historical perspective, I think it’s important that we keep discussing it.

But I hope that conversation evolves a little to say this: act from your values, ignore the critics and “shoulds,” and make yourself proud.    

As a woman, I’ve been told everything from you should of course stay home with your kids; how could you leave them? to if you don’t go back to work, you’re betraying all women. How do you ever expect your daughter to respect you if you don’t?

On that spectrum, I’ve experienced everything from congratulations, you’ve made the best decision for your kids! to rolled eyes at a university faculty meeting when I said that I was a mostly stay-at-home mom and an abrupt silence at a professional luncheon when I mentioned my kids.

But I’m learning to be okay with it.  Because it’s my life, and I’m acting from my values.  Yes, they are values that surprised me, but it’s okay to be surprised by the evolution of your life. Accepting that evolution is called “growth.”

Since becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom who works an average of 5-8 hours a week, I’ve earned $40,000 in grant funding for nonprofits, taught college classes, trained youth professionals, nonprofit employees, youth, and parents in our area, and helped a nonprofit organization completely recreate its evaluation plan to better measure their impact, to name a few projects.

But the most important thing I do? Undoubtedly, is care for and nurture these two girls.  

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Now, truth: it’s sometimes the most boring thing that I do.  It’s often the most thankless thing that I do.  It’s not sexy and it doesn’t look great on a resume (or apparently, to a female-friendly accounting firm).  But in my core, I know it’s the best thing for my family now, and honestly, I find so much joy in it.

And admitting that latter part? Is huge for me.  Because I’m finally admitting that what I do as a stay-at-home parent matters, and that it’s okay to have made this choice—and to enjoy it.

Our culture doesn’t always value it.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

So what do I do?

I’m a stay-at-home parent.  And I’m finally proud of it.