Parenting in a World that Doesn’t Make Sense

As a parent, when horrible and senseless tragedies like the mass shooting in Orlando occur, it is difficult to not feel helpless and hopeless. It is difficult to not feel guilt and shame for the world in which you are raising your child. You struggle for the right words to say—sometimes knowing that there are no words. Sometimes the only thing you can do is hold your child a little longer—a little closer. You cherish those moments as you fight back the tears—knowing that, due to these unspeakable acts of hate, there are parents out there who are preparing to say goodbye to their children for whom they would give anything to be able to hold in their arms again.

You wish you could do something to help make the future just a little less bleak for your child. You wish you could rid the world of hate. You wish you could shield your child from the senseless violence that, with each occurrence, silently erodes your ability to trust and to feel safe. You try to believe that it won’t happen to you or your family. You try to desensitize yourself to the violence and hate around you. But, it doesn’t work. Regardless of how hard you try, it is impossible to shake the fear and the grief. It is impossible to ignore the fact that every life lost was someone’s child. It is impossible to ignore the fact that every life lost mattered to someone.

You can’t tell your child that everything will be okay, because nobody can ever truly know. It is difficult to not allow fear to overcome you—to keep you from doing the things you want to do and enjoy doing. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but you can make the choice to keep going—to keep living your life. Because, if we let fear overcome us, then fear wins, right? You provide your child with a safe, stable, and loving home, but you also do what you can to prepare them for what they may encounter in the world. If you choose to share with them some information about tragedies when they occur, you attempt to do so in an age-appropriate way, but also in a way that teaches them that, while there is evil in the world, there is also a lot of good.

From the moment you bring your child into the world, or into your family, it is your responsibility to help shape who they will become. It is your responsibility to instill in them the values and principles that will help pave the way for them to learn how to become compassionate, functioning, and contributing members of society. You encourage your child and build them up while also doing your part in holding them accountable for their actions. You are there to help pick them up when they fall and you hope they are able to learn from their mistakes. You watch as they tackle challenges and adversities and encourage them to be open to the lessons life tries to teach them along the way. You teach your child the importance of motivation and hard work to achieve their goals and their perceived successes in life. And, when they are ready to be on their own, you can only hope that they hold onto some semblance of the values, advice, and lessons you shared with them along the way.

I believe in advocating for change that will positively impact the future for our children, for ourselves, and for our world. However, I also believe in the importance of teaching our children to be kind and respectful to others, to show compassion, and spread love—not hate. We also need to make sure our children are aware that, regardless of what they believe, the rules DO apply to them. We can advocate against the injustices of the world, but laws and regulations mean very little if people refuse to abide by them.

If we truly want to change the world for our children, we need to help our children become a reflection of the world in which we wish for them to live.

Loving My Misunderstood Child

My youngest son had a really rough day today.

As with many parents who receive fairly frequent communications from their child’s school, I always cringe when I see the name of my son’s school appear on my phone. There is always that moment before you pick up the phone where you pause, brace yourself, and take one last breath before answering. The voice on the other end of the phone is often different, but the message is usually the same. Your son was misbehaving, he was sent to the refocus room, and now he has completely escalated. Can you talk to him? [Insert the muffled sound of my son’s very agitated voice.] Okay, he is refusing to come to the phone. Can you just make sure you talk to him at home about showing respect, listening to his teachers, and following the rules?

Can you tell that I have been the recipient of just a few of these calls? I am convinced my son’s school has my number on speed dial.

The way my husband and I have addressed these issues with our son has varied quite a bit throughout the years. We are constantly learning, and just as our son has challenging days, we have pretty rough days that can affect the way we react to these types of situations as well.

As I was watching the clock tick by and waiting for my little guy to get home this afternoon, I vacillated between being very upset and annoyed by the situation, and feeling compassion for my son who lives in a world that doesn’t seem to understand him. When he got home, I heard the familiar slam of the porch door and the creak of the front door as he slowly made his way inside. The expression on his face was a heartbreaking mixture of anger, defeat, worry, and sadness. Without saying a word, I motioned for him to join me on the couch where he fell into my arms and I held him as he began to cry. It is a place where we cuddle most mornings and it is a place that feels safe for him. After he had calmed down a bit, we were able to talk about what had happened and he was able to share about the events of the day from his perspective. We were able to talk about how he could have made different choices and we came up with a plan of how he can work on reacting differently, but also how we can potentially incorporate some sensory tools to help him refocus and self-regulate when the situation at school gets to be too much. We talked about the different types of items we could try, how they are used, and came up with a plan for asking the school if they would be on board with trying this technique. By the end of our talk, he was calm, flashing his adorable and goofy smile, and was ready for dinner.

It hasn’t always been like this, and we still have days when all hell breaks loose and there is very little hope of getting the situation back under control, but my husband and I work hard to make it work. Learning how to parent our son in a way that is best for him has been like a rollercoaster ride that never seems to end. It isn’t easy, and we are constantly educating ourselves and adapting who we are as parents to help shape and guide who he is as a person. We gave up the notion long ago of trying to grow our tiny humans into the people we want them to be and have since focused on embracing who each of our sons are and helping them to become the best versions of themselves.

Our youngest son is a complete spitfire. He has his papa’s fiery Latin blood running through his veins and is an incredibly perceptive and sensitive little guy. He is very impulsive, he likes to challenge himself and others, and always seems to be pushing boundaries whenever possible. He is a very complex, witty, and goofy child with an amazing personality and a wonderful zest for life. He has the ability to have you cracking up one minute and wanting to tear your hair out the next. He dances when there is no music, and he hums and sings without ever having an impetus to do so. He has always had two speeds—running and sleeping—and he would much rather walk backwards in a world that is constantly moving forward.

As an adoptee, I know what it’s like to feel stuck and to feel like you are somewhere between and wondering if you will ever truly find a place to belong. My son and I both live in a world that doesn’t quite understand who we are, and it makes me want to work harder to be a safe haven for him and a constant in his life that truly gets him and embraces all of his wonderful and not-so-wonderful quirks and qualities.

My sons have always been my world, and I have always loved them with every fiber of my being. It has taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (both figuratively and literally) to get to a place where I can truly say that I understand my youngest son—that I understand what his needs are, the reasoning behind the choices he makes, and how he copes with the reactions of others who may not understand where he is coming from. It is very rarely easy, and there are as many good days as there are bad, but I am very thankful to finally be in a place where I can attempt to see the world through his eyes and parent my son with more compassion, kindness, and understanding. I have come to the realization that my days of having to explain to others who my son is and advocating for his needs are far from over. I will continue to walk this journey with him and do what I can to advocate for and support him in hopes that one day he will be able to live in a world that understands and embraces him as well.

“The Spoon Theory” and Understanding Trauma

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and as someone with a chronic autoimmune disease, I never thought of The Spoon Theory as anything but a metaphor for what it was like to live with an illness. I have been trying to find ways to better understand the traumatic experiences in my life, the trauma that people I work with have experienced, and what it is like to live with someone who has experienced trauma. I reread this the other day—with the experience of trauma in mind—and I really think this is helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to live with trauma.

The basic premise of The Spoon Theory is that everyone starts each day with a certain number of spoons. For most people, they are able to get through their morning routines without depleting their supply of spoons. However, for people who live with chronic illness, the weight of traumatic experiences, mental illness, etc., the act of simply getting out of bed and completing each step in their morning routine can feel extremely laborious and can cause the rapid depletion of their supply of spoons. If you have used up half of your spoons before even getting the kids off to school or before you have even made the drive to work, it is a struggle to figure out what you can realistically handle throughout the rest of the day. If you have meetings all day, you may not have the energy to make dinner when you get home. If you happen to have enough spoons to make dinner, you may not have any spoons left to clean up from dinner. You may not have enough spoons to make sure the kids get their baths that evening. Every decision you make and every battle you choose each day can make a monumental difference. The same goes for children who have experienced trauma. The rough mornings weigh on them as much as they weigh on us as parents. They may not have put their dishes in the sink, but they got out of bed and they are on their way to school, and some days, that has to be enough. When they have a day when they are really feeling the effects of the trauma they have experienced, they may not have the energy to verbalize what is going on with them and they may end up acting out, or say hurtful things, and really struggle with regulating themselves and controlling their impulses more so than usual. Every parent has days where they just can’t do it, and that’s okay. It makes us human. It’s important to also understand that kids have those days, too. They need to know that it’s okay to not be okay.

If you have some time, please take a few minutes to read The Spoon Theory with your experiences and your child’s experiences in mind. It may offer you really great and life-changing insight into what you, your child, and your family is going through. And, don’t forget that there are numerous communities of people—online and in-person—who have experienced foster care and adoption who understand and may have extra spoons to offer you—especially on the days when life is overwhelming and you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

The Walls My Heart Built

The walls my heart built are my protection and my prison.

I learned from a very young age that the people who are supposed to always love you and protect you may end up being the people who leave you and hurt you the most. I learned from a very young age that the people you want to trust—the people you should be able to trust without question—are not always worthy of that trust.

My heart broke for the first time at a very young age. I learned how to mend the broken pieces of my heart together, but it was never to be the same. The innocence that I once knew was gone and my ability to feel secure and love unconditionally as any young child should was overshadowed by my fear of losing more loved ones…my fear of feeling more pain. So, I built a wall around my heart. It was not a strong wall, but it gave my heart a protective barrier—one that could easily be broken down by those I felt secure enough to let in.

My walls have never been fail proof. They allowed some people in who should never have been able to inhabit my heart—even for a moment. They allowed pain and betrayal to seep in—some of which were so harmful that I never thought my heart would ever recover. These walls have also kept me from forming real relationships with people who opened their hearts to me—people with whom I could never allow myself to do the same.

With each heartbreak and betrayal, my walls become stronger and stand taller around my heart. I find myself trusting less and allowing fewer people in. I find myself hiding behind my walls, even with people who love me and people I know I should be able to trust wholeheartedly. As I grow older, I find myself being able to forgive, but never forget. If you have broken my trust, I may let you back in, but never in the same way as before.

The walls I built as protection around my heart have also become my prison. While my heart remains safe, it feels so empty…so alone. I am tired…so tired. I wish I could let people in without question. I wish for the day when I can let my guard down and show people who I truly am without worrying about whether or not I will be liked or accepted. I wish for the day when I no longer feel the need to run away or hide. I wish for the day when I can allow my heart to love fully and live without fear of pain and loss and broken trust and betrayal. I wish for the day when my heart feels whole enough and strong enough to break down the walls I built around it so long ago.

One day, my walls will come down. But, for now, my heart remains protected and imprisoned—waiting for the day when the feelings of security are able to calm the overwhelming fears and the feelings of pain and loss are no more.

But, for now, I wait.

I Choose Love

I have been thinking a lot about the current state of affairs in this country, and I find the hatred and unrest surrounding it all so upsetting. There are people I love and care about very much who remain on opposing sides of many issues. They have their opinions and beliefs and I have my own. However, I don’t love or respect them any less because we don’t see eye-to-eye. They have their reasons for their beliefs and I have my own.

The thing that really bothers me about all of this is the fact that some people only seem to care about being right. There have been so many arguments and debates over whose principles and beliefs reign supreme and why all members of the opposing sides are horrible and deserve to be made fools of or completely cut from one’s life. Yes, there are definitely instances in which the cutting of ties is absolutely the answer, but this is certainly not the case in every situation.

Call me naïve or a bleeding heart, but none of this is about being right for me. It’s about loving your neighbor—regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, etc. It’s about being kind and loving and opening your heart to others and accepting them and loving them for who they are.

You want to talk about God? I don’t know about yours, but my God is a loving and righteous God who walks with His sons and daughters and carries us through our struggles and supports us as we bear our burdens. He is a God who loves everyone, regardless of our perceived sins and shortcomings. He is a God who kneels and washes the feet of the poor and suffering, who takes His sons and daughters into His arms without question, and loves freely and openly and without the need to judge or discriminate.

My family has been perceived as different for as long as I can remember. When I registered my oldest son for school, the school system forced me to choose one of his races over the other—nonchalantly forcing his own mother to strip him of half of his racial identity without concern of the implications of doing so. I can’t remember a time when we have walked into a store and not felt the burning glares and distain for our mixed family from older Asian men and women who obviously feel I have somehow disgraced their culture because I married outside of my race and created tiny humans whose blood is not purely Asian. I have had numerous racial slurs flung at me throughout my life. These experiences could easily be perceived as reason enough to hate, but that is not who I am and that certainly was not the way I was raised.

The monumental ruling to allow all couples of legal age to marry in all 50 states matters to me as a straight ally, as a wife, and as a mom. It matters to me because I was allowed to marry the love of my life over 12 years ago and I cannot imagine a life without him as my partner, my other half, and father of my children—both in love and in law. As someone who was legally allowed to marry her partner, I cannot imagine the pain of loving someone so much and wanting to spend the rest of your life with them, and being legally banned from being able to do so.

I have so many dreams for my sons. I have no way of knowing who they will be when they grow up or who they will choose to love. I will love them regardless of whether or not they attend college or achieve their perceived successes in life. I will love them if they are gay and I will love them if they are straight. And, because of this monumental ruling, I will be able to dance with them at their weddings regardless of whom they choose as life partners and where they choose to live.

I will continue to remain unshaken in my belief that all people matter. No religion or law will dictate how I choose to treat others. I will never claim to easily or always love or embrace others or treat others with kindness. Doing so will always be both a struggle and a conscious choice. But, regardless of my spiritual or political beliefs, I will always try to choose love. I will always try to choose kindness. And, I will always try to choose what I feel in my heart is right.

Hate builds mountains. Love moves them. Choose love.

The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.