Showing posts with label Parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parenting. Show all posts

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Not Too Late for Your Best Christmas Card Ever!

Festive Four Ornament Card with Luxe Ribbon for Hanging

It's not too late to make a beautiful Christmas card at

The folks at Minted contacted me last week and asked if I'd take a look around their site and let you know what I found. 

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at Minted was lots of original, fresh design. That's because Minted showcases the work of a community of indie designers from around the world. For the past few days, I've had fun browsing Minted, playing around and creating beautiful cards from my family photos.

The sheer number of design choices can be overwhelming, but I discovered something that really helped. I went ahead and uploaded the photo I wanted to use this year, and clicked the "Find it Fast" button. Minted magically inserted my photo into every one of their designs so I could see how it would look in each one. Each time I saw a design that looked promising, I clicked the little heart beside it which saved it to my Favorites. When all was said and done, I had five or six serious contenders out of the hundreds of possibilities.

Cards come flat or folded with your choice of a variety of shapes. Minted offers several options for the back of your card, from leaving it blank to adding a fun color or print or even more photos and text. Envelopes can be standard white or something a little more fancy. You can even add liners to up the WOW factor. More than any Christmas card company I've used in the past, Minted offers a truly custom experience.

Now here's the jaw dropper. As you check out, Minted gives you the option to upload your address list so they can address your envelopes - for FREE. 

Minted, you had me at beautiful custom design, but the free addressing thing. . . that pretty much seals the deal! I'm ordering my Christmas Cards from Minted tonight!

There's about a nine day turn around, so I'll have my cards in plenty of time to pop them in the mail for Christmas. 

If you decide to use Minted for your holiday cards this year, click through this link to get $25 off $50 at It's not too late to have a beautiful card this Christmas. Getting $25 off $50 on your most beautiful card ever? You might even say that it paid to procrastinate this year. 

BTW - Does anyone else obsess about the actual Christmas card photo? Is that what's holding you back?

Here a some tips to get you past your perfect photo inertia:

1. Use a photo you already have. Look back over your photos from the last year and pick one of your favorites.

2. If you MUST take a new photo at this late date, enlist the help of a friend who's a hobby photographer.

3. Don't obsess about the perfect wardrobe. Pick some fun clothes that don't clash from everyone's closet. You can even pull things out of the dirty clothes. We did! 

4. Have fun and get that Christmas photo marked off the list! 

Disclosure: I received credit at for this review. All opinions in this post are mine alone. The $25 off $50 link is a referral link. Minted. com will give me store credit for all purchases made through this link making it a win/win for all of us! Thanks!

Friday, November 22, 2013

I am Devastated and Heartbroken

Hana Williams (Photo via Patheos)
Earlier this week, I read the feature story in Salon. Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee, died after being systematically abused by her adoptive parents.

Researching Hana's story led me to the story of Lydia Schatz, a Liberian adoptee who was spanked to death by her parents.

In both cases, the parents, conservative Christians, seemed to believe they were disciplining their children as instructed in Scripture.

I'm devastated and heartbroken.

There really are no words.

Today, however, I feel compelled to speak up for these two girls who died at the hands of their adoptive parents.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? What can I add to the hundreds of news reports and magazine articles and blogs that are already posted online?

Maybe nothing. But I know that many families considering older child adoption end up here at my blog. Taking time to consider what went so terribly wrong in these adoptive families is an important step toward making sure it doesn't happen again. . . that it never happens in your family.

So if you are an adoptive parent, or if you know adoptive parents in your church, or if you are considering adoption yourself, please take some time to read the links below. Honor these girls by listening to their stories. Be informed.

Hana Williams, adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 at age 10; died May 11, 2011 at age 13. (Her age is disputed by her adoptive parents who claim she was actually older.)

Hana Williams: The tragic death of an Ethiopian adoptee, and how it could happen again - the story.

Corpses Don't Rebel: A former follower of Michael Pearl's "To Train Up a Child" reacts to the death of Hana Williams - a parent who at one time followed the same discipline system as Hana's parents speaks up.

The Legacy of Ethiopian Adoptee Hannah Williams - written by a mom with adopted Ethiopian kids.

Lydia Schatz, adopted from Liberia in 2007 at age 4; died February 5, 2010 at age 7.

Godly Discipline Turned Deadly - the story.

In which I discuss the unthinkable - written by a family friend in the days following Lydia's death. Honest and emotionally raw.

Couple sentenced for religious beating death and torture of children - the sentencing.

Tragedy in a homeschooling family - powerful words from a Christian dad.

There are some common threads in both girls' stories. Adoption. . . conservative Christianity. . . large families. . . homeschooling. . . and most specifically, following the teachings of Michael Pearl as outlined in the book, To Train Up a Child.

One thing I've noticed when things like this happen, is that if we fall into one of the groups listed above, we tend to quickly circle the wagons. We dismiss the offending families as fringe people who were not really part of our movement. Giving brief lip service to the dead child, we quickly move on to defending our rights to adopt. . . or practice our faith. . . or have a large family. . . or homeschool. . . or discipline our kids as we see fit. We worry about the fallout from the unfortunate incident.

That attitude compounds the tragedy.

Because this is not about defending our rights as adults. It's about speaking up for and standing up for defenseless children. They have to be the focus of the story.

There are so many thoughts swirling in my head, but underlying it all is a deep, deep sadness, that instead of finding love and safety in their new families, these girls were abused and tortured and killed.

And the part that makes my head hurt most of all is that I don't believe any of these parents thought they were child abusers.

They adopted older, traumatized children, and then viewed their every negative behavior as evil and rebellion.

Convinced that God had commanded them to use physical discipline, they punished every act of disobedience.

They fought to win every battle.

They killed their kids.

Heaven help us.

I've said it before. Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child: Please Don't Spank.

And finally, To Train Up a Child Parenting Book Leads to Multiple Child Deaths. Some are asking if the author of this parenting book bears any moral responsibility in these children's deaths.

Sharing today at Imperfect Prose.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

She Wants a Make-Up Kit, and She's Only Eleven

Julia's Christmas wish list says make-up kit, and I have no idea what that really means. 

Look at those beautiful, make-up free faces. So natural. I have no desire to add anything to them at this point.

So, what would you do if your 11-year-old asked for a make-up kit?

Julia (left), in my opinion, is too young for any serious make-up, but certainly not too young to learn about skin care and beauty. After my initial shock at seeing make-up kit in place of toys on the list, I kind of got excited. I get to introduce her to this fun part of being a girl. 

So yes, I'm in. My 11-year-old daughter will get her first make-up kit this Christmas, and it will come from me.

As much as is possible, I want to be the one who introduces my girls to what it means to be a woman. When each of them turned nine, I bought them The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl. It's a great book about taking care of your body. It's written for young girls and progresses from taking care of their teeth and braces to healthy diet and exercise to the changes they can expect at puberty, including buying their first bra and getting their first period. I bought each girl her own personal copy, and we read it aloud, one-on-one.

So we've already read a little about skin care and make-up in the past, but back then the information was just tucked away for future use.

Sounds like Julia's decided it's time to put it into practice. And that's a good thing.

Sometimes I think we unintentionally shame young girls for their natural, God-given desires, like the desire to be beautiful. We tell them, "You're too young for make-up!" or "You aren't allowed to wear make-up until you are (whatever arbitrary age we pick) years old," without any affirmation for the rightness of their desire to be beautiful.

It would be easy for our daughters to get the idea that their innocent interest in beauty products and looking pretty is wrong.

It's not wrong.

So between now and Christmas, I'm on the hunt for a cute make-up bag and lots of goodies to put in it. I'm thinking facial cleanser, toner, and moisturizer. Sheer lip gloss.Maybe a facial mask, because those just look fun -- like a day at a fancy spa. 

One thing she made clear is that she'd like to try eye shadow. Yikes. I'm not ready to let an 11-year-old out of the house wearing eye shadow. But maybe I'll buy one of those inexpensive sets you can pick up around Christmas and tell her it's just for practicing and playing makeover with her friends. 

What do you think? Would you buy beauty products for an 11-year-old? Any ideas for what to put in her bag? Brands that are good for young girls without being too pricey? 

Waiting to hear your thoughts on this one.

Sharing today at Imperfect Prose and Ni Hao Yall.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fourth Grade Photo - Swoon!

What a beautiful child! This photo makes me swoon.

Yesterday, I went for a little walk with Wenxin and snapped some photos to commemorate his fourth grade year -- my version of school pics for my homeschooled kids.

Once  again, this adoptive momma had to pause, peek back over her shoulder, and savor the moment. Look how far we've come!

Gone are the days of Wenxin dodging the paparazzi, ducking out of family photos, and daring me to see if I could really get a Christmas card of all of us. 

New adoptive mommas, those first years are hard! But compassionately parenting, with connection as the goal, eventually bears sweet fruit. Looking back, I can even see how learning to parent Wenxin has made me a better parent to all my kids. Parenting with connection isn't just for adopted kids.

This morning I read a beautiful narrative of what parenting with connection looks like in real life. In Walking Through a Re-Do, this momma gives a blow by blow description of how she handled things when her daughter got frustrated during homeschool and threw a book, notebook, and pencil to the floor before fleeing the room in anger.

This momma didn't excuse the behavior. Far from it. But she was mindful of her child's background, and responded with compassion, keeping connection as her goal while correcting the behavior. The results were beautiful.

My parenting is far from perfect, and I blow it more times than I'd like to admit. But this is what I'm aiming for. I hope you enjoy, Walking Through a Re-do, as much as I did.

Sharing today at The Long Road to China and WFMW.

Ni Hao Yall

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Can We Just Give Other Moms a Break?

A couple of weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends asked a question.

"Do you think that kids today throw fits at older ages than they did in years past?"

As the opinions rolled in, I felt myself getting more and more agitated.

The traditional wisdom that kids only throw fits when it works for them was a common thread.

In other words, if a 7-year-old is melting down in Wal-Mart, it is definitely because he has parents who have given in to tantrums in the past, teaching him to throw a fit whenever he doesn't get what he wants.

Kid throwing a fit in public = a bad / permissive / weak-willed parent.

While many of the comments were kind and sincere, others adopted a superior tone. Not one commenter confessed her own bad parenting that resulted in her own kids throwing fits well into their elementary years. Nope. This was all about the other moms out there.

It wasn't wrong for my friend to ask the question. She's the mom of two very active little boys, and I suspect she had personal reasons for wanting to know. And I'm not trying to blow the discussion that followed into something it wasn't.

Maybe I'm just touchy.

Thing is, I know a few big kids who still melt down in public.

Each one of them has a hidden special need.

First, there's the kid who had a mild brain injury at birth. He looks normal on the outside, but he and his mom face ongoing learning and behavioral struggles that are baffling to them both.

Then, there's this beautiful child who is autistic. He has the world's best parents. Place this child in a group of same-age peers, and you can't tell the difference at first. But it doesn't take long to notice that something about his behavior is off. There always has to be an adult, ready at a moment's notice to remove him and keep him safe if his behavior becomes explosive.

Finally, there are our kids adopted from hard places. 

So when you see a big kid throwing a terrible-twos style tantrum in public, I recommend that your first thought be, "There's probably more to this story than meets the eye." And then I recommend compassion.

Because the mommas in these situations are dealing, first of all, with parenting a child whose daily challenges are exhausting. Second, as if to add insult to injury, they find themselves judged by strangers. Judged according to traditional parenting wisdom when their situations are anything but traditional.

Give them a break.

"But how can you know for sure?" you might ask.

You can't. That's why you choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I choose to give them a break because really, the only person's parenting I need to evaluate is my own. That's the one situation where I have all the facts. That's the one situation where I can make a difference. I own that one.

Dealing with my own parenting challenges is a full-time job.

And by the way, I'm not so sure that the kids of this generation are so much worse than the kids of previous generations.

"Kids these days. . . "

Haven't people been saying that since the beginning of time?

Links - Because I Love to Share What Others are Saying

A Plan of Attack for My Picky Eaters - Traditional parenting wisdom says, "If they get hungry enough, they'll eat whatever you put on the table." But what if they won't? What if your newly adopted child will lose weight before she touches most foods? What if mealtimes trigger outbursts on a regular basis? Nancy shares her heart and her plan of action for her pickiest eaters.

Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents - This dad takes on a single man who is criticizing a mom because her child is melting down in the grocery store. This one goes on my list of posts I wish I'd written myself.

It's like a theme park for your peace of mind - If you happen to be on the receiving end of criticism related to your parenting, this one's for you.

Sharing at WFMW.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is Older Child Adoption a Special Need?

The other day, someone mentioned on Facebook that I had adopted a special needs child.

That phrase took me by surprise.

Because sometimes I forget. 

Being an older child is considered a special need in the adoption world.

That used to really bother me.

It used to bother me that China would call my perfectly healthy, incredibly bright son a special needs kid.

It felt like a put-down, like they couldn't see his potential.

It doesn't bother me anymore. . . well, not as much as it used to. 

Because being adopted as an older child is a special need.

I've said it before. No older child is available for adoption because he's had a great life. Older children available for adoption have experienced real trauma. And being a trauma survivor is a special need with long-term implications.

The death of a parent = trauma.

Abandonment = trauma

The loss each time they were moved from foster home to foster home or into an orphanage = trauma

Being adopted internationally and having to adjust to new parents, a new country, a new language, a new culture = trauma

It's easy to forget. 

It's easy to think that a lot of love and plenty of food and having so much more materially than they ever had in their birth country will fix everything.

It doesn't.

So if you're thinking of adopting an older child, it may help you to remember that older child adoption is a special need.

Think about it this way. If you were adopting a child in a wheelchair, you'd be constantly aware of their special need. You'd be prepared to deal with it long term. You might hope that with great medical care your new child would learn to walk one day. You might even be praying for a miracle. But in reality, you would also be preparing to push that wheelchair for years to come. 

Adopting a kid with a background of trauma is no different, even though their special need is hidden. 

You would never tell the kid in the wheelchair, "You've been home for 18 months now. We've taken you to the best doctors. Everyone at our church has faithfully prayed for you. You can't let this thing limit you forever. We're done pushing this wheelchair. It's time for you to quit making excuses and get up and walk."

You would never do that.

But it's done all the time when a kid's special need is hidden. 

Here's what I'm not trying to do in this post. I'm not trying to limit your child or put them in a box. I'm not telling you, as a parent, to excuse all their negative behavior. I'm not encouraging you to set the bar low.

My son, adopted at age 7 1/2 and home three years now, has made amazing progress. His heart has healed in so many ways. I am full of hope when I think about his future. Please don't ever give up hope! But in the same way, please don't ever forget to be compassionate as you parent a child with a real, but hidden, special need. 

I'll give you an example. When we started our new homeschool year back in August, both Mike and I noticed subtle changes in Wenxin. He was needier, clingier, louder . . . he seemed to be on high alert. We remembered that with his background, change is hard for him. Change makes him afraid. 

So we made subtle changes in our behavior in response to what we saw in him. We held him more, snuggled him more, kept him closer to us. Even though he's able to do a lot of his homeschool work independently, I spent a few days doing almost everything with him. That little bit of extra attention from us was all it took -- this time -- to help him feel safer and more confident starting a new school year.

I read a great blog post this week that reminded me to parent with compassion for the long haul. When I read it, I knew I wanted to share it with you. 

Sharing today at Emily's Imperfect Prose and Ni Hao Y'all.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

I guess you could call it water tether ball. . . or something like that.

It was wet. It was rowdy. It was the perfect Labor Day fun for my four not-so-little kids.

Better still. . .I taught them all how to play Spades. It was a rite of passage for them and for me. Now they can play cards with the adults. And I've arrived at the stage of parenthood where I no longer have to play Candyland. . .or Monopoly. . .or Uno.

Looks like my partner is working up a pretty good poker face.

We won.

At this point, whoever is my partner is assured of winning.

Enjoy the last little bit of your Labor Day.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Love Julia's simple, classic, no-fuss beauty. Hope she always embraces how God made her and always knows that she doesn't have to try too hard.

Late last night, I put in what I thought was my last order of homeschool materials for the upcoming school year. Of course, I forgot the math tests and practice sheets we use, so I guess I'll have to place another order today.

I love homeschooling, but don't let anyone kid you. Homeschooling is a lot of work. Yes, it's a lifestyle of learning, and yes, you don't have to structure your days like a 5 day/week school, but there's no getting around the fact that it's still hard work.

I just read How Hiring Help Transformed our Homeschool, and I'm finding myself wondering, "What would it be like to have a homeschool helper a couple of days a week?"

Something to think about and pray about on this Sunday morning.

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.

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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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.