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Yes, I Am Racist (And I Am Doing Something About It)

I, like many others, believe that racism is inherent and that we all harbor racist beliefs—to a degree. Yes, you read that right. I am saying that I am racist.

Am I comfortable saying that about myself? Absolutely not.

Do I fear the ramifications of my acknowledging my own biases? Yes, absolutely.

Am I going to put this out there any way? Hell yes.

Why, you ask? Because I would be doing a great disservice to myself and to others by refusing to acknowledge that aspect of who I am.

By definition, racism is the belief that one’s own race is superior to another. Racism is also further defined as the belief that some characteristics or abilities are specific to a certain race and, in turn, determine the superiority or inferiority of that race. These beliefs can often lead to discrimination and prejudice against people whose racial identities differ than our own.

When I acknowledge that I am racist, I am not referring to the perpetuation of the stereotypical vile and hate-filled bigotry that we often see attached to the term. I am referring to the fact that I lack the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of a different racial group, and that can sometimes lead to my making snap judgments about others before actually knowing who they are and what they have to offer the world.

I am acknowledging that I lack the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a member of my own racial group as well. I was not raised within the Asian community. I was raised in a Caucasian community with the understanding that I was different and the more I embraced assimilation, the easier it would be to exist as an outsider within that world. When I am surrounded by other Asians, I feel lost and completely out of my element. I don’t know how to exist in that world to which I belong only by virtue of physical attributes.

Do I choose to avoid situations in which I feel uncomfortable due to my race? Absolutely not. Because it is through those moments of discomfort and insecurity that I end up learning the most about others and myself.

I am not going to lie. When I engage in conversations about race with people—especially whose racial identities are not reflective of my own—I often feel very insecure and somewhat overwhelmed. Not because I don’t want to be surrounded by people who don’t look like me, or because I don’t want to be a part of those conversations. I feel uncomfortable because I don’t know what it is like to live in their skin. I can be supportive of their lived experiences and the battles they face on a daily basis because of the way the world views them, and I can stand in solidarity with them, but I will never be able to fully understand what it is like to exist in the world with a racial identity different than my own. While I cannot walk in the shoes of others—nor would it necessarily be appropriate for me to attempt to do so—I can and do make a concerted effort to seek out opportunities to learn and grow in my knowledge of the issues. This includes learning about the historical trauma deeply rooted within their race that may affect the way they have been taught to interact with the world.

Conversations around race would be a lot more effective if we would stop being so defensive and so focused on finding reasons as to why we aren’t racist and start acknowledging and owning the truths about why we are. Too many people avoid true introspection because of the fear of what they may learn about themselves. It takes a lot of strength and courage to acknowledge our shortcomings—to walk into the darkest parts of ourselves with eyes wide open. What we often fail to realize is that—it is within those places of darkness that we will find some of the most important and enlightening opportunities from which to learn.

The thing about acknowledging your own racist beliefs and personal biases is that you can also make the choice to not allow yourself to remain stuck there. Do you acknowledge the racism inherent within you, own it, and do the work to educate yourself and grow in your understanding and knowledge of the issues in an attempt to rise above? Or, do you refuse to open yourself up to the possibility that you may be racist and knowingly (or unknowingly) continue to perpetuate those racist beliefs?

You, alone, have the power to make that choice.

Educating yourself in an effort to rise above the racism inherent within you means just that—you seek out the opportunities to learn and grow. While engaging in conversations about race with people of color is extremely important, you also need to be willing to do your own work and not rely on people of color to educate you about their race. Because, honestly, it can be hard enough to exist in this world as people of color, that trying to educate other people about your race can be a greater burden than many of us can bear. And, while truly learning about race and privilege is not possible without a willingness to be vulnerable, it is often the people of color who are attacked for trying to educate others or sharing about their lived experiences. If you are able to lower your defenses long enough to truly listen to the messages of people of color, though oftentimes somewhat difficult to hear, you will discover that a majority of us share about our experiences to educate others—not to attack.

It is not easy to acknowledge the unfavorable aspects of who we are. And, our responses to messages about racism, privilege, entitlement, and fragility are often reflective of our own insecurities. Conversations about race and privilege are often wrought with “us vs. them” mentalities—which often lead to heightened defensiveness and messages falling on deaf ears.

These conversations would be much more effective if we are willing and open to acknowledging that, as humans, we are deeply flawed and we all have work to do—starting with ourselves. We need to be willing to truly listen to the messages that are being shared and think introspectively about how we unconsciously perpetuate racist beliefs and our personal biases and what we need to do to break the cycle. We need to attempt to see the world through diverse lenses and engage in meaningful conversations about how we can work together to more peacefully and productively coexist.

The fight against racism starts with you. It starts with me, too. And, I will forever be a deeply flawed work in progress with an infinite amount to learn in this regard.

How about you? Are you willing to do the work?

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The silence is so deafening and the depths of loneliness can sometimes feel like an endless abyss. There are many, many days where I am very present in the moment and I can feel my heart open to the love and support around me. I cherish those moments and hold onto them for dear life in hopes that they will help me through the inevitable dark moments—the moments that feel so suffocating and heavy where I am surrounded by loved ones, but can’t seem to shake the feeling of being so completely and utterly alone, or where I find myself briefly letting my walls down and pouring my heart out—only to be left feeling so heartbreakingly dismissed and unheard.

Can one ever truly understand how excruciating, hopeless, and complex it can sometimes feel for some people to simply exist?

There will always be people who understand your heartbreak and your grief in their own way, but they will never truly know how you carry your pain and how you feel your pain. They can never know what it feels like to spend your whole life trying to repair the broken pieces of your heart. They can never truly know what it feels like for you—the despair in knowing that the missing pieces of the puzzle will always exist…the heartbreak in acknowledging the voids in your life that no amount of love, or answers, or connections will ever be able to fill.

There will always be people with lived experiences similar to your own, but they can never truly know how you have experienced your life and what life feels like for you.

I fail to find the words to adequately describe what it feels like to sit in a room with people you have known and loved your entire life and feel like you don’t fit and that you never truly belonged. Like you are the consummate stranger. Like you will spend your entire life forever trying to prove yourself and prove your worth and that your life has value when the actions of others have caused you to feel otherwise. Like you have somehow failed your loved ones by never being able to fully heal, to fully let go, to fully embrace them and let them in, and fully believe that they won’t one day decide to leave you or decide that you’re not good enough.

No words can fully describe the guilt of knowing how hard they tried and how hard they have fought for you…how hard you have tried and how hard you have fought for them.

But you just…couldn’t.

Because, even as adults with partners and children of our own—it can feel impossible to shake that ever-present fear of loss. It can feel impossible to allow yourself to open your heart and trust the people in your life after being hurt time and time again. They may not even be the source of the hurt or the broken trust, but they pay for it.

You pay dearly for it, too.

It sometimes feels as though it has cost us everything.

Our relationships.

Our ability to open our hearts to give and receive love.

Our ability to believe that love can and should exist without condition.

Our ability to embrace who we are and find value in our existence and all we have to offer the world.

Our ability to experience life and be open to truly living it.

How do you grieve the loss of someone you don’t remember knowing? How do you miss a voice you don’t remember hearing? How do you miss the warmth of an embrace you are not sure you ever felt?

The ever-present messages intending to minimize or explain away your pain and disallow your need to grieve your losses demand a level of acceptance, submission, healing, and resiliency that some may never be able to achieve.

Because how do we get over it, really?

How do we trust the people we love and care about to sit with our pain without attempting to fix it—to fix us? How do we trust them to not attempt to minimize or explain away our pain? How do we allow them to attempt to understand the level of pain we are feeling if we are too afraid to open up to them in that way? If we don’t understand it ourselves? How do we allow them to acknowledge and validate our pain and show empathy and compassion without feeling like a victim or like the poster child for brokenness?

How can anyone—including ourselves—attempt to understand how profoundly we have been impacted by our lived experiences when nobody will ever know the whole story?

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Your Child Needs to Know

10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life—and that is completely normal and okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know that you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. Know that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone—we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager, or even as an adult—the fact of the matter is that you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. And, that can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut that you are safe and that nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know that you are worth fighting for and that there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean that you love the family who adopted you any less. It is okay to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life—all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency—where we fight to hold onto the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues that we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments where we get to decide how we react to difficult situations—where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity—where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion, and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember that we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel okay about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others that you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity, or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are—beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say that your life, your voice, and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know that you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget that this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times—it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world that you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear that you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away—a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know that you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their hearts that they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones—the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know that you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

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Adoption, Sex, and the Pursuit of Love: Why Adoptive Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Sex

As parents, we spend our kids’ entire childhood focusing on loving them, supporting them, meeting their needs, helping to shape their identities, and instilling in them the values and morals we hope they will carry with them throughout their lives. It can be difficult to wrap our minds and our hearts around the fact that our kids are growing with each passing year, and that there may come a time when they won’t need us in the same ways we have grown so accustomed to throughout the years.

Parenthood is not an easy journey by any means, and we often spend a lot of it not really knowing what the heck we are doing! We work diligently to prepare our kids for living their lives in a way that feels right and successful for them, and many of us pride ourselves in doing so. However, there is one important issue that will likely arise for our kids as they grow and mature—an issue that many parents don’t feel comfortable even thinking about in the context of their kids, much less talking about or preparing them for. If you haven’t already guessed it—yes, that issue is sex. Aaaand, yes, I am going there.

Are you ready for this? I, honestly, don’t know that I am either, but here goes.

Sex. It is a completely natural thing, right? Our bodies consist of organs and glands and other complex biological parts and processes—the makeup and mechanics of which I am not going to even pretend to know about—that all make sex possible. It can be a way for us to connect with a partner; it can be a way for some of us to grow our families; and it can help to fulfill a variety of our emotional, psychological, physical, and biological needs. So, why is it so difficult for us to talk about with our kids, and why is it important for parents to have those discussions—especially with kids who have been adopted?

Why is it so difficult to talk about?

While sex is completely natural and something that a number of us have experienced ourselves, historically, it has been something deemed inappropriate to talk openly about. For many, it is an experience that is shared with another person in the privacy of our homes and behind closed doors or other places that can help protect us from exposing our most intimate selves to the world. It is within those experiences that we can open ourselves up to being vulnerable, to connecting emotionally and physically with a partner, and allowing ourselves to feel somewhat free and uninhibited.

For those of us who have experienced it, we all have our own memories of when it first happened, with whom we shared the experience, where it happened, etc. Some of us were ready for it to happen, and some of us were not. For some, the first experience was as positive as a first time can be—for others, it was an experience we wish we could forget. Regardless of how, when, where, or with whom it happened—I think it is safe to say that most of us will agree that our first time had an effect on us and likely changed us in some way.

Many people believe they are ready for sex when it first happens, and many are subsequently surprised to discover how unprepared they actually were. While the physical aspect of a person’s first time is important and may make for some truly memorable moments, more often than not, it will be the emotional aspect of it all that they will carry with them for a long time after the fact and may have a profound impact on their future sexual experiences.

An important part of being a parent is protecting our kids from anything that may cause harm to them or to others. Regardless of whether our first experiences were positive or something we would rather forget, it can be difficult to think of our kids as being ready for something as mature and intimate and life-changing as sex. Sex can be a wonderful experience, but we are all well aware that it can also be extremely harmful—both physically and emotionally. As parents, we want to protect our kids from things like sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, sexual violence and abuse, and the other potential physically harmful or consequential aftermaths of sex. And, we want and need to do our best to help protect them from the emotional and psychological implications of it as well.

As parents, it is overwhelming and a little heart-wrenching to think of our kids as ever being ready for or interested in having sex, but we would be doing ourselves and our kids a great disservice by living in denial about the fact that it will happen someday—whether we are ready for it or not.

Why it is important to talk about sex with your child who has been adopted?

It has taken a long time and a lot of introspection for me to get to this place, but I will fully admit that before I met my husband and became a mom, my understanding of and beliefs about love were extremely distorted and convoluted. When I experienced the trauma of losing my birth mother, my brain responded to that trauma and loss by wiring itself to view the world in a different way. Whereas most infants and toddlers who maintain their connections with their birth mothers feel safe and loved and cherished, my perspective of the world was based on the belief that people who love me will always leave me. With that as the foundation upon which I approached my life and every experience and relationship within it, I subsequently formed an understanding and belief that love always comes at a cost and that I had to give something in order to receive it. I had the choice to either spend my life running from love or fighting for it, and I chose to fight for it.

In other words, I spent my life believing that love was something that I had to be in constant fear of losing.

I have spent a vast majority of my life not knowing my worth and not having the ability within myself to believe in or embrace my value in this world. Knowing that my birth mother made the decision to not keep me in her life—to not have a relationship with me at all—made it really difficult to shape my identity and form a belief about my own worth in a positive or self-loving way. In terms of my physical being, I viewed it as something to hate. As a young girl, I often wondered if my birth mother would have loved me if I had been beautiful. I grew up in the shadow of my gorgeous, tall, and popular sister—who also happened to be adopted—and I spent most of my childhood believing that the kids in school didn’t like me and teased me because I wasn’t pretty enough…because I didn’t look like them. I never learned or believed that my body was something that was worth protecting—it was simply the shell of me that existed only to contain all of the emptiness and broken pieces of who I was inside.

Having attended a private, Catholic school during my formative years, I was pretty sheltered from many realities of the world. The only extent of my sex education consisted of the abstinence-only message I received during grade school. Before high school, I knew nothing about condoms or birth control pills and I knew very little about STDs and teen pregnancy—only that they were bad and they were consequences of having sex before marriage. Attending a public high school certainly changed all of that for me in the sense that I became much more aware of the world around me, but I had also reached that period in my life where I believed myself to be invincible—as many teenagers do—and that everything that happened to other girls would never happen to me.

I started dating a guy from a different school (because I was super cool like that) during my junior year of high school. After years of feeling painfully invisible while watching my friends experience the countless and very dramatic ups and downs of their relationships, it felt amazing to finally have someone in my life who saw me as beautiful and someone worth getting to know on a different level. It was the first time in my life where I felt loved by someone who wasn’t my family, and the euphoria of it all was exciting and a little addicting in a way. We dated for several months before we reached the point of being “ready”. For me, losing my virginity to him became a way of holding onto someone I felt was slipping away. I remember very little about it beyond feeling guilty, empty, and somewhat lost after it happened.

The relationship ended, and I began my battle with severe depression and anxiety shortly thereafter. At the time, I didn’t realize how devastating it would be to experience the loss of that relationship. I didn’t realize how empty I would feel and how much I would miss feeling wanted and seen and loved by someone other than my family. After that relationship ended, I found myself craving those feelings of being needed and wanted and seen and loved. It became almost like a drug to me and I was reckless and stupid and thoughtless in my pursuit to find someone or something to fill the void the loss of that first relationship had created within me. As a result of the choices I made, I became pregnant during my senior year of high school. Due to severe stress, extreme and rapid weight loss, and a number of other factors, it eventually became medically necessary for me to terminate the pregnancy.

I never believed any of it would happen to me—but it did.

As I look back on the period of my life between high school and when I met my husband—knowing what I know now—I truly believe that a number of the choices I made were done so in pursuit of something to fill the void created by the losses I have experienced in my life. I often hear people say that having a biological connection to someone doesn’t matter—but it does. It can mean the world to someone who has never had that type of connection in their life. I love my family more than anything and my parents provided me with a really good life, but I still fantasized as a young girl about life with my birth mother—my birth family. There was a subconscious craving within me for that biological connection to someone…anyone. That need and desire for a biological connection was fulfilled when I gave birth to my oldest son. There are no words that could ever express what it felt like to hold him in my arms and to finally look into the face of someone with whom I shared a resemblance—someone who shared my DNA.

That moment of becoming a mom was profound and life-changing beyond measure. Not only did he fill a void within me—his very existence gave my life purpose and meaning. I always dreamed of becoming a mom, and I remember promising him the world in that moment of first meeting him. He provided me with an opportunity to love someone unconditionally and to feel some of that love in return.

The desire to create a family or a life you feel you never had is a common theme among children, teens, and adults who have experienced foster care or adoption. Young people who have had very little in life to call their own—along with a distorted sense of self worth—may develop a belief that their body is the only thing of value they have to give, rather than seeing it as something worth protecting. This may lead them to search for love and connection anywhere they think they might find it, which can involve potentially risky and reckless behaviors.

Tips for talking with your child or teen about sex

As a mom of tween and teen boys, I am not an expert on talking to kids about sex, nor would I ever claim to be. However, I strongly believe in talking to kids about it and starting at an early age and in age-appropriate ways. Due to some experiences in my own life and what I have learned in my work as a volunteer sexual violence crisis counselor throughout the past 11 years, it has always been important to my husband and me to talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Included on the list below are suggestions and some of the ways in which we have attempted to help prepare our sons for their future relationships:

  • Starting early. We started having the “good touch, bad touch” talk with our oldest son when he was around 3 or 4. At this point, he knew the concept of right vs. wrong and had an awareness of his body to the extent that we could talk with him on a very basic level about which body parts were inappropriate for other people to see or touch, who is allowed to see those body parts, and in what context would it be appropriate for them to do so (i.e., his pediatrician while doing a check-up exam at an appointment—and only when Mama and Papa are in the room, etc.). These discussions usually occurred during bath time.
  • “No” means “no”, and “stop” means “stop”. This is a message we have tried to instill in our sons in various ways throughout the years, starting from when they were very young (around 3 or 4 years old). For example, if we were having a tickling match, the moment someone said “stop”, we would be hands-off—everyone would stop, and we were done. Now that the boys are older (they are now 11 and 14), they do know what sexual violence is and they understand the importance of respecting their partner, their partner’s body, and their partner’s right to say “no” or “stop” at any time and at any point during their relationship.
  • Teaching respect and acceptance. Respect for themselves and for others is something we have always worked to instill in our sons. This has included discussions of the right to say no to things like sex, peer pressure, etc., and the right to make decisions for themselves, regardless of what others may think. We talk regularly about embracing diversity and everything that makes us unique and treating all people with respect and kindness. These discussions include topics of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.
  • Talking openly about love and relationships. Both of the boys have each had their first girlfriends (and, yes, my head did explode when that happened!), and we have used those opportunities to talk about things like what love is and what love isn’t, what it means to love and respect your partner, the ups and downs of relationships, what it means to be in love with someone, what an equal partnership should look like, etc. Because they are at an age where they can easily be embarrassed when talking about girlfriends, we try to do so in a way that is respectful, lighthearted (but not teasing), doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and doesn’t shame or embarrass them for choosing to be in a relationship. My husband and I have also made it a point to show our sons what love and a healthy relationship can look like. We share in responsibilities as a family. My husband and I are affectionate towards each other (in appropriate ways), and we don’t attempt to hide it from the boys. We screw up. We argue. We break down. We get back up. We apologize to each other and to our sons (because parents get it wrong and need to apologize, too). We support each other in our decisions and we back each other up as parents and as partners. We work through our issues together whenever possible, and we try to support each other through all of the ups and downs of life.
  • Talking about sex. The boys have known about sex for a while, through friends at school and from what we have discussed with them at home. We started talking to them about sex a couple of years ago, and we tried to keep the initial discussion pretty lighthearted. (Let’s just say it may or may not have included one of us singing part of the chorus of “2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls.) It has always been important for my husband and me to not stigmatize sex or make it feel shameful to our sons or something they need to hide from us or be embarrassed about. They know it is something that is completely natural and an experience that people who are in love can choose to share with each other. We have talked about the importance of waiting until they and their partners are ready. Both of the boys have expressed interest in girls, but they are well aware of the fact that we will love and support them regardless of who they choose to love. They know about the importance of protecting themselves and their partners when they have sex. We have also discussed pregnancy and the importance of accountability and helping to raise and support their child, should they become fathers before they have found a life partner. I am sure there will be many more discussions about sex, sexual safety, and related issues, but we are thankful to have reached a point with the boys where talking about it feels fairly normal for all of us (something we have been known to do over a plate of spaghetti at dinner). As a general rule, we try to keep things pretty light in our home, because that is what works for our family. It has always been important for us to avoid fear-based, judgmental, or shaming language or tactics when talking about sex with our sons. Rather than focusing the discussions on what we feel is morally right or wrong, we attempt to keep the focus primarily on the physical and emotional safety of our sons and their future partners. Whether we like it or not, the decision of whether or not to have sex and when they feel ready to do so will ultimately be up to our sons and their future partners. It is inevitable and we have always felt that it is our job as their parents not to shame them or judge them or put the fear of God in them with regard to sex—the best thing we can do for them and for their future partners is to prepare them so that they are able to make safe, responsible, respectful, mature, loving, and informed decisions when they each choose to take that step in life.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and what has worked for my family won’t necessarily work for yours. In fact, the purpose of this post was only to encourage you to talk to your kids about sex and, whenever possible, to do so in an open, honest, loving, and nonjudgmental way. I also hoped to share that talking with your kids about sex doesn’t have to be mortifying or embarrassing or cringe-inducing for you or for your kids.

In my opinion, the absolute best example of “The Talk” that I have ever seen was on Friday Night Lights in the season 3 episode titled, “The Giving Tree”. The conversation takes place between Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and her daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), after Tami learns that her daughter is sexually active. One of the many things I love most about the conversation Tami has with her daughter is that, even though she already knows that her daughter is having sex, she approaches the conversation in an unassuming and non-accusatory way. She doesn’t focus on what she feels is morally right or wrong and she doesn’t shame her daughter for the choices she has made—her primary focus is on the physical and emotional safety of her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. I also really loved that Tami makes sure her daughter knows that she has the right to say no at any time and that, if the relationship doesn’t work out, she should not feel obligated to have sex with any of her future partners. She also encourages her daughter to be open to talking with her about anything—even something as difficult to talk about as sex. It is so good that I am going to conclude this post with a transcript of the conversation. I hope you will find it as helpful and thought-provoking as I have and be able to draw inspiration from it for conversations with your own children.

TAMI: So, um, do you love Matt?

JULIE: I love Matt.

TAMI: Does he love you?

JULIE: Matt loves me.

TAMI: He does… And, what about birth control?

JULIE: Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.

TAMI: Hun, that’s the conversation.

JULIE: Yes, we’re using birth control.

TAMI: What kind specifically?

JULIE: Condoms…we’re using condoms.

TAMI: Do you know how to use them properly?

JULIE: Yes, I know how to use them.

TAMI: You know you have to use them every time, because you know sometimes boys try to tell you—

JULIE: Yes, Matt’s really good about it.

TAMI: And, you know, just because you’re having sex this one time, doesn’t mean that you have to all the time. And, you know if it ever feels like he’s taking you for granted, or you’re not enjoying it, you can stop anytime… And, if you ever break up with Matt, it’s not like you have to have sex with the next boy necessarily. [Starts to tear up.]

JULIE: Why are you crying?

TAMI: Because I wanted you to wait. But, that’s just because I want to protect you because I love you, and I want to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you. And, I always want you to always be able to talk to me, even if it’s about something so hard like this.

JULIE: I didn’t want to disappoint you.

[Tami shakes head and hugs Julie.]

Dear Subway Station Baby

I will never know the truth of what happened when I was abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea over 30 years ago. I struggle often with recognizing my value and my worth in this world. I have often wondered about the people who saw me and heard my cries, but chose to do nothing. I wonder if it would have made a difference in my perception of my worth and my view of the world had someone shown me love and compassion in that moment when I truly needed it the most. This letter is written from the perspective of that one person who saw me that day and has lived with the guilt of making that fateful decision to walk away.

*****

Dear Subway Station Baby:

I don’t know your name. I don’t know if you survived or where you ended up in the world. I don’t know anything about you, but I will never forget your face.

I saw the fear and confusion and grief in your eyes when you watched as the only life you knew walked away and left you behind to face the world alone. I saw you crying out in loneliness and despair, yearning for the familiar embrace you knew in your heart you would never feel again. I watched as you began to build the walls to protect the broken pieces of your heart as the world turned its back on you. My heart broke with yours the moment you realized how little you were valued…how little you seemed to matter to the world. I saw as you tucked away those feelings of worthlessness and grief, vowing to carry them with you always…not yet knowing the profound impact those feelings would have on the entire trajectory of your life and how they would shape the very foundation of the woman you would become.

I watched you shrink away as you began to fear the world…as you realized that even the people who were supposed to love you couldn’t be trusted. I watched you grow quiet as your cries went unheard. I watched as you fought to hold onto some semblance of hope…as you fought against the forces that attempted to harden your heart. I watched as you struggled to continue shining your light as the darkness surrounded you.

Would your life have somehow been different had I taken you in my arms the moment I saw you? Would you have been able to see the world in a different light had I comforted you when I heard your cries? Would you have built the walls around your heart if I had protected you…if I had somehow made you feel safe? Would the broken pieces of your heart have formed a stronger bond had you felt the warmth of my embrace and listened as I told you how much you were loved…how much you were wanted? Would you have lived your life believing in your worth if I had held you and told you how much you mattered to this world? Would you have held onto hope if I had told you that you were brought into this world for a reason…that your life had meaning and purpose? Would you have learned to be kind to yourself had I shown you compassion and kindness when you needed it the most?

I know I don’t deserve to know what became of you, but I want you to know that your cries have haunted me since that day I chose myself over you. I was in a rush to go nowhere, and I couldn’t be bothered with wasting a minute of my time on comforting your cries…on making sure you were safe. I chose to turn my back on you in your darkest hour. I know I don’t deserve to say these words to you, but I need to find a way to bring you comfort and a way to forgive myself, even if this is 30+ years too late. I will never forgive myself if I don’t tell you what I have always wished I had done for you…the comforting and loving words I wish I had shared with you that day.

I remember watching in horror as she held you close one last time, kissing your tiny cheeks, and hurrying away, barely able to breathe or see through her tears. She ran as quickly as her legs would allow, knowing she wouldn’t have the strength to leave you if she saw your sweet face again. As I turned my attention back to you, I saw that you had bruises around your eyes and your face had become red and swollen from the intensity of your cries. In that moment, I chose to turn my back on you…I chose to do nothing. I often think back on that moment with heartbreaking regret.

I chose to run away from you when I should have run towards you. I wish I had held you in my arms and comforted your cries. I wish I had shielded you from the cold, harsh realities of the world and told you that everything would be okay. I wish I had looked at your sweet face, riddled with bruises and stained with tears, and told you how beautiful you were. I wish I had told you that you would never be alone and that you were safe. I wish I had held you close to my heart and told you how cherished and loved you were. I wish I had been there to hold the tiny pieces of your heart together as the world fell apart around you. I wish I had held your tiny hand and told you how much you mattered to the world…how much you mattered to me. I wish I had reminded you of your worth as you grieved the loss of everything you once knew. I wish I had fought beside you as life tried to take away your hope…as the darkness tried to steal your light. Though I didn’t know you, I wish I had told you in that moment of my hopes and dreams for you…I wish I had given you something to hold onto in that moment when you lost everything. I wish I had been strong enough to show you that, while some people in your life will leave you, there will always be someone who will choose to stay.

I wasn’t the one who left you, but I made the choice to do nothing at a moment in your life when even the smallest ounce of compassion could have made a world of difference for you. I failed you in that moment, and I will carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life. I will always regret never telling you how much you mattered or taking the time to show you that your life had value. I will always regret depriving you of the opportunity to know your true worth when you needed to be reminded of it the most. I will always regret doing nothing.

I failed to show you how much you mattered to me that day, but I need you to know that even though I don’t know your name, you have made a profound impact on my heart and in my life. I need you to know that I have carried your tiny footprints on my heart ever since that day…ever since that moment when I chose to walk away.

Signed With Deep Regret,

The One Who Walked Away

 

“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 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.