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10
Feb

8 Adopted Children’s Characters

Who are your favorite adopted characters?

Share and let us know!

20
Jan

Maintaining a Relationship with Your Child’s Birth Family

At American Adoptions, we promote open adoptions whenever possible. An open adoption is an adoption situation in which the adoptive family and birth parents share identifying information and maintain some degree of contact.

This can look different for different families, and we’ll get to some suggestions about exactly how to maintain communication with your child’s birth family later in this post. First, though, let’s talk about the benefits.

The Benefits of Staying in Touch with Your Child’s Birth Family

  • An open adoption helps an adopted child understand where they came from. The child should always come first in any adoption scenario, so the good they receive from contact with their birth parents is the most important benefit of an open adoption. It’s common for an adopted child to feel that something is missing when they don’t know their birth parents. And while their adoptive parents will, of course, always be their parents, that doesn’t mean an adopted child won’t have questions.These questions may range in emotional depth. Your child may want to know where their hair color came from or if they have any biological siblings, or they may feel the need to know why their birth parents placed them for adoption. Maybe your child just wants to be able to check up on their birth parents to make sure they’re doing okay. None of this takes away from adoptive parents; giving your child access to their birth parents will generally only help them to understand who they are and where they came from.
  • Open adoption helps the birth parents to feel confident in their adoption decision. Remember, your child’s birth parents gave you the greatest gift imaginable. The sense of loss they feel won’t end quickly or easily after placement; they’re never going to stop thinking about the child they placed. You may be able to ease the pain and the fear they might feel by simply keeping them updated on your child’s life and how well they’re doing.
  • Open adoption gives you access to medical information. Don’t assume that getting all the information you can at the time of your child’s birth is going to cover you in this department for the rest of his or her life. If health issues arise, either with your child or with the birth parents, you may want to have an avenue of communication to talk about family medical history.

All of this is well and good, but we also understand that your relationship with your child’s birth parents may be delicate. It can be tough to know how to reach out and how often to do so, and the simple truth is that the exact degree and method of communication is going to vary on a case-by-case basis.

It may be helpful to you to read our earlier post, “Tips for Bonding with Your Child’s Birth Parents,” for advice on the emotional aspects of this process. Also check out “Fostering Positive Relationships with Birth Parents — The First Year.” In terms of the method of communication, though, here are some ways to keep in touch with your child’s birth parents:

  • Email exchanges. This is a really simple way to keep your child’s birth parents updated on how things are going. You can work out an agreement with them for how often these emails should be sent. They may even decide that, for a while at least, they want to receive weekly or monthly emails without responding, and that’s okay too. Keep in mind that communication may be difficult for them as well, especially at first. The same principle applies to letters.
  • Phone calls. These can either be scheduled, or you can have the kind of relationship where one party calls the other whenever the mood strikes. Some birth parents may prefer not to be surprised, while others may love it.
  • Skype sessions. If your child’s birth parents don’t live close by but you’d still like your child to be able to see them face to face, technology makes that doable.
  • Inperson visits. If visiting with your child’s parents in person is an option, this could be amazing for everyone involved. A good way to start this out is by meeting for coffee or a meal periodically.

Remember, maintaining a relationship with your child’s birth family doesn’t mean you’re co-parenting. Your child is yours. Nothing can change that. Maintaining a relationship with their birth family is just another way in which you can provide your child with the best life possible.

16
Jan

How to Breastfeed an Adopted Baby

It’s a question that women ask again and again: “Can you breastfeed an adopted baby?”

Yes. There are several ways to provide breastmilk for an adopted baby, should you choose to breastfeed.

Why Women Want to Breastfeed their Adopted Babies

The two greatest benefits of breastfeeding for infants are:

  1. the health benefits of breastmilk
  2. the additional opportunity for mother and baby to bond

Of course, breastfeeding an adopted baby can pose some obvious physical challenges, but it can still be done.

However, it’s important to remember that breastfeeding is not right for every mom. Deciding whether or not to breastfeed your baby is a very personal choice with no one wrong or right answer. Providing proper nutrition for your baby can happen with formula, your breastmilk, donated breastmilk, or any combination of the three.

Even for women who gave birth to their infant biologically, most of them supplement breastfeeding with formula, stored and/or donated breastmilk and individual combinations of those feeding techniques. Breastfeeding a baby is rarely a cut-and-dry process, regardless of how you become a mom!

But for women who have their hearts set on learning how to breastfeed their adopted baby, there are several ways to approach your breastfeeding experience.

How to Produce Breastmilk for Your Adopted Baby

If you want to try producing your own breastmilk for your baby, you’ll need the same hormonal nudge that all moms-to-be need to begin lactating. Breastfeeding an adopted baby will require some preparation and planning several weeks or even months before the baby arrives.

1. Consult with your physician.

It’ll help if you can bring in some information about adopted baby breastfeeding. But your doctor should be able to determine whether or not breastfeeding (and the accompanying hormonal shifts) is safe for you based on your health history, and they can recommend any vitamins or supplements that they think you may need while lactating. Your doctor may be able to put you into contact with a lactation expert, who will also be able to help.

2. Get on birth control pills.

Birth control pills produce hormones that trick the body into thinking that it’s pregnant so that it won’t bother to produce a new egg. That mimicked pregnancy can also be used to convince your body that it’s time to begin producing breastmilk.

3. Switch from birth control to supplements and medications.

Under the guidance of your doctor, you’ll discontinue the birth control once your doctor feels that your body has had enough time to prepare for milk production. Then, you’ll start taking herbal supplements and medications at the recommendation of a lactation expert to help facilitate breastmilk production without affecting the breastmilk itself.

4. Start pumping in preparation for the baby’s arrival.

You’ll start to pump a few times a day, slowly increasing the frequency and length of each pumping session. This will lead your body to begin producing milk, and if you stick to it, you’ll begin producing more and more gradually. Inducing lactation is typically a slow process; keep at it and you’ll see results.

Don’t be discouraged — most adoptive moms won’t have enough of their breastmilk stored up to feed their baby on alone. But this breastmilk can be a great supplement to formula until your milk production increases and you have more pumped and stored.

5. Supplement your breastmilk with a supplemental nursing system (SNS).

Again, you’ll likely need to supplement your own breastmilk with formula or donated breastmilk. This is easily done by mixing stored breastmilk and formula in a bottle.

If you want to nurse your adopted baby rather than feed them breastmilk through a bottle, this can be done with an SNS. The SNS is filled with breastmilk and/or formula, which is pumped through tubes taped to your breast so that the baby will get this supplemental supply in addition to any breastmilk you produce on your own. Carrying around an SNS isn’t always very practical for new moms, but it’s a nice option for adoptive moms who want to achieve the nursing experience.

As most breastfeeding moms do, you’ll eventually forego the SNS in favor a bottle, anyway. You can still continue pumping and feeding your baby stored breastmilk and/or formula after you stop nursing through the SNS.

Where to Find Donated Breastmilk

Donated breastmilk comes from healthy, breastfeeding mothers who have a surplus of breastmilk and want to donate it to other moms so that their babies can reap the health benefits. You can find donated breastmilk at your local donation bank, hospital, or by contacting a local donor directly.

This donated breastmilk is free, and it’s a great way to provide your adopted baby with health-boosting milk without having to take hormones and induce lactation yourself — particularly for moms who are unable to take hormonal birth control for health reasons.

Resources for Moms Who Want to Breastfeed an Adopted Baby

Talking to doctors and other women who’ve induced lactation in order to breastfeed an adopted baby will be helpful throughout the process. Check out these resources:

Read about one mom’s experience with breastfeeding her infant daughter she adopted through American Adoptions here!

6
Jan

Our Open Adoption Story – Harry & Sherry

American Adoptions writer, Diana, is an adoptee. Her parents, Harry & Sherry, share their story:


Sherry:

Our adoption story began in the summer of 1988. My husband and I had been married nine years and spent five of the nine years in infertility treatment. My husband, frustrated with our progress, suggested we visit an adoption agency. I was very hesitant. Although I was frustrated as well, I was optimistic that “next month” we would be pregnant. Finally, in the fall of that year I agreed we would visit with a social worker at the agency, but still thought of adoption as “Plan B.”

One of the reasons I was reluctant to adopt was my worry that as my child grew up and asked questions about birth parents I could not answer, they would begin to fantasize about the life they could have had and not be happy with their life in our family. Those worries were dispelled when the social worker told us that the agency only did open adoptions.

She described how the profiles, pictures and letters we would compile would be shared with birth parents, and after viewing profiles from several potential adoptive parents, the birth parents would choose who to meet with and potentially place their child with. The birth parents and adoptive parents would then stay in touch (deciding among themselves exactly what that meant to them) and the adopted child would grow up knowing who their birth parents were and have health history and the ability to ask questions of birth parents when necessary.

All of the sudden I was “all in.” Open adoption made perfect sense to me. I could see how important it was for the physical and mental health of my child and also for the mental health of the birth parents. Learning about open adoption took away my fear of the adoption process.

In February of 1989, our son was born. His paternal grandmother placed him in our arms three days later. In the 27 years since his birth, we have maintained a close relationship with his birth parents and birth-grandparents, and by close I mean visits over the years and frequent phone calls and letters. My son, as an adult, now determines how much contact he wishes to have, but my husband and I always stay in contact with the birth families because they are part of our extended family.

I could go into more detail about our son’s adoption, but this blog post is meant to highlight our daughter, Diana’s, adoption, which took place 27 months later.

When our son was around 20 months old, my husband and I knew we would like to adopt another child. Our worry was: how could a second adoption possibly go as wonderfully as the adoption of our son? Would we always compare the two processes? What if we don’t feel as bonded to this birth family as we do to our son’s? Good advice from my sister propelled us forward. She said, “Why shouldn’t the second adoption be a miraculous as the first? Have faith. Don’t be afraid.”

We contacted the same agency and, once again, our profile was sent out to birth parents. We were selected by a couple who were college students at the time. My first impression of these two young people was — “they are so smart!” They were very interesting as well — people who I could have imagined myself being friends with when I was in college. It was also obvious that they loved their baby. Birth Father was so gentle and considerate with Birth Mother. Birth Mother was very careful of what she chose to eat for lunch to make sure it was healthy and would not upset the baby. Needless to say, we admired and respected these two courageous people who wanted the best for their child.

Diana’s birth parents wanted to place her with us at the birth father’s home. Her placement is such a lovely memory. We had chocolate cake and strawberries. Both sets of birth grandparents were in attendance. Birth Mother’s older brother spent time entertaining our son, so much so, it was hard to get him to leave when the time came. One of the most vivid memories I have of that day is Diana fussing while I was holding her and thinking, “She hears her birth mother’s voice and wants to be held by her.”

I cherish that memory as it reminds me of the sacrifice that the birth parents had to make to provide me with a family. My love and respect for them is overwhelming.

We were happy to send letters and pictures of Diana to her birth families. It was never a burden because we were so proud of this beautiful child and couldn’t wait to share every milestone in her life. Their letters to us were always so positive, and when they expressed gratitude to us for being such good parents, I was humbled beyond what I can express.

I have many wonderful memories of letters, gifts and visits with Diana’s birth families; here are two of my favorites:

When Diana was about 2 ½ years old, we met her paternal birth family at a hotel as we traveled through Kansas on our way home for Christmas. This was the first time her paternal grandparents had seen her since her birth. Diana was quite precocious and articulate for her age. She was cute as can be all dressed up in her poinsettia dress for the special occasion. I could not wait for her birth family to meet her. She was a delight, and entertained everyone. Her birth family was so complementary of her and our family. I was reassured by the visit that her birth father was confident of the decision he made to place this precious girl with us.

The second memory is when Diana’s birth mother was her Confirmation sponsor at our Catholic Church. We had such a great family celebration afterward. Diana’s birth family — grandparents, birth mother and her husband’s precious children, my parents and siblings with their children — all in our home together celebrating this incredible young woman we all loved and supported. I remember looking around my very full home with such joy in my heart.

Diana now is in control of the contact she has with her birth family. We still keep in touch with them by Facebook and are happy when Diana meets with her birth father or hears from one of her birth grandparents. We love seeing pictures of her birth mother’s beautiful children and have felt honored to be able to attend her birth father’s music performances.

I know this story sounds a bit idyllic, but I can honestly say the only downside we have experienced of the open adoption process is — we wish we could have spent MORE time with our children’s birth families but distance and time have not allowed us to do so. We genuinely care for them and enjoy their company. We wish they could have attended more of Diana’s piano and dance recitals, seen how beautiful she was for prom, and experienced her extraordinary talent when she acted in plays in college.

If I can, from our experience, give one piece of advice to prospective adoptive parents, it is DO NOT BE AFRAID! Do not let fear invade your relationship with the birth parents of your child.  Remember always, love is never divided, only multiplied. I wish each and every one of you the joy that can only come when you are called “Mom” or “Dad.”

Harry:

Sherry and I were married in August of 1979 and we spent several years focusing on our professional lives, but knew that we would eventually want to start a family. After many months of trying to conceive and additional fertility testing, we decided to meet with a fertility specialist. We spent several months following their advice and unfortunately, we simply were not able to get pregnant. This was a very stressful time in our lives as we watched month after month pass without a pregnancy, wondering if we were simply not going to be able to have children.

During that time, I started thinking about other options to bring children into our family. I have always been fascinated with the adoption process having known others who decided that this might be the best option for them.

I presented the idea to Sherry, and at first she was not ready to even consider this option. With a great deal of additional discussion and prayer, we both decided that we would approach an adoption agency to seek their advice and counsel. After visiting with the agency about their adoption process, they encouraged us to consider an open adoption. Both of us really liked the idea and decided that we would work with the agency to seek a child through an open adoption.

The degree of openness to open adoptions seemed natural and welcoming. I liked the idea that an open adoption was simply a way to expand our current family by including birth parents and their family into ours. I wanted the birth parents to be totally committed to Sherry and me – feeling at peace with their decision. This gave them a chance to know that they made the right decision picking us and looked forward to continue being involved with the child’s life in some way. The greatest value in open adoption is that the child has nothing hidden from them… they know the families they came from and the family that raised them.

Both of our two children have been adopted through open adoptions, and even after 25+ years, I’m absolutely convinced that it was the right decision.  

Sherry and I spent weeks preparing a profile of our family that included information about our open adoption with our son. We knew that it was critical to try to tell our story through the family profile so that potential birth parents would feel like they knew us. We knew it was important for them to understand the unique opportunity of open adoption like the one we had with our son. It wasn’t about trying to sell ourselves, it was about letting potential birth parents know all there was to know about us, and to open the door for a face-to-face meeting – which I believe is the critical part of the process. It wasn’t long after we completed the biography that we got a call from the social worker at the agency to tell us they had a couple who really wanted to meet with us. After getting that call, I knew in my heart that God was involved in this decision (as he was in our son’s adoption) and we were in the process of getting our second child.

Our second adopted child, Diana, was born to a teenage couple from western Kansas, who made the courageous decision to place their child for adoption.

Meeting with Diana’s birth parents was simply a delight. Once we started our visit with them, it became clear to me that we wanted to welcome them into our family. They kept us up-to-date about the pregnancy, and we wanted to make sure that they had everything that they needed. There was even some discussion about being in the delivery room with them during the birth. The total commitment to their decision to place this child for adoption was evident during all our conversations with them throughout the pregnancy. Sherry and I felt it was important that the birth parents give the baby her name. They liked the name “Diana” and we agreed: our daughter would be called Diana.

Both Sherry and I were totally committed to the birth parents. Our door to them was always open; we welcomed visits in our home, we would talk with their families by phone whenever they wanted to chat, we would send letters to them on a regular basis and at least once a year we would provide them with pictures from all the kids’ activities during that year…to this day, we still send them a Christmas letter with photos.

After Diana’s birth, we met with the entire birth family in Dodge City, where they hosted a reception with their extended family to meet us. With a great deal of love, they handed Diana over to us.

It was a true celebration and to this day, we call them our family.

Read Diana’s side of the story here.

Share this to reach those who may be considering adoption or who’ve been touched by adoption!

21
Dec

Ideas for Keeping the Kids Entertained All Winter

Well, winter has officially arrived.  Last week, an arctic blast took over most of the country, sending temperatures plummeting and blanketing some areas with snow.  So, how are we going to entertain the kids while the temperatures are frigid and there is snow on the ground?  Here are some ideas for outdoor winter fun.

If there’s snow on the ground:

  • Build a snowman
  • Build a snow fort
  • Make snow angels
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Write in the snow with colored water – mix water and food coloring in a squeeze bottle, then squirt it on the snow. They can decorate their snowman or snow fort too!
  • Go sledding
  • Make snow ice cream – mix 5-6 cups of snow with 1 cup of milk, ½ cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Stir and enjoy!  Pop it in the freezer if it starts to melt.

If the kids are tired of playing in the snow:

  • Go ice skating or teach the kids to skate – the best part of winter is you can bundle up and try an outdoor rink
  • Go on a hike and take snowy pictures
  • Admire the holiday decorations at night – pile the kids in the car in their pajamas, sip hot cocoa and drive through the neighborhoods. Check local websites to see if there’s a park/nature preserve/zoo near you that has light shows during the holidays.  Our local paper usually has a list of neighborhoods with big light displays too.
  • Do a good deed – this is time of year when charities or food banks are always looking for extra help. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, ring the bell for the Salvation Army, visit residents in a nursing home, help out at a local animal shelter, or even shovel a neighbor’s driveway.  The possibilities are endless!
  • Feed the birds – make a simple pinecone birdfeeder with peanut butter and birdseed. Get out the binoculars to see which birds visit.

All outdoor activities should be followed up with hot cocoa and snuggling by a fireplace.  We hope you have a fun winter season!

16
Dec

How to Embrace Your Child’s Biological Heritage

Transracial adoption is when an adoptive family adopts a child who is of another race or ethnic background.  This type of adoption is more commonplace than it’s been in decades’ past.  Helping a child adjust to life in an entirely new country takes time and work.  But just as important as it is to make them feel welcome, it is equally as important to help them learn about where they came from.

Adoptive families should make a strong effort to educate themselves on their child’s heritage.  There is so much they can learn – traditions, holidays, customs, language.  When they share this knowledge with their child, they help him or her create a strong sense of self.  Here are some ways to help your child foster a love for their heritage:

  • Read books about their heritage – fiction, non-fiction, kids’ books. There are many sweet storybooks that tell stories about fun customs from other countries.
  • Help them connect with other kids of the same ethnicity or race – go to social activities that allow them to spend time with other kids. If a family used an adoption agency, they may be able to connect the family with others in the area who have a child from the same country.  Kids need to see other families that look like theirs, to know they aren’t that different.
  • Make it habitual – don’t reserve celebrating a child’s heritage for holidays or special events only. Try to incorporate some aspects into daily life.  Once a week, prepare a food connected to their home country.  Take your child’s interests (music, reading, fashion, art) and connect it to their heritage.
  • Make it a family thing – adoptive children often go through a phase where they don’t want to acknowledge they are “different” than other kids or families. They can feel singled out if they are the only one in the family attending cultural activities or classes.  Participate with them, but also let them try some things on their own.
  • Find a balance – make sure your child also participates in activities that make them feel like other kids their age. Celebrate customs from your own heritage, too.  Teach your child how to celebrate diversity, and to respect and value other cultures in the world.  Make your home one of inclusion, and set the tone that cultural biases are not allowed.
6
Dec

5 Lessons ‘This is Us’ Teaches Us About Adoption

“This is Us,” an NBC show about a blended family told in different timelines, is arguably this fall season’s breakout hit. Focusing on three siblings — two twins and their adopted brother — coping with different crises at the age of 36, it’s quickly become a favorite for its honest portrayal of race, class, gender and body size.

One of the biggest storylines revolves around Randall, who was adopted by his parents from the hospital in the 1980s after his adoptive parents lost one of their triplets during childbirth. As an African-American in a white, middle-class family, he struggles to find his identity after he reconnects with his long-lost birth father.

The show is a great resource for adoptive parents, birth parents and adoptees alike, educating viewers about adoption and the struggles all parties experience during their lifelong adoption journey. Although Randall was adopted in the 1980s in a closed adoption (rare today), many of his and his parents’ challenges will resonate with those affected by adoption.

American Adoptions highly recommends adoptive families watch “This is Us” as another way to normalize adoption in your household. To catch you up before tonight’s midseason finale, we’ve compiled a list of what “This is Us” has addressed about adoption so far.

How Closed Adoptions Can Negatively Affect Adopted Children

Randall’s adoption is an example of a “safe haven” adoption, wherein his birth father (William) left him in the custody of firefighters after his mother died giving birth to him. Randall is then brought to the hospital, where Rebecca and Jack choose to adopt him after one of their triplets dies during birth.

William lingers at the hospital to make sure Randall is taken care of, and Rebecca realizes who he is. She speaks with him once shortly after she adopts Randall and then revisits him later in Randall’s childhood. However, she keeps the knowledge of Randall’s birth father a secret from both her husband and her son and eventually decides that William cannot have contact with his son.

Not knowing anything about his birth parents is hard on Randall, a black boy being raised in a white family. Although it’s revealed his birth parents both had substance abuse issues (which is why Rebecca chose to keep his history a secret), the “what ifs” and unknowns of his adoption cause him to search out his birth father through a private investigator — which leads to an eventual meeting filled with anger, guilt and confusion.

While closed adoptions like Randall’s are not as common today as they were in the 1980s, his story demonstrates how children can be affected if they don’t know the truth about their adoption. Of course, not all adopted children are the same, but the hurt and confusion about why adopted children were “abandoned” at birth are usually not feelings that disappear over time.

Closed adoptions may seem like the easiest choice for adopted parents who worry about how birth parents might affect their child, but it’s important to understand that when children know about their birth parents, it doesn’t decrease the amount of love for their adopted parents at all. In fact, it makes the adoption process easier and can create a stronger bond between adoptive parents and adopted children — one based on love and respect.

Adopted Children are Naturally Curious about their Birth Parents

While Rebecca and Jack provide a healthy, stable home where Randall has everything he could want, it doesn’t prevent him from wondering about his adoptive parents. Late in his childhood, he begins asking other black people if they can roll their tongues like him — a genetic trait that he thinks will help him track down his birth parents.

Rebecca, insecure about her ability to mother three children (one of them being adopted), takes this personally. She worries that in Randall seeking out his birth parents, she’s failed somehow to be “enough” of a mother for him. But, as many adopted children will say, the desire to know about birth parents is not a reflection on adoptive parents at all — just a natural curiosity to learn more about where they came from and their personal identity.

Because biological family plays a large role in that personal identity, many adopted children will ask questions about their adoptive parents at some point or another. You should prepare yourself to answer those questions honestly; an open adoption with the birth parents can help you do so. It will not make you any less of a parent to your child if you expose them to their birth parents, but your children will have a newfound appreciation for your strength in doing so.

Birth Parents Hurt Long After the Adoption, Too

Adoption can be a difficult journey for all involved, but the emotional plight birth parents go through even long after the adoption is complete can sometimes be overlooked. While they know their decision is the best one for their child, the grief and loss they feel may never completely disappear.

In several “This is Us” episodes, we see William struggling with the sadness he still feels from placing his son for adoption — especially after Rebecca decides he cannot be a part of Randall’s life. While he knows that he make the best decision for Randall, he’s also plagued with the “what ifs.” Not being in contact with his son for 36 years only makes his situation more difficult.

When we think about adoption today, it’s important to remember that birth parents are forever affected by their decision to place their child for adoption. It’s a long healing process for all involved, and this is just one of the situations where open adoption can be helpful. Even if William had not been able to meet Randall, periodic updates about his son would have been instrumental in his healing.

How a Transracial Adoption Requires Extra Work

As a black man growing up in a white, middle-class family, Randall needed things that his parents simply couldn’t provide on their own: education about his culture and race, role models who looked like him and even simple hygiene skills tailored to his race.

When his parents take Randall to the community pool, he finds a group of black children to hang out with, rather than his own siblings. When Rebecca scolds him for wandering off, a black mother approaches her, informing her that she needs to find Randall a proper barber. This mother serves as an invaluable resource for Rebecca and Jack, giving them the education they need about raising a black son and providing Randall a community of people who look like him.

Jack even seeks out a black male role model for his son in a dojo instructor. Although the instructor provides a black father authority that Randall is missing, he also includes Jack in the initiation rituals that all the other black fathers do.

If you’re an adoptive parent raising or looking to raise a child of another race, it’s important that you fully educate yourself on your child’s culture and race to help them develop their personal identity. You will need to reach out for resources, even if it makes you uncomfortable to do so. Remember, asking for help doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent — it just means you want to give your child the best chances possible.

Adoption is a Lifelong Journey

Every adoption story is different, but there will always be some unique challenges for the adopted child, the adoptive parents and the birth parents. No one can anticipate every problem that can arise during an adoption, so it’s a constant learning process.

While Randall’s closed adoption is uncommon nowadays, his story shows how even an adult adoptee can confront issues about his adoption later on in life. The identity of an adopted child, adoptive parents and birth parents are constantly changing — and it can be a messy process.

But, as long as there are open relationships between all involved in the adoption process, these issues can usually be resolved in healthy ways that will only make your connections deeper and more meaningful.

For anyone who has been affected by adoption, watching “This is Us” can be a helpful way to see your experiences normalized on screen. Whether you’re a birth parent, an adoptive parent or an adoptee, there’s something for everyone.

“This is Us” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC. You can catch up and watch “This is Us” online on Hulu.

18
Nov

Incorporate Birth Parents into Your National Adoption Day Celebrations

November is National Adoption Month, and one of its highlights is National Adoption Day. It’s a national effort to raise awareness for more than 100,000 kids in the foster care system, and thus far it’s helped almost 58,500 children find their forever families! In 2015, which was the 16th National Adoption Day, approximately 4,000 kids went to their permanent homes.

But National Adoption Day isn’t just a day to celebrate those associated with the foster care system. It’s a great chance for you and your child to work on your relationship with his or her birth parents. The selfless decision they made in placing their child in your care is certainly something to be celebrated!

The ways in which you celebrate National Adoption Day with birth parents depend, of course, on the type of relationship you have. But no matter the degree of contact, we’ve got some suggestions to help you honor the holiday.

  1. Meet up with the birth parents. If you have a relationship that includes in-person visits, it’s a great chance for everyone to catch up. If the weather’s nice enough, a picnic in the park followed by playing in piles of leaves is always a pleasant afternoon. If it’s chilly, you can always grab dinner or some hot chocolate. Giving them the chance to see the family you’ve built and the happy environment they placed their child in may be the best gift you can give to them.
  2. Schedule a phone call or Skype chat. If your child’s birth parents live far away, or if in-person visits aren’t part of your adoption plan, try scheduling a Skype session or a phone call. Letting the birth parents hear your child’s voice (whether he or she is speaking or just cooing) is an excellent way to let them know they’re on your mind.
  3. Send a care package. If your relationship with your child’s birth parents consists of updates in the forms of pictures and letters, now is a great chance to send a special one! Maybe include an extra picture or two, and update them on how your child is doing. Homemade cards are always an adorable idea if your child is old enough to draw!
  4. Start a journal. Having no contact with the birth parents doesn’t mean you can’t think of them on this special day. Try starting a journal and write a letter to them. You can tell them what is going on in your child’s life, how you’re feeling and how appreciative you are of the immense gift they gave you. You don’t have to send it. Hang on to the journal and make it a National Adoption Day tradition! It could be a nice gift for your child one day, or just a therapeutic exercise for yourself.

No matter what method you choose to honor National Adoption Day, make sure you do celebrate it! Adoption and the process that brought your family together is special, and it’s a great chance to show your child how proud you are of that. Enjoy!

17
Nov

How One Mom Talks to Her Kids about Her Adoption

img_0010Jennifer Van Gundy is an Adoption Specialist at American Adoptions who is an adoptee herself. She’s also a mom to two kids, an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old who weren’t adopted, and a wife to a man who wasn’t adopted. So it’s natural, then, that tough questions sometimes arise about the adoption process.

Jennifer had a closed adoption and doesn’t know her birth mother, so her sons haven’t been faced with trying to understand a birth mother relationship. Like all kids, though, they wonder where babies come from — but it’s not so easy as citing the stork theory when you’re an Adoption Specialist! Jennifer explains that some kids come from their mom’s bodies and some don’t, but it really makes no difference.

“We talk about the difference of, ‘I wasn’t in Mimi’s tummy, but you were in my tummy. But it doesn’t matter if you were in my tummy or you weren’t. It doesn’t matter if I was in Mimi’s tummy or if I wasn’t. We’re still a family.’”

It’s been interesting to share her adoption story with them, Jennifer says. She’ll tell them, “Oh yeah, mom’s adopted. It’s just a part of how I joined this family.”

It gets trickier when questions about her work arise. Jennifer is the Director of Social Services, so when she gets calls at home, it generally means there’s a question or that someone needs help working through a problem. And while she tries to take these calls in privacy, it’s natural that curious children will occasionally overhear bits and pieces.

She explains to her kids that she’s helping a family or a birth mom, which brings up the question, “Oh, somebody doesn’t want their baby?”

“No, it’s not that they don’t want their baby,” Jennifer tells them. “Somebody loves their kiddo so much that they want the best for that baby. And they can’t give the best for that baby right now, so they’re picking another family who maybe doesn’t get to have a baby on their own.”

Teaching kids about adoption is an ongoing process, especially as they grow older, but it’s an important conversation to have — whether adoption is as prevalent in your family as it is in Jennifer’s or not. The specifics can be tough depending on your child’s age, but letting him or her know there’s more than one way to grow or join a family can be done at any age!

4
Nov

How to Talk to Kids About the Election

ElectionMy first job out of college was as a Congressional intern on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.  I took the job in hopes of it leading to something with journalism or public relations.  What it led to was a new interest in America’s political system and a stint working for a few Members of the House of Representatives.  Growing up, I had no interest in politics.  But once I spent some time in Washington, I was obsessed.

Working in Washington, I learned so much, and now yearn for the excitement of an election year, because I actually understand what is happening.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of teaching my young students about the election process too.  We keep it basic – voting for their favorite book or snack, and discussing why everyone can have a different opinion.

Here are some ways I teach my students and my own children about the election process:

  • Be objective – Kids tend to echo the political views of their parents. It is humorous (or maybe alarming?) to hear kindergarteners going back and forth, saying “I like so-and-so.”  I know they have no idea why they “like” that candidate.  They are just repeating what they hear around the house.  My husband and I try to be as careful as we can about what we say at home, especially if it is something negative about a candidate.  We save that talk for after the kids are asleep.  If asked why you like a particular candidate, stick to the easiest issues.  Be sure to remind your kids that people do have opposing views regarding politics, and it can be discussed in a respectful manner.
  • Stick to the basics – If your child asks about the election, take the opportunity to talk with then about basic election concepts. This is what I do in my classroom.  We talk about what it means to vote for something, and how everyone should have the chance to vote.  We have an election for a favorite book.  I read them three books, then the kids draw a campaign poster for their favorite.  Later in the day, they fill out a voter registration card, and fill out a ballot for their favorite book.  Our principal then reads the election results on the announcements at the end of the day.  The kids love it!
  • Actively engage older kids about the election – Don’t wait for them to bring it up. Find out what they’ve heard, ask their opinion on what they’ve seen.  Discuss the issues, not the candidates.  Ask them what affects them or their community directly.  It is easier for them to relate to something on a local level.
  • Read books about the election process – There are many excellent books about elections for all age groups. As I said, I’m slightly obsessed with the political process in the United States.  Most of these titles are on my shelf, with the first three being the ones my kids vote on in our class:
    • Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio (grades K-2, fiction)
    • Duck for President by Doreen Cronin (grades pre-K-1, fiction)
    • My Teacher for President by Kay Winters (grades K-3, fiction)
    • One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth (grades pre-K-2)
    • E is for Election Day by Gloria M. Gavris (grades K-2, nonfiction)
    • The People Pick a President by Carolyn Jackson (grades 3-5, nonfiction)

   It is tough to simplify the election process for younger kids.  Let the authors do it for you!

  • Find out what your kids already know – Even preschoolers know their parents and other adults are going to vote for a new president soon. Most kids have heard about the election from either friends, family, or the media.  Get an idea of what they are hearing, and make sure they can handle it with your help.  If they’ve heard a lot of negative talk, focus on the positive.  Talk about the strengths of each candidate, no matter how tough you think that is.

Parents and teachers have important roles to play in helping our children become responsible citizens.  Goodness knows this election has been contentious at the very least.  So, in a year like this, we have to do our best to help kids grow to understand the importance of making their voice heard, and respecting other people’s opinions.

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