Tag Archive | adoption

I Can’t Wait to Hold Your Hand

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Ah, sweet summertime… those lazy, hazy days. The days are lighter and brighter, the pace of life seems to slow down, and families get to spend more time together. And that’s what all moms and dads look forward to, right? Time spent with their children.

Funny, though, I don’t always hear that from parents. In fact, many times I hear quite the opposite. In May, I attended a fellowship dinner for my church. The conversation soon turned to children—about how fast kids grow and about the many changes they go through.

I sensed where all this was going because many times while talking with a friend or family member, at some point during the conversation they begin complaining about their children. Now, I do realize that this is likely not ever meant in a derogatory way; nor is it an expression of these parents’ true feelings for their kids. They probably just feel comfortable venting their frustrations to me, and unloading their feelings about their children’s antics and behaviors. Sometimes, these parents may even use humor in their ranting in order to defuse conflicts with their children when they later interact. That is actually a positive approach to dealing with many family situations.

Honestly, though, I have never really known how to respond to this manner of complaining simply because I don’t share these feelings about my son. My husband and I were no less than tortured for years by the many circumstances, and seemingly unending losses, surrounding the building our family. When our child was finally born and ready for us to adopt him, we were so overcome with emotion and filled with joy that we didn’t even have words. Although perhaps it will be hard for some to believe this, my husband and I used to “argue” over which of us wanted to get up with our son for the next middle of the night feeding. No, I am not kidding!

Sometimes, we would resolve to getting up together and sharing in this late-night ritual because we knew it was a special, treasured time that would all-too-soon be gone. And, it was. For our son began growing—sometimes in faster spurts than others—and never stopped. He has continued to grow up and fill out. We also know that once he reaches his destined height, he will continue his growth emotionally and spiritually.

We never can turn back the hands of time.

Speaking of hands… In reference to her children’s rapidly growing bodies over the years, one woman in our fellowship group said:

“One day you go to hold their hand and you see that it is actually—a hand!”

The talk continued, round the dinner table, with every member contributing toward the “kids these days” conversation. It seems that at every stage of my child’s life, I hear something from someone about how I should prepare for what lies ahead – what lies “in wait” (cue the Evil laugh–heh heh heh–here). I have already passed many of these supposedly dreaded stages – the terrible two’s, which is the year of public meltdowns and tantrums; the threshold three’s, which is when your child is older yet not old enough; the ferocious four’s, which is the year of independence wars; and the stage I’m in now ….. the fighting five’s, which is a year that will bring more I-can-do-it-myself battles. And through this all I wonder: Just when will these behaviors drive me to the brink of, well—complaining?

I do recognize that all of the behaviors observed and described by child development experts, and many parents, are categorized as general attitudes and behaviors that will likely be seen at some point during a child’s second year of life, third year of life, etc.; as well as in varying degrees of frequency and intensity, within that given year. However, I truly do feel as though my son and I do not fit in with the: My-Kids-Drive-Me-Nutty Club simply because… well, he doesn’t.

From the moment I brought my son home, and as I have watched him grow, I can honestly say I have enjoyed every age/stage/phase/and “fad” that has shown itself in his development. Initially, I did think I would have a hard time “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years,” especially since my son is an only child.

Yet, it seems that as he grows, my son only becomes more wonderful—more adorable and fun to spend time with; more intuitive and sensitive; more curious and inquisitive; and more helpful and loving. So, I honestly can’t complain when the complaining wheel begins turning around my social and professional circles.

As I wake up each day to my beautiful little boy, growing big... I look at him, grin, and think:

I can’t wait to hold his great BIG hand!

We're "keeping it under our hats"... truth is, we have no complaints!

We’re “keeping it under our hats”… truth is, we have no complaints!

How do you handle being on the receiving end of parents’ complaints about their children? Do you perceive these “vent sessions” as a healthy, positive coping strategy? Or as having a negative effect on one’s parenting? Do you participate in, or even initiate, these kinds of discussions? Also, do you have tips for dealing with the inevitable growth and moving on of our children? How can we keep our relationships with our kids warm, loving, and strong – without causing them to feel “smothered?” 

We look forward to reading your thoughts!

 

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Grafting Onto Your Family Tree

No matter how "rooted" your family tree is in blood ties --  there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

No matter how “rooted” your family tree is in blood ties — there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

*In collaboration with Chris Little

When I think about family trees, my mind naturally drifts to how different so many families look than they did in the generations of our parents and grandparents. The “faces” of families today are much more diverse – for reasons such as interracial marriage and building a family through adoption. Nowadays, a family is often comprised of different skin colors, ethnicities and cultures.

As I think about this concept further, I also consider what – or should I say who, really makes up a family tree. Is it biological members of a family – those with only true blood ties to the family line? Or, can a family unit be more than that? I wonder too … if family is also supposed to be about love for one other, and about taking care of one other, and about respecting one other – then what if that is not happening with certain so-called “family members.” Then, are they your family? And then further … are the special people in your life who “make up for” those sour relationships – who do love, care for and respect you, are they your family?

In other words, is a family bound by blood … or love?

I will be very bold and say that I do not consider every person in my blood-related family to be my family. There are a few members in my family who do not exhibit the traits I consider to be worthy of family; and therefore I avoid them as much as I can, and certainly do not let them know much about my life nor infringe upon it. Yes, I feel they are that toxic.

Aside from this, our son is adopted. If I thought that family was only about blood ties, I could not possibly have become his mother. In my opinion, a family is less about blood ties and more about a culture. The term culture encompasses ethnicity, racial identity, family structure, economic level, language, and religious and political beliefs – all of which profoundly influence a person’s development and relationship to the world, from birth and childhood on. And, therefore, also how they integrate into a family and take part in that family unit. So in my mind – and in my world, family is built by choice. The “family tree,” therefore, is not so much about where the trunk of the tree first took seed, or how the roots took hold in the ground – rather about the many thick branches and lush leaves that grew from that initial form.

It is so very difficult for me to understand how others cannot see beyond how a child comes into a family and simply acknowledge that it is a true blessing that the child is there. Perhaps, though, that is because I have experienced the love of those family members in my life with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how in many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than many of my “blood” relatives. Just as some people remark that they “don’t see race” (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show) as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

The credit for my point of view on this subject really must go to my amazing mother. Unknowingly, she is the one who taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. My mother was an “only child” and since she grew up without siblings, she built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. Therefore, my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side of the family were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of how “Aunt So-and-So isn’t my ‘real’ aunt,” nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why “Mr. and Mrs. X” became my grandparents. I did not find this at all unusual – it just was.

My mother's dear friend who became my aunt holds my son when he was a baby.

My mother’s dear friend, who became my aunt, holds my son when he was a baby.

As an example, there were two wonderful married couples who were very good friends of both my parents, and who then became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and have both since passed away; and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful presence in my family’s life.

Two sets of other “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I can tell you that I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on in her life, astounds me even to this day. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked to me about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. You see, Mary and her husband, Bob, had become more than just my mother’s dear friends – they became her family when she had none. It is amazing to me how anyone upon hearing this story could continue to think that a blood tie alone to another person makes them family in the true meaning of the word!

A couple of years toward the end of my Aunt Mary’s life, I had the pleasure of flying to Colorado from time to time where my aunt and uncle lived. My dear Aunt Mary had been very ill for some time, and along with her physical ailments, had begun to show early signs of dementia. Although my Uncle Bob had weekly help in his home and was able to take breaks from caring for my aunt round the clock, I wanted to be present during this difficult time for them both whenever I could. I wanted to help too. I wanted to give something back – no matter how small, to the people who are forever bound to me through love. To my family.

As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies; as I helped to feed and dress her; as I looked into her eyes and smiled; I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just an infant. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were not the biological parents of either my mom or my dad – they were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work after raising us, she turned to a retired woman in the neighborhood who babysat regularly for help with our afterschool care. To our family however, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. I cannot put into words what a special part of my life they became, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes and pies tasted no less delicious; and her presence in my life was no less special, because we were not related by blood.

My "family tree" continues ... my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

My “family tree” branches out … my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So we are forming a family for him – growing and adding branches to our tree trunk. We have looked outside of our family members for those special relationships of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. In fact, my son calls them aunts, uncles and cousins; and just as I did growing up, doesn’t seem to think anything of it. For they are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

The expression, “Blood is thicker than water,” is a misrepresentation of family life. It simply is not true. Although it is sad to say, when you go through a really difficult time in your life, you may well find that those still standing by your side at the end may not be your blood relatives!

In my blog, “Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life,” I share a story which illustrates further my thoughts about true family

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

Enough said!

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? Are there people in your life you consider family members just as much as your biological relatives – and whom you would add to your family tree? Our OTMGR community would be interested to hear your story about those treasured relationships!

Recommended Reading: Children’s Book List for Adoptive Families

Photo credit: Lutheran Services of Georgia

Photo credit: Lutheran Services of Georgia

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

When your family is built through adoption, it is natural to want some of the literature in your child’s book collection to reflect positive story lines and images of this special way to create a family. Yet, believe it or not, families searching for positive children’s books about adoption need to be very cautious in their choices. There are children’s books about adoption that do not use positive adoption language throughout the text; nor portray adoption in a consistent positive manner through the story line, and illustrations and images used. Whether your adoptive family members are all of the same race, or you are a multi-race / multi-cultural family, it is important to help your child develop a healthy perception of how he or she came into this world and became a part of your family. Therefore, the concept and portrayal of adoption must be presented in a positive light, and positive adoption language should be used throughout the entire story.

It may sometimes be difficult to explain to your young child or children how they came to be a member of your family, and to tell them their “story.” It may also be hard to explain why the members of your family have different skin colors, or even different skin shades within the same color. In my family, we have found it helpful to be open and honest with our son about his adoption “story” from the very beginning. In addition, we celebrate our different skin colors and heritages. Letting our little boy know that the way we became a family is special, yet not unique to just our family, has given him a tremendous sense of appreciation – and even pride, for who he is; and for our close-knit, loving family. Our deliberate efforts to communicate positive feelings of adoption to him, and to educate him about the concept of adoption (dispelling some of the ridiculous myths out there!), has also been supported by positive adoption literature.

There are so many books with adoption-related themes for young children that it can be overwhelming to sort through them all. Photo credit: NestedUniverse.net

There are so many books with adoption-related themes for young children that it can be overwhelming to sort through them all. Photo credit: NestedUniverse.net

There are so many adoption-themed books for children of all ages and types of families that you could spend an eternity trolling through them online. In addition to ones I am familiar with, in putting together this blog piece I found an overwhelming amount of others I was interested in exploring further – yet far too many to review in a short block of time! After you explore the book list I have to share, feel free to conduct your own online search as I think you will be surprised at the variety of literature that exists. I just caution you to choose carefully from among them as some can be deceptive.

An example of a book that “looks good” upfront is When God Found Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren (Ages 3 – 7). For any adoptive family, the words you choose to explain your child’s adoption / birth story will greatly impact how they feel about themselves and how they came into this world. It is bad enough listening to the words complete strangers – even family and friends, utter that just perpetuate the myths about adoption. In this story, when Little Fox asks his Mama why he couldn’t stay with the mother who had him (referring to his “birthmother”) her response is, “She must have had very big reasons to give you up. She must have thought it was best for you.” What??! Ugh – This book is so beautifully written otherwise; and in other places the book does positively explain the “concept” of adoption. That is why it greatly disappointed me to read those three words: “give you up.” Now you may think, “Well, I know what the author is trying to/means to say, yet the reality is that she isn’t saying it in a way that uplifts what adoption really is all about. Those three words perpetuate a major myth, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts, of adoption: that a birthmother simply “gives up” / “gives away” a child she has given birth to – an easy-as-pie decision, right? Wrong! Anyone who has been through the adoption process (on either end – birthparent or adoptive parent) knows the decision to make an adoption plan and to adopt a child are far from frivolous, spare of the moment … or easy! If the author would just revise this part of the book it would be much improved! Do you see how just that one little word or phrase in a story can make all the difference in what determines a “positive” children’s book about adoption?

Another such example of a negative portrayal of adoption actually comes from a very well-known book called A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza. I would like to say that is due to its copyright date of 1992, though I am sorry to say that even in the year 2014 adoption myths have not changed much. It appears that this story is helping children to see that in the end family members do not have to look the same to be a family – definitely a positive theme. Howeverin the story, Choco the little yellow bird sets off desperately looking for a mother. Now, that is not a typical adoption scenario for a baby or young child – even for an older child. I just found the story line odd, and depressing – at one point in the book, Choco cries, “Mommy, mommy, I need a mommy!” How heartbreaking

One thing I found helpful before considering the purchase of any of these books is to listen to a reading on You Tube. Whereas I could not locate all of the stories, and sometimes the people reading the books weren’t always – well, shall I say, “readers” this was a wonderful way to preview the complete book and view the illustrations to get a truer sense of the story line. I listened to I Wished for You: An Adoption Story by Marianne Richmond (listed below) and discovered it is a beautiful book – now in my Amazon shopping cart! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSCYO1aGims) Other adoption book titles that may be worth exploring, since the online reviews from professionals and readers were overwhelmingly positive, are: A Blessing From Above by Patti Henderson (c 2004 – Little Golden Book; has a religious theme), Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz (2001; explores international adoption), and Sweet Moon Baby by Karen Clark (2010; explores adoption from China).

My son's birth and homecoming were very special, and we want to be sure he knows that!

My son’s birth and homecoming were very special, and we want to be sure he knows that!

Below is a list of books which beautifully reflect two concepts: 1) adoption and what a special way it is to build a family; and 2) how differences in skin color, race and culture actually unite us in a global heritage. Through supportive, uplifting and inspirational language, imagery and pictures, these books help you and your child celebrate your special family (which may be a glorious mixture of colors and heritages, as is ours) in a joyful way!

Children’s Book List for Adoptive Families

1) Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born

Copyright 1996 by Jamie Lee Curtis

A young girl asks her mother and father to tell her again about the night of her birth, a cherished tale she knows well. This is a heartwarming story, interspersed with humor shared through the illustrations; not only of how one child is born, yet of how a family is born. Rather than delving into the complex dynamic that adoption brings to a family, the book simply affirms family love and how excited children are to hear the story of their birth and adoption – over and over again! Recommended Age: 4 and up.

2) I Wished for You: An Adoption Story

Copyright 2008 by Marianne Richmond

This beautiful story follows a conversation between Barley Bear and his Mama as they curl up in their favorite cuddle spot and discuss how they became a family. Barley asks Mama the questions many children who are adopted have, and his Mama lovingly answers them all. Recommended Age: 2 and up.

3) The Day We Met You

Copyright 1997 by Phoebe Koehler

This is a special picture book that takes a peek at a couple lovingly preparing their home for a baby whom they will adopt. Children who are adopted really enjoy and appreciate hearing their homecoming stories over and over, and this book encourages those retellings. Recommended Age: 2 and up.

4) Happy Adoption Day!

Copyright 2001 Lyrics by John McCutcheon

This book shares an adaptation of McCutcheon’s song which commemorates the day when a child joins an adoptive family. It also comes complete with musical notation and full-color illustrations. The joyful, rhyming verses reassure children who are adopted that they are special! Recommended Age: 3 and up.

5) All the Colors of the Earth

Copyright 1994 by Sheila Hamanaka

A celebration of children and all the beautiful colors they come in – the colors of love!

6) My Little Miracle

Copyright 2002 by J. Beck

A delightfully written little book welcoming babies of all colors and cultures to the magic of discovery this world holds.

7) The Skin You Live In

Copyright 2005 by Michael Tyler

A wonderful rhyming book showing how very special it is to be in the skin you are in – no matter what its color!

8) The Colors of Us

Copyright 1999 by Karen Katz

Bold, delightful illustrations and a wonderful story celebrate our diversity, and deliver a poignant message: Love the skin you have!

9) Whoever You Are

Copyright 1997 by Mem Fox

A beautiful and poignant book, this links us all together despite our different appearances, languages, interests, and lives.

Has your family been built by adoption, or do you have ties to one that has? Do you work in the adoption field in some capacity? Or, have you simply discovered any “must reads” for children that reflect adoption in a positive way – with words and through images? If so, please help us grow the list above for our readers who are part of the adoption community!

“Recommended Reading: Children’s Book List for Multi-Cultural Families”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

First thing in the morning, we early risers welcome the day with my son's "warm cocoa dream" skin and my Irish-red "cherry topped, candy dropped" skin -- a beautiful contrast! For the record, daddy's skin shade is "butterscotch gold." (Skin shades determined from the book, The Skin You Live In).First thing in the morning, we early risers welcome the day with my son’s “warm cocoa dream” skin and my Irish-red “cherry topped, candy dropped” skin — a beautiful contrast! For the record, daddy’s skin shade is “butterscotch gold.” (Skin shades determined from the book, The Skin You Live In).

Whether your family is multi-race or multi-cultural due to an interracial marriage or adoption, it may sometimes be difficult to explain to young children why the members of your family have different skin colors or even different shades within the same color. In my family, we have found that whereas it is helpful to be open and honest with our son about his adoption “story,” it has also been beneficial to celebrate our different skin colors and shades as unique to us. Letting our little boy know that even within his skin color there are many different shades, and that his skin is special, has given him a sense of appreciation for who he was created to be and a foundation upon which to help build his self-esteem. All these books are absolutely wonderful and I recommend reading every one of them. However, if I had to pick the top two “must-reads” they would be The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler and The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.

Below is a list of books which beautifully reflect babies, young children, and families from different cultures and countries.  Through uplifting and inspirational language, imagery and pictures, these books build self-esteem while respectfully acknowledging our differences, and joyfully celebrating our similarities – and our global heritage!

Children’s Book List for Multi-Cultural Families 

1)Global Babies

Copyright 2007 by The Global Fund for Children

Brightly colored, delightful photographs of babies from countries around the world!

2)All the Colors of the Earth

Copyright 1994 by Sheila Hamanaka

A celebration of children and all the beautiful colors they come in – the colors of love!

3)My Little Miracle

Copyright 2002 by J. Beck

A delightfully written little book welcoming babies of all colors and cultures to the magic of discovery this world holds.

4)Welcome Precious

Copyright 2006 by Nikki Grimes

An African American family welcomes their new little one to the world, and to their loving family.

The Skin You Live In5)The Skin You Live In

Copyright 2005 by Michael Tyler

A wonderful rhyming book showing how very special it is to be in the skin you are in – no matter what its color!

6)The Colors of Us

Copyright 1999 by Karen Katz

Bold, delightful illustrations and a wonderful story celebrate our diversity, and deliver a poignant message: Love the skin you have!

7)Marvelous Me

Copyright 2003 by Lisa Bullard

This book is part of a series featuring different children who describe themselves, their feelings, and their worldMarvelous Me is about an African-American boy and his twin brother.

8)Whoever You Are

Copyright 1997 by Mem Fox

A beautiful and poignant book, this links us all together despite our different appearances, languages, interests, and lives.

9)Incredible You

Copyright 2005 by Wayne W. Dyer

This children’s book, featuring kids of different races, is based on Mr. Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace for adults.  Here, he frames those same ten ideas in language easily related to by young children – to help them feel good about themselves and know that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to do.

ImGonnaLikeMe10)I’m Gonna Like Me

Copyright 2002 by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

Illustrated with children of different races, this book gives everyone a healthy boost of self-esteem!

11)Bright Eyes, Brown Skin

Text Copyright 1990 by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford

Adapted from the original poem published in 1979, four African American children enjoy their time together and celebrate their skin while at preschool.

12)Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Copyright 2008 by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

Although at first glance this appears to be a simple counting book, it is so much more. These two picture book creators help us celebrate baby fingers and toes from all over the world!

Have you come across books that celebrate differences among people and encourage us to do the same? If so, please help us grow the list and add your “must read this book” choices!

LOVE What IS!

By Mary Ann Filler

Happy Valentine’s Day! I pray that you are all feeling blessed by your loved ones this day!

Here I am following my fellow blogger Jennifer’s post on “Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life.”  While Jennifer has given us her amazing perspective as an adoptive parent, I’m going to give you one individual adoptee’s perspective on adoption.

If you follow football here in the U.S., then you witnessed the battle of the Harbaugh brothers in the Super Bowl. Leading up to the big game, the following picture surfaced:

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Credit: Instagram, @therealcarlosa

For those of you who do not follow football, this picture depicts John Harbaugh (coach of the Baltimore Ravens…SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS..sorry couldn’t resist;-), telling his brother, Jim Harbaugh (coach of the San Francisco 49ers), that he’s adopted.

I have to admit that when I saw this, I laughed. But, this picture also got me thinking.  The overall theme is that finding out that one is adopted would be a bad thing.

When I was growing up, I remember watching shows where the characters, children, were plagued with fear about the possibility that they were adopted only to be relieved when they found out otherwise.  At the time, I wondered why these characterizations were even made.  What was so bad about being adopted?

So, what does it mean to be adopted?  One thing I can tell you is that I know nothing different.  From my earliest memories, I have known that I was adopted.   My adoptive parents shared that information with me from the start.  They chose me out of all of the other children in the world.  I was not the only member of my family to be chosen.  My brother was chosen before me, and my cousin was chosen after me.

When I was younger, it never really occurred to me what it would be like not to be chosen; it never occurred to me what it would have been like if I had never been born.

As the reality of my existence has become clearer, I have grappled with what it would have meant not to exist. I was born before the Roe v. Wade decision, and abortion was illegal.  But, abortions could be arranged.  What if I had been aborted?

When thinking about the impact of my non-existence, it’s far reaching.  I mean, my husband would not be married to me, and my three sons would not exist to leave their mark on the world.  I have been a teacher for over 20 years; I would like to think that I have positively impacted many of the hundreds of students that I have taught.  Then, there are the other people in my life: friends, co-workers, acquaintances…they would not know me.

As an adoptee of my generation, there have been other considerations to think about as well.  Why didn’t my birth mother keep me?  Should I try to make contact with her?  What about my birth father?  What was his role in all of this?  Should I make contact with him?  Did he know?  What impact will contacting my birth parents have on my adoptive parents?

I have been blessed to have answers to many of these questions, and may in a future blog address those answers.  For now, what I’m attempting to convey is that this individual has thought extensively about the meaning and implications of my own adoption.

In the process, I have come to the realization that my life is ordained.  God ordained my life.  I am here for a reason. I have a purpose.  As a result of that realization, I have chosen to embrace and LOVE What IS!  After all, how we interpret our circumstances is up to each of us.  There is no other way for me to feel but blessed to have been given life.  There are NO accidents when it comes to life.  No matter what your opinion is of another human being, we are all ordained to be here for such a time as this!

“Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

My son looks nothing like me yet my love for him runs deeper than any blood between us could.

My son looks nothing like me yet my love for him runs deeper than any blood between us could.

I once read an advice columnist’s comments to a gentleman who was concerned about his wife’s preoccupation with having a child, and their struggles to conceive after three years of trying and countless visits to IVF doctors. He said his wife becomes upset when friends become pregnant, is “obsessed with all things ‘baby,’” and is in denial that they simply might just not have kids. The columnist commented that his wife was not in denial, rather in despair. She said his wife is aching to be a mother – and that’s a real ache. She advised the man to get counseling for the couple, as well as to consider adoption. In fact, she said, she was an adoptive mother. The columnist added that there are children in the world who need mothers just as badly as his wife needs to be one. She assured the man that the instant he and his wife hold their baby, the importance of the manner in which the child was delivered will dissolve in tears of joy.

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

How a child comes into a family is not as important as the blessing that the child is there. In my life, I have experienced the love of family members with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than most of my “blood” relatives. Some people remark that they “don’t see race” as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own. (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show – of course we see race!) In the same way, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

Just funnin' with Dad!

Just funnin’ with Dad!

Unknowingly, my mother taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. She was an only child and built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. My aunts and uncles were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of a woman not being my “real” aunt, nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why Mr. and Mrs. X became my grandparents. Two wonderful married couples who had been friends with my parents became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and who have since passed away, and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful present in my family’s life.

Two other sets of “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home was made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on, astounds me. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. Mary and her husband, Bob, had become my mother’s family when she had none. A blood tie alone to another person does not necessarily make them family.

When my dear Aunt Mary became very ill, I wanted to be present during this difficult time. I wanted to give something back to the people who are forever bound to me through love. As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies, as I helped to feed and dress her, as I looked into her eyes and smiled, I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt finally passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

My son playing with his "non-officially" related cousins

My son playing with his “non-officially” related cousins

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just one year old. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work, she asked a retired woman in the neighborhood to help with afterschool care for me and my sisters. However, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. They became a very special part of my life, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes, and pies tasted no less delicious and her presence in my life was no less special because we were not related by blood.

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So, we have looked outside of those relationships for aunts, uncles, and cousins. As you can see from the snapshots, my best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. He calls them aunts, uncles, and cousins. They are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

Andrew's Aunt Karen and my best friend since the seventh grade

Andrew’s Aunt Karen and my best friend since the seventh grade

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? I would be interested to hear your story about that treasured relationship!

Supporting Adoptive Families

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

No doubt as your child’s school year and accompanying activities get underway, you look around and notice a difference in the cultural makeup of families. The 2010 Census showed that interracial and interethnic married couples grew by 28 percent over the past decade. In addition to marriage, families also become interracial and interethnic through adoption. For families who adopt their children, many of the physical and emotional changes that happen for them are the same as for those who conceive their children biologically. Those who adopt are indeed “pregnant in their heart.”

It can take up to three years to receive an adoption placement. During this time, those who are adopting often need extra support from their families and friends. One of the most helpful ways friends and family can support expectant adoptive parents is to uplift them emotionally and practically. Prospective parents make the same logistical preparations a biologically pregnant couple would, yet deal as well with the emotional rollercoaster that is the adoption process.

If you know a couple or individual seeking to adopt, please don’t be afraid to ask how the preparations are coming or what you can do to help. Know, though, that everyone will handle those preparations, as well as the “wait time” involved in an adoption placement, differently. Some may not wish to discuss many details on a daily basis – perhaps even waiting until the legal revocation period is over to announce the arrival of their child. Others may feel a need to chat more about the adoption process as it goes along, and will want your encouragement when they become frustrated or for you to share their excitement as each new step along the way is accomplished.

In either case, if you are not sure what to say or how to react, the best thing to do is to simply yet tactfully ask the expecting couple or individual. You might say something like, “I know waiting for your child must be tough, and perhaps even filled with frustration from time to time. If you would like to talk about it, I am happy to listen.” Or, “It sounds as though you are very excited now that your paperwork is finished. As you wait for a placement, would it be more comfortable for you if we begin planning your shower now or hold one for you once your baby has been born?”

Sometimes, one of the best showers you can give is a “money shower.” Generally the costs for utilizing an adoption agency’s or a facilitator’s services are significant (in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars). Having some of those costs recouped may be very helpful!

Here are additional ideas for how you can be helpful to adoptive parents:

  • Offer to help prepare a baby registry or decorate the nursery (or older child’s room) to the extent that the adoptive couple or individual is comfortable. Although loss surrounding an adoption placement is rare, some prospective parents may not be comfortable preparing a room ahead of time.

    Offer to decorate a nursery for the new arrival!

  • Send a gift card to stores which have items parents will need when their child arrives. Check if those cards can be used for online purchases. This may be a more convenient way for new parents to shop rather than struggling to coordinate trips to a mall around baby’s nap time – especially if they received a placement earlier than expected!
  • Take the expectant parent or parents shopping to all the fun baby or children stores.
  • ‘Fawn’ a bit over the newly expectant couple or individual – “How exciting for you!” It can be very touching and thoughtful for an adoptive parent to have someone ask how their “pregnancy” is going.
  • Call regularly to check in. Ask, “How are you doing with the wait?” Offer to get together just to talk or to help out in some other way.

As an adoptive parent, I know that it helps when family members and friends are supportive of you when you choose to build your family through adoption. I encourage you to celebrate with the adoptive parents you know, and to treat their child the “same” as if he or she had been born from the adoptive mother’s belly. This will help them create a warm, nurturing environment to welcome their new addition!

Are you an adoptive parent who has been helped by family or friends? Are you someone who has helped an adoptive parent? If so, please share your stories and ideas with us!