Letter to My New Mom Self

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m getting ready to go out of town for a few days, and so I wanted to reprise something for Mother’s Day from a few years back. This year Christopher turns 18, and is reconnecting with some of his birth family, so it seems like the right time to get a little retrospective. (If that’s the right word.)

Oh, and if you caught my Mother’s Day article over at “The Perennial Gen” and have wandered over here … Welcome! (Don’t get scared off by the post under this one. I promise I can’t remember the last time I blogged about anything political. I have enough drama in my life without adding to it — don’t you?)

And so, without further ado … Pour yourself a cup of tea and meander with me to 2015.

Next weekend we celebrate a decade of “official” family life. Ten years since the adoptions were finalized and the kids were officially welcomed into the family . . . and baptized into God’s. We plan to go to Cedar Point with their godparents, to celebrate. This weekend, though, as Sarah and I sit in the living room — her painting designs on her fingernails and watching Girl Meets World, and me typing, my mind drifts back to those first few weeks together. Some parts are such a blur, but others come back with crystal clarity. And so, before those bits get fuzzy, too, I thought I’d write a little letter to my new-mom self.

Dear New-Mom Heidi:

I know it seems impossible right now, when every hour drags as you try to cope with enormous mounds of laundry and unending chaos. Poop on the walls. Food splattered on the ceiling. Kids screaming you awake at one-hour intervals. A husband who spends L-O-N-G hours at work and leaves you alone from dawn to dusk with these ornery little dickenses. I know. I know. But trust me, it won’t always be like this.

Be as gentle with yourself and your family as you possibly can. You have undertaken the most difficult challenge of your adult life, infinitely harder than you thought it would be. But trust me when I tell you this: You can make it easier, or you can make it MUCH harder, just by what you choose to see. This is not the time for your “volunteer” gene to go into overdrive at church, or to take on a forty-hour work week. Because you will never get this time back. And neither will your kids.

Don’t worry about your job right now, and get some help if you possibly can so you can catch up on your sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Every moment you spend with them now will pay rich dividends down the line. But now it’s time to pay up.

Breathe. Laugh. Relax. These kids won’t get calmer, or sleepier, or happier if you are a stressed-out mess. So do everyone a favor. Don’t set the bar too high. Get some help — since you don’t have family nearby, au pairs are worth their weight in gold. Keeping them at home, close to you, is going to help the trauma heal. Read about trauma. And stop yelling, or you’ll make it worse.

Protect them, and never let them out of your direct line of vision, even with other kids. Yes, you need a break, and yes those breaks are few and far between. But trauma attracts trauma, and the worst kinds of abuse breeds sneakiness. Keep your kids close, as close as you possibly can as much as you possibly can, if you want those broken little hearts to heal. When you want their attention, whisper. And don’t forget to teach them “feelings” words. Or to get down on their level, and touch them gently when you want to make eye contact.

Resign your dreams and expectations. They may always struggle academically, no matter how many story hours and silly songs you share with them. No matter how many specialists and therapists they see. They may never make the honor roll, but if they keep talking to you, you’re ahead of the game. Spend more time focusing on their gifts, and less on their challenges.

Expect it to hurt . . . but look for the joy. The kids won’t remember if you stood over them while they struggled through their homework. But they’ll never forget it when you put down the rake, and jump in the leaf pile with them! Let them eat the raw cookie dough and sprinkles, and don’t ration the M&Ms so much.

Adoption is hard work. Don’t forget to enjoy the perks!

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Adoption Tip: Connect Virtually with Your Child’s Mother

The other day I came across this extraordinary website that I wanted to share with all those out there who want more than anything to connect with the mother of your future child.

Thanks to the miracle of new media, there are more options than ever to get the word out about your desire for family. If you are interested in domestic adoption, this is an option you should seriously consider.

Remember, though … a website is only as good as it is effective in making connections. Put your URL out there every way you can think of. That is every bit as important as creating the site itself!

God bless you!

Are Your Head and Heart in Balance?

sarahobstacle1

Yesterday we had a sibling visit with my children’s older brother (“brother by blood,” as my kids say). Casey was adopted by another couple, who went on to adopt a second teenager (God bless ’em) after raising two “home-grown” children.

In less than a year, Casey went from being the oldest to youngest in his family of four kids. And he would be the first to tell you it hasn’t been easy. “I get mad a lot,” he said to me last night over burgers.

Ironically, he knows in his head that he ‘s better off now. “If I had stayed with my parents, I would be dead by now,” he tells me. “It wasn’t safe. Not for any of us … not my brother, and not my sisters.” Even so, he yearns for his first family. I keep praying for him, hoping that he will let his guard down and return the love of his adoptive parents. Someday soon.

To their credit, Casey’s new family is hanging in there. It can’t be easy.  But they have made a commitment to this boy, and by golly they are going to see it through. Each day, they will to love Casey, even when their hearts must break from all his mischief. I admire them more than I can say.

So much about foster parenting (and in some cases, adoptive parenting as well) is about keeping natural heart impulses in check in order to give the head free reign. As mothers, we want to nurture and tend to our children’s every need. We want them to be happy and well adjusted. We want them to be safe and well. We willingly put our own needs on hold at times in order to secure these things. And when reality doesn’t match the rosy image we have in our heads, we get discouraged.

Which is one of the many reasons God created husbands and wives to work together in the task of parenting. When I struggle in knowing the right way to handle a situation, I can count on my husband to help us both gain perspective. When I get in over my head, I know I can trust him because he is (a) the smartest man I know and (b) the kindest.

Oftentimes when a couple begins to explore adoption, one or the other is more enthusiastic. Usually, but not always, it is the husband who is the more reluctant partner, or the one who has more questions. When people have asked me what to do when this happens, my advice is simple:  Get the answers you need so BOTH of you are comfortable with the decision.

Getting the perspective of a disinterested and impartial third party can also help. (The social worker may not be the best choice, as they have a vested interest in getting children placed in homes as quickly as possible … Even if you are unsure of whether you can handle the specifics.)

God also gives us pastors, and friends, and extended family — all of whom will need to be on your “support team” if and when you decide to add to your family through adoption or foster care. Ultimately YOU are the one who must make decisions for your family — and live with those decisions. But if you are conflicted, or confused, or uncertain … Striking that all-important balance is easier to accomplish by talking things over with a third party.

Don’t rush, or allow yourself to be talked into something you know in your heart is beyond your abilities to handle. Get the answers you need, and take all the time you need, until you and your spouse are in agreement. There are thousands of children in need of homes … and sadly, most of them will still be there a week or a month from now.

Trust God to bring your child to you when the time is right.

EMN Mailbag: “Should I disrupt this adoption?”

Adoption is the sweet fruit that miraculously falls from bitter trees.” (The Call to Adoption, p.153).

I was up early this morning, thinking and praying about a letter I received from a distraught mother, and the little boy she and her husband adopted from Guatemala… we’ll call him “Juan.” This mother “Melody” has a chronic illness, and three biological children who are all under the age of 10. Still, they wanted to adopt. The family labored for three years to bring little Juan home … then discovered he had a history of sexual abuse and neglect.  Continue reading

Sneak Preview: An Adoption Story

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NOTE: I am making edits on an article on Catholic Exchange, which I hope will run next week. In the meantime, I thought it prudent to offer a bit more information on my own background, as well as clarify my position on some aspects of the “front end” of adoption.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to direct my regular readers to an important resource for women in crisis pregnancies and those considering open adoption, a book entitled “Because I Loved You,” which I have reviewed at the end of this article. I would like to thank Patricia Dischler and others who have taken time to help me “fill in the gaps” concerning some aspects of adoption with which I do not have relevant firsthand experience.

The first time it happened, it came from nowhere, and struck without warning. In the middle of my son’s honors assembly, I heard a name I had tried hard to forget: it belonged to a fourth-grader whose name was the same as that of my youngest sister’s second child.

Two of my sisters experienced crisis pregnancies as teenagers. The first time, my parents threw my sister out of the house. Soon thereafter she married an abusive man who was not the father of her child — and never let either my sister or her daughter forget it. In time my sister escaped, but only after a prolonged legal battle in which she nearly lost her daughter to her abuser (in NJ, he had the right to sue for custody though he wasn’t K’s father).

The second time one of their teenage daughters became pregnant, my parents rallied around her, promising to help her raise her child. Two years later, when it happened again to the same daughter, the three of them chose a Christian couple who would provide a good home for the baby boy, and who agreed to open adoption.

For the most part, I watched all this unfold from the sidelines. I was thirty and unmarried, focused on my career and living hundreds of miles away. I offered to raise my sister’s child, but it was decided the other couple was a better choice. They were married, had more financial resources, and were “Christian” (as opposed to Catholic, as I am).

But it was not to be. The bio father (we’ll call him “Gary”) fought to keep the child … and won. The adoptive parents’ petition was denied, my sister’s parental rights were terminated … and Gary swore she would never see her child again. My sister’s son would never want to see her – Gary would see to that.

When I heard that Gary was contesting the adoption, I had tried to warn my family that it might not turn out as they had hoped. After all, the family court system was bound to favor a biological parent over an adoptive one. Mom disagreed adamantly – Gary had a criminal record, was abusive, and had so frightened my parents that they were in the process of moving to another state. He had recently married, but his wife was killed in an accident in the middle of the hearing. His grief made him even more determined to punish my family, whom he blamed for his current situation.

Mom had been confident: “No judge will choose him over the parents your sister has picked for her child.”

She was confident. She was also wrong.

I’ve often wondered if, had my family approached the situation a bit differently, if I might have a relationship with my nephew today. Certainly it is “in the best interests of the child” to know his mother and her family – and yet, once my family had set themselves firmly in opposition to him, and their adversary’s rights prevailed … they lost everything. Yes, he could have chosen the higher road – and at some point down the line, I hope he will do so out of love for his son. But I’m not counting on it.

Nine years later, I still avoid looking at that little face in my parents’ “rogue’s gallery” of grandchildren’s photographs in their living room. Hurts too much. And when I hear his name called at a school assembly, though I know it’s not the same child – I still wince. Continue reading

Adoption “Unnatural”?

Hey, Al … Where’s Heidi?

If you got my newsletter today, and tuned in to “Kresta in the Afternoon” wondering where I am … tune in again on Thursday! We’ll be having a lively discussion about EMN and adoption at 3:00 EST. Don’t have Catholic radio in your neighborhood? Just listen in by computer by clicking here!

This afternoon I was also on Lisa Hendey’s “Catholic Moments” podcast. Right after the podcast, Lisa was leaving to attend the funeral of an eighteen-year-old boy, Russell, who was in a skateboarding accident last year, and finally succumbed to his injuries. Please pray for the soul of this young man, and for his mother, Cathy.

Mighty Mom sent this link to me today, a YouTube clip about “the dog who had cats for lunch.”

If animals are capable of cross-species “adoption” — how much more should we be willing to tend to the needs of children in need of families?

Are you a struggling adoptive parent? Is your child acting out in ways you are afraid you are not equipped to handle? Is she so destructive you are afraid to leave her alone? Is the reality of parenthood turning out to be harder than you thought it would be? Are you seriously considering just throwing in the towel?

You are in our prayers today. Take a deep breath, then find a way to take a break — hire a babysitter for a couple of hours, or talk to your agency about finding respite care (preferably someone who speaks your child’s language, if he or she is foreign-born). Then go to a coffee shop and read this article at “Destinations, Dreams and Dogs” about meeting the challenges of raising older adopted children, particularly those from Russia (though her wisdom translates well to foster children, too!).

Thanks to “O Solo Mama” for sending it!

Above all, hang in there, and remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away, but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
She who possesses God, lacks for nothing.
God alone suffices. 

John Paul II and National Adoption Month!

“Adopting children, regarding and treating them as one’s own children, means recognizing that the relationship between parents and children is not measured only by genetic standards. Procreative love is first and foremost a gift of self. There is a form of ‘procreation’ which occurs through acceptance, concern and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is in no way inferior to one based on a biological connection. When this is also juridically protected, as it is in adoption, in a family united by the stable bond of marriage, it assures the child that peaceful atmosphere and that paternal and maternal love which he needs for his full human development.”

John Paul II, Letter to Adoptive Families (Sept 5, 2000)

November is National Adoption Month — and today,  November 15 — is National Adoption Day!! Yipee!!!

Are you looking for ways to celebrate adoption? Click here to go to an article from “Adoptive Families” magazine that offers 30 ways families can celebrate!

For more information about this important resource for adoptive parents, or to subscribe, click here!

Anti-Adoption? Review of “The Adoption Mystique” by Joanne Wolf Small, MSW

 

adoption-mystique1My article “Anti-Adoption Advocacy: How Should We Respond?” drew a wide variety of responses. The ones that gave me the greatest pause came from those I mentioned in the article as being against adoption, who wrote to protest.

 

According to co-founder/executive director of Bastard Nation (B/N) Marley Greiner, “We are concerned only about the civil right of all adult adoptees to receive their obcs [original birth certificates] upon request without government interference.”  (Ironically, the most heated attacks concerning the adoption/abortion issue came from members of his organization.)  However, her comments reminded me of the complexity of the issues surrounding adoption, and that to seek reform in one area is not the same as wanting to eliminate the practice altogether. (In my next column at CE/CM, I will examine the issue most central to the B/N crowd: birth records.)

 

For now, I’d like to address a comment posted by the author of this book, The Adoption Mystique by Joanne Wolf Small, MSW. She contacted CE to correct my perception, saying that she is in fact pro-adoption. I admit it made me sit up and take notice. Reaching for her book, which was still sitting beside my computer, I read the bio: “[Ms. Small] is herself adopted [at six weeks] … Her belief in the adoptive family as a positive alternate is dissonant with a widespread, covertly held public image” (TAM, back cover). 

 

Hmm… how was it that I concluded that she was against adoption? Continue reading

“Don’t Be Weird, Mom!”

(This is a continuation of the series of articles reflecting on Come Be My Light and the spiritual motherhood of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, patron of adoptive and foster families, which I began earlier this year. For the original post, click the title.)

Sarah is an extraordinary walking paradox. She will parade around the house (and in public as often as I let her) with a mind-blowing array of fashion statements:
I applaud her budding confidence (insofar as it does not exceed the bounds of propriety). What puzzles me is that if I do anything the least bit unconventional … breaking into an impromptu chorus of “Sunrise, Sunset” and a little softshoe while I’m washing dishes, say, Sarah will invariably give me her stock response:
“Don’t be weird, Mom! People will think you’re weird!”

To which I respond, “Let them! The only thing that really matters is what God thinks of me, what I think of myself … and, to a different degree, what my family thinks about me.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who typically flouts social convention on a whim. I love high teas and ballroom dancing and all manner of things traditional (it’s part of why I’m Catholic!). But when it comes to deciding standards of personal conduct, I learned a long time ago that “going with the crowd” is not always the wisest course of action.

This has a particular application to foster and adoptive parents. More than most parents, our children are going to have special emotional and other challenges that are going to make other people’s eyebrows go up with alarming frequency, especially in the beginning.

It happened the time my son punched the priest in the breadbasket for reaching out to bless him at Mass. And the following week, when my son (who had been hearing about his friend “Father Will” all week) greeted the elderly priest by patting the front of the man’s vestments as high as his two-year-old hands could reach. Come to think of it, it was right around the time of the scandals, too…

It happened the time my daughter drew a picture of her daddy in bed with her for the counselor (Craig has a nightly ritual of laying down next to her to read a bedtime story; the book was strangely absent in the picture). The next time it was a picture of mommy and daddy brandishing a L-O-O-N-G a whip (I still don’t know where that one came from, except maybe a horse scene in “Beauty and the Beast”).

It happened when my son’s first preschool teacher informed me that I was obviously neglecting my 4-year-old son’s needs because he didn’t use a napkin properly, and because he kept using words like “dead” and “kill.” (I wondered if the word his classmates had taught him — stupid — was so much better.)

It happens. And other people — those who don’t know your family — ARE going to judge you for it. Get ready for it … the disapproving looks, the heavy sighs, the hesitance to accept playdates. Get ready for the tons of unsolicited advice from grandparents, social workers, and total strangers about how you need to be “controlling” your children better.

I’m not saying don’t take the advice. Some veteran parents might give you some truly useful information with regard to managing stress, or potty training. But don’t expect them to understand, and don’t try to live up to someone else’s idea of perfect parenting. As a foster parent (or adoptive parent of an older child), there are going to be times when you need to march to another tune. Make a different choice. Try an unconventional method.

Don’t worry. If it’s a mistake, you can usually correct it mid-course. If the advice givers are real friends or if they truly love you, they will still be around years from now when the fruit of your labor ripens, and that wild little creatures is transformed into the radiant young man or woman who loves God and does what is right.

It’s OK to be weird when God takes you along a different path. Trust Him to give you the wisdom you need, exactly when you need it.
Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away,
but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
She who possesses God, has everything.
For God alone suffices.
Teresa of Avila

Has Your Child Been Abused?

It’s a sad reality of life that many of the children who go into the foster care system have been exposed to horrific kinds of abuse and neglect. In some cases, the abuse is “passive” — such as being allowed to see pornography on television. In many cases, however, the abuse takes far more sinister forms.

Children who have been abused have scars that make them vulnerable to subsequent abuse. So sorting out the real threats from the fears is very important, and often requires the help of a trained professional. However, it is usually the parent (adoptive or foster parents included) who first see the signs that the child has unresolved trauma. Signs include:

* Child acts out in ways that are sexually suggestive or physically aggressive,
* Child has persistent nightmares or bedwetting (age 5+),
* Child touches self or others inappropriately and/or compulsively,
* Child is suddenly fearful or overly compliant around another adult (80 percent of molested children know their abusers – family friends, teachers, extended family members, etc.)
* Child is suddenly fearful of changing clothes or venturing outside home (to school or babysitter’s)
* Child draws disturbing images (or reenacts these stories with dolls),
* (In teenagers), child suddenly loses interest in her appearance, and/or alienates him or herself from friends and family.

Additional information may be found here: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

As adoptive parents – particularly parents of older adoptees with a vague history of neglect and/or abuse – we must steel ourselves for the possibility that the time may come when we are asked to participate in the painful process of redemption for our children. We may find ourselves having to re-direct our children again and again, and get for them (and ourselves) the help needed to resolve and receive healing for the violations they received before they came to us (or even, God forbid, at the hands of a third party while under our care). These wounds go deep, and leave a scar that may make them unwitting targets for subsequent abuse.

What should you do if you suspect your child has been abused?

First, pray and seek counsel so you can think clearly and react calmly. It is crucial that you can be spiritually strong for the child. You are being called to model authentic love for a child who has suffered at the hands of the counterfeit. While you are getting help for your child, go to daily Mass if you can; pray the Rosary and have others do the same on your behalf (though be careful to protect the child’s privacy as much as possible when you make your request known).

Assure your child that you love him or her, and that you are going to help him or her. Nothing he tells you will make you angry with him, or make you love her less. Be careful not to react with anger or disgust if you witness an “acting out” episode – see it for the cry of help that it is. For your own safety and that of your child, carefully document in writing how, when, and where you encounter signs of abuse.

Second, consider the safety of the other children in the family. Children who have experienced sexual abuse frequently abuse younger children. You may need to install door alarms or other safety devices, and take other safety precautions (such as not bathing the children together or allowing them to be left alone in a room together). Children can and do heal from all kinds of abuse … However, such healing does not occur overnight. It may be necessary to have the child placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where no other children are present, for his own good and for the safety of the other children in the home.

Third, get professional help for the child. As a parent, you must find the truth and get your child the help he or she needs – the sooner the better. Catholic therapists who specialize in sexual abuse may be found at http://www.catholictherapists.com/. If no qualified Catholic counselors are in your area, Pastoral Solutions (http://www.exceptionalmarriages.com/services.htm) offers telecounseling.

Fourth, protect the child’s privacy as much as possible without endangering others. If you have a social worker, consult with him or her about what you have observed and get his or her recommendations for next steps. Again, be sure to make careful records of when, where, and what you have observed. This information is too crucial to entrust to memory.

If your child has been “acting out” with other children in the home, make an appointment with the school counselor and/or teacher to discuss the importance of supervising children closely, especially in the bathroom and on the playground. By acknowledging that you are aware that your child has a history of abuse, you safeguard your own child’s well-being as well as that of other children.

If you suspect your child is being abused by a third party, it is absolutely critical that you trust your gut and do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe. If another child is the source of the problem, alert that child’s parents; if the children must continue to have contact with each other (such as siblings), they must be monitored continuously and closely. If you suspect your child is being abused outside the home, changing babysitters or even schools is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Once the child is safe, you may then need to file a formal report with Child Protective Services (CPS), for the sake of other children.

Suzanne Baars adds: “Eighteen states require by law that one must report suspected child abuse. Once a child is in counseling and this information is shared with the counselor, either the counselor or the parent will be required to report the matter to Child Protective Services.” Adult perpetrators will be required to leave the home – or the children will be placed in protective custody. When the perpetrator is a child, that child may need to be placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where there are no other children present.

Fifth, do not waste time in self-blame or self-doubt. You love your children, and want them to grow up to be strong, healthy Christians. You may have ambivalent feelings about what has happened – questioning whether you could have said or done anything to prevent the abuse. You may be angry with yourself for having unwittingly endangered your child, for having put him in this school or her in that daycare situation. You may be harboring hateful or even murderous thoughts about the individuals who did these things to your children, wanting more than anything for them to experience the full consequences of their actions. This is normal … but it is also harmful to hold on to these feelings.

Talk with your priest in the sacrament of reconciliation; seek out a professional counselor who can help you work through these issues so that you might be able to forgive yourself and (ultimately) the perpetrator. It is important to release yourself of that burden, so you can be free to help your children. God has entrusted a special cross to you; He is asking you to help your child find healing, and to model forgiveness. Not for the sake of the abuser, but so that those who are touched by the abuse might find peace. God bless you!

Heidi would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Suzanne Baars and Dr. Gregory Popcak, who both reviewed this article prior to publication. Suzanne was especially helpful in describing the legal responsibilities of one who suspects abuse has occurred. You may contact Suzanne through “In His Image Christian Counseling Services” (http://www.conradbaars.com/SueBaarsBio.htm).