My Talking Points for National Adoption Day 2020

We were “nominated” (for lack of a better word) by one of our kids’ former case managers to be this year’s “Feature Family” for King County, WA’s 19th Annual National Adoption Day ceremony, held yesterday via Zoom. Before accepting the opportunity, I spoke with all of my kids and asked them if this was something they wanted to do. Four of our five kids wanted to do it, and the one who didn’t was fine with us doing it and talking about him—he just didn’t want to be on camera. So we said “yes” and prepared for the event.

Ahead of time, one of the planners asked me to respond to two questions. I wrote out my thoughts but failed to ask how long they wanted us to present, and when the time came, after some family banter and silliness, I only got through two of my bullet points! Since this is something I think about a lot, I thought I’d go ahead and share everything I had planned to say here.

Q. What made you decide in adopting from foster care?  Why are you adopting today?

A. When we became aware of the thousands of children in foster care, we decided to be foster parents instead of starting a family the more traditional way. We have always gone about foster parenting as supporting reunification, but being open to adoption if/when reunification was not an option. We have had children who were reunified, children who went on to other foster homes where they were either reunified or adopted, and we have adopted our five. (We finalized our last two adoptions in March and April of this year.)

Q. What have you learned from the experience of opening your home to a child for adoption?

A. We have learned… 

  • that every child has incredible potential to thrive once their world becomes less chaotic and more predictable and consistent. 
  • that trauma affects every child who is in foster care, from the tiniest baby to the teen ready to age out. 
  • that you have to be patient and committed for the long haul. Healing takes time—years—and you can’t rush it. You have to keep showing up for your kids, meeting them where they’re at, getting them the resources they need (like counselors, therapy, etc.) and being there for them through thick and thin.
  • that every child needs to know their story and have access to their birth parents, even if just through pictures or stories. No matter how young they are when they are adopted, they will be curious about where and who they came from. We need to give them total freedom and permission to talk about their birth family, ask questions, and even express their desire to be back with them. We cannot badmouth or feel threatened by them. We have to understand that it is perfectly reasonable that a child would miss their mom and wish they could be with her.
  • that foster parents need to do their homework and learn about how trauma affects children. Read books, follow podcasts and blogs by adult adoptees. Don’t be ignorant to how this affects your kids. Don’t expect them to “just get over it.”
  • that the stresses of foster parenting can be hard on a marriage. Make sure you have good “marriage self care” and open communication. It only works if both spouses are 100% on board. 
  • that you need other foster parent friends. You need to have friends who understand the particular trials and triumphs of foster parenting. A support group or just a few other foster parents need to be part of your community.
  • that, if you are a transracial foster or adoptive parent, you need to make sure that you have other people of color in your life so that your foster child is not the only person of color in your life. If you are a transracial foster or adoptive parent, you need to understand that being the only child of color in a white house (which is how transracial adoption usually looks, though not always) is it’s own unique trauma. Get educated and do the hard work to address the fact that it’s very hard for children of color to be raised in white homes, from elementary school on.
  • that the children are the heroes of foster care—not foster or adoptive parents. They are incredible and deserve the very best in life. We have the unique opportunity to step into their lives and offer unconditional love and support and a nurturing environment to help them thrive. They did not ask to be in foster care. They did not ask to be placed with us. We need to show a lot of grace to them and reiterate their worth to them over and over. We need to make sure they know that they are more than “a foster kid” or, once they are adopted, more than their foster care story. They are smart, fun, talented, competent people who have infinite value and a bright and beautiful future.

My husband tried to chime in as well, but we got cut off before he was able to say his piece. So I’ll share it here: we also want to acknowledge the social workers who labored tirelessly on behalf of our kids throughout their cases. We have had wonderful case managers who went many extra miles in order to ensure our kids (their kids!) had the best possible shot at a good life, despite all odds. They advocated, championed, and supported the kids at every turn, and we are so grateful for their hard work.

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You may have seen this on Instagram already, but it bears repeating:

The main thing I hoped to communicate is that every child has incredible potential to thrive once their world becomes less chaotic and more predictable and consistent, and that adoption is always a combination of gratitude & grief. Sometimes you’ll feel more of one than the other, but, even in the best of adoption stories, both emotions are present in some measure.

Adoption is fundamentally a thing that exists because of tragedy. There is not a single adoption story that does not start with grief. Children should not have to be separated from their parents. It’s not how things are supposed to be.

But sometimes, it’s necessary. Parents have addiction and mental illness that makes it impossible for them to raise their children. Parents sometimes, tragically, abuse their children (or allow them to be abused by others) and can’t reform. Parents sometimes die.

And when that happens, and children need someplace solid to land, adoption is a means for them to find the love, stability, consistency, and safety every child needs in order to thrive.

Adoption Day is a happy day for many—primarily adoptive parents—but, for children, at its best, it is happy-with-an-ache. Happy-and-sad. Happy, but…

And our kids need to know that it is OK—no, more that OK, that is right and good and healthy—that they can hold both emotions at once. They need to be able to talk about their story. They need to know that they can talk about the sad parts (if they want to, and some don’t) even as they celebrate the happy parts.

So, Happy* Adoption Day!

*with an ache

Project Search and Reunion [Podcast Episode 20]

Anyone who is involved with the world of adoption knows that adoption has lifelong implications for everyone involved: birth parents, adoptive parents, and, of course, the people who are adopted from one family into another.

Until very recently, adoption was almost always shrouded in secrecy. The link between the birth parent and the adopted person was held in file boxes on the shelves of adoption agencies, paperwork that connected the adopted child to the parent or parents they came from. In order to access that information, adoptees and birth parents had to pay money. Had to know where to start. And had to rely on the cooperation of whomever received their request for information. 

Nowadays, we recognize the importance of transparency in adoption and the benefits of a child knowing about their birth family and even having relationships with them. Most adoptions today are open, with at least some sort of contact between birth and adoptive families, but that leaves thousands of adopted adults with gaping holes in their life stories. In response to this, in 2018, Amara, a foster care and adoption agency in Seattle,  launched Project Search and Reunion, a ground-breaking initiative that aims to audit 3,100 of their own adoption files between the years of 1950 and 2000 to ensure that adoptees and birth families receive the information and support they requested, especially in regard to searching.  

In March, just before the world shut down and we all went into quarantine, I had a chance to hear a presentation about this important work, and in the latest episode of A Fostered Life Podcast, I’m speaking with Rena Konomis, a Washington state court appointed Confidential Intermediary and Project Director of Project and Search and Reunion. Listen as Rena explains the goal of the project and why it matters for everyone involved with the world of adoption.

I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did! 

Do you enjoy A Fostered Life Podcast? Please leave a review on iTunes!

Featured Photo by EVG photos

Blog Photo by Element5 Digital

Some Thoughts for National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM), “a month set aside to raise awareness about the urgent need for adoptive families for children and youth in foster care.” You can read about the history of NAAM here.

The focus on NAAM is not adoption, per se, but adoption from foster care. There are thousands and thousands of children across our country who, for all sorts of reasons, will never be able to go home to their families of origin. While many of them will age out by choice, and some don’t want to be adoptive, many others desperately want to be part of a family that will be there forever. They want parents who will become grandparents for their kids. They want a home to go to for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They want to be part of a family—they want to be adopted.

Every November, various foster care agencies across the country promote the adoption of children and youth from foster care into permanent, loving families. I’m so grateful for their work. I’m grateful that families are formed in all sorts of ways, and as a foster and adoptive mother, I’m grateful for my kids and the family we are forming together.

That said, it’s important for those of us who are adopting children to keep in mind that, even when adoption is a happy ending, it’s not the end of the story. Adoption—the need for adoption—is rooted in profound sorrow, loss, and pain.

In this video, I share a bit of my heart for the children in my care and the thousands of others who are affected by adoption, including the women and families of origin who were unable to raise their own children. Even when adoption was the “best” option, it’s still an option that carries a lot of loss and pain, and that loss and pain doesn’t go away.

I’m a fan of adoption. As I shared in this video, there is a lot of grace and beauty in adoption. But we must never forget, especially as we promote adoption during NAAM, that there is also a lot of sorrow and pain in adoption, and our kids need us to hold that with them, even as we love and celebrate their place in our families.