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Not Easy Questions with No Easy Answers

Category: My Story (page 2 of 19)

Questions Adoptive Parents Want You to Ask–If you are a Leader (Part 4)

Quick review of where we’ve been so far:

  • 5 Questions we don’t want you to ask – here.
  • Why it takes more than one post to identify 5 questions we want you to ask. – Here
  • Question #1 – “How’s it going?” – Here
  • Question #2 – “How can we help? – Here

Today’s question that adoptive parents want you to ask applies to people who are leaders.

Leaders of what?  

  • School leaders – principals, teachers, music teachers, PE teachers, coaches, librarians,  pre-school leaders
  • Group leaders – Boy Scouts, Youth Group, Dance Class, Little League, day care directors.

So, what question do we, as adoptive parents, want them to ask and what do we hope to accomplish by it?

First, let me tell you, this is not about getting an IEP at school.   This is not about navigating educational plans.   There are people who are infinitely more qualified for that than I am.   If you need help with those, let me know – I can point you in the right direction.

The question that we want you to ask is a three part question:

Part 1 – “When your child, my student, does something that is typically outside of the realm of acceptable behavior, what can we expect?”

In order for a leader, teacher etc. to ask that kind of question, it requires a couple of things:

  • An awareness by the teacher or leader that children who are have been through the trauma that is involved with adoption won’t always “act out” the same way that a child who has grown up in a trauma free environment.
  • A desire to understand the needs of all of the children in their class or in their group so they can help them achieve their full potential.

My experience has been that virtually every teacher has the desire to understand but very few of them have the awareness before hand.   It would be wonderful if schools would do more to educate their educators on trauma and what it means to kids in school.

Part 2 – “When your child, my student, does THAT (whatever that behavior might be), what does it mean?

One of the things that adoptive parents learn very early on is that not everything is as it seems.    Actually, for many adopted kids, parenting and managing social behaviors in school settings involve thinking and planning and reacting totally differently than what you would expect.

Want an example?   An adopted kid gets out on the playground at recess and suddenly they turn into a bossy, antagonistic bully who is ordering everyone around, yelling at kids who aren’t following his “rules” and attempting to be in charge of everything that’s happening. 

What’s going on there?   Is this child really being a typical bully?

I’d argue probably not.   The child who is doing this is probably scared out of his or her mind.   He’s probably experiencing a huge flashback to his “past life” where he lived in a life of total chaos (orphanage?  poorly managed foster care? absent parents?) and he didn’t feel like anyone was in control.   In those situations, situations where the child felt like no one was in control, they felt like they had to grab control for themselves.   “Someone has to be in charge, I don’t see anyone else being in charge, so I will.” 

So, in that particular case, you have a student acting  like a bully, not because they necessarily wanted to be a bully but because they are scared out of their minds because suddenly they are finding themselves back in a situation where they don’t feel like anyone is in control and anyone is keeping them safe.

So that brings us to part 3 of the question:

Now that we think we know why they are doing what they are doing, how do we deal with the behaviors to help the adopted student and not make things worse?

If you are dealing with a “typical” bully situation, how do you traditionally deal with it?   Detention, suspension, loss of privileges – those are just some of the ways to typically deal with the traditional bully.

If you’re dealing with a student who is behaving like a bully but evidence suggests that he or she is doing it, not because they are bullies and want to boss other kids around, but because they are scared out of their minds and want to feel like someone is keeping them safe, then you’ll approach it totally differently.

Rather than detention, you’ll work with the student to help them understand that there is someone of authority outside at recess.

Rather than restricting privileges, you’ll make sure that this student meets the adult who is on recess duty at the beginning of recess so they can see who is in charge.

Rather than yelling at them for bad behavior, you’ll remind them that behavior isn’t right and also that it isn’t their responsibility – because the teacher, the principal, the recess duty teacher – it’s their job to keep your student feeling safe.

Rather than making the student feel bad for not feeling “safe” and acting out because they don’t “feel safe,” you will acknowledge that perception is reality and if they don’t feel safe then they won’t act like they feel safe.

A three part question.

A long response.

But it’s a question that adoptive parents want you to ask.

And it’s a question that adopted children will benefit from you asking.   Especially if they don’t know you’ve asked it.


P.S. The next post in this series probably won’t be up until next Tuesday.  

P.S.S. The next post will be talking about church and the questions that adoptive families would like churches to ask.   

Questions Adoptive Parents Want You to Ask–“How Can We Help?” (Part 3)

So, previously, we talked about the questions NOT to ask (read here) and Part 1 and Part 2 of what adoptive parents want you to ask.  

Today we’re going to talk about the question,  “How can we help?”

Just a reminder – today, as I did in part 2 yesterday, the discussion is in regards to extended family and close friends.   If you want to read the definition of what I mean, look back at yesterday’s post (see links above).

“How Can We Help?”   Isn’t that the most shallow and non-helpful question ever?   It’s like saying, “I’m going to say I want to help but I really don’t, so don’t ask me for help.”

So, with “How can we help?” what do adoptive parents really want you to ask?

“How can we help – because we really don’t know what you need?”

From personal experience and talking with others, here’s what a lot of adoptive parents do and don’t need help with – especially in the first few years after their kids come home:

Things we do need:

  • Things that will help us have more time with our kids – bring us a meal, mow the lawn, if you are going to Costco, call and ask if you can pick anything up for us?  Especially kids who have suffered trauma (virtually all adopted kids) typically require a lot more time and bonding with their parents.   If we have other kids at home, offer to help with carpooling to school activities or church activities.  
  • Things that will help us have even small amounts of time to ourselves.   This will vary greatly based on the children and their ages and their needs.   If they are really young and still nap, come over and “watch” them while they sleep and let us do something for ourselves.   If they are older, take them out for ice cream – without Mom and Dad.   I know she’ll read this, but I have often told my mom that what my kids need most as young teenagers from her is “positive grandma experiences.”   What does that look like?   Going out for ice cream.   Taking them out for lunch.   Baking cookies at Grandma’s.     Even just picking them up from school and bringing them home.   It’s a positive experience with grandma and it gives the parents a little time to themselves.
  • Things that will reinforce that we are the parents.   Respect the rules that we’ve put in place – even if they seem ridiculous to you.   They might even seem ridiculous to us –but our kids need to learn what a Mom & Dad are and do.    Ask us if they can do something – don’t just assume.   If we’re at a family picnic and they want a second piece of pie, tell them to check with mom or dad first – and follow through on that.   If they fall and skin their knee, if we’re there, let us comfort them.   If we are in the back yard, bring them to us so we can be their source of comfort.   Support our efforts to teach them not only what a Mom and Dad are but who Mom and Dad are will pay huge dividends for all of us throughout the years.

So, how do we NOT want you to help?

  • Don’t offer advice based on what worked to parent your kids 20 to 30 years ago.   As someone who has both biological and adopted kids, I can tell you, what you have to do to parent them is often totally different.   If you don’t believe me, I have a 23, 25 and 28 year old who will testify to that fact.
  • Don’t assume that my kids could do better.   Many, if not most if not all, of the times they misbehave, it’s not because they want to, it’s not because they are bad kids, it’s because of all of the junk that they have been through before they became part of our family.
  • Don’t label a troubled child as a trouble maker.   There is a big difference between a troubled child and a trouble maker.  
  • Don’t judge our parenting based on what you see from our kids.   Unless you know what they have been through and what we’re working on, you can’t accurately assess what we’re doing and how it’s working.   One of my children had an hour long screaming fit in the middle of a campground once.   I would have been mortified if my older kids had done that – and the looks from some of the other camp ground visitors said they were. 
  • Don’t contradict what we say to our kids in front of our kids.   If we tell them something, don’t make it appear that they can triangulate and hope for a “better deal” out of someone else.

We value your family and your friendship.   You mean a LOT to us.   We need your help because especially at first, this whole process of becoming a family with children who don’t know what family means is a LOT of work.

Help us in the “right” way, help us by asking questions and letting us take the lead, help us by letting us tell you how you can help and we’ll all be better off.

Thanks for being there……


Questions Adoptive Parents Want you to Ask–“How’s It Going?” (Part 2)

Yes, we really do want you to ask how it’s going.

No, we don’t want everyone to ask it but for this (and the next question), I’m going to lump together two groups of people:    Extended family and good, I mean really good, solid friends.

Let me define extended family – these are the people who have just “gotten” a new nephew or a new cousin or a grandchild.   Maybe the next circle of the family would qualify – the second cousins, the great aunts and the like.  

Let me define “really good” friends, even though you already know what I mean.   It’s the friends who you can talk to about anything.   They are the friends who share the ups and downs of life with you.   They are the ones who are there, through thick and thin – they are family in every sense of the word.

We want these people in our family to care about our kids.   We want these people in our family to care about how it’s going.

We need these people to care about us and our family – our new and extended family.   We need these people to care about our new child (or children) just like they would if their cousin had a baby the “other” way.

We need you to care.   But we need you to do it carefully.

Ask us how it is going – but DON’T ask how it is going if our kids are within earshot.   And trust me, they have the ability to monitor about 57 different conversations at once and pick up the ones that are about them like they have sonar or some sort of extra magical hearing – except if you ask them to do something.

Ask us how it is going – but DON’T ask how it is going if you don’t have time to really listen.    Because typically, to adequately share with a close family member “how it’s going” is going to take a while.   So ask when you have time to sit and talk.   Or ask when you are leaving a business meeting in Chicago and have a three hour drive ahead of you and plenty of time for a long phone call.

Oh and ask us if we’ve got time to talk.   If we do have time, we’d love to talk – because this adoptive parent walk can be a very lonely walk. 

Ask us how it is going – but don’t assume we want you to try to solve our problems.    Many of the problems that our kids and we are struggling with can’t even be solved by therapists – because they are scars that will always be there.    But that doesn’t mean we don’t want you to ask.   We want you to ask – because we want you to care and we want you to be a listening ear.

And sometimes a shoulder to cry on.

And sometimes share fist bumps or high fives or……..

Ask us how it is going – but don’t ask from the standpoint of thinking you understand.   Unless you are a trained professional or an adoptive parent or grandparent, you probably don’t understand.   But if you ask us how it is going and really listen, you might very well come closer to understanding.    Children from hard places have needs that are so different from children who have grown up with their biological parents, it is quite often hard for us to understand.

Ask us how it is going – but don’t judge us if we say it’s hard.   Don’t say things like, “this is what you asked for.”   You wouldn’t say those things to someone who has a biological child born with special challenges, so why would you say that about an adoptive parent?

We, adoptive parents, want you to care.   We want you to value us and our children.   We need you to care.

Because adoption is not an easy road.   It’s a good road, it’s a God filled road but it’s not an easy road.

And you can help an adoptive family by caring and taking the time to care.

It’s a small thing – but it’s a big thing.


Stay tuned for Part 3 – “How can we help?”

Read What Not to Ask right  here.

Read Part 1 of what to ask right here.

5 Questions Adoptive Parents Wish You Would Ask…….

Yesterday, I wrote about 5 Questions Adoptive Parents Don’t Want You to Ask.

I was working on the alternate version – 5 questions adoptive parent WANT you to ask.      That’s a lot harder and bigger question.

So, I’m going to turn it into 5 different blog posts and they will each address a certain “group” of people in an adoptive family’s life.   The plan is to do them for:

  • Extended Family
  • Family Friends
  • Co-workers and acquaintances
  • Church leaders and church members (so if that’s not a part of your life or makes you uncomfortable, you might want to skip #4)
  • The guy in the grocery store.  

Why am I dragging it out into 5 separate posts?

Because in order to ask a “good question” of an adoptive parent, it takes more thinking and more acknowledging what you do know and what you don’t know.

Because the “good questions” are a lot more rare than the bad ones.

Because in order to help rather than hurt, questions need to be asked in an understanding way.    That takes time.

I hope to have the first one up later today.

I hope you find them meaningful and enjoyable.   


I Didn’t Think So……

When I look at the things that I’ve learned from 2003 (the first time I set foot in Haiti) to today (2015), I think that 98% of what I’ve learned could fall under one particular sentence or phrase……

“I didn’t think so…….”

So many things that you see and experience in the world of caring for those who are less fortunate could fall under that classification.

Did you know that……..?

No, I didn’t think so.

Did you know that ______________?

No, I didn’t think so.

Dd you know that if you spend ___________ on __________ it actually does ______________________?

No, I didn’t think so.

International development, aid, orphan care, malnutrition prevention, job creation, farm subsidies, whatever term you want to use, whatever area you want to attempt to make a difference in,  there’s one rule that seems to always apply.

“I didn’t think so.”

I didn’t think that would happen.

I didn’t think that doing “A” over here would cause “B” over here.

I didn’t think that building this here would cause “that” over there.

It’s horribly complex.   There are no easy answers, there are no easy fixes.

If someone says there is an easy fix, they are either uneducated or trying to sell you something.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a look at some of the misconceptions that plague orphan care, adoption, development, fundraising, non-profits and more……..

Stay tuned…..




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