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Gift Ideas for Single Adoptive or Foster Moms that Speak to her Heart

This blog contains links for your convenience. Some are affiliate links, meaning if you purchase through that link I may earn credit at that store or a few pennies; however, links are provided solely for your convenience. The intention of this blog is to help you support single foster and adoptive moms that you know. 

 

Mother’s Day can often be a trigger for adoptees, a reminder of their first mother, a reminder of so much lost. The idea of Mother’s Day can stir up big emotions and memories. As a single adoptive mother, I don’t expect gifts or pampering from my child, so anything is a bonus. Usually he has a rugby game, and I end up with a team’s worth of uniforms to wash. Perhaps you know a single foster or adoptive mom who might need a little extra attention or encouragement this year. Parenting kids with a history of trauma and/or loss, we may have extra things to consider even with normal gift ideas. 

What she does not want you to do is to rope her kids in to making a gift or shopping for her. While some kids are gift givers and love shopping, it could actually be harmful for some adopted kids depending on where they are in their emotional processing. It may be counter-intuitive to what you saw in elementary school and churches where kids were given crafts to make for mom, but the foster and adoptive mama attuned to her children’s hearts will avoid those activities and maybe only attend the churches that want to provide a flower to every woman in the room.

Here are some ways you can surprise the single foster or adoptive mamas in your community: 

Respite 

Foster parents may not be allowed to accept offers to babysit unless you have first completed a respite training or gotten approval from their case worker. Being trained as a respite care provider would be such a gift and communicate to her that her family is important to you! The training will give you new insights and help you to be a really solid support and advocate for foster and adoptive families. While foster parenting may not be a way you can serve your community right now, many people have the ability to provide respite regularly or sporadically.

Even if babysitting can be accepted, there are some things to consider for foster and adoptive families, particularly in the first few years. In the first six months to a year, I would really encourage child care be limited to entertainment while mom is in the home. After that first six months, it may be possible for mom to leave the child in your care, but meal times, bed times, and bath times should still be left for mom to do. While this may not seem like it is much of a break for her, it is important for establishing trust and attachment when a child has joined a family through adoption. As trust and attachment are established, there will be more flexibility, but it is most important to both mama and child that he sees her as the one who is always there to meet his needs, physically and emotionally. Bed time may be a special time even years down the line due to attachment needs or a history of trauma. It is also very important for foster and adoptive families to maintain a consistent structure and schedule to build feelings of safety, trust, and maintain regulation. Special snacks, extra screen time, or a late bedtime could spell disaster for a foster or adoptive family in more ways than one. Think about day time for helping wiht child care rather than a "night out". 

 

Family Photos

As a single mom, she may not get in the frame with her kids that much, but she needs to! Her kids need to see not just their photos on the wall, but pictures with her in the frame, memories of them having fun, and snapshots of love and affection.  This is an important reminder to kids that they are a part of a family, loved and adored, and that mom is in this with them. And it will be something she treasures as well. To help facilitate family photos, you can find a flexible photographer (maybe even one that specializes in adoptive families), get a gift card to help her get new outfits for the family, and even offer to come along to help entertain the kids and tell jokes to make them laugh.  

 

Dinner

We all know that figuring out what to make for dinner every night is one of the strains of adulthood. For single moms who need to help with homework, bath time, etc., without anyone to help with the dishes or make sure the pot doesn’t boil over, but also wanting to provide nutritious meals for sensitive kids, making dinner can become an exhausting task. Especially during the adjustment and attachment phases, it is important that children know that parents are the ones providing for all of their needs, so we cannot always accept your offers to bring us dinner. An exception might be a frozen pre-made meal that we can bake ourselves, assuming that the child does not know where it comes from. A better gift that we can accept would be a gift card for a box of pre-planned meals. These save on grocery shopping, decision making, and some of the prep work. We have tried several, but Gobble is our favorite because there are so many options including meals from all around the world. Or if you feel confident in the types of meals her family enjoys, just send a box to her door. 

 

Mother-Child Dates

While we sometimes use cooking meals together as Connection time, getting out of the house can be helpful to creating a special time dedicated to connection. You can sponsor a mother-child date with restaurant gift gifts, pedicure gift cards, movie gift cards, etc., but I really love active adventures because a little positive adrenaline can help build attachment. What are fun activities in your area? Rock climbing? high ropes and zip lining?  Go Karts? Even roller skating can be a great activity for the whole family. While my son has really enjoyed getting pedicures with me in the past, be aware that sensory sensitivities in some kids may make some activities or locations over-stimulating, so you may want to ask before buying a gift card. 

 

Clothes & more

Single foster and adoptive moms are likely to be the ones making sure their kids have the things they need and want and not shopping for themselves, especially if it involves taking kids into a store! While Stitch Fix does save trips to the store, I have a better suggestion. Goods & Better is an online store that she will love because every purchase at Goods & Better directly benefits a child entering foster care through their "buy it forward" program, which provides comfort, clothing, luggage, hygiene essentials, and/or baby bundles to foster children through a partnership with Foster the Family. You can buy a gift for her while also contributing to a cause that is important to her. They have the softest hoodies I have ever tried, clothing for the entire family, jewelry, wall art, and more, all in designs that speak directly to the heart of foster and adoptive moms. 

In addition to the wall art at Goods & Better, another gift for the home that would speak to her heart is this poster from former foster youth and current foster mom Tori Hope Petersen “When it is all said & done, I don’t care to be remembered as a powerhouse. I hope to be remembered as a safe house.” I have one hanging on my wall. 

 

Books

Another way to speak directly to her mama’s heart would be books on foster and adoptive parenting. These can provide comfort that she is not alone and wisdom for the journey. I have a list of books on my Amazon page, but I would specifically recommend Securely Attached and The Connected Parent to every foster and adoptive parent. Both are fairly new, so it is very likely she hasn't read them yet. Because Mother’s Day can be a hard day for kids who have experienced foster care and/or adoption, you might also consider building up her library of great books they can read together as a family

 

Webinars or products or conferences

Another way to speak to the heart of a single foster or adoptive mom is to help equip her with education and support through adoption and foster care conferences or retreats. Even if she has supportive family members or respite care that would allow her to travel without her kids, the fall out the kids experience due to the separation may not be worth it. To really empower her to be able to learn, don’t just pay the conference fee on her behalf but volunteer to travel with her and entertain the kids while she is in sessions. Most conferences have frequent breaks where she can check in and help the kids feel safe and connected. Even with online conferences, she may not be able to take advantage of the opportunity unless the kids are entertained. Conference registration support is wonderful, but the practical help of a person willing to travel with her family is priceless. I can also guarantee that it will deepen your relationship with her. Maybe you will get to go some place cool; a few years ago I took my cousin to Disney World so she could swim with my son while I was speaking at a conference. Beyond conferences there may be webinars or online trainings that are on her wish list to equip and encourage her in the tough work of trauma parenting. Let her know that you want to support her and her mission, and you would love to know what conferences or trainings or webinars she would enjoy if there was a scholarship. Some ideas to consider are the Insight Conference, National Associatoin of Adoptees and Parents Conference (held in Indianapolis), Filled Retreat, NACAC conference, Hope for the Journey, Anchored in Hope (Texas), Deeply Loved (Montanta), Refresh (Seattle), Replanted (Chicago), and the CAFO Summit. 

 

A Clean House

Every mom considers a clean house a gift. The amount of clutter in a home has a direct impact on the stress level. Also time spent cleaning is time that is not directly investing attention into parenting and relationship building. Between work and school and activities and homework, the hours we have together are limited. Can you offer to do the dishes or fold laundry or send over a fabulous house cleaning service that you trust?  

 

Handy man

Whether she is capable of re-wiring her own house or not, a single parent is likely to have several tasks undone around her house which she may not be able to accomplish with kids around. If you are handy or have a specific skill, asking if you can come over for an afternoon to help with her home repair list will be endlessly appreciated. The contractor that fixed my storm door before he left “because it will just take me a few minutes and it will make your life easier” certainly touched my heart. Even if you are not particularly handy, you can pay a trustworthy handyman to spend a few hours doing jobs for her. 

 

Items from child’s birth country

When a mother and child have been joined through international adoption, the country and culture are so important for her to understand and embrace. Recipe books, art, books, holiday decorations, language classes… there are so many ways to bring a little of the culture into the home. Between Etsy, Instagram, and the internet marketplace, it is getting easier and easier to obtain gifts from around the world. Both mother and child may love trying sweets and snacks from the child’s birth country. While my son’s country isn’t included (yet?), we enjoy Yums Box each month because we love traveling together and gastrotourism. Colombia, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine and more all of traditional snacks that you can have mailed to their home

 

And more

  • It is very likely that a single foster or adoptive mom does not do a lot to take care of herself. If she is able to accept some respite care, a gift card for a pedicure, massage, facial, acupuncture, or even therapy - as long as it is an adoption informed therapist - is an easy way to care for her. 
  • Assuming there are not allergies in the household, flowers are always appreciated  A live plant may be wonderful, but make sure it does not require a lot of maintenance as she may not be able to give one more living thing the attention that is needed. 
  • It may have been a joke on SNL, but I loved getting a luxurious robe for Christmas. 
  • Jewelry may not be something that she buys for herself as a single mom. The first Mother’s Day gift I got (from my mom) was a necklace made from a map of my son’s birth country. I love it! There are lots of mom focused jewelry options, but be careful when looking for “adoption jewelry” because you may come up with things you might think are cute but are actually harmful for this family. For example, I am not a fan of the term “gotcha day”. You are safer to stick to something more general if giving jewelry is your jam. 
  • There are so many different monthly subscription boxes that you can find one specific to her interests or needs. 
  • Anything to make her life easier... if her kids play sports, make sure she has a comfortable chair,  if she has lots of kids a wagon may help... What are the things that make your life easier? 
  • Don't forget to check her Pinterest boards for ideas specific to her. 

 

One last thought: Whether you get something traditional like flowers or you meet a specific need, a gift that communicates I see you, and I value you and what you are doing will be hugely impactful. Writing that in a note will turn any giving into a gift of encouragement for the single foster or adoptive mom. 

  

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5 Ways Adoptive Families Can Celebrate Birthmother's Day

Q: Do you have any suggestions on ways for our family to celebrate our sons birth mother on Mother’s Day? 

Birthmother’s day, traditionally the Saturday before Mother's Day, started in 1990. Some adoptive families like to dedicate this day to the first mother, while others like to celebrate both adoptive mothers and birthmothers on Mother’s Day. Truly, whatever works best for your family is probably the right answer, but recognizing the birthmother during the weekend will be beneficial to your child emotionally and the parent-child relationship.

For many children adopted internationally, the birthmother represents not just the loss of that original parent-child relationship but also the loss of country, culture, language, and so much more. Honoring the first mother can be one way for parents to communicate total acceptance of the child and all of his or her feelings. While there is a lot of information and many ideas online about honoring birthmothers in domestic adoption, it can be more difficult in an international adoption where you may have no information at all about the first parents and no way to send gifts or cards. Obviously if you have an open adoption, cards, flowers, jewelry (like this special gift from On Your Feet Foundation) and any other gift specific to the recipient can be delivered. 

1) When you are not able to deliver items to the birth mother, you can focus on symbolism or on what the child needs to express to the birthmother. The child can make a card, draw a picture, or write a letter which can be possibly read out loud and symbolically delivered to the birth mom via helium balloon or burning the letter and letting the ashes float into the sky. At certain stages of development, this will play into the child-appropriate "magical thinking", allowing a child to feel a real connection. If you live near water, you could also let the letter float away. 

2) Rather than trying to symbolically deliver a card, the child may prefer to bury it or to save them all in a special box or album. While some children may want to keep the relationship with the birthmother special and private, many will benefit from hearing adoptive parents read a letter to his or her birthmother, sharing your thoughts and feelings.

3) Another way to honor the relationship with the birth mother is through a tangible item for the child. You can find matching gifts for birthmothers, birthfathers, and their children. Your child might want to wear the bracelet or dog tag. I like the idea of a jewelry item that can include names; for an international adoption in which you do not know the name of the birthmother, the word for mother in the child’s native language could be used. There is also a great necklace with the phrase "forever in my heart" translated into the child’s native language. Your child may or may not want to have the matching birthmother jewelry to save for the future or as a sentimental item. 

4) Other tangible items could include a drawing the child created for the birth mother that is framed in his or her room, pottery painted by the child, or any other item chosen by the child. These may be stored safely on a shelf in the child’s room or in another safe place where they child can hide it or go through it as he or she wants to think about the birthmother.

5) While a sponsorship may not be from a child monetarily, involving the child in the process may still be an effective way to honor the child’s birthmother. Families way want to consider Kiva micro loans, giving livestock through Heifer International, or child sponsorship through Compassion International or Children of Promise.

 

This blog was originally written in 2013 and is being re-posted with some updates; however, I would love to hear how your family celebrates Birthmother's Day or how you like to be celebrated as a birth mother!

 

 

 

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Rethinking New Years & Normalcy

I have always enjoyed New Years Eve and learning about traditions from all over the world, like the Italian tradition of breaking dishes. Discussing traditions with my Brainspotting friend in Spain, she mentioned how she was was going to spend New Years Even saying THANKS to 2020 because that is the best way for 2021 to enter feeling itself welcomed. I couldn't get the thought out of my head all day.

Too often, at least in America, we think that December 31st closes a book, and we get to start a new chapter on January 1st of the new year. I have had too many years that seemed to bleed over into the next year (or sometimes two or three). We want to distance ourselves from what we found unpleasant and always seek new of what we enjoyed. We live in such a disposible mindset culture! Growth does not come from closing a book and putting it on a shelf to gather dust. Growth comes from learning from our mistakes, finding positives in the pain, striving despite setbacks, and recognizing opportunities missed. Growth comes from being in the arena, picking yourself up, the dust, and the sweat. Growth is often painful. 

I write this in 2021, many people want to move past 2020, a year of grief and loss and fear and challenges. We want to hold on to hope that things will be better than they were in 2020. But 2020 wasn't all bad; it also brought more family time, more sleep, provision, and protection. While I am eager for the health crisis of this pandemic to end, I am not anxious for things to get back to the way they were before, especially as a parent. While there are many things I found that I could be grateful for at the end of 2020, as an Adoption Therapist and single adoptive mom, I have seen the security our kids have gained through time together with immediate family. 

When a child first joins a family through adoption, it is recommended that they spend intentional time together, as a family, at home. This "cocooning" period is meant to start establishing relationships, consistency, and neurobiological regulation for a child who has experienced inconsistency. The more disruptions a child has experienced, the more repetitions needed before trust can begin to be established. It does not matter how safe a child is in actuality, they must feel safe before they will be able to start attaching. And children must have a safe attachment relationship before they will be able to process traumas or manage their own behavior successfully.

Those of us who grew up in our biological families may have experienced the most stressful year you have ever known, full of unknowns and dangers and loss and grief. For many adoptees, 2020 was a walk in the park compared to the unknowns, dangers, loss, grief, and changes they have had to experience in their past. With little to no notice they have had to move homes without the parents that they know, often on their own. Some of them even had to move halfway around the world to live with people who speak a language they don't know, eat food they aren't familiar with, and don't look like anyone they have ever seen before. Every holiday they are thinking about and missing people who are important to them. Our children have survived more than we have complained about this year. 

Stay at Home orders have forced a second cocooning for many adoptive families that I know and work with. The emotional and behavioral changes in our children remind us that what they need most is a predictable schedule, more nurture, and more time with family - time for family board games, heart to heart conversations, cooking together, walks and bike rides, silliness and laughter, and mostly their parents' focused attention. There is a lot of insecurity for a lot of people right now, but our children seem to be more secure than ever before.

I have a very active, athletic son (Rugby All-Star Championship team 2019, plus any other sport I will allow him to play), who also happens to be quite the extrovert; he loves to be on the go, doing things, and seeing people. He is at his absolute best when traveling, and we definitely hope he gets to add a few more stamps to his passport soon. And yet, perhaps all the going and doing and socializing, while important, are not the most important. Perhaps we let good somehow replace what is best. Perhaps this pandemic was exactly the reminder we needed of what our true priorities are, so we can purposefully shape our life and choose what things we add back in when the pandemic finally ends.

Reflecing on this and other blessings in 2020, I was able to celebrate New Years Eve with a grateful heart. I don't know all that 2021 will bring, but I will be looking not just for the blessings, but also for the lessons. Thankfulness and reflection will be my new tradition for New Years every year. 

 

 

 

 

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Permission Slip to Prioritize Mental Health over E-learning

This is your permission slip. This is your therapist's excuse.

7th grade history class is not essential. 3rd grade math is not essential. Your 6th grader taking daily showers is not essential (although certainly preferred). Fighting every single battle is not essential.

In 2020, many parents have felt overwhelmed trying to figure out what is best for their kids when thinking about all of their needs: health, social, academic, etc. Many have found that screen time restrictions have laxed, bedtimes have gotten later and later, and showers aren’t happening as frequently. I don’t know any child that is thriving with e-learning. Parents feel at a loss about managing emails from teachers, zoom meetings for classes, “new math”, not to mention their own work demands. Many find ourselves distractible, struggling to focus, lethargic, and doomscrolling. We are struggling as individuals, we are struggling as parents, and our children are struggling too. 

The truth is 2021 is not going to be a lot different. We are looking at several more months of feeling the threat of COVID and all the stresses and losses that are connected to this pandemic. Our lives have been changed. This will be shaping, not just for us, but for our children. My grandparents that lived through the Great Depression would never throw away something that could be reused. Hand sanitizer will be second nature to our kids for the rest of their lives in the same way. 

As an Adoption Therapist and adoptive parent, I have walked with several families through difficult seasons of parenting. The loss experienced by adoptees is a trauma that can complicate many areas of life and growing up. While I could speak for hours (I have) about loss and adoption, adoption trauma, and adoptive parenting, that isn’t the point of this blog. 

When faced with the need to keep a child alive due to suicidality, impulsivity, drug use, etc., it can be easy to let go of arguments about homework. A grade can be repeated. When a child questions if they are loved, it is not worth arguing about a messy room or dishes left on the counter. It doesn’t have to be a life or death situation for parents to consider how they will prioritize what they want for their children. 

Your child’s mental health matters. Your child’s relationship with you matters. Your relationship with your child matters (which means that your mental health matters). 

Living in stress for an extended period of time inhibits the ability to learn and remember. It isn’t just e-learning that is making all of this so difficult. Your child is struggling academically because their brain has been hijacked by stress. Your child wants to play video games or watch movies because they are seeking dissociation from the stress. They need that - in doses, not in binges. They also need distraction from the stress by doing fun things like playing games as a family, learning to bake a new dessert, or building a tree house. What they don’t need is talking about the news around the dinner table. 

As much as I feel for and care about the teachers and school counselors who are doing their best in an impossible situation, parents, you don’t have to keep them happy. You don’t even have to answer every email. Please, be kind, but remember that you have permission to prioritize. 

Is it most important to you that child accomplished things on a certain timeline or that they were done with full effort? Learning is more important than grades. Even getting into college isn’t going to matter if your child is too depressed to go to class in the Fall. 2021 is not the year to worry about if your child is ready to move out and live independently or if they stay up late reading. 2021 is the year to teach your child that emotional health matters, relationships matter, and priorities matter. 2021 is the year to teach your child healthy physical and emotional health habits. 

This is your permission slip to ignore emails, to prioritize concerns, to skip a class, to create your own schedule, to flex on screen time occasionally, to say no to every single extra thing, to go to bed early, to withdraw your child from school and try out home schooling, to do what is best for your child and your family. 

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Resetting from 2020 to Prepare for 2021

2020 has turned out to be different than any of us has expected. While, I cannot forget the good that has come out of this year, there has also been a lot of hard that has left a lot of us overwhelmed, grieving, stressed, etc. Recently a local newscaster, reached out to me to talk about how we can all reset from 2020. As we start looking forward to 2021, we can prepare not by setting New Year's Resolutions, but by taking the time and space we need now to fully process all the stresses, losses, hurts, and anxieties from 2020. We need to process the trauma and the grief.

While it was cut from the interview, what I really recommend is Brainspotting. Brainspotting is an advanced brain-body-mindfulness-based therapeutic approach, which focuses processing in the parts of the brain where memory and emotion are stored and the parts of the brain involved with regulation, so you actually address the emotions and memories impacting you from a part of the brain that can help you feel better and feel more regulated. The neocortex is not involved with regulation; you can't think your way into feeling better. Rather than trying to use the neocortex to think your way through something, Brainspotting helps us go to the source for a much more efficient and powerful experience. It is my favorite way of healing, not just for clients, but also for myself. 

One of the awesome things about Brainspotting is that you don't even have to talk (to a therapist) for it be really powerful. Whether you think maybe you need to talk to someone or you would really prefer to process in silence, I would be happy to connect you with a therapist at Counseling at The Green House or Brainspotting Indy

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Heal & Create Community: Podcast interview with Kathryn Guylay

I enjoy being a podcast guest when I get the opportunity. I get to have such great conversations. One of the interviews I did earlier this year was with Kathryn Guylay of Make Everything Fun. We discussed writing books, adoption, Brainspotting, couples counseling, & online courses. Kathryn's highlights were: 

#1:  Understand that there might be a difference in how others view your primary legacy and how you view your own (and that’s okay!).

#2:  Recognize that organizing an anthology can be potentially more work than writing one’s own book! (Click here for more information about the anthology that I just contributed to and discussed during this interview).

#3:  Collect stories over time to create your own “story bank” (a creative gold mine!).

#4:  Get to know your “faces of resistance” (to having a bigger voice and reaching more people on a larger platform) so that you can move beyond these obstacles.

You can see more of what she wrote on her blog. While I didn't realize we were going to record video, it does make it a bit easier to share: 

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The Child That Was Not Adopted

This blog was originally published at MLJ Adoptions in 2010. It is republished here with permission as it has been deleted from the original site.  

 

The child that was not adopted will grow up without the love and guidance of parents, without the security and identity of family, and always feeling like the last kid picked for dodgeball. The child that was not adopted has little hope. Depending on his or her country, he or she may have had little access to basic education. Even if he or she does have the opportunity to attend school, he or she will have no one to hold him or her accountable for doing homework or actually learning. The child that was not adopted will have no one to recommend him or her for employment; in many countries, he or she may be given fewer opportunities, including the opportunity to attend college, due simply to his or her status as an orphan.

The child that was not adopted will age out of the orphanage before most American children are allowed to drive. It is estimated that more than 14 million children age out of orphanages each year. Without a sufficient education, sometimes without even basic literacy, job prospects are limited, especially in countries where poverty is rampant. The child that was not adopted will not have the emotional or financial support of a family. If he or she is able to secure employment, he or she will have never learned how to manage resources, pay bills, or set their own schedule. The child that was not adopted is likely to spend what money he or she does have irresponsibly and be unsuccessful at any employment opportunities he or she may be given. The child that was not adopted is most likely to end up on the street.

The child that was not adopted is likely to turn to crime or prostitution simply to survive. Having never experienced love or personal worth, he or she may learn that sex can bring temporary validation. Yet, he or she may not value him or herself enough to ask for proper protection or may never have been taught about safe sex. The child that was not adopted will want to turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, rejection, and fear; he or she may have never learned any other ways to manage emotions. Up to 15 percent choose suicide before they reach adulthood.

The child that was not adopted is vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by others. He or she is a likely candidate to become a victim of crime. The child that is not adopted is only expected to live into his or her mid-twenties. If I had aged out of an orphanage, I would likely be dead already.

When I walked into an orphanage last Fall, a child that was approximately 12 looked away and would not make eye contact with me. A child that was eight or nine, handed me an infant. It broke my heart to know that these children understood that most people are interested in very young children, and they were already giving up hope. They intimately understand rejection, hopelessness, and an absence of self-worth. Although hurt, most are not damaged beyond repair; they are simply missing what a family provides emotionally. These are the children that ask us to please find a family for them also. My heart breaks for these children; I fear for their future. These are the children most in need of love, a family, and a home.

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