Support for Drug-Addicted Parents

Dear Drug Addicted Parents:

I’m in your court.  And there are many more people like me who are cheering for you.  We are here to encourage you to kick the addiction.  Not just the physical addiction, though God knows that’s difficult enough in its own right.

Changing Your Life is Tough

Finding a new way to live is never easy.  We understand that and are rooting for you as you forge a new path.  Perhaps you are trying to change who you hang out with, trying to find friends who value you for who you are, who get what it means to struggle, but don’t rely on drugs for release.  We are searching for people who love us for us, too, desperately wanting that human connection.

Maybe you are figuring out new ways to handle stress that doesn’t involve smoking or snorting or shooting up.  If one thing is true, it’s that we all feel stress.  And we have bad ways of dealing with it, too, like overeating, like losing ourselves online, or getting bitchy towards people who don’t deserve it.  We are trying to get rid of these cruddy habits, just like you, and trying to replace them with exercise, journaling, and other positive stress releasers, but it’s not easy and we often fail.

Forgiving Yourself is Tougher

During your addiction, you’ve hurt people you love.   Can you live with yourself, knowing you have neglected your own child?  Can you live with yourself, knowing you caused your baby to be born with disabilities?  Can you live with yourself, knowing that your child’s childhood and innocence has been stolen from them?  To get truly clean, you must forgive yourself for what many in our society view as unforgivable.

But know that everyone has done something horrible in their lives.  And any honest parent will tell you that they have failed their children many times, in many ways.  Because we are all human, and we all make mistakes.  We have done things we are not proud of, that we are deeply ashamed of, too.

Here For You

So we will be here for you.  Because we are alike in so many ways.  We will take care of your kids for you as you truly get clean, getting rid of the chemical dependence, transforming your life, and forgiving yourself for being human.  We will hug and love on your children as if they are our own so you can have the time and space to truly focus on making this miraculous change.  And we will not be hating you, as you fear we might.  We will be seeing ourselves in you and encouraging you to be the best you can be.  We love your children and we love you, too.

Birth Certificates: Erasing Birth Parents’ Names

Should birth parents’ names be erased from birth certificates and replaced with adoptive parents’ names?  Rebecca of Fosterhood wrote a very moving and thought-provoking piece on why this practice should be banned.  All My Pretty Ones wrote additional support.  And I agree with Rebecca and AMPO … to a point.

Erasing Birth Parents’ Names Denies their Importance

Birth parents play an incredibly important role in children’s lives.  They gave the children life, their looks, their temperament, etc.  Birth parents should most definitely be respected, honored and cherished, and falsifying who really gave birth or fathered children seems to be unbelievably disrespectful.

Official Documents Should be Truthful

I don’t want my name to be listed as having given birth to my son (it wouldn’t be true!).  It’s a record of his BIRTH.  Why should government employees be knowingly and willfully faking official records?

Adoption is Awesome

Why create a lie?  Adoption is no longer a cause for shame.  We are proud of our son’s heritage, history and first family.  We think adoption is an awesome choice and way to make a family.  Open adoption is the norm now.

BUT…

Adoptees Have the Right to Disclose

My son, like many other adoptees, likes to decide who to tell about his life history.  If he knows you, likes you, and feels comfortable, he may choose to reveal this intensely personal aspect of his life.  Birth certificates are used in many different transactions: registering for school, getting a driver’s license, getting a marriage license, etc.  Why should he be forced to share his story with random strangers if he doesn’t feel comfortable?  And let me tell you that school officials will make certain assumptions about your child based off of adoptive status! (argh!)

Older, Foster Adoptees Particularly Sensitive

Children adopted at an older age and children adopted out of foster care may be particularly sensitive about wanting control over to whom and how to disclose their adoptive status.  Having lived with birth parents for a period of their lives, having suffered trauma and loss, they often are highly selective about with whom they talk about adoption.  Can they trust this person with their biggest, deepest emotions?  It raises such painful memories.  And people tend to ask probing questions about what it was like.  And sometimes (uneducated) people think differently of children after they disclose.

So  I have no clear answer here.  What are your thoughts?

The Day We Adopted our Son – Telling the Story

Today on our way home from some post-Christmas shopping, we passed a McDonald’s.  Sassy shared how horrified she was to learn how fast food is made earlier this year.  Silent One shared that he runs by this McDonald’s during track practice.  I shared that we went to McDonald’s on the day Silent One joined our family.  “Really?” the kiddos asked.  “Yup,” I replied.

Here’s me telling this family story and the kids adding in their commentary and questions in <<<brackets>>>.

The Day Silent One Joined the Family

Six-year-old Silent One was dropped off at our hotel room.  He was crying and hiding behind the social worker’s leg.  He’s a bit sick and running a fever, the social worker shared and told us to keep an eye on it, but it was probably no big deal.

<<<Mom, I thought Silent One wasn’t sick until just a few years ago.  Sassy, that’s true – from Silent One’s arrival until then he was  never sick.>>>

Three-year-old Sassy was not sure about this new brother.  “Why’s he crying, mommy?” she asked.  Keeping it simple for a toddler, I told her that Silent One was scared and not feeling well.

My husband and I felt a bit weird.  Ten minutes after the social worker arrived, she left and we were on our own with a very unhappy six year old.  There were no favorite toys or favorite cuddly blankets to give him to help comfort him; he only had the clothes on his back (which were too small) and nothing more.

<<<Why didn’t he have anything, Mom?  Well, the social worker wanted to leave his clothes and toys for other children that may not be adopted, so they would have nice things.  I disagreed as it’s really hard to lose all your stuff, but it wasn’t my choice.>>>

I tried speaking in Spanish to Silent One, but he was not interested in any of us.

<<<Could Dad speak Spanish?  Not back then, honey, but did you know Silent One’s birth mom spoke English?>>>

Silent One didn’t want to chat with me.  He was not interested in playing with his new sister.  It was all too overwhelming!

Then inspiration struck.  We popped in a movie – Finding Nemo.  He calmed down and became absorbed in the story.  During the opening scenes my husband and I glanced at each other.  Ugh!  How could we have forgotten that in the beginning of the movie Nemo loses his mom!!!  Drat those children’s movies that always kill off the parents.  But Silent One didn’t seem phased.

After the movie, I asked Silent One if he wanted to go to McDonald’s.  Like most little kids, his face lit up.  His big brown eyes held some excitement and a hint of happiness.  We walked down the street to the restaurant, which was only a few blocks away.  He held our hands during some of the walk.  Mmmm… this kinda felt like family.  We arrived and I asked Silent One what he wanted to eat.  “Hambuergsa,” he chirped (hamburger).

<<<Silent One always gets hamburgers, says Sassy.  Last time I got a chicken sandwich, says Silent One, and it was good.>>>

We let the kids play on the McDonald’s playground equipment for what seemed like an eternity.  Fairly quickly they began to play together, chasing each other up the ladder and down the slide.  Sassy of course would run back and forth between us and the playground, which started Silent One running to us and away from us.

We walked back to the hotel, hung out, ate dinner and then called it an early night.  I remember how Silent One was so tidy, washing his face then folding the wash cloth neatly.  One shock was Silent One wanting absolute privacy for changing his clothes.  No help needed nor wanted in changing into jammies (I had brought a whole suitcase of new clothes for him).  I felt a little sad as moms like to perform these little acts of caring.  But it was the first day, so I moved on.  And Silent One so neatly folded up his clothes and put them away in the drawer.  He was very happy about sharing the queen-sized bed with Sassy, probably because he shared a bed in his previous home.  I read a bed time story and he lay there quietly.  After a long while, he fell asleep.

Everyday Stories of Our Lives are Powerful

I wrote the above to show just how natural reminiscing about birth family and adoptive families can be.  Sometimes adoptive and foster families are reluctant to re-tell stories that may bring up big emotions.  But sharing stories with our children validates their experiences.  It helps them know that it’s a valuable part of their life.  It’s not a big secret to be hidden away.  It’s just part of their life.

Also, stories need to be told and re-told as children mature.  What they can process at age 6, at age 9, at age 12, and at age 15 is completely different.  So we need to share the experiences over and over, giving children the chance to continue to develop a deeper understanding of their lives.

So yes, driving past McDonad’s is a perfect time to discuss how gross fast food processing is, where the track team runs, and how Silent One joined the family.

Tips to Help Kids Who Sabotage Christmas, Holidays

Christmas meltdowns, Hanukah sabotaging, New Year tantrums…  Browsing around the blogosphere today, I saw so many adoptive and foster parents struggling with Big Day Syndrome.  You may have experienced this phenomenon.  Your children seem like their regular ol’ selves until a holiday, birthday or other big day rolls around.  And then before you know it, your children are throwing themselves on the floor wailing and kicking.  Or perhaps they are sniping, complaining, and jumping up and down on everyone’s feelings.  Suddenly, the holidays have lost their sparkle.  Get it back with the help below.  Oh, and please know that this is normal (though highly aggravating) behavior for adopted and foster kids.

What’s a parent to do?  Here’s a few tips to make holidays less stressful for adopted and fostered kids:

Exercise, Exercise, Exorcise those Holiday Blues

Anxiety, anger, fear, sadness and even “good” feelings like excitement and anticipation get stored in our bodies.  For kids struggling with big feelings, releasing their energy helps them release all those overwhelming feelings and thoughts.  So before a big event, a bunch of blood pumping activities beforehand can help ensure a more even-keeled “main event” later.  Try a snow ball fight, making a snow man or snow angels.  Tag, hide and go seek, and sardines are great, too.  Try singing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs (i.e. who can sing the loudest) as yelling can be great exercise if done right.  Find a pillow and take turns with a “Holiday punch,” where you say something about the upcoming holiday, shout bam, and then punch the pillow (kind of like making a wish with emphasis).  Running them hard until they are exhausted will help get out those big feelings and the endorphins can help them enjoy the actual big day.

Boss Time to Subdue Holiday Chaos

We used Boss Time frequently in the past.  It’s fabulous for kids who feel a need to control their environment, have problems trusting adults, and anxious kids who worry about everything.  “Typical” kids love it, too.  You let your child be the boss for a set period of time with the caveat that there is no hurting people, animals or things and that their rules will disappear at the end of their Boss Time.  For example, I would give my daughter 15 minutes to be Boss, she would tell me to do her chores and I would, or she would tell me to sing a silly song and I would, or she would decide to eat ice cream and that was fine.  But if she asked me to call her brother names – no, that’s hurting a person.  Why does it work?  Well, too often kids feel vulnerable, so many difficult things have happened to them that they didn’t get a say in.  They had no choice about foster care, adoption, abuse, etc.  So giving them power for a short period of time helps them take a break from that feeling of being helpless.  When this was first suggested to me, I didn’t think it would work, but it worked beautifully for both kiddos.

Arm’s Length is Just Right

Holidays are full of excitement, which to an adopted or foster kid can feel like chaos.  Life seems to be spinning out of control.  There are Christmas wishlists to make, big meals to sit through, huge family gatherings filled with too many people.  Holiday movies showcase abandonment (think Home Alone or Elf).  Kids will be bouncing off the wall, running away in the grocery store or mall.  Putting them on Arm’s Length will help you shop, wrap presents, bake cookies, etc. while helping your children feel secure.  Simply put, they must stay in arm’s length of you.  You can test this by reaching out your arm and they reach out their arm.  If your fingers can touch, you’re fine.  If not, they must move closer until they can touch.  You stay calm while they wander, twirl in circles, etc.  This is not a punishment – don’t use your presence as punishment!  Rather it’s a way to affirm that being together is a way to feel calm and regulate one’s emotions.  And “being bad” doesn’t result in being shunned and being sent away (abandoned) again – which invokes the loss of the birth family.  I didn’t believe in this one either until I tried it at the grocery store for my son.  It really helped him regulate.

Bumps are Part of the Journey

On Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving), we talk about the upcoming holidays.  One thing we plan to have are bumps.  We throw out ideas of some trying times we may have.  Maybe we will not get the presents we wanted.  Maybe we will not have a white Christmas with snow on the ground.  Maybe we will get overwhelmed and lose our tempers.  We play act what the situation may look like and different ways to respond (good and less than helpful responses).  Letting kids know that it is normal to feel a bit stressed during Big Days gives them permission to feel they way they feel.  And there’s no pressure to be good enough to “deserve” presents or fun.  When the bumps happen, we can say, hey we were right, we did have a bump.  This helps the kids feel in control.  Yeah, they predicted this.  And they have some options already in their pockets for how to respond.  Example, we predict we may miss some family members who aren’t present and feel sad.  We act this out, heaving great big sighs, staring out the window.  We then act out some responses, like doing nothing, like slamming doors, writing in a journal, or petting the family dog.  We then discuss which responses might help us get over the bump.  Later in real life, someone invariably misses their birth mom, past friends, etc. and then chooses one of the four “brainstormed” responses or another one.  We realize the emotion, process it, and then move on.

Black Friday Agreement

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we have a family gathering and each person has a chance to say what they really want out of the holiday.  Expectations are put on the table and examined.  Each person talks about what we should do this year – get a real tree? make a gingerbread house? buy presents? make a special meal?  We put people in charge of different aspects.  They get to have fun being the boss of an activity (mom or dad can help out as appropriate).  And they get what they want while helping others get what they want.  That’s a true holiday spirit, baby!

Staycation on Steroids

When my co-workers or friends learn that I’ve taken two weeks off this year for the holidays, they invariably ask if we are traveling somewhere or doing something special.  Just hanging with the family, I respond.  They say sounds great, though I can tell many feel bad that we don’t have money, friends/family, or the holiday spirit – because who would choose to do nothing???  Well, hanging with the family is a big something and a wonderful present to give yourself, your spouse, and kids.  No pressure.  Play video games or board games.  Enjoy being relaxed.  Go for long walks.  Take a bubble bath.  Make healthy meals from scratch.  Being with family is enough.  We don’t need more than that, Santa!

Other Good Resources

Check out JenHatmaker’s blog on what Big Day Syndrome looks like and more parenting tips on surviving a holiday with a kiddo who sabotages it.  I was a Foster Kid provides a foster alum’s perspective on why holidays are so hard for foster kids.

You can help kids find a home!  Reblog this video.

We adopted from foster care and our son Silent One is one of the best things to have ever happened in our lives.   This holiday, help give children what they really want – a family and place to call home.  Please re-blog this message to let people know great kids are waiting to be adopted!

As an extra bonus, Blog­gin’ Mamas and Ele­ment Asso­ciates are donat­ing a toy to a child in fos­ter care for every blog post shar­ing this infor­ma­tion, up to 25. 

Today, 402,000 chil­dren are in the fos­ter care sys­tem in the United States. Nearly 102,000 chil­dren (under 18 years of age) wait­ing for adoption.

Dur­ing this hol­i­day sea­son, there’s an extra push to help them find homes. The U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices, Adop­tUSKids and the Ad Coun­cil recently unveiled a new series of pub­lic ser­vice adver­tise­ments (PSAs) designed to con­tinue to encour­age the adop­tion of chil­dren from fos­ter care with an empha­sis on the impor­tance of keep­ing sib­lings together.

Check out this PSA video from the Ad Council:

Can They Feel the Love? Foster kids and Interstellar

I must confess to a strange thing I do.  I send my love to foster kids waiting to be adopted on AdoptUSKids.  I look at their pictures, say a little prayer for them, and then send them my love wherever they may be.  It’s a heart felt wish for them to find their forever families, to know they are valued, to stay strong despite all the tough curveballs life has thrown them.

 

Well, I’ve kept this secret to myself for quite some time.  Because isn’t this a little weird?  My husband rolls his eyes when I say I think loving these waiting kids from far away makes a difference.

But then I watched the movie Interstellar and Anne Hathaway has this monologue about love.  She explains that love and gravity are the only two things that transcend time and space.  So, apparently other people feel like you can send love across long distances and that love can make a tangible difference in that person’s life.

So tell me, is looking at AdoptUSKids and giving my heart to the foster kids a little strange?  A lot strange? Or like a prayer, completely capable of working a mini miracle?

Oooooh, Pick Me! Pick Me!

Remember when we were little kids and we really, really wanted the teacher to choose us to answer a question or help her with some special task? Our arms were waving in the air, we could hardly keep our butts in our seats, our entire upper bodies were wiggling as an extension of those waving arms. “Pick me! Pick me!,” we called out.

That’s the feeling I’ve got right now. Hey, social worker – pick me! Choose our family! We’re ready to welcome a foster child.

As we get older, we learn to hide how much we want something. We’ll raise our hand quietly, if at all. Because who wants to be embarrassed and disappointed if we are not chosen?

But I want this. I really want this. So I emailed my social worker again – this time under the pretext that I forgot to mention that I’ll be a stay-at-home mom over Christmas break for two and half weeks. How perfect for respite care! I’ll be right here to actively care for any foster kids who need a place to stay over the holidays.

A battle rages on inside me. Part of me worries that the social worker is annoyed or amused by my emails. What if in a fit of pique she decides to skip over me, “that pesky” foster mama hopeful? Part of me confidently says advocating for children requires courage and a banishment of pride. My emails are crafted carefully: breezy, not desperate. I only email every 2-4 weeks. And the squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?

So I throw it out to you. How do you walk that fine line between reminding your social worker that you’re still there, waiting for a placement versus calling the social worker every five seconds?