Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 31: Look How Far We've Come

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you probably know the story. But as we come to the end of this series, it seems appropriate to tell it again.

There I am.  Limping up the Great Wall of China. Living my dream.  

Arriving at the Great Wall that day, our guide said, "There are two ways up. One is steeper, but the view is better." Without a pause, both Mike and I said, "We'll take the hard way."

At that point our guide smiled and said, "I'll be waiting for you, right here at the bottom. Take as long as you like." She, obviously, had been there before.

Off we went. . .with our seven year old, newly adopted son. . . the little wild man who didn't speak English.

Off we went. Up a very steep, never ending staircase.

Off we went -- and then, off they went as Mike and Wenxin quickly left me behind. I knew it would be hard, but this was ridiculous. I couldn't breathe. My legs wanted to stop working. Eventually, I began taking sit-down breaks; I took one about every twenty steps.

Wenxin kept calling for me. He was fine -- fine enough to keep running up and then back down to check on me and then back up again. A leathery old Chinese man chuckled and explained in Chinese, "Mama lei le." Translation: "Mama's tired." Then, Wenxin snapped the best photo of the day -- me --putting one foot in front of the other, almost slain by the Great Wall of China.

In the end, I didn't die, and I got a photo that will make me smile for the rest of my life. It was totally worth it.

Looking at that photo again today, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Even though, I didn't get as far as I wanted, and even though I was literally dragging my aching body up each step at that point, look how far I'd come. We started out way down there at the bottom. Look how far we'd come.

When I think about our family's journey it's a lot like that trek up the Great Wall. Mike and I are quick to say, "We'll take the hard way," when we think it's worth it. Then we end up doing crazy things like homeschooling or adopting an older child, even though we're getting older ourselves.

Today, I reminded myself, to peek back over my shoulder and look how far we've come.

The hard way's usually worth it -- if it doesn't kill you.

It's been an honor to have so many new readers join me for this series. I'm looking forward to the day when you look over your own shoulder and are surprised at how far you've come. Remember, I'm cheering for you!

To read the whole series, start here!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 30: Online Might Be Your Lifeline

"He really is a little wild man. He's bouncing on the beds in the hotel room and grabbing all of our electronics. We. Are. Exhausted."

When we didn't know what to do the first few days in China, I quickly turned to my online adoption community.

My plea on the adoption message board was quickly answered. Encouragement poured in. Seasoned adoptive moms helped me look at the situation through Wenxin's eyes. A few offered ideas for gently setting boundaries.

Online became our lifeline.

Karen has been talking to us about getting the help we need in real life. But if you are preparing to parent in an older child adoption, you should also make the most of the incredible resources available to you online.

Let me make three suggestions.

1) Use Pinterest to create an adoption toolbox. We talked about this back at the very beginning. I've been creating a 31 Days Pinterest Board. You can head over there right now and repin any posts that have been especially helpful to you.

2) Follow a few adoption blogs. Unlike books, which are written by experts, adoption blogs show real life in real time. I'd love for your to follow Death by Great Wall. Just click join this site over on my sidebar. You can find other adoption blogs I like on my blog list, also on my sidebar.

3) Join an online support group. My favorite group these days is Parenting with Connection, a Facebook group for parents of kids from hard places. When you join, write a quick post to introduce yourself. This is a place where you can ask questions of experienced adoptive parents and get timely answers.

To read the whole series, start here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 29: A Dad's Eye View of Adoption

I cannot imagine our family without our girls. It makes me cringe to think of where they would be now and what their lives would not be like if they had remained in their orphanages in China.

I also know that as much as they have been blessed by being adopted, I have been blessed through their adoption all the more. They have taught me more about myself than I ever would have known had God not brought them into my life.

There are times when I laugh and when I cry. Times when it becomes painfully obvious that a meltdown or rage induced by the trauma in their background is being used by God to heal something in me that needed healing.

The first time we had a real honest to goodness full on rage (which is different from a tantrum!) I was as much scared as I was shocked. I believe in that moment if she had a weapon she would have used it on me.

It started with a simple correction and consequence from my wife. No big deal. To us – but not to her.

My main thought at the time (besides feeling this was way beyond me) was to protect her from herself. I tried physically restraining her (discovering later that was exactly the wrong way to do it). But that only made it worse.

It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. My older kids had thrown a tantrum a time or two before – but this different.

We realized that we were in over our heads – and needed help.

Oh the things I learned about trauma over the next few months. About how it interrupts development. About how it can be triggered by seemingly unrelated things. About how raising a trauma child will almost always reveal the trauma and hurt in the parent's background as well.

And trigger our own traumas.

This was far more than I had bargained for when we began this adoption journey. It was not supposed to be about me – it was supposed to be about them.

I had successfully managed to lock away the trauma in my own past in what I considered a most effective manner. I had logically and rationally dealt with the issues from my childhood in a most reasonable and grown up fashion and was functioning quite well.

Until a 9-year-old girl with more hurts than a 9-year-old girl should ever have invaded our home and my heart.

Suddenly, I was the 6-year-old boy again witnessing things a 6-year-old boy shouldn’t see. Experiencing rejection and hurt that 6-year-old boys aren’t meant to deal with.

Being a typical, macho guy – my first response was anger. I was mad at her. Mad at the situation. Mad at my wife. I realized that for the sake of my family and my children, I needed to move through that and deal with my own stuff. Not easy for anyone, but I think guys just have more trouble with this.

After a lot of trying, I realized that my anger was only making it worse, and was directed in the wrong places.  My anger was actually my hurt – and it wasn’t helping heal their hurt.

They needed to be told they were safe, not screamed at by a raving lunatic. They needed to be loved while their behaviors were out of control. Not traditional parenting techniques  - because they weren't traditional kids.

The only way to help heal them was to love them over and over and over and over again. And then tell them and show them some more. And while I was pouring that into them, I realized that my own childhood hurts were being opened and then healed.

I thank God every day that I listened to His call on my life and that He loves me enough to have blessed me with these three wonderful girls.

It has not been easy. But God has been with me. My peers, business associates, old friends and family ask me often,“Why did you do this? Shouldn’t you be out playing golf, traveling and enjoying your life?”

My answer to them gives me the opportunity to share our adoption story, but it’s also an opportunity to share what Christ has done in my life.
As surely as it seems that we rescued these girls, Jesus has used them to help rescue me from being held captive to my past.

Doug is a 55-year-old father of 6 and grandfather to 1. His hobbies are chasing his kids and indulging his wife. When he needs a rest, he is president of Mission Beverage Company in Los Angeles. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 28: How To Help Your Church Help You

We're coming full circle here. We've covered a lot of topics this month -- topics designed to help you prepare to parent. Karen is back again today sharing once more about how to get help -- this time, from your church.

A little while ago, I wrote a post titled Alone in a Church Full of People. It was in response to my many friends who felt that their church families had abandoned them in the tough times of parenting a traumatized, older child. I was saddened at the number of friends who had stopped going to church, had no support from their church, and even had negative experiences with their church family. I was saddened for them and for what it said about the church. Here is something I hope will help –

An Open Letter to Our Church

Dear Pastor and Church Members –

As you know, we have recently adopted a (insert child’s gender and age here). We are entering into a very new and scary world, and we need you to help us. Before we tell you what we need, here’s a little information on what it’s like to adopt an older child.

Most people figure that adopting an older kid is actually easier than having a baby. The child sleeps through the night, feeds themselves, and actually has the cognitive ability to understand that they have entered a wonderful new world of family and safety and security and love.  It’s an easy transition for all – filled with hope and new beginnings.


The reality is that our older adopted children don't act their age and don’t always assimilate well. Their traumatic beginnings have affected them in ways we are only beginning to understand.

They can’t walk into a room full of kids who have been in Sunday School together since pre-school and make friends easily. Some weeks we are simply trying to keep everyone alive. The more subtle issue is that no one understands that the bruises on my arms are from restraining my child during a rage  - and getting to bible study would be easier if I could come in my pj’s and know that during child care, my child was OK. Given that, here are some things that you can do to help us.

  • First and foremost, our family needs prayer. Dedicated and committed prayer partners who will come along side our family and pray us through the times ahead. If there are one or two prayer warriors that would be willing to do this – that would be wonderful. 

  • Our meals ministry is a blessing to new moms; we could use meals, but not just for the first two weeks home. Rather, feeding us one or two nights a week for several months or more would feed our souls and relieve a significant amount of stress.
  • Educate your lay leaders and pastoral staff about raising children with backgrounds of trauma. There are some wonderful resources available for you, and they will help you understand what our family is going through. We need you to understand.

  • Please release us from our volunteer obligations. It simply isn’t the season for us to pour into others; all we have is being poured into the broken soul God brought into our family to help heal. Guilt about not teaching Sunday School or leading Awanas or volunteering at VBS is hurtful, not helpful.

  • Please refrain from offering parenting advice to us about our adopted child’s behavior. More discipline won’t help him – trust me, we have tried. What he needs is healing first, and that looks different. It doesn’t help when the Sunday School teachers tell us “you just need to be more firm with him."

  • Help our child transition. Find a buddy for them to hang out with in Sunday School. Our child doesn’t know how to make a friend or be a friend; help us show them what that looks like. 

  • Show up and be the hands & feet of Jesus. Come sit with our kids so we can take a walk together. Offer to clean my house. Take my adopted child out for ice cream to give our other kids a break from the chaos for an hour or two. We are not asking for days or weeks – just an hour or two a week.

We need church. We need the healing that only God can bring into this child. It is harder than anything we have ever done. And we need the Body of Christ to stand with us and sometimes hold us up while we fight for the healing and the restoration and redemption that Jesus will bring our child.

In Him – 

In our case, our church has been very supportive. They have supported all of our children for two services every Sunday so that we can attend one service and can sit and have a date during the other service. It’s an unconventional way for us to have a date each week – but it works. They also have a college volunteer who is our older daughter’s buddy for children’s church and the transition time. Their disability ministry helps Katie be in class for two services.

This is important. We needed to be connected to the Body and to Jesus while walking the last year and a half. It’s OK to ask your church to help – and to help them understand how to help you.

Ask for help. 

Karen blogs at Casa de Alegria.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 27: Naming

What would we name the boy in the photo? The 7-year-old in China who was about to become our son. This was one of the hardest decisions we made in our older child adoption.

He wasn't a baby. We had biological children who were seven and eight, and we couldn't help but think how confusing and upsetting and disorienting it would be for them if they suddenly had to change names.

Names aren't neutral. So much of our personal identity is tied to our name.

We broached the subject with our case worker at the adoption agency -- a Chinese American lady. She seemed alarmed. "All these children expect to get American names. He'll be disappointed if you keep his Chinese name." And then she added, "Even Chinese adults who immigrate to the States take American names. Their Chinese names are too difficult for people to say."

Part of me felt relieved by her answer. It would be easier to give him an American name. Even though we'd repeatedly asked how to pronounce his name, it was so foreign to us that we were never quite sure if we were saying it right or not.

It was suggested more than once that we keep part of his Chinese name as his middle name. But which part? His Chinese name consisted of three Chinese characters. Which part would be the most meaningful to him? Seems silly now, but we really didn't know for sure.

So when we traveled to China to adopt Wenxin, we gave him an American first, middle, and last name. We called him his Chinese name in the beginning, and then, while still in China, we introduced his American name through our interpreter. The plan was to gradually transition from calling him his Chinese name to using his American name all the time.

Wenxin, however, felt strongly about keeping his Chinese name. Every time we mentioned his American name he said, "No."  Wenxin he was, and Wenxin he would remain. It felt right to us.

As you read the rest of what I say, please remember that we didn't arrive at the decision to keep his Chinese name out of a firm conviction that it would be wrong to change his name. Quite the opposite. We actually gave him an American name and had every intention of using it. We had a change of heart, however, as we got to know our new son.

"But aren't you worried that people won't be able to say it?"

No, not really.

If you've only seen Wenxin's name in print, you are probably mispronouncing it.  The "x" throws people off.  His name is pronounced "Wen Sheen,"  just like the actor, Charlie Sheen.  Once we say that, everyone gets it. From time to time, people want to say, "Wen Ching," because that "ch" sound seems Chinese to them. But so far, the little bit of effort it takes to teach everyone to pronounce his name correctly seems 100% worth it.

You know, the America of today is a nation of many ethnicities and many ethnic names.  We have a president named Barack Obama.  Probably, most Americans had never met a "Barack" before President Obama, but we all learned to pronounce his name correctly. Thank you, President Obama, for not changing your name to something that would be more comfy for us all.

Almost three years later, all our friends and family (well, most of them) have learned to pronounce Wenxin's name correctly. When he plays soccer, you can hear parents all up and down the sidelines yelling, "Go Wenxin!"

Older children adopted internationally have almost all their choices taken from them. They have to accept new parents, move to a new country and learn a new language -- whether they like it or not.  He was almost eight years old.  We simply couldn't take his name as well.

I've heard adoptive parents say that naming their new child is an important part of "claiming" them as their own. Naming is something your parent does for you. I get that.

I wonder, however, if we should rethink this issue. Does it have to be that way? Should getting new parents always mean getting a new name?

If Mike and I died, and someone else stepped in to finish raising Nathan, Julia, Wenxin, and Katherine, would I want that person to change their names? What if they moved to a different country? Would that make a difference?

Does the age of the child or the child's preference matter?

I don't have definite answers to these questions, and I realize that I'm in the minority. Most adoptive parents rename their kids. Especially when the kids have names that are hard to pronounce.

All I'm suggesting is that we think about it carefully. Because your name is really important. It's strongly tied to who you are.

I'd love to know what you think about this one. If you've been reading quietly without speaking up, now would be a great time to join the conversation. There are no wrong answers or stupid questions, so please leave a comment.

Also, here's another quick way you can help. Would you tweet this post or share it on Facebook or with your online adoption group? I'd love to invite more people into the conversation, and you are key to spreading the word. Thank you.

Don't Miss A Single Post. To Read the Whole Series, Start Here.
Shared at Ni Hao Y'all.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 26: Stitch Fix Just Keeps Getting Better!

Love those little style cards that give you ideas of how to wear each item
I'm going to interrupt the regularly scheduled older child adoption posts to tell you about Stitch Fix, my favorite splurge! Actually, I'd planned an adoption guest post for today, but my guest blogger, who is a busy adoptive mom herself, needed a little more time. I already had this post ready to go for August, and it's a lot more fun than anything I could crank out at the last moment. So here goes. . .

Stitch Fix is an online personal styling service that's a whole lot of fun. To get started, you go online and fill out a detailed style profile, including your preferred price points for different items. 

For a twenty dollar styling fee (that can be applied to anything you buy from your Fix), your stylist picks five items especially for you and ships them to your door. You have three days to try them on with other items from your own closet. Then, you simply go online to checkout. Purchase the things you like and send the rest back in the postage paid bag that comes with your Fix. Like it all? You get a whopping 25% discount when you buy all five items. Shipping is free both ways. Easy and fun!

Click here to see my previous Stitch Fix posts.
After my first three Stitch Fixes, I was feeling pretty content to wait a while before scheduling another Fix. You might remember that one thing I love about Stitch Fix is that you only get a Fix when you request it -- there's no required monthly subscription.

But then, you ladies went Stitch Fix crazy. Crazy, I tell you! A bunch of you ordered your own Fixes through my referral link. So with referral credit just sitting there in my account, what was I to do? I ordered another Fix.

When you schedule a Fix, Stitch Fix lets you write a short note to your stylist with any special requests. This time I asked for a maxi dress and casual chic tops. (BTW, I don't really talk like that. Casual chic is Stitch Fix lingo for the kind of clothes most moms wear.)

Want to see what I got?

This cream colored flowy top was the least expensive item in my Fix. It fit beautifully and was flattering. It reminds me of that pink shirt from Fix #3, but it fits better and is much more affordable. Verdict: Kept.

I looked like a toddler boy in this shirt. That's a direct quote from one of my children. Plus, it was crazy expensive. This one item probably kept me from buying the whole Fix and scoring the 25% discount you get when you purchase everything. Darn toddler boy shirt! Verdict: Flung it back into the bag as quickly as possible.

I wanted to love this one. Doesn't it look lovely on the hanger? Great fabric. Felt expensive. But it was super clingy, accentuating every curve, even the ones that would be better hidden. Mike thought it had the va-va-vavoom factor. The kids thought I just looked plain fat. Hmmm. . . there could be a reason I don't take them clothes shopping with me. Verdict: Reluctantly sent it back. 
Maxi dress and crochet detail 3/4 sleeve top. Both of these were nice and flattering and unlike anything already in my closet. Verdict: Kept both.

I went online and gave Stitch Fix feedback on why I loved the things I kept and why I didn't love the things I sent back. I tweaked my Style Profile to mention that I don't want clingy fabric around my middle.

Then, I checked out and paid my balance. I popped the two shirts I didn't keep into the postage paid bag that came with my Fix, sealed it up, and dropped it in the nearest mailbox. Easy!

This Fix arrived right as I was heading out of town for our conference in Colorado. So there was really no time to model everything and get your input. But I have been snapping photos as I've worn the three things I kept.

Note the cute top, not the crazy-eyed, "I'm not used to taking my own picture" look.
I really, really love this top

This was my favorite Fix yet.

Stitch Fix is like the surprise of Christmas morning and the fun of playing dress up all rolled into one. Currently they style sizes 0-14. Hopefully, they'll increase that size range in the future. When you sign up, you may be put on a waiting list, depending on the availability of your size and style preferences. Usually the wait isn't too long.

If you decide to try Stitch Fix, please sign up through my referral link. I'm not affiliated with Stitch Fix in any way, but when you get your first Fix, Stitch Fix will give me a $25 credit. And better yet, when you get your first Fix, they'll give you your own referral link to share with your friends.

P.S. - I'm thinking I should do a Stitch Fix giveaway on the blog this fall. Would anyone like that? What kind of clothes do you need to add to your wardrobe? 

Check back tomorrow as we talk about naming your adopted child. When you adopt an older child, do you give them a new name? Keep their old name? Do some combo of the two? We'll tackle that topic tomorrow. See you then!

To read the whole series, start here.
Shared at WFMW.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 25: The Post I Wish I Didn't Have to Write

Courtesy of Bangert and Dahlquist

Adoption ethics matter. I wish I didn't even have to say that.

Here are some things I've written on adoption ethics in the past. The last one is a guest post by an adopted adult who is also an adoption reform advocate.

Orphan Statistics Explained

National Adoption Month: What I've Come to Believe

Orphan Fever: Are Christians Naive?

Orphan Fever: Deception and Misunderstanding

There Can Never Be Too Much Love

There is a fine line between ethical adoption practices and unethical adoption practices, and as adoptive parents, we have a responsibility to be informed.

One day in the future our kids may ask us tough questions about the ethics of their own adoptions. We owe it to them to start thinking deeply about these issues today.

Wenxin and Nathan are in the orange car near the top!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 24: Bullying

"I love Mama."

"I love Baba."

"I love Nathan."

"I love Julia."

Wenxin pauses and then glares at Katherine. "But I DON"T LOVE YOU!"

Home only a few months, 7 1/2-year-old Wenxin is still adjusting, still grieving. He has sized up things in our family and decided to vent all his frustrations on the one person he perceives to be beneath him in the pecking order, his younger sister, Katherine. 

"I know you don't love me," Katherine says softly but firmly. "But I still love you anyway."

He has absolutely no idea what to do with that one.

Wenxin's initial mistreatment and rejection of Katherine was one of the hardest parts of our older child adoption. We noticed it almost from Day 1. Here's an incident I recorded on this blog.

This morning I tried to have story time for Katherine and Wenxin. I picked fun, simple English books. I read Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop in my silliest dramatic voice.
It was going really well. Wenxin was engaged. He was laughing.
And then he began to grab for the book. I said, "No," and continued to read and hold the book up for both kids to see.
More grabbing. . . He wanted to hold the book.
When I insisted on holding the book myself, Wenxin turned his back to me in anger and sat facing the opposite direction. Then he got up and walked away.
Poor Katherine was left having to listen to Hop on Pop. Returning, Wenxin walked past us a time or two and made vomiting noises in our direction. Then, he ran by and slapped Katherine on top of her head.
Mike and I intervened and gave Katherine lots of loving and had Wenxin apologize to her.

It never got more physical than that. But the emotional bullying was unrelenting. Driving down the road, I'd often catch him sticking out his tongue and making mean faces at her when he thought I wasn't looking. And he made it a point to constantly remind her that she was the only one he didn't love.

Let me make a few observations before I share how we handled the bullying that was happening in our own family.

First of all, this was not normal sibling bickering. It was our newly adopted son actively bullying our youngest daughter. Think about that for a moment. It's a hard thing to see happening in your own family.

Next, this is one of the reasons prospective adoptive parents are often warned about adopting out of birth order. Traumatized children may be abusive to younger children in the family. I'm not saying it always happens, but prospective adoptive parents should be aware that it's a possibility.

Finally, in Wenxin's defense, the skill set needed to survive in an orphanage housing 1000 children is not the same skill set needed to live in a loving family. Once we adopted him, he was safe and loved and didn't need to use the old orphanage behaviors anymore. But what other option did he have? Wenxin needed us as his parents to teach him how to live in our family.

Looking back, we focused on two things as we tried to eliminate the bullying in our house.

1. Anytime we noticed Wenxin mistreating Katherine, our first move was to comfort her. We'd give her a hug and some encouraging words -- even before we addressed the behavior with Wenxin. It was important for her to know that we had her back -- that we were committed to protecting her. And it was important for Wenxin to see that we took our jobs as parents seriously -- that he could trust us to keep everyone in the family physically and emotionally safe.

2. We got creative about how to teach Wenxin our expectations for family behavior, even before he had the language to really have a discussion.

I made this chart on my computer. I printed and laminated two copies, putting one on the fridge and carrying one in the car. Even with the language barrier, Wenxin could grasp these three simple rules. 

When he disobeyed one of these rules, we'd refer to this chart, and then, I'd give him a do-over, helping him try again. This gave him success at doing it right. 

Most of the time, that was enough, but if he dug in his heels and refused to correct his own behavior, I'd set a timer for 5 minutes and have him sit in a chair close to me. When the timer sounded, I just dropped the whole matter and let him return to play. 

It took a lot of practice, but it worked. 

Let me say it again. Living in an orphanage is totally different from living in a family. It's wrong for us to expect our new kids to do something they've never been taught how to do. We have to patiently teach them a new way.

So for that whole first year, there was a lot of learning going on at our house. Mike and I were learning new parenting skills. And Wenxin was learning how to live in a family. When he'd been home almost a year, I recorded this little success on this blog.

Every now and then I see a little glimpse of the boy I hope Wenxin is becoming.
Wenxin hated what I prepared for dinner tonight and continued to whine and cry that he was hungry long after we'd finished.
Food is a big deal for kids who've suffered significant trauma, so even though I want him to learn to eat what I prepare, I decided I needed to feed him something before bed.  I remembered that I'd bought some frozen chicken strips when they were B1G1 last week and thought that would be an easy solution.
When Wenxin saw what I was preparing he asked, "Can you fix some for everyone, Mama?  I know Katherine really likes those."
Thoughtfulness, empathy, sharing, kindness.  I like that.

To read the whole series, start here.
Shared over at Emily's place and WFMW.

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Day 23: A Movie I Recommend

This feature length documentary is available on streaming Netflix or at Amazon.

While not specifically about older child adoption, this film paints a picture of what it's like to grow up as an international adoptee, always living somewhere between your birth culture and your adopted culture. It gives a rare glimpse of international adoption through the adoptee's eyes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 22: So. Your Adopted Child Hoards Food.

We are honored to have Robyn Gobbel back again today at Death by Great Wall.

Food issues are such a complex, yet such a common struggle for adoptive families. So complex and so common that I’d say almost every single adopted child I work with has some sort of food thing. They may not hoard or overeat or do anything that interrupts their daily life, but it’s there. 

Over on my trauma momma blog, I sometimes talk about the four superpowers that trauma mommas develop after being in the trenches with their traumatized kiddo.
n    Understanding the neurobiological impact of trauma on the brain. What happens to a child’s attachment, emotion regulation system, and sense of self when he spends months or years hungry? How does your body react when it believes it is starving? How does your brain respond to a slight dip in blood sugar level (a cue that you need to eat)? Know that hunger is registered in the brain stem, the most primal area of your brain. When your blood sugar dips, cortisol is produced. Brains that have lived in chronic fight/flight/freeze mode register that slight dip in blood sugar as “I’M GOING TO STARVE” as opposed to “It must be getting close to lunch time…my stomach is growling!”

2.    Understanding how their child’s specific trauma has impacted their specific brain. OK, so you are starting to understand the theory behind how hungry tummies impact the brain. But how does this translate to your child specifically? Look at your child’s history. Compare it to what you know about brains. Look at your child’s present life and find her common themes. “I’m starving!” “If I don’t eat RIGHT NOW I never know when I’ll eat again!” “I don’t like this feeling so I will soothe myself with food.” “I don’t trust adults to take care of me so I must take care of myself, always making sure I have enough food to eat.” These themes help us peek into their past.
3.    How are you participating in the trauma tornado? The trauma tornado is the cycle of the scared child who acts scary who triggers the parent to feel scared and then act scary. Say WHAT?!?!

The scared child (hungry! When will I eat again!) acts scary (hoarding, overeating). Scared momma (“The doctor is on my case about my overweight child!” Or maybe “My parents were restrictive and shaming regarding food and this is triggering my old stuff!” Or maybe “I can never satiate or make my child satisfied. I’m a bad mom!!”) acts scary (restricts food). The cycle continues. Trauma mommas get very good at jumping out of the trauma tornado. And the place to jump out is at the “scared mom” step.

Heal thyself. Is food a huge trigger for you? Do you love to prepare good, healthy foods and therefore watching your child gorge or hoard junk food is really a sore spot with you? Take what you learned in step three and sooth and heal yourself. This is how we jump out of the trauma tornado. If you can turn around those negative beliefs and feelings by reminding yourself of what you learned in step one and two, you’ll respond in a way that is not scary to your child. “My child hoards food because her brain believes that every time she is slightly hungry she is actually starving to death. I will make sure my child knows that food is always available to her.”

OK, you want some practical advice now!
It’s impossible to blog about the perfect solution for your specific situation, unfortunately. But my #1 suggestion to families is to create a place-- a drawer, a cupboard, a backpack, a container of some sort.

Together, you and your child fill it with healthy foods that you both agree on.  Allow your child unlimited access to this stash.  If dinner is five minutes away…your child can still take from his snack drawer.  If dinner was just over five minutes ago…your child can still take from her snack drawer.  If you child fills up on the healthy foods you’ve agreed to put in his snack drawer and doesn’t eat dinner, no problem!  It was healthy!!  If your child raids the fridge at night, then give him a bedroom snack container.  Or place a granola bar or an apple on her nightstand.  Give this several days.  Weeks.
This may alleviate your child’s food anxiety. This may just alleviate it a tiny bit. It may not alleviate it at all.  Oftentimes children with traumatic pasts will benefit from both therapeutic parenting and trauma healing.  Look for a therapist that promotes and believes in attachment, as well as one trained in trauma healing, such as EMDR or Somatic Experiencing. Check out the therapist listing at the Attachment & Trauma Network- they are a great resource.   

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a therapist in Austin, TX and the founder of the Central Texas Attachment and Trauma Center.  She specializes in helping children and families heal after attachment trauma.  Robyn blogs at in an attempt to help trauma mommas feel more supported and less alone. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 21: Bedtime, Spanking, & How We Parent

Our conference ended last night. Today we're driving up to Estes Park, CO for some hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

I'm exhausted and wondering how long it's going to take me to recover from all this fun.

I can't believe we're at Day 21 already. I could not have done this series without the help of an amazing group of guest bloggers. Did you see Robyn Gobbel's post on negative behaviors on Friday? If you're creating an adoption toolbox board on Pinterest, that's one you want to be sure to pin.

And I'll tell you a secret: Robyn is our guest blogger tomorrow with another post you don't want to miss!

Today I'd like to talk about choosing an appropriate parenting style when adopting an older child. I'm going to link to two posts I wrote a while back, specifically challenging some parenting techniques and philosophies prevalent in Evangelical Christian churches today. Even if you aren't a part of that community, I hope you'll still take a look and ask yourself what you believe about parenting, especially when it comes to disciplining your newly adopted child. This is a huge part of preparing to parent.

Both these posts generated some lively comments. Feel free to add your voice to the conversation!
Start here to read the whole series.

Ni Hao Yall

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 20: Does Race Matter?

This past year, in our homeschool, we read a book about the post Civil War years in the South. The book kept referring to the former slaves as Black Americans.

Suddenly, Wenxin interrupted. "Mama. . . am I black?"

Then without really waiting for me to respond, he answered himself. Closely observing his own arm he concluded, "Ummm. . . not really black. I think I'm dark tan."

We had a quick little conversation about the labels people attach to race. I shared that when people say black, they are usually referring to people whose ancestors came from Africa. I told him that when people look at him they probably call him Asian, because people born in China, Thailand, Japan, Korea and the Philippines -- all countries in Asia -- have similar skin and hair color.

When you love someone intensely -- the way a mother loves her children -- things like race and skin color seem to disappear.

But they don't really disappear, do they?

I've been thinking about this a lot this week as I've watched our nation respond to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

From what I read online, it seems that public reaction to the verdict is somewhat divided along racial lines. The one notable exception is white mothers who've adopted children of color. This case raises all kinds of questions about white privilege and what that means for transracial adoptees.

Please take a moment today and read this insightful post called Two Worlds, by Becky at More Injera Please!  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day 19: Understanding Negative Behavior

Today's post is by Robyn Gobbel, LCSW.

What is your child’s behavior trying to make you understand?!

Behavior is always an attempt to communicate something.   Hugs communicate things like, “I love you,” “I trust you,” or “You help me feel safe.”  Angry words communicate, “I am really mad at you right now!” “I’m afraid but hate the feeling of being afraid and mad is so much more powerful!” or “I need you to LISTEN TO ME!”

When we parent a child from birth, we have the luxury of having a pretty good idea of what their behavior is trying to communicate.  We know the child intimately and develop a sixth sense about what is going on in their inner-most experiences.  This is so much harder when we are parenting an older child that we are just getting to know.  To know what a behavior is communicating, we have to slow down and listen.  Listen to what is NOT being said.  Listen to what is underneath that behavior.
For so many adopted kids, their negative beliefs about themselves and the world are driving their challenging behaviors.
First, let’s look at this in reverse.  Children who are raised by an attuned caregiver in a safe environment develop positive beliefs about themselves and their world, including:

  •        I am good/loveable.
  •       I am safe.
  •        I can trust grown-ups to meet my needs.
  •       It is safe to love and trust.
  •       My needs are important.

They learn these things when a parent always answers their cry.  When the parent knows what the cry means.  When the parents remains available and soothing even when they can’t figure out what the cry means.  When they feed, change a diaper, rock, gaze lovingly into their baby’s eyes, tenderly stroke their skin, lovingly dry them off after a bath.
If you bring home a child who missed out on those subtle, gentle, intimate, yet powerful aspects of being a cherished and loved child, you will need to consider what negative beliefs are underneath their challenging behaviors. 

  •       I am not safe.
  •       I am not a good or loveable baby.
  •       I did something wrong/this was my fault.
  •       I cannot trust moms/dads.
  •       I am not important.

These negative beliefs become “stuck” and continue to contribute to children’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  When parents are trying to determine if a child’s behavior is “normal” or related to something from their past, it can be helpful to look for the child’s possible negative beliefs.  The child who tantrums when asked to do a chore may have a negative belief that “all chores are punishments, and punishments are not safe.”  This child may have experienced harsh and inappropriate discipline.  Or maybe the child has a negative belief that "only the bad kids are made to do chores," and this hits the negative belief of “I am bad.” 

If we work hard to be attuned to our children, we can help identify these negative beliefs outside moments of severe behavioral challenges.  Then, when we are faced with a behavioral melt-down, we already have some clues about their core negative beliefs and can consider if those negative beliefs came into play.  Attuning to those negative beliefs-- truly understanding what is driving that anxiety and challenging behavior-- is the true path toward change. 

Read the whole series.

Does anyone else see negative beliefs underlying some of your child's problem behaviors?

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a therapist in Austin, TX and the founder of the Central Texas Attachment and Trauma Center.  She specializes in helping children and families heal after attachment trauma.  Robyn blogs at in an attempt to help trauma mommas feel more supported and less alone.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 18: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part II

Tara's Kids Goofing Around!

Tell me about your family today. How many children do you have? At what ages did you adopt your adopted children?

I’ve been married to my husband for 20 years. We have two sons by birth who are now 19 and 15. We also have two adopted daughters, ages 17 and 10 and one adopted son, age 13. Our children were adopted at the ages of 15, 11, and 8.

How does being an international adoptee yourself influence how you parent your internationally adopted children today?

It can be a good influence in some ways, and quite honestly, it can be a bad influence in others.

On the good side, I’m very intentional in teaching our children the culture and history of their birth country. We also honor and talk about their birth mother. I'm able to connect to them by sharing my own childhood struggles. My background as an adoptee helps me support and guide them in their own healing journeys.

However, I have my own abandonment and rejection issues. Sometimes, I find myself contending with feelings and frustrations that don’t bring out the best in my parenting as I work to deal with the effects of abandonment and trauma in my kids' behavior. It’s hard work, and I’m still learning. For me, being an adoptive parent means working through my own issues -- issues that are magnified by their behavior..

Briefly, what encourages you and what concerns you about how adoption is being practiced today?

I’m encouraged by the opportunities available to parents to understand and become skilled at parenting children through adoption. There are conferences, books, webinars, workshops, retreats, and blogs that help adoptive parents help their children heal. These forms of support and education simply didn’t exist when I was adopted, and I think it could have changed the landscape of how I was parented as a child.

I’m most concerned about the ethics of adoption. We have to be willing to continually improve adoption, making it more ethical. Everyone involved suffers at the hands of unethical practices, and it’s vital for all involved that we do our best to protect families through this process.

Finish this sentence. One thing I'd like adoptive parents to know is. . .

Adoption is hard on everyone. The triad of adoption (child, birth parents, adoptive parents) is very precious, and we must hold it gently, respecting each member of the triad. To remove one of these people is to completely change the story of adoption. 

We must never minimize or gloss over the fact that adoption begins with the loss of one family and the gain of another. The adopted child is caught in the middle of this dynamic and yet is the one who seems most powerless of their life circumstances. 

If you choose to embark on the adoption journey, please do so with your eyes wide open and your pride checked at the door. You are key to how your adopted child will move through their healing process, and it’s vital for you to have the skills to help them know how to heal. Please do everything within your power to get the proper training to parent an adopted child, work on any wounds you may have individually, work on strengthening your marriage, and never lose sight of the great responsibility you have been given in caring for a child who comes with a background of pain, trauma and loss.

Tara Bradford is a transracial adoptee, mom by both birth and adoption, and orphan care advocate. Tara blogs at Smore Stories.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 17: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part I

Tara's Family
There is only one group of people who can tell us, from experience, what it's like to grow up adopted. We must develop the habit of listening to the stories of adult adoptees.

Please don't think that just because you've known one adult adoptee in your life that you've got the whole picture. Each story is unique. We need to develop the habit of lowering our defenses and listening because only adult adoptees can help us see adoption through an adopted person's eyes.

Today, I interview Tara Bradford about growing up as an international adoptee. Tara has a unique perspective as she is a transracial adoptee, a mom by both birth and adoption, and an orphan care advocate. 

Welcome, Tara, to Death by Great Wall. Tell us a little about your story.

We know that all stories of adoption begin with loss, and mine began with my relinquishment by my Korean birth family, resulting in my adoption by a Caucasian family in the US. The family I came into had a son two years older than me. 

Unfortunately, the loss did not end there.

Within a year of my adoption, the couple separated. There was much pain in my childhood from experiencing the effects of what divorce can do in a family, especially as an unattached adoptee. I was close to my mother and grandparents, but did not have a good relationship with my adoptive father. Years of emotional pain culminated in him telling me he had not wanted to adopt me, but did it only to save his marriage. As a result, at the age of 21, I legally dissolved my relationship with him and had my mom’s third husband named as my legal father. 

The challenge of being a transracial adoptee in a small town --population 800 -- with no other minorities but myself, coupled with what I was experiencing through the divorce created a lot of insecurity, identity confusion, and fear of being rejected. I’ve since reached out to my mom’s first husband and told him I forgive him and have been on a healing journey from my circumstances for the last 13 years.

Was being adopted a positive thing or a negative thing in your life?

It is both. I realize that because of the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment, I could have ended up in conditions that might have taken my life down a very different and negative path had I stayed in Korea. The positive part of being adopted is that despite the circumstances of my adoption, it brought me here to the US where I met my husband and have a very blessed life.

The negative part of adoption is also the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment. It caused me to grow up without my birth family. I experienced further abandonment with the divorce of my adoptive parents and the eventual dissolution of my relationship with my adoptive father. The effects of others' choices on my life dug deeply into my heart and soul, and the road to healing has been long.

What was it like growing up in a family with people who didn't look like you? Did you have any Asian friends or role models?

It was very difficult growing up as a transracial adoptee. My racial background was not something we discussed intentionally. My childhood was challenging because I knew I was different, and I was trying to understand where I fit in since everyone at school was white, and everyone else in my family was as well. I began to think that in order to fit in, I had to look and act white. I remember dreaming about getting my eyelids fixed so I would have folds in them and could look more like the white people around me.

I didn’t know any other Asians and only came into contact with them when we would visit a Chinese restaurant at which point I would feel terribly uncomfortable and embarrassed. I really wish my parents had been more intentional about teaching me the history of my racial background and helping me understand how to feel comfortable with my racial identity within a white culture.

What was your parents' attitude toward your birth family and birth culture? How did that affect you?

We never talked about it. I would like to believe that they respected my birth culture, and I guess I honestly can’t say how they felt about my birth family as again, it wasn’t a topic of conversation that we engaged in.

In looking back at my childhood, I can see how that was very disempowering to me as a transracial adoptee. Not understanding my birth culture or how one exists within the American culture as a transracial adoptee created a huge chasm in my life. The lack of knowledge of my birth family coupled with my ignorance of my birth culture caused me to experience a deep identity problem.

Have you ever gone back to your birth country?

I have never gone back to Korea. I hope to do so soon and have been talking with my husband about when that will be.

If you could meet your birth mother today, what would you like to ask her?

If I met my birth mother, I would want to know the circumstances of my relinquishment. There is a constant gnawing inside of me that beckons the question, “Why?” It’s as if I have a chapter of my story that has been torn from the book leaving blanks that can’t be filled in. Even though I’m at peace with not knowing, there is a sense of wonderment about my birth family.

Friends, Tara's honest, vulnerable answers brought tears to my eyes. She's given us a lot to think about. If you have a question you'd like to ask Tara, please leave a comment, and I'm sure Tara will be glad to respond. You can also hear more from Tara on her blog, Smore Stories.

Tomorrow, I'll ask Tara about how her own adoption affects the way she parents her adopted children. See you then!