I am really bad at accepting compliments. I’m working on it. I’m better than I used to be, but still awful. I’ve managed to begin at least saying “thank you” instead of “no, I’m not really that nice thing that you said I was.” However, one compliment that I will never accept and one that breaks my heart is “You’re such a saint for what you’ve done for those kids.” There are layers of wrongness with this compliment, the least of which is that I couldn’t be further from a saint. I’m very, very human, very fallible, and if I listed out all the reasons why here, some of you would judge me harshly I assure you.

The next layer of wrongness is that my kids have given me so much more than I’ve given them. If you’ve read any of my other posts you might question that statement, because there have certainly been some very trying times. The whole “one kid in inpatient psychiatric care, followed by another kid in inpatient psychiatric care 3 months later, followed by my then husband leaving for what would be the last time” was certainly a bad patch for example. And, there were days I wondered aloud, using some choice words (words a saint doesn’t use) how in the hell I arrived at that moment. So, having said that, if I tell you unequivocally that my kids give me double or more what I give them, you know it has to be good to make up for all that bad.

Lastly, and most importantly, logic tells us that if I’m a saint for adopting my kiddos, then anyone who chooses to do what I do must be a saint as well. Most people don’t self-identify as saints. So, that tells me that people look at what I do and determine there’s no possible way, due to their lack of sainthood, that they could foster/adopt kiddos, which is tragic and heartbreaking and wrong to the nth degree, because on any given day there are 402,000 kids in the US who need homes. Not perfect homes – good enough homes. my home is a “good enough” home. You’re home is likely a “good enough” home, too.

So, I’m going to explain all the ways you, too, can become a foster/adoptive parent, or at least support a foster/adoptive parent.

  • If you’re single, don’t be freaked out by the cost. I was freaked out by the cost and worked unfortunately as a car salesman for a bit, in addition to my day job, in an ill-advised effort to save up. What I actually did was make myself crazy and bump myself into the next tax bracket. Don’t do that.
  • Though the subsidy I receive from my state is not what it actually costs to raise children, it is enough to pay my mortgage. Subsidies are different in different states and are based on things like the age of the child, the number of children, the special needs of the child, etc. They’re basically a supply/demand scenario. There are a lot of older children in foster care, and a lot of sibling groups, and states need people to adopt them. Unfortunately, a lot of people want infants and toddlers, and there just aren’t a lot of those to go around. I adopted a sibling group of three older, minority children, one of which was special needs, so I basically get all the money the State of Oklahoma can throw at me. I like to tell people I “outsourced” the up all night/breastfeeding/potty training years, which is clearly the most effective and fun way to become a parent. I highly recommend it. And, you get money to help raise them without the annoying parts that come along with a former spouse, for example. it’s a win-win. The North American Council on Adoptable Children has a ton of resources including this handy link to subsidies in all 50 states.
  • My kids’ health insurance is paid until they’re 18. Each state receives funding from the federal government to be able to provide this, so wherever you live, this should be available. Without this assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to adopt.
  • While my kids were in foster care, their childcare was paid for, and after I adopted them, their childcare was paid until they were school age. Childcare is amazingly expensive, so this is a big help. Again, the fabulous NACAC has great information for each state here.
  • If you’re single/divorced/widowed/gay/transgender/old/young/disabled/cranky you are very eligible to foster or adopt, even in one of the most politically conservative states in the nation, which is where I live. I was never married when I fostered and then adopted. I have gay friends who have fostered/adopted. I have friends who were in their 60s when they adopted. The basic rule is that you need to be financially, emotionally, and physically healthy enough to support the kids into adulthood. If you meet that criteria, you can foster/adopt.

Though you may look at what I and other foster/adoptive parents do and think you never could, keep in mind that we are all just like you, and we thought we couldn’t do it either. The best explanation and advice I can give is that of the fabulous Tim Gunn – you just make it work. There are some fabulous resources around – the one that’s kept me going is Facebook, believe it or not. I can post on one of various Facebook foster/adoptive sites about what I and my family are going through at any given moment, and there’s always someone who has been there and done that before me, and can reassure me that it gets better, give me advice on what worked for him or her and/or just laugh their asses off with me about how absurd the whole thing is. There is tremendous reassurance in knowing you are not alone.

And, for those of you who really are not a good fit for foster/adoption, become a great resource for those who are doing it. Most of my foster/adoptive friends, especially the single ones, just need a break. Offer to watch their kids for an evening, or better yet a weekend. Or offer to pay the babysitter. Offer to mow a lawn, or do some laundry or pick up groceries. A couple of Christmases ago a fabulous friend had all of the Christmas gifts she’d put on layaway for her five foster/adoptive kids put back on the shelf by an unnamed retailer. it was December 20-something, quite a few of her kids are disabled, so she can’t just run right out to do errands. I picked up a Justin Bieber life-size cardboard cutout and some Project Runway kits for her kiddos, and relieved tremendous tension for her. What was absolutely no big deal to me was a big help for her. These are things almost anyone can do. And, if you can’t do any of those things, the biggest thing you can do to support a foster/adoptive family is offer a smile or a helping hand when you see them out and about. if you see a family struggling with an out-of-hand kiddo, give them a reassuring smile. If you see a family that is all colors of the rainbow a smile, a hello, and a bit of small talk is nice. One of the loveliest things I can ever hear from anyone is “what a beautiful family you have,” and I’m always grateful to hear that, especially on my worst days. Because we are beautiful in all of our brokenness, and you will be, too.


A Black Mississippi Judge’s Breathtaking Speech To 3 White Murderers

Thanks to NPR for publishing the speech from U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves. He read it to three young white men before sentencing them for the death of a 48-year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi, a man I learned this morning grew up with a friend of mine.

Judge Reeves references “Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America,” in his speech. I happened upon this exhibit at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 2001. Back then I thought I’d be childless by choice forever, so I definitely wasn’t considering becoming mother to three black children seven years later. I stared at the postcards for hours, walking around in a near dreamlike state, with Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” playing in the background, and the exhibit has haunted me ever since. Thanks to Author, Hannibal Johnson, for connecting the dots for me recently by mentioning the project and reminding me of its title – I didn’t realize what a historical impact the project had made until I saw him writing about it.

The most unsettling part of the Judge’s speech for me was how “normal” these young killers seemed to those around them. Before you write off them and the people in the lynching photos as monsters, consider your own potential biases and the potential biases of those you love. Harvard has a series of bias tests that are truly illuminating. I would gladly throw myself in front of several swift-moving comets for my sweet children, and I got a “moderate automatic preference for European American” on the Race IAT. We’re not living in a post-racial world, and I don’t know that we ever will. In the words of Carl Jung,  “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

A Black Mississippi Judge’s Breathtaking Speech To 3 White Murderers

Top Ten Reasons Reasons to Defriend Me Now

This started as a Facebook post, and then it grew legs, so I’m posting it here. These are the Top Ten Reasons to Unfriend Me Now and/or Reasons I Will Never Be Elected to Public Office.

1. Tax cutting ourselves to prosperity doesn’t work. Please stop acting like it will. Reference Kansas. And, a lot of written material from experts.

2. We need to stop throwing our mentally ill into prison. We’re spending 5 – 10x would it would take to actually treat their illness, rather than incarcerate them. it makes no economic sense. I’m including drug/alcohol addicts in this group. Let’s treat them and get a giant return on investment by ensuring they’re working and creating wealth for Oklahoma (the US state in which I live) and the US rather than sitting in a cell all day, costing all of us money.

3.1 Sex is not bad. Stop it with the shame and destructive behavior that results from that shame. We’re constructed to not only have sex but find it enjoyable. If you’re a religious person, I find it hard to believe that you think God would construct us in a way that makes sex enjoyable, but we’re only supposed to have it when we’re attempting to procreate. That seems like an affront to God.

3.2 Sex education is necessary and reduces the number of teens having abortions and babies. I’m a fan of fewer abortions and fewer teens having babies. Why are we still doing the abstinence only education? It hasn’t worked in 15+ years. Thank goodness for pilots like the Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy in Tulsa, which is doing a fabulous job.

4. Continuing with sex issues, can we please make prostitution for both men and women legal? It’s been happening forever, and this way we can regulate it, keep everyone healthy (cutting down on disease), keep sex workers safe, and most importantly tax it. European countries have done it this way forever. I remember reading John Irving novels set in Germany when I was 15 and thinking that made sense. 30 years later it still makes sense, and we’re still not doing it.

5. We don’t live in a post-racial society. White people, when you say you don’t see color, don’t notice race, etc., I realize your intentions are good, but that’s naive and honestly offensive. Please stop.

6. Gay rights are civil rights. When you make religious arguments to back up your ideas that gay rights are not civil rights, you’re using the same religious arguments that whites used to maintain slavery. Please stop.

7. Go vote. Please. Lots and lots of people have fought and many died for our right to vote. Please inform yourself and then go vote.

8. People are basically good. Bullies are made, not born. I really think the Christian “turn the other cheek” means we should have empathy for our bullies, put ourselves in their shoes, and help support them with whatever journey they’re on instead of turning against them. It’s not about wimping out – it’s actually about being remarkably strong. I have a tough time with this one myself, but I’m trying. (One might say that I’m very trying.)

9. Trauma is all around us. I’m amazed at the number of people who tell me stories (for whatever reason, people tell me stories) of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, traumatic deaths, mental illness, serious relationship issues and more. If you’re thinking you’re alone, you’re not. We all have stuff going on.

10. Finally, I am by no means a religious expert, but the world’s major religions seems to point to some pretty clear themes of love and compassion. Please be good to yourself and those around you and especially the people you don’t know, who are very different from you. We can find common goals with just about everyone. There’s no reason for all the vitriol in our country right now other than to keep us unbalanced and fighting with each other rather than working for real, positive change.

Top Ten Reasons Reasons to Defriend Me Now


Today I’m reading in a national publication about three rape victims in my home state being bullied out of high school. A few weeks ago I was filing a police report, because a man in my building attempted to sexually assault me in the middle of the day. Last year I was explaining to my kid’s school administrators that rape culture was so rampant at the school that they had daily themes of “Titty Twist Tuesday,” and “Slap Ass Friday.” Three years ago, I was taking one of my kids to the safe child center to provide testimony against a child rapist. I could go on and on about my own and my friends’ experiences, but I’m sure the theme is clear by now.

I’m super tired of the “boys will be boys” attitude in our schools. I’m tired of the “girls must cover their shoulders and thighs,” dress code instructions which always come with a “well, boys are just wired to get distracted by girl flesh, so we have to keep it covered up,” explanation when I ask. How is this OK? How is it OK that we’re teaching our boys that they’re mindless animals with an uncontrollable urge to put their penis in anything handy, and we’re telling our girls it is their responsibility to stop that? How is this not completely insulting to men as well as women? And, how does it help our kids foster relationships with the opposite sex? How can a girl feel good about her sexuality if her “job” is to make sure she holds violent threats from boys at bay? How are boys supposed to feel good about themselves, when girls are terrified of them? We are failing our kids.

Our “anti-bullying” measures in the schools over the last few years are well-intentioned, miserable failures. Bullies are not born – they’re made, and using punitive measures with bullies only makes things worse, and nothing gets resolved. I’ve recently begun to study restorative justice in schools, and the tremendous success schools have had who have implemented it. Our “tough on crime” measures don’t even work with adults. Why have we transplanted them to the classroom? If kids have stuff going on, really tough stuff, they’re going to act out. Deal with the stuff – don’t punish the kid.  Great quote from a NY Times article:

“The approach now taking root in 21 Oakland schools, and in Chicago, Denver and Portland, Ore., tries to nip problems and violence in the bud by forging closer, franker relationships among students, teachers and administrators. It encourages young people to come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing while challenging them to develop empathy for one another through “talking circles” led by facilitators like Mr. Butler.”

Rape is not sex. Sex is not rape. Stop using those words interchangeably. Rape is an ugly, traumatic, violent crime. I hope that’s not also your description of sex.

Men are not bad. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National network) cites the following in their report for the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault:

“…three percent of college men are responsible for more than 90% of rapes. Other studies suggest that between 3-7% of college men have committed an act of sexual violence or would consider doing so. It is this relatively small percentage of the population, which has proven itself immune to years of prevention messages, that we must address in other ways.”

Men are raped, too.  And, we never, ever talk about it. I know men who were raped as children by their babysitters. I know men who were raped by other men. I’m sure you know male rape survivors, whether they’ve disclosed that to you or not.

Sex is not bad. In a country where we’re excited to talk about how much we love God, it’s amazing to me that we want to make our kids feel shame and guilt about very natural and God-given body parts and feelings. Kids need to be fully informed about how their bodies work and the responsibilities that come along with being sexually active. Please no more abstinence-only sex education. Would that have worked for any of you when you were a kid?

Finally, people who have already been raped are vulnerable to being raped again. I don’t know any kids who have been through the foster system who have not been sexually abused by adults or other kids. I’m so jaded at this point that I assume any kid who is in or has been in the foster system is a victim of sex abuse/survivor of rape. Please let’s make sure kids who have already been through hell are not re-victimized.

If you or someone you know is a rape survivor, there are some great resources here. You might also check the resources section of this blog. If you have ideas (or proven strategies) for dealing with any of the issues I just described, please post them here. Thank you for reading.





First, Happy Adoption Month!

Secondly, though it may seem like we’re super serious a lot of the time, what with the calls to the local PD, psychiatric hospital stays, running away, my meltdowns, and other stuff, we actually do have a pretty fun time at our house. We camp, we take road trips, we had a great summer vacation to Chicago this year, we dance a LOT (I am the reigning Just Dance champion in our household, for the record), we listen to music, we cook together, we play board games, we swim, we play with our awesome dogs, and we have a fabulous dress up closet.

Some of this fun happens, because we’re just fun people, and some of this fun is very deliberate on my part, because it helps to build attachment with my kids without them really being conscious of it. If they’re having so much fun that they forget to be on guard against attachment, then it sneaks in and starts to build within them before they know it. What is my sturdiest weapon in the “sneaky fun” strategy – ticklefests. Not kidding. Ticklefests combined with dog piles are like a super secret weapon. Ticklefests, combined with dog piles, combined with pillow fights are like the Excalibur of the adoptive parent’s toolbox. I wish some wise person had told me this early on, which is why I’m telling you. I actually learned via Dr. Daniel Hughes’ PLACE model, which has been very good for our family. The “P” stands for “playfulness,” thus the ticklefests.

For example, at our most recent visit to the psychiatrist, my 12-year-old, who has been with me 5 1/2 years, explained that though intellectually she knows I love her, and that she’s safe and taken care of,  she doesn’t really trust any of that. She often doesn’t believe her life is real or that I’m real, which is extremely standard for kiddos like mine. It’s tough for them to trust that they can actually just relax, breathe, and be kids.  So, since that visit, at random times during the day (like when I’m cooking dinner) I’ll look at her very seriously and say, “Hey is this real?” and tickle the crap out of her until she falls on the ground in a giggling mess. I love the giggling mess part. I will also throw in some pokes to the tummy and pats on the head just to mix it up, all the while asking “What about this? Can you feel this? Does this appear real? I just want to make sure.” It is awesome.

Every once in a while, I can actually tickle her away from the tipping point of a violent fit. This is dicey, and sometimes tips her right over the edge, but I’m getting better at knowing when to use it.

If you have found wonderful ways to help your kiddos, whether they’re adopted or not, I’d love for you to share them here. No fair keeping them to yourselves! Check the resources section for the helpful things I’ve found along the way, and have a great, fun-filled day.




So Comfortable

This morning I read Slate’s story on The Whiteness Project and I was reminded of the times I’ve been asked by black people how I got so comfortable around black people. First, I have to give major credit to those who asked, because that’s not an easy question to ask for lots of reasons. And, I’m sure it’s been on the minds of many people who didn’t ask. So here’s the thing – I wasn’t always comfortable around black people. I grew up in a 1970s suburban development in Oklahoma City, one that my mother and stepfather specifically moved to for the schools. One might even call it a white flight development. I went to an all white grade school, and an all white middle and junior high And, I went to high school with 400 other white people. If I’m remembering this incorrectly, I’m sure someone will tell me about it. Maybe there was one brown kid in there somewhere? But if so, I really don’t remember that.

In college, I still didn’t know one darn non-white person until I was matched up with a young black woman via lottery in the dorms my sophomore year. We rarely talked, and I assumed it was because I was older, and she had a full social life, but looking back, she may have just had her “you’re a white person” walls up, boundaries I didn’t realize existed until I was much older.

In grad school I met some black people who played in bands, because I worked at a restaurant/bar on campus corner, and we had fabulous live music. That was peripheral at best. So, I was on a campus of fifteen or twenty thousand people, and still didn’t know any black people, as terrifying as that is in retrospect.

I finished grad school and went to work in Oklahoma City for a state agency, and worked with a few minorities, none of whom I knew beyond small talk.

In my 20s and 30s I worked around a few black people, but again only peripherally. I never knew any of them beyond very small talk at work. Then, I met a young black woman at work, and we became friends. I knew what was happening in her life, and she knew what was happening in mine. We didn’t socialize, though. And, later I realized she had the “you’re a white person” walls up, too. I mean that in a loving and straightforward way – not as a criticism.

So, long about 35 I started to think I likely needed to become a parent, for many reasons that I’ve already discussed in other blog posts, and voila the universe gave me three beautiful, brown children. I don’t recommend acquiring brown children as a way to become comfortable around non-whites – it’s sort of the Evil Knievel method of getting there. But, it’s what worked for me, and I think it’s a lesson for others.

Had you asked me before I became a parent if I was comfortable around black people, I would have answered “yes,” and that would have been a lie. I didn’t know it was a lie at the time, but it was. When the social service agency in my state called to say they didn’t often have healthy, white babies in the foster care system, I told them I only wanted kids 4-years-old and up, and I didn’t care what color they were. And, I didn’t care. But I had no idea what a paradigm shift I was in for, because I had no idea what the world of black people was really like.

So, here’s what I’ve learned, and what the article referenced above spells out – when you surround yourself with people who look like you, think like you, and earn the same income as you, whether you intend to or not, you have created a scary little insular world where it’s easy to judge and condemn anyone outside your circle, because you don’t regard them as people. They are “other,” so how can you have empathy for them? Not pity, but empathy? How can you walk in someone else’s shoes, if you don’t even know what shoes they’re wearing?

When I fostered and then adopted my kids, it was like I learned the secret handshake for a world to which I had not been privy my whole life. What I’m about to describe below is the rule, not the exception. Some of you I’m sure have wildly diverse social networks, but as the “75% of white people don’t include black people in their social networks” statement in the above-referenced article illustrates, you’re the exception not the rule. If you’re reading this and thinking “yeah, but I’m not racist” stop doing that. I’m not saying you’re a racist. I’m saying you don’t know black people. So, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • My kids get treated differently than white kids at school, until I go to the school and show the administrators/teachers they have a white mom, and then it stops. Does every school and every teacher/administrator do this? No. Do enough do it that I’m forced to admit it’s a thing? Yes. And, yes I do use my white privilege on behalf of my children and will continue to do so. This makes me sad in so many darn ways.
  • Other black kids tell my kids they smell “musty” and have “nappy” hair, one of the many ways in which black children learn to belittle other black children. These are words I didn’t even know outside of Alice Walker novels until I became a parent. And, I didn’t realize black people were awful to each other, as completely naive as that sounds, until I became a parent of black children. I assumed white kids would say awful things to my kids about their brown skin and “nappy” hair – I didn’t expect it from other black children. I was absurdly wrong.
  • Black hair – don’t even get me started on the culture of black hair. My kids are beautiful. They have beautiful, natural black hair. And, I can’t tell you how many women have walked up to us to tell me, in front of them, how horrible their hair looks, because it’s natural. Thank God we also have wonderful women, with their own natural hair, walk up and say the opposite, too. I actually created cards to hand out to people who have complaints, because my oldest daughter started getting in their face about it, and I was afraid she was going to get punched. In my wildest pre-adoption dreams, I never thought I and my children would be waging a self-esteem war about hair. If you haven’t seen Chris Rock’s Good Hair, please watch it.
  • Salespeople treat me differently when I’m with my kids than when I’m not. When I’m not with my kids, I get the full “uptight, white lady” treatment, which means I get waited on immediately with a big smile. When I’m with my kids we stand around for a while and might have to finally ask someone for help. I first experienced this when I was buying furniture for my children’s rooms in a store that is notorious for very aggressive salespeople. I walked in with my kids and stood there while no less than 7 salesmen stared at the floor and each other. Finally a woman, who later explained that she was Iranian, walked up and very graciously helped us. I knew exactly what I wanted, so she earned her commission on $1,500 in less than 10 minutes, which I hope she explained to her co-workers.
  • White people are judgmental and rude. I can’t tell you how many big-haired, Baptist women have looked disapprovingly at me in the grocery line when they see me with my kids. Or at the park, or the movies, or the festivals or wherever. And, no I don’t actually know that they’re Baptist – there’s just a type of woman in the Bible Belt that I can’t describe any other way. Or there’s the group of white women dining next to us in Chicago who gave us more disapproving looks than we’ve ever had in Oklahoma. I wanted to say “yes, my beautiful brown children ARE dining on lobster this evening, and they know how to use their utensils properly and how to eat in a grown-up restaurant, so I invite you to suck it,” but I smiled nicely instead, as did my seething 15-year-old.  And, by the way I always smile politely, directly at the judgers, so they can see that I and my family know how to treat people, and we will not be shamed.
  • Black people do not talk to white people like they talk to their black friends. You may think they do, but they don’t. They really, really don’t. People I thought I knew decently well spoke to me in a whole new way after I adopted the kids. It’s like they let walls down, although I’m sure not completely, and it was at that point I realized my black friends had had filters the whole time they’d known me. I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk around the world filtering yourself at work, school, socially, with your neighbors, because I’ve never had to do that, because I’m white. No wonder black people have their own churches. Can you imagine worshiping with a filter? This realization, too, made me very sad.

And, finally, I treat black people differently than I did before I adopted. I know that, because I’ve had several people ask me “Shelley, how’d you get so comfortable around black people?” That tells me I’ve had a shift that wasn’t purposeful or conscious – it just happened. I thought I was treating everyone the same for the last 40 or so years, but I wasn’t. I can’t name what’s different – I think I’m just more authentic, more transparent, I don’t know. Maybe someone reading this can tell me what the difference is. I do know why the difference happened – I got to know some black people. It’s really that simple. I have tremendous empathy for my children, and it’s tough to see someone who looks like them and continue to regard those people as “other.” Young black men walking down the street who might have scared me 10 years ago (yes, I was one of those white women as are a lot of white women), now look like my son will in 10 years, so I smile and say hello. Know what I get back? Nine times out of ten I get a smile back and a a”Hello ma’am, how are you?”

So how can you get to know black people? I don’t know, frankly. I keep threatening to have quarterly parties where I invite people from all the worlds I inhabit and make them talk to each other. Maybe a good start would be to admit that we don’t live in a racially equal or a post-racial society. White people who say “I don’t see color” are just absurdly misguided. Of course you see color. Now, confront your fears, step outside your safe, white world and actually get to know some of the people behind the color. I highly recommend it.

So Comfortable

Removed Part Two

Several months ago I wrote about an incredible film, Removed, that obviously resonated with you like it did me, because more than two hundred thousand of you viewed it from this page, and now the creators of Removed have launched a Kickstarter campaign to craft Removed Part Two, and they need your help in creating what they believe will be an even better film than Removed.

I’m excited about this project, and have already made my donation. If just half of the two hundred thirty thousand people who viewed Removed from this blog gave a dollar, the film would already be fully funded and on its way to being made. Please visit their site, donate, and share so they can make another beautiful film. 

From the site:

The truth is, there are so many dimensions of this issue, and the underlying causes and situations are internationally relevant. Domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, abandonment, government custody, adoption, and identity issues that stem from these root cases — these transcend country borders and reach into all of our communities, impacting some of us more than others. Nonetheless it is something needing to be addressed and explored further, and we believe that exploring this further through art, and specifically through film, expands its impact and its reach.

Some of the current focuses within the foster care system are to decrease time spent in foster care, focus on permanency for the child, increase positive relationships between birth parents and foster parents, keep siblings together, and empower birth parents with the tools they need to improve their parenting.

After spending countless hours in research and talking to families from many different places (birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, foster alum, social workers, kinship adoptions, etc), we are eager to give the world another art experience that reveals important truths in a beautiful way.

Please view, donate & share! Thank you!

Removed Part Two

What Adoption Classes Didn’t Teach Us About Raising Black Children

Wow, I wish I’d written this.

What Adoption Classes Didn’t Teach Us About Raising Black Children.

What Adoption Classes Didn’t Teach Us About Raising Black Children


My oldest ran away this week. She’s run away multiple times (it’s her thing), but she’s never stayed away overnight before, which she did this time. She apparently landed at her friend’s house where I went to pick her up today and take her to the CALM center where she can stay until we (I, her therapist, her psychiatrist) get her a bed at a psychiatric unit that specializes in traumatized females. I’m a fairly tough individual, but days of wondering where your kid is, especially your kid who is ripe for re-victimization, just wears a person out. Our local police department had been to the house to take my report, then I’d filed paperwork the next day to generate an arrest warrant, and had another officer out the next day to advise me on what to do once I found out where she was. With a RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) kid, it’s not as simple as just going to pick her up. During this time I’d been holding down a fairly demanding job, and parenting my other two kids who were also freaked out that their sister had left.

So, I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I went to pick up my child to get a lecture from her friend’s dad about my parenting fails and his advice for overcoming them. According to him, because I’m single, I can’t possibly spend enough time with my children, and he was sure that none of them feel safe, secure or as though we have an actual home. I confirmed that statement a couple of times, because he was speaking on behalf of all three of my kids, two of whom he’s not actually been around for more than 30 seconds. In the same breath, he told me I should rent out a room in the house to a stranger, to improve our financial situation. And, finally, the best part, that I was clearly not attentive to my children’s spiritual life, because we don’t attend church, and that my children needed a “church family,” just like his daughter has.

So here’s the thing – unless you have raised a severely traumatized child for a minimum of six months, you have no idea in what world I and people like me live. It is a world as foreign to you as Mars. I don’t care if you’ve lived on the streets, made a million bucks, have three doctorates, are black, white or purple – your certainty of your understanding of our family and our issues, and supposed solutions, is absurd. You may have the best intentions in the world and fancy yourself a good Christian, but your unsolicited advice will ring false each and every time. And, you will do harm to a family who is already struggling.

The good news is that to be part of a much-needed support network for families like ours, you need to know a few things. Kids like mine are ridiculously good at manipulation, and they love control. And, I don’t blame them. Those are the tools that kept them alive through their early lives. However, they will say and do anything to appear victims and gain control of the situation. They have high levels of defiance. So, they will likely be very convincing when they charm the pants off of new teachers, therapists, friend’s parents, and neighbors. They’re like tiny politicians. And, after they’ve charmed the pants off these people they will carefully and skillfully convince them that their parent is a monster. They do this with husbands and wives often. Husband is charmed, kid only acts out when husband is not around, husband thinks wife is insane. RAD kids cause a large number of divorces. Hopefully, I don’t have to explain why this is disconcerting. I have friends whose RAD kids have convinced court advocates, psychiatrists, grandparents, teachers, etc. that their parent is an abusive monster to the point that human services is called and sometimes arrests are made. Thankfully, someone who has a clue usually intervenes, but not always.

The other thing that’s good to know is that, especially with single parents of RAD kids, we’re vigilant 24/7. There are no “down” days when you’re parenting traumatized kids. When you let your guard down, they go in for the kill. My daughter opted to run away days after we returned from a really lovely vacation to Chicago. She had a great time, appeared relaxed and comfortable, and then went into defiance mode on the trip back and didn’t speak for 12 hours. There is no rhyme or reason, so you have to be on guard all day, every day. Consequently, we’re a bit emotionally exhausted just about every day.

Finally, there is no magic pill or secret sauce for what ails a RAD kid. Not love, discipline, affection or religion.  I completely respect people for whom religion plays a vital part of their lives, and I’m not undermining those beliefs. I’m actually deeply spiritual, but I find God much more present in Chagall’s America Windows than I do in church. I find spirituality in the miracle that is my children and in how we found each other and became a family.

Keeping all this in mind, the very last thing a RAD parent needs to hear is that she’s failing her kids. My days, and the days of my fellow RAD parents are filled with doubt. Our parenting is basically an informed crap shoot, by necessity. For the record, we are just fine financially, and my kids are pretty awesomely secure. They’re also pretty self-sufficient, because I do not cater to their every whim. They see someone who takes time for her career and for herself, which is what I want to model for them. I think I kind of rock as a parent. I’ve had therapists ask to write theses on us, because my kids are doing so well considering their extreme histories. I know these things intellectually, but when you’re vulnerable, like I was today, it’s pretty tough to hear all the ways in which you’re supposedly failing your child.  I think sometimes people are certain about their answers, because it’s too scary and threatening to them not to be. To consider that the reality of the situation doesn’t have  a quick fix. But in this case, if you’ve not walked the walk, please do not attempt to talk the talk. In the words of my friend, Voltaire, doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.